Once in place, community rules – or guidelines – help community managers make decisions faster (along with a consistent set of rules), make it easier to get new moderators up to speed, and make rule enforcement consistent between moderators. So what should you include in your community rules?

Start with a mission

Your community rules should remind the members why they would care about rules and guidelines in the first place – they keep the community safe and its purpose clear.

So you should start by including one paragraph about the mission of the space and the values of your community. You could drop your own mission into a template, something like the below: 

Welcome to [COMMUNITY NAME]! We are thrilled to give you a warm welcome to this space. 

Our mission is to [STATEMENT OF MISSION]. That is why our team works hard to ensure that we align our actions with that purpose. These Community Guidelines should not only help you understand how to act within the community but also help you understand what to expect from others in this space.  

Pinterest:

“Pinterest’s mission is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love. That being said, not all content is inspiring – so we have community guidelines to outline what we do and don’t allow on Pinterest. These guidelines are our acceptable use policy, so if you find content that shouldn’t be on Pinterest, please report it to us. We use your reports to learn and evolve our standards, and work with subject matter experts to inform and update our guidelines.”

Patreon:

“These guidelines summarize a thorough, thoughtful, and living internal policy that we spent time thinking about and defining with guidance from community and safety experts. We’re proud of these guidelines because we believe they will help creators build a safe and supportive environment in which they can continue to create, share and build intimate and lasting relationships with their patrons.”

Outline the Do’s and Don’ts

There are two ways to write guidelines: rule-based or values-based.

Rules-based guidelines are typically a list of rules that users must follow. While they are faster to write and often easier to start with, users often skim over them and perceive them as heavy-handed. For that reason, values-based guidelines are usually a better choice. 

Values-based guidelines begin with the values (e.g. we value critical dialogue) and then create guidelines that help members understand how to reinforce that value (e.g. disagree, but do so with credible references to sources that back up your argument). These guidelines are often written in the affirmative rather than the negative.

Almost all community guidelines should include rules around the following points: 

  • Copyright or intellectual property violations
  • Illegal activity
  • Any harassment or hateful conduct, including discrimination, hate speech, bullying, or targeted attacks
  • Impersonating other users
  • Spam and scams
  • Sexual content or nudity
  • Any violent conduct: extreme violence, graphic violence, threats, gore, obscenities
  • Harming others or acting maliciously
  • Sharing of private information 
  • Linking policies: the ability (or lack thereof) to promote products/services without disclosing the relationship with the brand
  • Self-promotion

Explain the consequences 

Violations of community guidelines are inevitable, so you need to be clear about consequences – it is as important as clearly stating the rules.

Include a section that lists the actions taken in the event of a transgression. Keep it fair and uncomplicated and provide explanations for actions taken by moderators. Some information you should include is:

  • What is the penalty for violations? Are there different penalties for users who violate the guidelines multiple times?
    • What is the penalty for first-time, second-time, and third-time offenders?
  • How many violations are allowed before suspension/ban?
  • Does your organization have a zero-tolerance policy for certain behavior?
  • Will you remove posts that go against your online community guidelines or add a comment to those posts? 
  • When a community manager becomes aware of a violation, will they comment publicly or send a private message to the member? 
  • Is there a review or approval process where admins review posts or comments for specific topics before they are live on the site? 
  • How can members report violations? 

Keep the rules up to date

Your online community guidelines should be an evolving set of rules that considers any issues or questions, new ways of thinking, perspectives, and more. And, as your community members evolve their thinking on particular topics or actions, you can change guidelines to fit the needs of your community better.

The guidelines are intended to inform and serve your users in the community, so it’s worth regularly revisiting these policies to ensure that’s still the case. 

EXAMPLES

Example 1: Community Guidelines for an online courses platform

Overview:

The goals of this community are to assist course takers and students in their personal and professional pursuits, to help maintain friendships and connections formed, to build strong and mutually beneficial ties between all platform users, to promote goodwill in the community, and to stimulate interest through increased opportunities for engagement.

In order to meet the goals of this community, it’s important for members to feel like they are in a safe place that is populated by people with shared interests. As such, we request that you read and adhere to the guidelines that follow.

Guidelines:

  • Treat others online as you would treat them in real life
  • Be tolerant towards other’s viewpoints; respectfully disagree when opinions do not align
  • Respect the privacy and personal information of others
  • Communicate with courtesy and respect

Please do not:

  • Make personal attacks on other community members
  • Use defamatory remarks or make false statements against others
  • Post prejudiced comments or profanity
  • Bully or make inflammatory remarks to other community members

Use messaging responsibly. This function is intended to keep members in touch with one another, help facilitate networking, and promote common interests. Some examples might include:

  • Inviting local area members to a networking event
  • Reaching out to individuals for advice
  • Messaging and using personal contact information made available through the community – including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts – for any commercial, advocacy, promotional, or political purpose is prohibited. Prohibited activities include solicitations for business or personal services, fundraising, cold-calling, mass mailings, or broadcast e-mails.

Consequences:

We will take action when we see someone violating these guidelines. Sometimes that just means giving someone a warning; other times it means revoking certain privileges or accounts entirely. We request that all community members report behavior that violates our guidelines to EMAIL.

Agreement:

By logging onto the community and activating your profile, you are considered to be in agreement with the terms and conditions listed above.

Example 2 – Community Guidelines – general 

Welcome to the [company] community! This is a safe space to discuss [brand/products or values].

We want everyone to be part of our community and have their voice heard. We encourage your feedback and aim to respond to your comments as soon as possible. While we do moderate this community, we welcome open discussion. 

To help everyone enjoy our community, we ask that when you post, you keep in mind the following: 

  • We don’t allow defamatory, indecent, offensive, profane, discriminatory, misleading, unlawful or threatening comments. 
  • Personal attacks, name-calling, trolling and abuse will not be tolerated.
  • Spamming, posting promotional material or posting links to third party websites is not permitted.
  • We reserve the right to delete comments at our discretion and block any repeat offenders. We will remove content that is fraudulent, deceptive or misleading.
  • Coordinated group attacks will not be tolerated. 
  • Respect that other people in the community have had different life experiences and may have a different perspective to yours. We welcome different viewpoints.
  • Our community is a public place. Don’t post personal information that you would not be comfortable sharing with a stranger. We recommend that you don’t post any information that may identify you or anyone else, such as your address, email address or phone number.
  • Employees participating in the discussion in our community are reminded of the staff social media guidelines.

If you a question about a product or service of ours, please get in touch via our website at [website].

If you’d like to chat with a community moderator, please get in touch with us at: [contact number and/or website].