After you've had a chance to establish yourself as a trusty and reliable manager to your community, the next step is to lay down the law. Many products have terms of use, but those terms of use are very different than community guidelines. They're also not all that visible and people find them to be insulting and not the least bit user-friendly (who reads all that legal talk?). 

There are a couple amazing posts, on Ning and otherwise, about the right way to create community guidelines, so I won't re-hash all of that here except to link you to a bunch of resources to get you started. See below for those links. Community guidelines are also very subjective and personal to the type of community, so keep in mind that these guidelines pertain to customer communities around a product or service. 

However, I do want to make the following key point about creating community guidelines, which underlines why this is such an integral and important step in the process: These guidelines should stay true to your philosophy and the type of interaction you want to inspire in people. My personal take on guidelines is if you give me more than 3 rules, I'm out. So be cool about it and run it by your legal, marketing, and design departments. Then go live. 

For instance, start here with these three simple rules:

  1. No profanity, name-calling, or verbally attacking other members. 
  2. No customer service inquiries. For these inquiries, please contact xx@xx.com [your proper email here]. If you post a customer service-related question, we will kindly re-direct you once. 
  3. Product feedback must be constructive in nature. Complaints should be ways of opening up a discussion about how we can solve the issue rather than be offensive. You can complain here, but offering a suggestion for fixing the issue is always a better approach.

And then I like to establish consequences for these actions. This is also vital as it gives you a clear roadmap of action you can take. Take the below example and tailor it as you see fit.

Should you violate any of the above three rules, we will deal with the issue in this order.

  1. Private email warning detailing your offense and how to avoid future offenses.
  2. After the first warning, we will remove any of your posts that violate this policy within 12 hours.
  3. If this continues beyond 3 offenses, we will suspend your account from the community platform for 4 days.
  4. If the offense continues, we will remove you from the community platform altogether (we hope this never happens!). 

In general, I like to post these in a number of different places throughout the site, as well as in a special section on our blog so that they're visible to our customer community. If your users don't see these guidelines, that's a UX issue, which is on you, not them. You need to do a good job of educating people at the outset and they'll start to self-police in time. 

Links to teach you how to write community guidelines:

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