Community guidelines are the rules that direct how users should behave in your community. They should encourage valuable discussion and ensure everyone knows what is expected of them. Guidelines also need to clarify what isn’t allowed in your community and outline what will happen if someone breaks the rules.
Community Guidelines outline what actions are permitted and not permitted within your community. They are often referred to as your community’s code of conduct, community constitution, community roadmap, or community rules. They explain what activity is permissible and what can get a member suspended or blocked. They also outline your community’s values and mission to your members.
Community guidelines are important because they protect the integrity of your community and the safety of your members. They explain explicitly how your community members should act and behave.
Community guidelines also act as a resource for what your members should know about your community. For example, if you run a learning-based community, your community guidelines may offer information about weekly classes and expected participation to remain a part of the community.
Why do you need community guidelines?
Let’s start by answering a question – as a community manager, how confident are you that the members of your community actually read and follow the community guidelines? And yet, this is one of the most important factors one should consider before joining and contributing to any community.
The members must be aware of the type of content acceptable in a community. As a community builder, you must have a community guideline that would act as a guiding principle for the actions taken by the members, moderators, and community managers.
Although many members may not go through the guidelines, it immensely helps moderators and mangers to refer to when ensuring the community is safe. Eventually, members come across the guidelines when they see the reference in different moderation decisions and change the way interact in the community.
In fact, the gamification elements such as badges can also be customized to reflect the community guidelines. Essentially, the way you craft your community rules, tell the members what they can expect from the community, learn more about the community itself, and thedos and don’ts.
It gives an idea of the effort a community manager has put into the community set up and how the members would react to the content.
Community guidelines – values and directives
Predominantly community guidelines are a mix of the values or brand personality of the community and a set of directives.
When it comes to the value, you need to project the values based on which your community is built. For example, you can say that the community values self-learning. This can be enforced by stating that the members are required to take initiatives to research a topic before asking for help.
Then comes the part of the rules. These are essentially a set of directives that the members must follow. These guidelines are relatively easier to write when compared with the values.
How to start writing community guidelines
As mentioned earlier a great starting point is about reflecting the value, mission, and vision. Here you need to begin by re-establishing why members need to ensure that they keep the community safe and how your community members can achieve the end goal by collective effort.
Include one paragraph about the mission of the space and the values of your community. You could drop your own mission into a template, something like the below:
Here is a great example from Lonely Planet:
The most common community guidelines include the following rules:
Although there are numerous factors to consider, the safest way to approach the rules is to examine your industry best practices. I have compiled a list of pointers for the community guideline to help you select the relevant ones.
Spam: Clearly lay out what constitutes spam. For example, is it just bots posting content or a member promoting own project (any form of self-promotion) will also be treated as spam and deleted?
Personal attacks: Of course, clearly state that personal attacks won’t be tolerated and what type of message will be considered as an attack.
Doxing: This is about protecting the personal information of your community members. Doxing essentially means the activity of researching someone’s personal information and publishing them over the web with a malicious intent.
Illegal activities: Illegal activities could be sharing copyrighted material, unauthorized downloads, warez (pirated software), etc.
NSFW material: What happens when someone shares NSFW content? It is important to define what would be considered NSFW — the type of language, gore, things above PG-13. What will happen when someone posts such content — removal, warning, ban, etc.
Racism, sexism, and other discrimination: Write down the repercussions of attacking an entire class of people.
Trolling: This term is not clearly defined — however, the guideline must mention what happens when someone invokes quarrel and distracts the members by posting irrelevant, digressive, and inflammatory content.
Spreading misinformation: This is about stopping the members from posting fake news and ensuring that the contents in the community are authentic.
Complaining about topics: A community might have topics and discussions that might not be in line with the personal views and perception of an individual. In that case, how should the member react and what would be the best way to voice their opinion.
Commenting member’s physical appearance: Would you allow comments on a member’s physical attributes such as style, look, and voice? Depending of the theme of the community this might or might not be acceptable.
Multiple accounts and throwaway emails: Would you allow members with multiple accounts? For example, Reddit allows throwaway accounts while Quora is strict on the one-person one-account rule.
