Five ways to foster self-governance in online communities
Five ways to foster self-governance in online communities

Five ways to foster self-governance in online communities

How can you build a community with scale and sustainability in mind? What steps can you take to develop a level of self-governance in an online community? Here are my 5 “Rs” for Community Managers.

11th October 2010

Stop. [EXPLORED]

How can you build a community with scale and sustainability in mind? What steps can you take to develop a level of self-governance in an online community? Here are my 5 “Rs” for Community Managers.

I should be clear and say I don’t believe the vast majorities (ie. 99.9%) of communities can completely self-govern. There are however steps you can take to minimise the depth of your involvement in tasks that can potentially be managed by the community. Don’t see this purely as delegation – it is important for members to take responsibility for the shape and health of a community. It will increase their sense of ownership and loyalty.

Whether you have a nascent community or a robust lively community, chances are you have plenty on your plate. Rarely will your job involve simple things you can cross off your to-do list! As your community grows, the shape of your role will shift. The larger the active community, the more work you might need to do behind the scenes, whether it’s website/product development, marketing or community event, managing a community team or beyond.

Here are my 5 Rs of Self-Governance!

Rules

Rules, or guidelines (best practice points to them being called guidelines), are extremely important for the health of your community. These parameters will help define the behaviour that members can come to expect from each other. Keep your guidelines simple, less is more. Your rules will swiftly become a War & Peace if you attempt to explain each one in detail. Less rules are also easier for members to remember. A community will self-govern much more easily if everyone has a solid grasp on what is, and isn’t, tolerated. Read our popular post on writing online community guidelines.

Reinforcement

Reinforcing the guidelines is the best way of educating your members on their use. Very few people will read the guidelines/rules, let alone commit them to memory. With reinforcement soon enough you’ll have members warning others to rephrase or remove their post to adhere to the rules. Bless. It’s always a proud moment for a #cmgr.

Reporting

Reporting mechanisms are a necessity for any site or community that accepts user-generated content. Teach and encourage members to utilise these tools. the report function will form a vital component in your plans for self-governance. Inevitably you will receive a percentage of flagged content that is in fact permissible. If the volume is staggering you need to re-educate your members on the function. Or if you’re dealing with a YouTube (where the tone was never set!), good luck – you’ll need great technology and a big team!

Recognition

When a user (politely) points out the rules – thank them! The citizen’s arrest never really took off, so your community is going to need some guidance that its perfectly ok for them to cite the rules, in an acceptable fashion of course. They’ll be looking for your approval, and when you give it, you should see an increase in this behavior.

Rewards

If you run weekly or monthly feature members – this is a good opportunity to showcase the users that help self-govern your community. Status is a valued prize in online communities. Be careful not to choose the overzealous user who slaps the rules in everyone’s face (every community has them), but choose the members who are genuinely helpful and friendly in assisting newer members acclimatise to the community.

What tricks have you instigated to foster self-governance? I’d love some more ideas and contributions!

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