How to Create Your Online Community Comment Policy

Online community comment policies should be fair and balanced. If you have too many rules, participants may feel stifled and get a little turned off. If you don’t have enough rules, anarchy ensues. Create guidelines that everyone can follow so that you’re not asking too much from your community.

Most comment policies have similar elements:

  • Overview: Talk about your community goals and why you feel the guidelines are necessary. This section needs to be a paragraph, at most. If your guidelines are too long, no one will want to read them. They have to appeal to the short attention span of the people who read and surf on the web.

  • Rules or guidelines: Talk about acceptable behavior and what will and won’t be tolerated, such as spam, profanity, personal attacks, and respectful disagreement.

  • Consequences: Discuss what happens to members who don’t adhere to the guidelines. For example, they may receive a series of warnings before they’re banned outright.

  • Agreement: Many forums, e-mail groups, and other social networks require members to check a box stating that they agree to the terms of use. This way, they can’t be surprised if you have to call them out on an infraction.

Avoid lengthy diatribes and pontification about manners and proper behavior. No one wants a lecture, especially if they haven’t done anything wrong. A brief rundown of the types of comments and behaviors you will and won’t allow will suffice.

You may want to avoid confusion by posting examples of what is and what isn’t acceptable community behavior. This is an excellent idea, perhaps in the form of a list of do’s and don’ts or a series of screenshots.

When showing examples, the last thing you want to do is single someone out or choose a scapegoat. Be fair.

Keep these guidelines in mind when preparing your examples:

  • Don’t name names. Pointing fingers or making someone the poster child for bad behavior is mean-spirited. Use screen shots only if they don’t identify the offending party in any way. Try to use a made-up example when at all possible.

  • When listing examples, also list consequences. For example, say, “In this instance, we’ll issue a warning. . . .”

  • Avoid comments under your guidelines. Most comment policies and user guidelines are closed for comments so as to avoid trolls. Your community FAQs can list questions that arise with their respective answers.

By showing examples of unacceptable behaviors, you’re making sure that everyone understands what’s allowed. Like your comment policy, this section shouldn’t be long and detailed, but it should show enough examples that no one can tell you they didn’t know a certain behavior isn’t allowed.

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