Don’t Look Like a Mean Bully – Effective Moderation Guidelines

When you see content in your community you don’t like, you want to remove it.  If you don’t have rules about what you can and can not remove, you can look random in your actions.  Looking random in your actions makes you look like a mean bully.  Don’t look like a mean bully.  Draft good moderation guidelines and your user community will thank you.

How many communities does your brand maintain online?  Quite a few, I would imagine.  Ratings and Reviews on your products, your Facebook Fan Page, and Open Innovation Portals are all examples of online communities.  We talked yesterday briefly about care and feeding of innovation communities.  One of the aspects of that proper care and feeding are well defined rules for participation.  This includes both your expectations of your users and what they can expect of you.

I have seen more than a few comments from users decrying censorship on a brand’s Facebook fan pages.  What some of those comments fail to recognize is that there is no such thing as free speech with respect to commercial interactions.  When I, as a brand, setup a forum by which you and other users can discuss their experiences with my products, I can set the parameters of that discussion.  That is my prerogative.  Even in the absence of rules, it is something of my creation, my property.  Just like I can kick you off my lawn, I have that power over my online property as well.

Guidelines on posting and moderation of your online communities give you written proof that you can point to when you use your ban hammer or remove content.  Without that you just look like a big bully.

Just Because You Can …

While you may feel heartened by my last statement, you should not be.  At least in the context of online discourse.  You may be able to kick them off your property, but they have plenty of opportunities to go somewhere else to voice their distress.  They may even be able to start a viral campaign against you, such as United Breaks Guitars:

So What Can You Do?

Guidelines can be your friend.  They can set up expectations, such as:

    • Communicate purpose – “this is a forum for the discussion about the various uses of our widgets.”
    • Promote a clean forum – “this is a family-friendly forum, please keep your language clean.”
    • Ability to Remove/Ban – “posts that are off-topic may be removed,” “abusive content may be removed,” “users that regularly violate these guidelines may be banned.”
    • Ability to re-use their content – “we love to share your great stories and experiences.”

What good guidelines do is give you something to fall back on when you get accused of being the bad guys.  It also allows you to be consistent.  And you need to be consistent.  Any favoritism shown to one person or group will be seen by the community.

This Is Only a Start

Guidelines are not Terms, nor are they any agreement between you and your users.  You need to be comfortable with what they are and what they aren’t.  They are meant as signposts for your users, guiding their journey with you.  They are not electrified fences herding them along.  While many lawyers may prefer the latter, it will destroy your community quickly.

It is ok, and preferable to have these guidelines written in plain language.  Perhaps even have some fun with it.  As long as you cover your bases, the language should be whatever is more easily digestable by the user.

So, what should your guidelines include:

    • Purpose.  This includes what the community is for, but it also includes what the community is not for.
    • Times of moderation, if applicable.  Most brands will not have the ability to have someone on call 24/7 to monitor the community.  2 a.m. on a Monday is not a high traffic time, so you probably can’t justify the expense.  Let your users know that you are not monitoring at that time.
    • Posting rules.  This one can be quite expansive.  Try to think about what you don’t want (obscene language, hate speech, attacking speech, personal information, bumping content) and wrap that in.
    • What you won’t discuss.  If you are a brand that goes to court, or finds itself in court, for whatever reason, you may want to avoid litigator heart attacks and tell people you won’t talk about ongoing litigation.
    • Sharing rules.  Some nice statement about how you will share their content with others should be included.  While I believe that this will give you some latitude on re-using that content, I do not think you should take this as your license to use that content in Times Square.

Use Common Sense and Be Reasonable

Your community managers have enough skill to put themselves in the shoes of your participants.  Let them tell you what they think should be in there.  In fact, sit down with them and tell them your concerns and let them suggest the best way to address them.

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