Cross-posting: If a single post is relevant is two different topics, would you allow duplicate content?
Grammar: When someone posts grammatically wrong content, what would happen to the content? For example, will there be an automated message to post again and the incorrect post would be removed?
Questions about moderation: If someone wants to dispute the moderation decision, list down the options. For example, a contact form or private messaging option. Clearly state how the moderation system works and how moderators function. If the moderators’ stand reflects the official stand of the community.
Becoming a mod: If a member wants to become a moderator, how can they become one? What would be the general step? In general, members start out by helping other members, protect the community by flagging inappropriate content, posting high-quality content and show that they are genuinely good people.
Upvote: How should the members use the like or upvote option? Add a line that when they genuinely want to recommend content, they should use this function.
Flag: The part in the guideline should cover how the members can flag low-quality content and members who are breaking rules. However, it should not be used to report content that doesn’t meet their notion or if they simply disagree with a member.
Moderator behavior: This section will explain what your members can expect from your moderators, including how they will interact with fellow community members and what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable.
Inappropriate or “jerk-type” behavior: This section will outline a range of inappropriate behavior, from light bullying to hate speech and harassment. There is usually an example of typical “jerky” behavior and an explanation of how it will not be tolerated.
Zero tolerance for discrimination and hate speech: Explain your zero-tolerance policy for harassment, hate speech, and discrimination.
How to submit a complaint: Your members should know how to contact their moderators if they want to file a complaint. The complaint process should explain when members can expect their complaints to be reviewed and when they will be contacted.
Disciplinary process: Your disciplinary process should be clear and direct in your guidelines. Your members should know what to expect if they break the rules. This section will usually include an escalation breakdown that varies per offense.
Writing community guidelines
Clearly define your mission statement
Before you write your community guidelines, you should be clear about your organization’s mission statement. You should always incorporate your organization’s purpose and values into your community guidelines.
Consider your brand’s tone of voice
As you start to write your community guidelines, consider what tone you would like to strike. Do you want your guidelines to be humorous and lighthearted? Witty? Straight to the point? Your tone should be consistent with the rest of your brand’s personality.
Write guidelines with your members in mind
As you write your community guidelines, ensure you’re writing for your ideal member. How do you want your members to act within your community? What’s your perfect member’s model behavior? Think of the best-case scenario for your community and clearly break that down.
Get clear on what you want your community to accomplish
Decide on your ideal goals for your community. How would you like your community to grow? Take into account your community’s culture and atmosphere.
Be straightforward and direct in your guidelines
Do not add unnecessary words or flair that will confuse your members and cloud their judgment. Instead, offer examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior in your community.
Include rules about harassment, discrimination, and hate speech
This is self-explanatory, but do not forget to outline your rules about hate speech, discrimination, and harassment in your community guidelines. You should include a section about what your members can expect if they violate these rules.
Have someone else review your guidelines
Ask someone you trust to review your guidelines and ensure you’re not missing any vital information. Remember to proofread and spell-check your guidelines. Ultimately, ensure the guidelines are well-written, fair, and do not discriminate against any individuals.
Enforcing your community guidelines
Ensure your community guidelines can be easily found on your community platform. Your new members should be immediately directed to your community guidelines as part of the onboarding process.
Be very clear in your guidelines about consequences for bad behavior. Your members should know their moderators, including how their moderators will contact them if they violate the rules.
Create an escalation plan ahead of time. Your members may try to argue the rules with you, so it’s best if you have a plan for every type of scenario. Make sure your escalation plan is visible and public within your community.
Be prepared to update your guidelines and review them periodically. You may notice that some rules may not apply over time, or you may need to make adjustments. Devise a plan to do a review every quarter or at least twice a year.
We covered the approach to take when writing a community guideline, the starting point and factors to consider. Finally, understand that the guideline will help you set the right expectations and work as a template for your team to manage the community. Note that some elements of the guideline would change as your community evolves.
Also, eventually, the rules will be broken by the members either inadvertently or unknowingly. During those times the community guideline will prove to be immensely helpful.
Now, it’s time for you to start writing own community guidelines!
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