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How to Enforce Online Community Guidelines: Take It Outside

The best online communities show very little negativity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Public chastising by the community manager is embarrassing, and hurt feelings may ensue, even if you feel the member deserved it. Also, sometimes public warnings can backfire, and you have an entire community defending the person who caused the problem in the first place. Sometimes, you even have to request to step outside the community.

People don’t always take warnings seriously. If they’re not heeding warnings, it may be time to take it offline.

If you can send a personal or direct message to the offending party, that’s your first step. Always be pleasant and polite and never fire off a note in anger. Let the other person know this type of behavior goes against your guidelines and if he doesn’t want to follow the rules, you have no choice but to ask him to leave.

Sometimes it’s also a good idea to explain why these rules exist. The other person may feel he’s just having a little fun, but the reality is public negativity disrupts a community and makes other members feel uncomfortable. They no longer feel as if they have a safe place to discuss the issues.

In addition, some community members don’t necessarily break rules but push the limits and test your authority. They may challenge everything you say or do to make you look silly or appear that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

These types of people may also require a private conversation to find out what the problem is and why they’re constantly challenging your authority. Again, you may want to explain that this behavior is bringing down the mood of the community. Expect a good argument as the type of people who like to bait management rarely ever see themselves in the wrong.

After explaining about how your members are uncomfortable with constant rule breaking, be prepared for the offending party to say something to the effect of “Well, they can go somewhere else if they don’t like it.” That type of statement creates cliques, not community.

Explain that it’s not in the community spirit to suggest folks ignore bad behavior if they don’t like it. Instead, try explaining that asking people to not participate in negativity drives most them away and creates cliques and that you’d rather have a community with content that is welcoming to all.

Hopefully, having a private conversation will help the member see why you have guidelines and how this behavior is affecting the community. After explaining to the member about why your rules are important and what will happen if he continues the inappropriate behavior, take a wait-and-see attitude. Consider it a probation.

If the community is important to the member, he will curb the rude or abusive behavior. If that member is only there to disrupt, that goal will become apparent as well, and you can take the appropriate actions.

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