Most Facebook Groups and other online communities put guidelines in place and use moderators to ensure the community is a healthy place. Effective Facebook Group Moderation adds value in the following ways:
- It discourages the Internet Trolls who can quickly spoil things for the rest. I’ve quit more than one online forum just because the trolling gets so objectionable the pain isn’t worth any perceived gain. Life’s too short!
- It makes it more likely participants will help achieve the intended goals for the group if they know what’s expected of them. For example, if they’re all part of an online course, training, or master class, they should be talking about matters that are on-topic and not discussing the ballgame or other water cooler-type topics.
- It minimizes annoying spam that is objectionable to the participants.
- It prevents competition when the group is being used for a business purpose. Restaurants and movie theaters hate it when you bring in your own food and drinks because it competes with the products they’re selling.
Each of those is going to add value for the community participants or the community owner. Ideally any rules or moderator behavior should be focused on adding value to the community participants and the owner, but sometimes there are guidelines and practices in place that actively detract from adding value.
In a past life I was responsible for some very innovative uses of online communities in customer service. I was the CEO of a startup called Helpstream, and we were part of a (then) emerging movement called “Social CRM.”
The product actually worked fabulously well. Infusionsoft was one of our customers, and they discovered when they used our product for all customer service they were able to handle 3x as many incidents per support representatives and customer satisfaction was higher too.
That’s a big deal!
As you can imagine, customer service can be a pretty touchy area. It’s a short walk from being constructive to having folks chasing after you with pitchforks and torches! The rules for the community and moderation needed to be carefully constructed to maximize the benefits for all concerned.
I’ve been participating in a fair number of online communities lately, and I’m going to be starting a private Facebook Group for my online course participants. For that reason, I felt this would be a good time to get my thoughts down about moderation and rules for Facebook Groups and other communities.
Below are my do’s and don’t for successfully using a Facebook Group or other Online Community for your business. I have them both for Moderation and for the Rules you present to your members.
Community Rule Do’s and Don’ts
Dealing With Promotions and Spam
In any online community, there are always a fair number of folks with something to promote. Whether you’re trying to shield your members from Spam or trying to prevent competitors from extracting value from your community, you’ll need some simple rules.
Most Facebook Groups I’ve participated in are very strict about Promotions. In many cases they insist that you not publish any links of any kind to any web property that you own, even your email. Those that do allow promotions often limit them to one post on one special day of the week. Sometimes the post has to be part of a single thread–no posting outside the thread.
That level of promotion control is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It has two big problems:
- It prevents offering an already written blog post that perfectly answers a legitimate question or topic that belongs on the board. Google expressly favors results containing outbound links in search results for a reason–they add value. Why are you trying to cut off that value for your participants?
- It fails to nurture the 1% who contribute most of the value to your community (see below for more on Social Pyramids and how many participants create the value in a community). If a one percenter wants to promote themselves a little bit and it isn’t too spammy, annoying, or competitive, why not let them? What other incentive do they have to spend so much additional time helping people in your community?
I think a more reasoned set of rules for posting links (and hence potential promotions) would go something like this:
Posting links is okay if:
- The link does not lead to a page directly selling something the poster benefits from. The page might have ads or links to a sale page, but you can’t link to the sale page itself if you benefit. These are commercial solicitations.
- The link does not promote a competitor or their content.
- No affiliate links.
- The link must lead to a page that’s on point for whatever topic or thread it is posted to.
- The link must lead to a page that doesn’t violate the guidelines for what can be posted in the group directly.
- It’s okay to start a thread with a link that will be generally of interest and on point to the community participants.
- If people complain or the moderator decides the post doesn’t fit these guidelines, it will be deleted.
- The group allows an exception–perhaps on a particular weekday or in a particular thread. I like the #Freeforall tag, LOL!
These guidelines are slightly more complex than just banning links as promotions, but they allow links that are valuable to the community to be posted and links that are not to be avoided.
Discourage Personal Attacks and Trolling
Make it clear in your rules that personal attacks on any participant won’t be tolerated. Be clear that constructive criticism is okay.
If you have an audience that is unusually sensitive for some reason to critical remarks, you may want to require a poster to ask for critique before critical comments can be made.
