How to Avert Anarchy with Online Community Guidelines - dummies

How to Avert Anarchy with Online Community Guidelines

By Deborah Ng

Here’s the thing about rules; no one likes being told how to behave, but after a while, online community members realize it’s good to have some guidelines. In the real world, there are reasons kids are asked to keep elbows off the table or not talk with their mouths full. While kids may not recognize the importance of these rules when they’re young, they appreciate having good table etiquette later on in life.

It’s a similar scenario within an online community. Perhaps new members may be intimidated upon reading a long list of guidelines, but after a while, they’ll come to appreciate the reasons behind it and the positive atmosphere.

Years ago, there were a website and forum called F***ed Company. At first, the forum catered to technical people who wanted to discuss tech issues and share tips. However, the forum had no rules, and the owner planned on keeping it that way.

Soon, the trolls took over. Every post was met with a personal attack, and members sought out other members’ personal information and posted it online. They even attacked other communities. Over time, the only members participating were the trolls. The people who continued to participate in this community enjoyed that type of atmosphere, but it was anarchy.

Eventually, the owner got tired of all the abuse and negativity and closed the whole thing down. Even if he had added community managers, by that time it would have been too late. The inmates were already running the asylum.

A few similar communities exist online, and they attract only certain types of people. You were hired as a community manager because your brand wants to avoid this type of situation, so it’s up to you to create a fair list of guidelines for your community to follow. Guidelines and rules are necessary for several reasons:

  • Members know right off the bat what is allowed.

  • Members know what will happen if they don’t adhere to the guidelines.

  • After reading the guidelines, members can choose to participate or move on if they feel that the rules are too strict.

Though every community is different, many of the guidelines are along the same vein. Consider these common guidelines:

  • Follow the comment policy. Your community comment policy is only a small part of your guidelines. It helps your members to be respectful in conversation, but there’s much more to having a productive community than a comment policy.

  • Set rules regarding linking. Many newbies have good intentions and don’t realize that constantly posting links to their blogs, websites, and sales pages is considered spam. Establishing linking guideline helps keep spam, inadvertent or otherwise, at bay.

  • Search for previous posts on the topics before creating a new post. To avoid done-to-death topics, some communities request their members search previous posts to make sure that members aren’t posting previously addressed topics.

  • Do not sell. Obvious selling by community members is usually forbidden. Members come to have a discussion, not receive sales pitches.

The sign of a successful community is mutual respect between management and members, not all members think rules apply and like to do what they can to stir up trouble. With guidelines in place, there are no surprises, and they can’t say, “Well, no one told me I couldn’t do that.”