online community guidelinesAfter deciding to launch an online community for your association or nonprofit, a question that may come early up in the process is how to develop a set of online community guidelines that creates a safe space for members and advocates to connect and engage with one another. 

In fact, many of our customers say that one of the reasons they use a private, branded community over a social media group is that you can avoid some of the negativity that may occur on a social media site like Facebook. So, it’s important to establish clear guidelines that create a safe space for users. In fact, I recently interviewed two online community experts who had unique points of view on how and why their community serves as a safe space for users. 

Creating guidelines for your community may feel like a daunting task, but we’ve put together a few tips to make this process more manageable for your team:  

Connect Online Community Guidelines to Your Mission 

When you made the decision to move forward with an online community, you set out to create a dedicated space for your members to connect with one another and collaborate in ways that help you achieve your organization’s mission. So, I encourage you to connect the guidelines that you develop with your larger mission to reinforce your goals and purpose. 

Here’s an example of how you can do this: 

Welcome to [community name]. We are pleased to offer a dedicated space for you to [insert goals of the community]. Our mission is to [insert mission] and we are committed to hosting a space where our actions align with our vision and purpose. We developed the following community guidelines to provide guidance on how to engage with other users in the community and what you should expect from others. 

Compile a List of Rules and Do’s and Don’ts 

Once you’ve connected the dots on why your community exists and how the guidelines inform users on how to interact with one another, compile a list of rules and do’s and don’ts for your users.  

Your online community guidelines should create clarity, specificity and detail how to engage with other users and admins in the community.  

This is not an exhaustive list of what to include, but we recommend that you specify rules around: 

  • Spam or self-promotion 
  • Hate speech, harassment, bullying, discrimination or other targeted attacks 
  • Privacy and sharing of personal information, which is sometimes referred to as doxing 
  • Illegal activity 
  • Intellectual property protection 
  • Unauthorized use of content  

Also, be sure to include links to your organization’s terms of service and/or privacy policy and details on how to get in touch with the community manager(s), admins or moderators to report violations and share ideas and feedback. 

Be Mindful of Your Voice and Tone 

Your online community guidelines serve as a guide for how folks should interact with one another, but they also help set the tone for the overall community. I recommend that you approach this process by emphasizing kindness and respect for users. Your guidelines should help create a sense of inclusion and belonging in your community, and a tolerance for differing points of view. 

This approach will not only set the rules, but can also create a community that values respect, transparency and open lines of communication. And remind users that the community is set up to provide value, enjoyment and support for those who are involved. 

Specify How Users Can Report Violations 

It’s important to share how a user can report any violations of the guidelines that you have outlined on your platform. Should they notify an admin? Is there a link or email address where they can share concerns? And how quickly can they expect a response back? 

The American Diabetes Association Support Community, a Personify customer, has a good example of how to do this on their community guidelines page 

We’re Here to Help 

The moderation team works diligently to maintain this Support Community for advice and story-sharing, and we seek your assistance in helping us. You may report any post or item you deem as inappropriate by clicking the “Report as Objectionable?” link on the bottom-right corner of a post. The moderators will review each complaint and follow up as needed. For additional help with the Support Community, please email community@diabetes.org or reach out to any of our community administrators or moderators. 

Share How You’ll Enforce Online Community Guidelines 

Once you have created a set of guidelines to follow, make sure to back those up rules with action and meet with your community managers, admins or moderators to discuss the process and timelines for taking action.  

The enforcement policies can include things like: 

  • What is the penalty for violations? Are there different penalties for users who violate the guidelines multiple times? 
  • How many violations will result in a suspension or ban from the community? 
  • Will you remove posts that go against your online community guidelines or add a comment to those posts? 
  • When a community manager becomes aware of a violation, will he or she comment publicly or send a private message to the user? 
  • Is there a review or approval process where admins review posts or comments for specific topics before they are live on the site? 

Here’s a good example: The Canadian Cancer Society has an online community called Cancer Connection that is powered by Personify Community. On their guidelines page, the team shares their approach to moderation: 

How we moderate  

All posts to the community show up right away. We do not screen community activity before it goes live. This is called reactive moderation, which means Moderators monitor posts and also rely on our members to tell us about any inappropriate content. Throughout the website you’ll see Report buttons that alert us to that content. Moderating in this way means that we can keep the community running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so that support is available when you need it. 

Revisit Your Guidelines Regularly 

Your online community guidelines should be an evolving set of rules that considers any issues or questions that arise, new ways of thinking, perspectives and more. And, as your community members evolve their thinking on particular topics or actions, you can change guidelines to better fit the needs of your community. The guidelines are intended to inform and serve your users in the community so it’s worth regularly revisiting these policies to ensure that’s still the case. 

If you’re interested in hearing more from community experts who manage communities for associations and nonprofits, watch our recent on-demand webinar. 

Watch the Session