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Developing Guidelines and Etiquette for Positive Interactions

Introduction

Building a strong, thriving online community takes effort and intention. While software features like forums, chat rooms, and member profiles provide a framework, it’s up to members to fill these spaces with positive interactions. Without that, your community loses its appeal.

That’s why every community needs clear guidelines and etiquette expectations. These create a welcoming environment where all members feel comfortable participating. They also give you a reference point if conflicts arise.

In this article, we’ll explore tips for crafting guidelines and etiquette that foster constructive community interactions. We’ll also look at examples and ideas you can adapt for your own members. With the right approach, you can maintain an uplifting community spirit.

Set the Tone Through Your Guidelines

Guidelines set clear expectations for how members should engage in your community. They establish the tone you want to cultivate.

Some key areas to address in your guidelines include:

Be Respectful

Remind members to be respectful and thoughtful when interacting with others. Avoid personal attacks, insults, or dismissive language. Allow for differences in opinion, as long as exchanges remain civil.

Be Helpful and Constructive

Encourage members to offer helpful suggestions and ideas to others in the community. Comments should aim to build others up, not tear them down.

Keep it Relevant

Ask members to keep discussions relevant to the community topic and purpose. Gentle reminders can redirect off-topic tangents.

Limit Self-Promotion

Self-promotion should be the exception, not the rule. Set limits on how often members can share links to their own content or businesses.

No Harmful Content

Prohibit offensive, illegal, or dangerous content, including hate speech, violence, harassment, and misinformation.

Respect Privacy

Don’t share personal or confidential information about others without consent. Follow appropriate privacy guidelines.

Abide by The Rules

Remind members to follow all posted community guidelines. Consistent rule-breaking may result in moderation actions like temporary suspensions or bans.

Use Common Sense and Compassion

When in doubt, members should let common sense, discretion, and compassion guide their interactions. Focus on adding value for others.

Develop Etiquette Standards as a Guide

After establishing high-level guidelines, consider developing etiquette standards with more detailed best practices for community interactions.

Here are some example etiquette suggestions you can share with members or adapt for your own guidelines:

Post Carefully

  • Proofread posts before submitting to avoid mistakes.
  • Post in relevant sections of the community.
  • Avoid one-word posts that lack context like “Thanks!” Instead, elaborate with “Thank you for the detailed instructions, that resolved my issue.”
  • Delete accidental or irrelevant posts.
  • Limit use of all caps, which can seem like shouting.

Interact With Tact

  • Respect different opinions and perspectives.
  • Avoid blanket statements and generalizations.
  • Don’t escalate disagreements into fights.
  • Use sarcasm cautiously—tone doesn’t always translate online.

Offer Support

  • Answer other members’ questions if you have helpful expertise.
  • Provide encouragement and praise when appropriate.
  • Share tips and resources that could help others.

Give Feedback Thoughtfully

  • Frame feedback constructively rather than just criticizing.
  • Avoid backseat moderating—let mods handle rule violations.
  • Consider difficult histories or cultural contexts when giving feedback.

Engage With Moderators

  • Read and follow moderator guidance.
  • Tag mods in posts only when needed. Excessive flags waste mods’ time.
  • Assume good intentions if mods take action on your content—they’re just enforcing rules.
  • Take temporary suspensions seriously rather than arguing. Just step away and reset.

Foster Inclusion Through Your Guidelines

Promoting inclusion should be a priority in your community guidelines. Consider specifically calling out etiquette suggestions that make traditionally marginalized groups feel welcomed and valued.

Some examples include:

  • Use respectful, inclusive language – Avoid terms, slurs, or idioms that might insult or exclude groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, religion, or other identity markers.
  • Make space for a diversity of voices – Don’t let majority views drown out minority groups. Seek out and amplify perspectives you might not hear otherwise.
  • Correct gently, not confrontationally – If someone uses problematic language, politely educate them on more inclusive alternatives rather than attacking. Assume good intentions.
  • Consider diverse backgrounds – Keep in mind how cultural backgrounds and life experiences shape people’s communication styles and perspectives. Don’t expect everyone to interact exactly the same way.
  • Report hatred, don’t feed it – If you see others posting truly hateful content, report it to moderators rather than engaging directly and giving it attention.
  • Avoid assumptions – Don’t make judgments about fellow members based on perceived identity markers. Get to know them as individuals.

With some creativity, you can develop guidelines that promote respect, constructiveness, and inclusion across your entire community. The effort is well worth it to nurture a space where all members feel welcomed and inspired to engage.

Enlist Community Help Developing the Guidelines

Rather than just handing down rules unilaterally, consider enlisting your members to help develop guidelines collaboratively. Here are some ways to engage the community:

Run a Feedback Survey

Create a survey asking:

  • What members hope to get from the community?
  • What worries them or might prevent engagement?
  • What rules or etiquette should be put in place?
  • What behavior should be prohibited?

Tally the most common responses and use them to shape your guidelines.

Start a Discussion Thread

In your community, create a dedicated discussion inviting members to share:

  • What rules or etiquette they think should be in place and why.
  • How they’d like to be treated by fellow members.
  • What behavior concerns them that should be addressed or prohibited.

Use suggestions from the discussion to update your rules.

Form a Member Advisory Panel

Invite a diverse range of respected community veterans to join a special advisory panel on guidelines. Have them review draft guidelines and provide constructive feedback and suggestions for how to improve them.

