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Are Your Community Policies a Box or a Trellis?

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on August 12, 2015 at 4:00 PM


Say the words “policy and governance” to most people, and you’ll likely see their eyes roll or glaze over. The popular narrative is that community policies are a box handed down from on high to the community restricting behavior, and the best communities are those that avoid structures.

It turns out the popular narrative isn’t always the correct one. Time after time, it’s easy to find examples where policy and structure done well have shaped incredibly powerful communities. And when we talk to community leaders about why that’s the case, it’s often because they created structures that not only discourage bad behaviors, but also help members understand and emulate good ones.

Highlighting what you want to see happen transforms your policies from a box into a garden trellis – providing a structure for growth. The latest research from The Community Roundtable bears that out. Ninety percent of the communities they found to be “best in class” in their evaluation had policies that both restricted bad behaviors and encouraged good ones. Just forty percent of their overall sample could say that.

How do you make your community policies a more positive force? Here are some tried and true tips we’ve sourced from HUG, The Community Manager Handbook and our own community managers:

1. Share with stakeholders - early and often.

By keeping them in the loop as you draw up plans, you are engaging them in the process of the community, and just as importantly, you are building relationships that will help you if and when a crisis comes. No one wants the first chat with legal to be when trouble is afoot.

2. Be proactive.

The easiest time to draw up policies is before there are concerns. If you can do it right from the start, when the community is small, it’s much easier to shape behavior. But even if you have missed that chance, getting out front and delineating desired and discouraged behavior means the line is there before someone pushes the envelope and gives you enforceable guidelines when problems arise.

3. Put out fires privately.

When trouble arises, your community backchannels can play a critical role in defusing a problematic situation. By contacting people outside the public community to talk about guidelines and appropriate behavior, you don’t put them in a position of having to publicly defend themselves, which can ratchet up the tension in a situation.

4. Be personal.

Sometimes the most powerful backchannel is the personal one. In person or even on the phone, you can disarm someone who is angry just by giving them a human connection. One important note, though – while you want to be personal, you can’t take the work personally. Don’t let your emotions get caught up in the issue – and having well-written and vetted policies and guidelines can help keep you on that front, too.

By setting lines but being proactive and positive, you can drive community engagement and grow your community in the ways you want it to.


2015 Higher Logic Executive Playbook

Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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