The Definitive Guide to Writing 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 the dos 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:
Points to ponder when writing community guidelines
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.
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!