Host a Town Hall

Schedule a live video call open to all members to share draft guidelines and solicit real-time feedback through a Q&A session. Take note of concerns raised and suggestions offered for improving the rules.

Explain the Rationale

When implementing new guidelines, explain the rationale to members. Share some of the factors that went into developing them. If specific member feedback shaped the updates, point that out. Transparency helps gain buy-in.

By giving members a voice in the process, you can create guidelines that meet the community’s needs and expectations rather than just imposing arbitrary rules. Members will take more ownership over guidelines they help shape.

Consider Appointing Community Role Models

Roles like administrators and moderators enforce your guidelines, but you can also appoint community exemplars to model the behavior you want to cultivate.

Some roles to consider:

Ambassadors

Designate respected, constructive members as ambassadors. Have them welcome new members, share guidelines, give etiquette pointers, and mentor community newcomers.

Guides

Recruit knowledgeable members to serve as subject matter guides. They can point fellow members to helpful resources and create content like tutorials and “getting started” guides.

Mentors

Pair up experienced community members with newer ones as mentors. They can provide one-on-one guidance on everything from etiquette to niche topics. It helps acclimate new members.

Champions

Spotlight exemplary members posting particularly helpful, in-depth, or constructive content. Public recognition motivates them to continue contributing to a positive culture.

Advisors

Invite veterans who deeply understand community needs to advise you on enhancing guidelines and culture. They can provide invaluable perspective from the front lines of day-to-day interactions.

Note that these roles aren’t about policing. They’re about activating members who embody your ideals to help guide others by example—not punishment. Make them evangelists for your guidelines who lead through positivity.

Train Moderators on Your Etiquette Approach

Moderators and administrators play an important part in upholding your guidelines. Make sure to effectively train them on enforcing rules while maintaining a constructive spirit.

Cover these topics when training moderators:

  • Explain the rationale behind your rules and etiquette standards so they understand the intention and why it matters.
  • Share examples of model interactions that exemplify your guidelines so they recognize what to encourage.
  • Review sensitivity guidance to ensure they handle situations involving harassment and marginalized groups appropriately.
  • Set expectations for reply tone so they avoid coming across as authoritarian or condescending when moderating. Friendliness and empathy go a long way.
  • Equip them with templates explaining common moderation actions to maintain consistency. For example, template warning messages, suspensions notices, ban explanations, etc.
  • Set up an internal process for reviewing tricky judgment calls and bannings so no single moderator has absolute authority in gray areas.
  • Make yourself personally available to provide guidance on complex moderation scenarios not covered by existing protocol.

By coaching moderators on enforcing etiquette in a way aligned with your culture, they become guardians rather than obstacles to an uplifting environment. Members will view them as aligned with the community, not against it.

Intervene Quickly When Problems Arise

Even communities with clear guidelines and etiquette will experience tensions and problems sometimes—it’s inevitable in any shared space. Success rests on how quickly and effectively you intervene.

To maintain a positive culture, address issues through this escalating scale of intervention:

Gentle Reminders

For minor first-time etiquette violations, friendly reminders are often sufficient to address the situation and prevent repeats.

Warnings

For clear rule violations, issue clear warnings outlining the problem and explaining consequences if repeated.

Temporary Suspensions

Timeouts suspending accounts for a set period serve as stern warnings without permanently banning members.

Permanent Bans

Reserve permanent bans from the community for severe or repeated violations showing a member doesn’t intend to reform behavior.

Take care to make any reprimands constructive rather than punitive. The goal is to maintain etiquette standards, not devolve into acrimony. Members will follow your lead, so set an example of calm authority.

For severe incidents like harassment, hate speech, or illegality, though, move quickly to permanent bans. Don’t tolerate violations threatening vulnerable members’ sense of safety and inclusion. Your responsibility is to the community as a whole.

Review Reports and Feedback on Guidelines

Make sure to regularly review violation reports, ban appeals, and general member feedback about your guidelines. Adjust them over time to adapt to evolving needs.

Some points to analyze in your reviews:

  • Are certain rules violated frequently, indicating confusion or disagreement? Consider clarifications or adjustments.
  • Do members complain certain situations are handled too harshly or leniently? Assess consistency.
  • Are members struggling with rules open to interpretation like “relevance” or “excessive self-promotion”? Add concrete examples for reference.
  • Has etiquette guidance grown outdated due to cultural shifts or new features? Update suggestions.
  • Are new types of problematic behavior cropping up that need addressing? Append rules covering them.
  • Are marginalized members reporting feeling singled out or unwelcome? Assess for biases.

Evolving your guidelines based on real member experiences preserves their relevance over time. But don’t make changes lightly based on one-off complaints. Look for consistent patterns warranting fixes.

Conclusion

A member-focused guidelines and etiquette policy is crucial for any community hoping to facilitate rewarding interactions between members. With clear expectations set, you empower members to hold themselves accountable in maintaining constructive exchanges of ideas, support, and camaraderie.

But guidelines alone aren’t enough: it also takes conscientious monitoring and intervention when problems emerge. Diligence and care in shaping your community culture pays dividends in the satisfaction, retention, and strengthening bonds between members over time.

So devote the necessary thought and effort up front in crafting inclusive rules members view as legitimate and embrace. Then continue reinforcing positive interactions through judicious moderation and regular refinement of your policies. By shepherding respectful dialogue and cooperation, your community will thrive for all.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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