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How to Cultivate Community Standards for Your Blog Forum

Building community standards for your blog’s forum is important. Establishing a good set of rules will encourage readers to get involved and add their own ideas to the conversations. Ideally, the dialogue on your forum stays civil, respectful, and on-topic.

However, sometimes your community may need a little push in the right direction. Establishing your expectations regarding behavior up front can help set the tone for the kinds of conversations that occur on the forum — and give you a way to remove members who don't follow the rules without being accused of censorship.

Many forums appoint or hire a community manager to help ensure that forum rules are followed and to begin new conversations and cultivate forum threads.

Typically, forum guidelines should direct members to conform to some basic standards:

  • Be polite: Being rude on a forum is tempting for some people. You probably want to make sure that politeness is one of your first and foremost rules.

  • “No flaming, no trolls.” Many forum owners explicitly indicate that flaming and trolls aren't allowed. Flaming someone is the act of posting hostile messages. Flames are often posted by trolls, people who participate in a forum with the purpose of sowing havoc with off-topic or offensive content.

  • User accounts: You may want to make it clear that the user accounts you provide to all of those who chat in your forums exist on your terms, and that people who violate terms lose their accounts.

  • Links: Some communities restrict their users and do not allow linking to other websites. Others allow users to post links, but only after members have been active for some time. Because some links can take people to unwanted material, spam, and malware websites, links can become problematic.

  • Pictures: If your software allows users to post photos, either as part of their member profile or within the body of posts, you need to specify whether particular types of imagery are acceptable. Nudity, for example, is typically excluded.

  • Legal stuff: A mention about copyright is worth including. Forum software lets users post images, audio, and text, but the users must be held to a standard that means they are not posting the work of others.

Some of this stuff sounds a little daunting. But most people appreciate the additional resource of a forum and aren't actually out to post troublesome content. If you're thinking about guidelines, visit some existing forums and review their terms of use for additional ideas and considerations.

When it comes to community guidelines of any sort, they are entirely up to you. As with comments, you may consider it your duty to protect everyone who posts on your blog and your forums, or you may feel that the community should police itself. You can encourage a very structured conversation, or you can let it be a written “wild west.”

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