Managing your online community for inclusion

by Quiip Team February 25, 2016

AME Business Support Social Media Meme

Quiip has added its voice to the growing call for marriage equality in Australia, joining over 800 organisations.

This represents our company living our values and it sends a clear signal that we offer a safe and supportive place for LGBTQI people to work. In Community Manager parlance, we’re signalling our values to our community.

To mark this occasion, we’d like to share some tips for how to promote equality within your community, by managing for inclusion.

Be explicit about your values

You may assume an unspoken value is understood and shared by your community, but you may be mistaken. These values can be expressed in your community guidelines. Remember that your community guidelines are a chance to expand on your mission and values with a positive and aspirational statement of what kind of behaviour you want in your community.

For example, the ReachOut support forum for young people leads their community guidelines with a positive, aspirational statement:

When contributing make sure you treat others with respect. Keeping to these guidelines will mean that everyone can contribute without fear of abuse, harassment or encountering inappropriate content.

It also follows with an explicit statement of behaviour and attitudes that aren’t welcome:

Never create posts that may incite hatred or are discriminatory on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality, sexuality or other personal characteristics.

The list of behavioural don’ts is important because it gives your Community Manager a rule to point to when they are editing or deleting a post. It is much easier to say “you knew the rules” than to try to explain how someone violated an unwritten law.

Be proactive to ensure that diverse voices are represented in your community

Online community demographics tend not to shift without concerted effort. If your community has traditionally been dominated by, for example, white middle class men, it will stay that way unless you or your community members act to change it.

This is especially important if your online community aspires to include more diversity. For example, a mental health support community which only rarely sees conversations about LGBTQI relationships can signal to a newcomer that the community isn’t the right place for them to share or ask a question on such topics.

Proactively work with the LGBTQI-identified members of your online community to learn what kind of content and conversations they want to see and lead in the community, and then follow through.

Change your language where it renders difference invisible

The language you use on your website and online community may be signaling exclusion. In a relationship conversation, encouraging people to talk about their “partners” invites unmarried and LGBTQI people to join the conversation.

Choose community platforms and spaces that enable safety of participants

Unfortunately, the larger social networks are still struggling to catch up to online community need for safety. If you are planning a public conversation on a topic that may attract a backlash, try to avoid platforms which have few tools to stop abuse, such as Twitter.

Tolerating abusive or bigoted comments for an extended period of time on your community is failing your community members and failing to provide a safe and pleasant experience for them. Sadly, we still see this ‘anything goes’ policy in the comments sections of far too many news and current affairs sites.

Be brave and back yourself and your communities’ values

“Dan from Optus” became a viral sensation recently for calmly and politely shutting down anti-Muslim statements on his corporate employer’s Facebook Page. Being a politely persistent, egalitarian community manager earned Dan, and through his work, Optus, a lot of attention and admiration for doing the right thing.

We hope and predict we’ll see more of this type of behaviour in online community management, and we’d love to hear your favourite examples or tips on how to make online communities more inclusive.