Is It Time to Revisit Your Community Management Policy?

Community management policies need regular updating to match the needs of your membership, says Community by Association’s Marjorie Anderson. But sometimes, changes might need to happen on the fly.

In the association space, private communities are often seen as professional forums. But there’s always the risk that conversations will become argumentative or the discussion will hit on a hot-button topic that fractures the community.

Marjorie Anderson, manager of digital communities at Project Management Institute and founder of the Community by Association website and network, says that these issues come up for many organizations—and that the solution is to build a thoughtful community management policy that can help both the community and the larger organization.

“Strong community management policies can help set the tone for how you ensure safe and productive engagement in spaces where members gather, whether that’s online or in person,” Anderson says, adding that having strong policies can “act as a guidepost for the development of guidelines for participation in these spaces,” as well as how the community is prioritized within the organization.

Update Policies Regularly

But managing a community doesn’t just mean reining people in; it must be considered at a high level and planned out in depth. Community management policies come with diverse considerations—among them data governance, disaster recovery, user privacy, terms of use, and guidelines for end users.

Anderson recommends having a regular plan to assess new policies for community management—at least once a quarter, with the understanding that things happen that might require changes on the fly. But those should be the exception, rather than the rule, she says.

“Waiting for something to happen before you review these policies doesn’t really help you or your community,” she says.

To underline the point, she offers the example of privacy policies that can be affected by legal changes, along the lines of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. If your organization is aware of a forthcoming regulation, “the time to start updating your privacy policy is now, not six months from now,” she says, as that gives your organization time to work with its legal team to make sure the policy is properly written and can simply be implemented when the time comes.

After planning ahead, “it’s just a matter of updating the policy publicly,” she says.

Focusing on Diversity

Another factor that needs to have a place in any community policy discussion is inclusion, so that a diversity of voices are able to take part in the community.

Anderson explains that these policies matter in community spaces because they help community managers more actively take steps to include people from different backgrounds of race, gender, and physical ability.

“It’s an exercise in intentionality, which can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day operational work,” she says.

Anderson flags a need for policies that reinforce the Americans With Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that is frequently applied in digital settings.

“The role that community management policies play in diversity and inclusion initiatives ensures that we aren’t leaving members out,” she says.

Keeping Conversations Civil

The current political and social climate can affect a private community, whether or not it’s on topic. And that can lead to heated debates over what should and shouldn’t be allowed.

Anderson recommends taking a formalized approach in these situations—so that when issues do emerge, the rules are clear, expectations are set, and managers can respond accordingly.

“Enforcement of those user guidelines and terms of use through documented moderation practices helps keep those conversations civil and helps prevent them from going off the rails,” she says.

But the important part of enforcing user guidelines is to ensure that the guidelines match the community, which is why Anderson says tailoring the rules is essential. A failure to do so can create problems down the line.

“Policies and guidelines that are too strict can make it difficult for people to engage, in which case they either won’t or they’ll create their own spaces that feel more natural to them,” she adds. “Those that are too loose create chaos in your community.”


(Natalyon/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!