When running a community of your customers, you are completely at the mercy of customer engagement. No activity means no community. So, getting people to engage on this platform you host, is one of your first priorities. Once you have created a lively environment and large numbers of individuals start to mingle, your next challenge emerges: avoiding utter chaos.
To keep your busy community platform a pleasant and valuable place to meet, it is crucial to introduce some member guidelines. Guidelines generally encourage people to participate and refrain from misconduct. These ‘house rules’ usually stand out on the community’s homepage, are mentioned in the welcome message for newly registered members, or they appear as a reminder when someone decides to join in.
Many well-respected (online) communities have incorporated guidelines to nudge their members in the right direction. Having looked at many of them, I notice that most guidelines pages look the same. Still, there are some creative deviations from the cookie-cutter approach as well.
Why write your own guidelines from scratch, when you can learn from the best, right? So, let me give you an advantage and share some of my favorite examples of community guidelines that are out there:
1. Vodafone: encourage first
Vodafone’s Community Guidelines start with a brief summary of its mission. “This is what we do here.” Then, it continues by encouraging its members to participate a certain way. Only at the end they list how not to behave. This specific order – our goal, please do, please don’t – seems to be the best practice for setting up guidelines.
2. Buffer: values
Buffer, a company that offers social media management tools, takes a similar approach. Like Vodafone, Buffer begins by focusing on what you are encouraged to do in the community. On top of that, its Community Code of Conduct promotes collective community values, in this case: positivity, mutual respect and a mindful use of words. These values can be seen as the moral compass to all the rules that follow. A way for (new) community members to reflect and wonder: “Do I fit in?”
3. Verizon: what to expect from us
Verizon Media, owner of interactive sites like Yahoo, also uses community guidelines that separate please do’s from please don’ts. Slightly different from the previous examples, Verizon has included a section where they also talk about their own role in the community. With this in place, a community member who has breached the guidelines will not be able to reasonably accuse the moderator of random repercussions or personal vendetta when the moderator takes appropriate action, like the removal of content. In the same section, Verizon offers victims of abuse a way to report wrongdoing.
4. Google Help: who’s who?
Most communities assign roles that go beyond just being either ‘member’ or ‘moderator’. If you work with a more elaborate scheme of community roles, this may require some explanation to the public. Look at Google Help Communities, for example. They put roles front and center in their Getting Started guidelines. Not just to explain how one differs from the other, so you know who you are talking to, but also to act as a carrot on a stick. The more you contribute to the community in a ‘please do’ manner, the better your chances are to obtain a new prestigious rank. Positive psychology is at work here.
5. Lyft: your and their safety
Defining roles is essential to Lyft’s Community Guidelines, as it is the rideshare company’s mission to connect two groups of people: drivers and riders. Obviously, these guidelines revolve around safety in the public space instead of online behavior. Core values are just as important here, though: be safe, be respectful, be helpful. The guidelines sum up the rules for both parties, in short sentences, each starting with a verb. By addressing the driver and rider on the same page, Lyft makes it more visible that rules do not only apply to one of them, creating a sense of shared responsibility to abide by.
Having studied these examples, what can we say are effective community guidelines?
To begin with, it seems pertinent to note that community guidelines need to lean heavily on positive reaffirment – the please do’s. Get people excited to become part of your community, and avoid discouraging them by immediately or only coming across as tough and strict. Consider expressing your core values as well.
Secondly, as a community manager or moderator, you will want to avoid being accused of giving arbitrary, off the cuff penalties when a community member breaks the rules. With guidelines that also describe your role in the community, he or she could have predicted your response.
And finally, see if it helps to explain the meaning of the different community roles in your guidelines – and how to obtain them. It might incentivize your members to ‘compete’ for who contributes most and behaves best. A clear win-win.
Did I leave something out that should be part of community guidelines? Add it to the list by leaving a comment below.