Businesses of all sizes are always trying to find ways to increase customer loyalty, and creating an online community is one of the best ways to do so.
Not only do communities encourage repeat purchases, but they act as built-in support teams or beta testers for new products or services.
However, if you’re thinking of starting one for your business, you’ll need to create community guidelines to keep everything in check.
This becomes especially important when your group starts growing, since keeping up with all the community members and posts could become challenging.
In this article, we share some tips on how to create community guidelines for your brand, some successful examples you can take inspiration from, and a concise guidelines template.
Are you ready? Let’s get into it.
Why Do You Need Community Guidelines?
Think of community guidelines as lanes on the highway. Without them, traffic would dart all over the place, resulting in collisions, confusion, and nobody reaching their destination.
Community guidelines provide the same type of order to an online community—whether that’s through social media, a website, or a community app. Since you can’t possibly monitor every single interaction, you’ll need to enlist your community members to help.
A clear set of guidelines will:
- Discourage inappropriate behavior (spam, hate speech, bullying, etc.)
- Help resolve conflicts and misunderstandings
- Encourage transparency between your brand and the fans
- Communicate effective posting techniques to increase community engagement
- Highlight your brand’s strengths and innovative use cases
This way, community guidelines will create a group that actively benefits your brand while giving space to your most vocal supporters.
Furthermore, if you take a look at why people join online communities as opposed to social media, it becomes clear that you need community guidelines.
The best communities are those where everyone feels welcome and respected by others without feeling like they’re being sold to. These online community examples, for instance, do a great job of hiding their brand behind an optimal member experience.
Tips for Creating Effective Community Guidelines
In a perfect world, you’d have a community manager overseeing your online community’s day-to-day operations.
However, this is not a cost-effective strategy for most brands. A much simpler solution is to have robust community guidelines that can be referred to.
If you’re unsure about how to get started, here are a few tips that should help you out.
1. Establish Clear Rules and Expectations
One of the most significant issues that community managers face is managing their own groups. According to the most recent community statistics, more than 40% of moderators have a difficult time enforcing community rules because of the amount of manual labor involved.
For this reason, you need clear rules so that they can be understood by everyone and enforced with as little ambiguity and effort as possible.
Consider creating a clear list of do’s and don’ts. It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list spanning every activity under the sun, but it should touch on obvious problematic behaviors: discrimination, anything illegal, or unauthorized self-promotion.
2. Highlight the Positive Aspects of Your Community
The last thing you want to do is create a sense of foreboding in your community. Your rules should be strict, but not negative.
For example, instead of saying that no member should be engaged in aggressive behavior, say that every member is expected to “cooperate.” This way, you’ll communicate that your community is a place to build each other up, not show off and demean others.
You can find a good example of this behavior in the Wanderful’s guidelines. This online community is dedicated to solo female travel, and empowers community members to connect, share their experiences, and work together on growing a dedicated community.
Just read the first few sentences of their mission statement and the emphasis on cooperation will be immediately clear. Even their header image is positive and inviting.
Additionally, try to use your community guidelines to reiterate your company’s values. For example, what’s your brand’s mission, and how can your community contribute to those efforts?
3. Use a Community Guidelines Template
If you find a brand with a really engaged community, it’s a good idea to use their guidelines as inspiration. After all, if it’s working for them, why wouldn’t it work for you?
Some platforms may even have a community guidelines template that you can borrow from, or you can find other communities on the same platform and see what works for them. Pick a few of your favorite ideas and use them as a starting point for your own.
Most guidelines start with a welcome, then go right into the group’s purpose. Only then do they move into the do’s and don’ts. Don’t be afraid to make it conversational, but if your brand calls for more formality, keep it professional.
Try something like this:
We’re so excited to have you as a part of our community. Our members always strive to [goals for the group], and we look forward to your contributions!
Before we start, here are a couple of ground rules that we ask all our new members to follow to ensure that we keep this a positive environment for everyone.
- [Positive guidelines]
- [Negative guidelines]
If you see anyone breaking any of the above mentioned rules, please let one of the moderators know by [contact information]. We’ll respond appropriately and as quickly as possible.
Thanks for your help. We’ll see you inside!”
4. Provide Resources for Reporting Violations
In order to enforce your online community guidelines, you should offer your community members a way to report violations.
It doesn’t matter if that’s through an email address or by tagging an admin; the method you choose should be quick and straightforward.
