Published on diciembre 9th, 2009 | by GAby Menta0
Crafting a Great Community / Social Media Policy.
I’ve said before that there are three crucial elements of online community policy: Legality, appropriateness, and relevance.
I’m now thinking that there’s actually a «hierarchy of needs» among those three, and that taken together and put into practice, they are much more than a set of rules for what’s ok to do in the community. They’re more like a social contract, a creator of quality and value.
Legality isn’t exactly black and white, as you’d sort of want it to be. But it is quite straightforward in that you basically need to do what your lawyers tell you. In many cases there’s some education and negotiation, but there’s also a reason lawyers get paid a lot. In the end, you do what they say.
Likewise, appropriateness is pretty easy. You generally rule out profanity and abuse. From there you can dial the politeness requirements up or down to suit your needs. In fantasy football, for example, smack talk is part of the fun; in a forum for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, behavioral standards are much higher.
But deciding what’s relevant and what isn’t is a very different story. I consulted, for example, with REI on their online community strategy and governance, and there are a few great examples from that exercise of how challenging relevance is to define:
- It’s tempting for an outdoor retailer with a merchandising focus to align community discussions with its product taxonomy. But REI doesn’t sell photography stuff, and photography is a huge part of many people’s outdoor experience. They want to talk about it. So, this one isn’t too tough, right? How about:
- Would it be ok to talk about snowmobiling? To post photos and videos of snowmobiling? What about heli-skiing? REI’s focus on stewardship and sustainable enjoyment of the outdoors makes this tough, because most cross-country skiers despise snowmobiles, and heli-skiing is accessible only to the well-off. And then there’s the whole snowmobiles in Yellowstone thing. Yikes. But wait:
- In regions like Texas, among the outdoor activities most enjoyed by REI customers are hunting and fishing. Would it be ok on an REI web site to post a photo of yourself posing with the elk you just shot? The poor barefoot hikers in Portland would pass out! But the folks in Plano, or Missoula, would get it. So maybe the elk feels like an extreme example. What about a photo of your six-year-old proudly displaying the day’s catch of bluegill?
The thing is, these are brand questions. And when you involve customers in content creation, you expose yourself to all the variety of your customers’ senses of what your brand is all about, from regional variation to variation in taste and preference.
It’s messy. And yes, you have to exercise control. But a degree of openness is also critical, and not only because people won’t participate in a system they perceive as restricting their self-expression. Online community and social media represent a tremendous opportunity to give customers an emotional stake in the brand, a sense of ownership that will increase value at the far end of the funnel—increasing loyalty and generating word of mouth advocacy.
Craft your policies—both outward-facing in community settings and inward-facing for managing your own company’s social media activity—not with the mindset that you need to restrict activity or restrain creative self-expression, but with the mindset that you need to enable creativity and empower participants. I think of it as analogous to sports: The rules are there to make the game safe, fair, and fun—not to keep people from playing.