Five Things to Consider When Developing Your Community Policy
“A group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet.” – http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
Does your company have a self-help section that allows users to interact with each other?
Does your company’s website or blog have a forum?
Do you have a blog that allows commenting?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ve got an online community – or at least the potential for one. No matter how small of a community you have, you need to have a community policy so that there are expectations set for both your users and the people in charge of monitoring the community.
Think of your online community like a city park.
There are some people who want to sit on the bench and eat ice cream peacefully.
There are some people who want to walk on the grass even though there are signs that say “Don’t walk on the grass”.
There are some people who want to come in with spray cans and graffiti your walls in the name of art.
You need to lay out a plan and a set of rules for each of these people so that your park (your brand) does not become an eyesore or a wasteland. Just like a park, a carefully tended online community can blossom into a place community members want to be or a go-to place for users to get the help and answers they need.
Here’s how The Yeomen approaches developing of a community policy.
Establish and define what your community represents
Your online community (no matter what type of community it may be) is a representation of your brand. Like anything else tied to your business, there should be careful consideration taken to how you will approach its set-up and management. You should spend some time thinking about who you are as a company and what your product and community represents.
The same values and standards you hold as a company should carry over into your online community. Taking your company values and standards into account, think about what the rules of the road will be for community members. For example, will you allow profanity? How about negative comments about other members? You’ll need to define what your community is and is not to frame how your users should approach interacting within it.
Establish how you will approach language
You’ll also need to give a lot of thought to how you will handle certain types of comments. There are two ends of a very important spectrum with which you can fall. On the one end, you have the “free speech” approach. Communities who stand hard and fast to the principles of free speech do not police what their users say. They feel that they should have the right to express their thoughts and feelings in whatever manner they please.
On the other end, you have the supportive approach. This approach strives to create and maintain a supportive and trusting community. Communities who take this approach have hard and fast rules about what users can and cannot do.
You’ll need to decide where on this spectrum you fall, carefully think through what can and cannot be said or posted, and decide what the repercussions will be for breaking the rules.
Be realistic about enforceability
Let’s just state the obvious here, the more rules you have, the more time you will need to devote to enforcing them. It’s important that once you’ve laid out the rules for your online community you then consider your ability to enforce them. Let’s say you’d like to limit the profanity within your community, what is the profanity line? Do you have the time and energy to enforce it every time someone drops the F-bomb?
Think about what is realistic and enforceable and adjust your community rules from there.
Use plain language
Your community policy should not sound like a legal document. It should read as one human being writing to another human being about rules and guidelines. If you want your community to read and respect your policies they should be short and to the point and written in plain language. You don’t have to go on a diatribe about what means what, you just need to convey values and rules of engagement.
Do your research
You don’t have to start with a blank slate. Look at the community guidelines from the communities you admire to use as a base for creating yours. There are also open source community policies you can borrow from. Docracy.com has a couple of public documents you can check out:
Flickr Community Guidelines
YouTube Community Guidelines
Creating guidelines for a community that surrounds your brand is very important. Community policies provide a basis for why your community exists and how you’d like members to use it. It also gives everyone rules of engagement for approaching other members and staff within the community.
If your self-help section or online community is in need of a community policy, and you need someone to handle the task of getting it written and implemented, tap The Yeomen.
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