Ideally, you should have multiple channels available for reporting violations—e.g., email, tagging, keyword comment, or flagging. Encourage your members to use the method that is most practical for them.
The punishment for breaking these rules should also be clear to your members, or else your brand could be accused of imposing sanctions unfairly.
Think about this: what happens when someone posts a link to their product without an authorization? Will their post be removed? How many violations will it take for a user to be suspended or banned?
Make these punishments clear on your guidelines, or, at the very least, link to a post on your page where people can see them if they want.
5. Be Transparent About Enforcement Actions
Not every violation requires public punishment. However, in some cases—like when users are adversely affected—you should consider addressing what happened publicly in order to maintain a safe community space.
This usually happens when groups choose to react to their community instead of taking a proactive approach to moderation. However, due to limited resources, some brands may decide to rely on their members to self-police, allowing anyone to post whatever they want for any reason.
If that’s your brand’s approach, you should share examples of especially bad actors with your members. For instance, you could write a post stating who committed the violation, what they did, and what course of action was taken.
6. Regularly Update and Monitor the Guidelines
If you’re feeling overwhelmed when thinking about how important it is to get community guidelines right, you’re not alone.
But remember: they are a work in progress; don’t be afraid to add or remove elements if they’re not applicable anymore.
Alternatively, once your group becomes big enough, you may ask members for help. Identify some of the major contributors in your group and ask them what administrative changes they’d like to see implemented.
7. Remember to Include Positive Guidelines, Too
While it can be easy to state what not to do, try to focus mostly on positive and preferred interaction guidelines. To do this, think about what kind of activity you’d like to see and emphasize that instead of just the rules.
The Productive Environment Network, for example, has a great set of guidelines that they pin to the top of their group’s page. One of them reminds members to focus on “knowledge sharing” instead of giving advice.
Here’s what they have to say:
“There are plenty of places online where we can dole out our expert opinions. We want to foster instead an environment where healthy debate is encouraged and everyone is celebrated for sharing their questions, stories, and perspectives. Our goal is to tackle big questions and work together to discover all of the potential answers. That can only happen when we are committed to collaboration and true knowledge sharing.”
Community Guidelines Examples
Below are some examples of online community guidelines that do a great job of balancing rules and expectations. Look through them and see what type of guidelines you can implement in your own group.
Jewel Never Broken Community
The Jewel Never Broken group was started by the singer Jewel, who authored a book of the same name. The group is advertised as an add-on to her book and encourages members to work on their “emotional fitness.”
In keeping with her theme, her community guidelines are dedicated to sharing, support, and generosity. There are only a few “negative” guidelines for users to remember.
What makes this example stand out is that she begins and ends her guidelines on a personal note. After asking everyone to share a one-minute intro paragraph and pic with the group, she ends by saying that she’s “glad you’re here.”
As a result, group members feel immediately included and welcomed.
One of the things that you likely noticed about these online mom community guidelines is their brevity and conciseness. There are no long sentences to slog through—just quick, simple instructions for how to behave once you’re a member.
And for good measure, they also tell you how to report people if they break the rules. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.
Women of Impact by National Geographic
Facebook groups usually have a very clear set of rules before you join, and Women of Impact is no different. This group is all about empowerment and celebrating “world-shaping powerhouses.” There’s no room for disrespect.
As a matter of fact, that’s the first thing on their list: be respectful.
But since this group has over 70,000 members, they also included a rule about properly categorizing posts. This makes it easy for others to scan the group and get the info they need right away.
Mobile Monkey is a community of business professionals that use digital marketing tools like SMS and email marketing. They’re founded by Larry Kim, who also founded Wordstream.
There are very few rules from the admins of this group. In fact, the only ones they have are about self-promotion and how you treat others.
Contained in the rule about self-promotion, however, is a rule directly targeting marketers, which states, “Give more than you take.”
This may not sound like much, but in a niche where the tendency is to sell your tools, Mobile Monkey focuses on contributing to the group rather than promoting yourself.
Nearly every brand could use a community, but every online community needs some sort of guidelines. There needs to be a structure, or else the group will tailspin into oblivion.
Once you’ve set up a community, you need to find ways to engage your community members. When you combine group activity with a way to curtail bad actors, you’ll have a recipe for a thriving group!
Chances are that you’re in at least a few online communities. If so, what guidelines have you seen that are effective at creating an engaged group? What do you wish communities focused more on? Let us know in the comments below!