Discourage Inappropriate Content
Examples of inappropriate content include:
- Offensive or violent language
- Hateful or discriminatory comments regarding race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or political beliefs.
- Sexually explicit material.
- Violations of copyright or intellectual property
- Files containing malware or viruses
- Comments meant to harass, threaten or abuse an individual
- Social solicitation or sexual advances
Private Messaging of Members
This is often a no-no for Facebook Groups and often encouraged in other kinds of communities. You’ll have to decide what’s best for your community, but be explicit about it. For most communities, bulking up your email list by just spamming community members should be a no-no.
Tell Them How To Be A Positive Influence
Describe the kinds of posts that are welcome and that are positive influences for the community.
Moderation Do’s and Don’ts
Make Your Voice Explicit
Write down the tone or voice you want your representatives to present to participants any time they communicate. Don’t just leave to change that people will do the right thing, give your staff guidelines. And make sure you follow them too!
It’s Not Your Community
I know you think of it as your community, but if you act literally in that fashion, and treat your participants as underlings who have to do everything you say entirely for your benefit, it won’t work.
Without members, fans, or followers, you don’t have a community. In fact, without engaged members, fans, and followers who are positive and enthusiastic about being in the community, it won’t work.
As much as possible, think of yourself as a member of the community, not as its ruler. You’re there to contribute too. Don’t just be negative and say, “No” all the time. Be a positive contributor at least as often. Being a real first class participant will make everyone’s experience better and will earn you loads of street cred with your participants.
Let The Community Moderate Itself As Much As Possible
As owner and moderator, don’t exert too much control. You are there strictly to keep things on topic, make sure people don’t violate the rules too egregiously (but don’t scold every little infraction), and keep people from attacking/trolling each other.
Otherwise, let the community go its own way without pushing them around.
Don’t Mind a Little Controversy
Look, people disagree from time to time. It’s what makes life interesting. If we all agreed on every detail, it would be dull and we’d soon tire of discussing the issues.
A little controversy is fine. You just don’t want it to get nasty with people attacking each other. Trying to stamp out every little bit of disagreement is going to be a case of exerting too much control.
Guidelines for Banning a Member
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Are they doing a LOT more hurting than helping?
- Are they attacking, spamming, trolling, or otherwise annoying lots of members?
- Are they a competitive threat to your business?
- Does it seem like they’re just there to make trouble?
Be sure to look at a fair bit of history before taking a banning step. Sometimes a participant is just having a bad day or a bad week. Above all, communicate with them before banning to give them a chance to correct their behavior.
Banning is always a last resort.
Nurture Your 1 Percent!
WIth online communities 90% are lurkers, 9% contribute occasionally, and only 1% are heavy contributors. This split is called the Community Pyramid.
That 1% of heavy contributes are the most valuable participants in your community, and you should be doing everything you can to nurture and encourage them.
Many communities encourage the 1% by rewarding them. For example, they give them badges of some kind. Another example is some communities, like Reddit, have a voting that leads to a reputation ranking for the best participants.
Putting Your Guidelines Into Practice
Twenty six pages of legalese is not the answer. What you want to do is move to a higher level that encompasses the guidelines you want to have without being too wordy.
Here’s an example I put together that’s based on guidelines Converse Shoes uses:
We’re not much for rules–never have been. That’s because we’re entrepreneurs!
But, we do believe there are certain ways to act that boil down to acting as you would toward your friends.
You learned about this in kindergarten. Same thing here. It’s important because it’s the essence of how friends behave towards one another.
KEEP IT CLEAN
If you wouldn’t show it to your mother, don’t share it with us. You know what we mean!
Be all that you can be here. Help everyone you can. Make their day and let them make yours. It’ll be way more interesting, and way more fun.
THIS IS FOR YOU
This is for you, not us. Use it to your fullest benefit. Share things, learn stuff, get to know us and each other. That’s the whole point.
STAY ON POINT
Speaking of points, we’re here for a purpose. Please stay on point for our purpose.
PROMOTE IDEAS NOT PRODUCTS
Promote your ideas, even with a link to your blog posts or videos. Give things away without expecting any compensation. Just don’t sell your products or disparage ours.
(Cross-posted @ Bob Warfield)