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How to Ensure Consistency in Digital Community Rules

Digital communities are often the lifeblood of a company. Communities lend a personal touch to any digital platform, creating a sense of belonging and enhancing brand loyalty. Different users prefer different outlets from forums to message boards to social pages. Each platform offers the opportunity for consumers to be heard and for users to connect in an increasingly automated world. 

But know what your company is building when opening up collaboration and communication. While freedom of speech is an inalienable right, it can pose certain risks for a company. Even companies that celebrate the inquisitive mind, like Google, have to enforce certain community guidelines. 

So how do you create fair community rules and apply them to various platforms? 

Know your user journey. What is the purpose and drive for the people engaging in your community? Knowing your community and how they interact is essential to creating expectations, which should be the ultimate goal of your community rules. Where is your traffic originating? Are people engaging or simply visiting? Have you seen growth or decline? How many members do you gain every month, and what causes members to leave? Your target audience should look the same across the different iterations (website forums, social networks) of your brand’s online presence. If you understand your overall member profile, appropriate rules will work on every one of your platforms.

Keep it simple. First and foremost, all rules are based on the Terms of Service a person agrees to when using your site. The specifics of your community rules must originate from that agreement. That said, complicated guidelines may be hard to follow and discourage community engagement. Consider your basic philosophy, safeguard for extreme behaviors, and then identify what basic rules can allow people to freely engage, but in a proactive, safe manner. Determine which topics you want to keep off limits, and enforce them across the board. Keep your expectations cohesive across all platforms with basic rules that encourage responsibility, respectfulness, and compliance.

Implement a flagging system. One way to ensure rule consistency is to implement a self-policing system. When other users can flag inappropriate behavior, you’re quickly alerted to any problems. Users might try different tactics on different platforms, and a flagging system keeps them in line. Two pairs of eyes are better than one, and in a digital community, there are many pairs of eyes. This is a more peaceful way for members to report misconduct, rather than engaging in a textual battle. Monitoring multiple communities is a hefty job, and you need all the help you can get. Once again, be consistent and apply non-bias to every situation. 

Monitor closely. Yes, monitoring is a crucial part of ensuring consistency in community rules. The world is full of people seeking positive communication, but there’s no shortage of rule-breakers either. Keeping a close eye on your digital communities will prevent dissension and disruption. No company wants to be in the headlines for an off-color diatribe launched by one of its community members. Encourage branch-offs of community groups for people with like-minded, but possibly polarizing, opinions. While it’s important for your members to be able to be heard, it’s also important for them to feel safe and respected. Set the same standard for all of your communities and watch to be sure they are followed. 

Role model. Develop and engage your audience. Stagnation and lack of activity can hurt a digital community, causing boredom and provoking spikes of drama. Proactive develop opportunities for positive interaction. Acknowledge those who follow suit. Listen and adapt to the community vibe and health. Encourage the experience you wish your community to have actively.

Monitoring digital communities to ensure rule consistency is a precarious, full-time job. Companies that seek to thrive in this arena often wisely outsource the task. Digital community managers can keep the virtual peace for your business by engaging your customers, moderating your audience, and providing support 24/7. When rules are consistent across your brand, users know what to expect, which makes them comfortable to speak up and connect. Engage a trusted source to develop and moderate your communities, and make them a place where people want to stay.

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