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Online Community Management: An Overview of Community Moderation Guidelines

Written by Katie Bapple | on March 26, 2015 at 8:30 AM

 Online Community Management: Social Moderation Guidelines

Thanks to the Internet, the world is incredibly interconnected; there are countless outlets for self-expression. The low barrier accessibility to digital communication and copywriting enables every individual to share the inherent strengths each of us possess via idealistic knowledge-sharing and the proliferation of divergent ideologies.

Unfortunately, the accessibility and anonymity of the Internet is often abused, showcasing the ill-willed and narrow-minded that aim to harrow attention from constructive human interaction.

Online communities are often victim to negative attention and antagonistic naysayers. By providing a platform for people to share their personal thoughts, you open the door for Internet trolls and spammers. In preparation, it's essential to have a plan for handling potential incidents by establishing a clear set of community guidelines.

An important step in creating a well-managed online community is to create governing documents that establish the online etiquette in your community. In most cases this entails two elements - a set of moderation guidelines and a Terms of Use.  Both components have an important purpose in protecting the integrity of your online community and organization but serve essentially different purposes.

How to Create Moderation Guidelines for Your Online Community

So, what exactly are moderation guidelines?

In general terms, moderation guidelines are a set of policies dictating what behaviors are or are not appropriate to exhibit in an online community. While the exact content will vary depending on the subject matter of your particular community, the basic purpose is to:

  1. Set a standard for how members should interact.
  2. Define expectations for under what conditions interactions could - reasonably - be policed.

However, it's important to make sure your moderation guidelines work for your community and not against it. There's a delicate line that constitutes the difference between constructive and destructive discourse.

Stick to What's Absolutely Necessary

Members should genuinely feel like the online community is a place where they can express their own unique knowledge and opinions without being stifled. Moderation guidelines should not feel restricting.

Disagreement and controversy can be valuable to online communities due to their captivating nature – people invest time into topics they feel passionate about. Additionally, sense of inclusion within communities can flourish when community members have a reason to "band together" and "pick sides."

Therefore, if you operate under the knee-jerk reaction to delete every submission with suggestive or negative connotations, it will eventually backfire. Community members will feel discouraged from future participation if they only anticipate being silenced.

Undercompensate, Rather than Overcompensate

It's easy to get caught up chronically fearing worst case scenarios; the reality is that a very small number of people will act in ways that justify recourse. Because of this, it's better to undercompensate; you can always amend your moderation guideline as needed.

Start with a basic outline of appropriate community etiquette. A concise list of items to consider is:

  • Unacceptable content and materials, such as those of an obscene, graphic or pornographic nature
  • Inappropriate behaviors, such as hazing, bullying, defamation and intolerance
  • Unacceptable community usage, such as commercial advertising or overt self-promotion
  • Improper posting practices, such as thread hijacking, spamming, going off-topic and incorrect content placement
  • How community members should handle complaints between one another

Keep It Brief

If you make your online community's moderation guidelines overwhelmingly lengthy, not even your most emphatic community member will feel inclined to read it. Not only do they not have the time, but they also don't want to feel like they're joining an online community that has a laundry list of restrictions.  As a general rule of thumb, try to stick to one page (or under 500 words).

Make It Easily Accessible

Community moderation guidelines should always be housed in a static location within the online community. This can be as simple as placing a link in your site footer or a container on your community homepage.

On the page where the guidelines are posted, make it easy for members to locate the information they are looking for by providing anchor links for individual guidelines.

Community moderation policies exist to ensure the community is maintained as a safe, respectful and valuable destination for all members. By choosing to maintain an account in the online community, members agree to abide by these policies. Remove members who fail to benefit the community in a positive way and evolve community guidelines over time based on lessons learned.

While moderation guidelines help maintain a constructive community environment, Terms of Use address legal implications and copyright standards. We'll cover this topic in next week's article. 

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Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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