Your community culture will drive or inhibit engagement. It’s up to you to set and reinforce community guidelines that set the stage for desired community behaviors — if you leave it up to your users or member base, your community is less likely to thrive and will be harder to manage.
Community guidelines need to be clear, concise, and easy-to-find. Many communities place their guidelines above the fold in a sidebar or in the footer where it is always present. You could also display them in a sticky post, meaning that a link to the content is highlighted and present at the top of each page.
So what should you include in your community guidelines?
1. Purpose of your community
Community guidelines need to clarify why your community exists. By explicitly stating the purpose of your community, users will understand the relevancy of posts and what to expect from the community.
2. Expected etiquette
Behind a computer screen, people often say or act differently than they would in person. With trolls and negativity, your community won’t be able to grow or feel inviting for others to ask questions and share knowledge. Let users know upfront what behaviors are prohibited and how they’re expected to act.
The Hortonwork’s Community Corner keeps their etiquette simple by stating, “Be honest, be courteous, and be professional.” Hortonworks also tells users that there is no tolerance for abuse, spamming, advertising or trolling, and that personal attacks and expletives will be banned.
3. Benefits of community membership
Why is it worthwhile for users to visit and contribute to the community? A community member’s engagement with your community involves their time – and they need to know why their time will be well spent here.
4. How to contribute to the community and best practices
Give community members instructions on how to ask questions, interact with others, and take the desired actions you want to see in your community. If they don’t know how to engage, many won’t take the time to figure it out.
For example, Epic’s Unreal Engine community teaches users how to use the site to ask questions, post answers, and become a community leader. Their members have a clear understanding of how to contribute in the community, which leads to a sense of clarity and better engagement.
Once clarity is established about the purpose of an organization’s community and the rules that guide it, successful engagement will follow. Community members will understand the role they play and the parameters within which to participate. Community managers can also effectively monitor engagement to ensure it aligns with the organization’s objectives.