I have a confession to make. Community guidelines are my absolute least favorite part of community management.
I’ve been running a high-touch community for more than eight years now. Dreamers & Doers is an award-winning community and PR hype machine that amplifies extraordinary entrepreneurial women. Despite our success, some of the biggest frustrations over the years have been directly tied to our community guidelines.
I hate writing community guidelines. I hate enforcing them. I hate penalizing members who appear to be acting outside the boundaries of guidelines. I hate having to ‘play judge’ and interpret whether on not guidelines have actually been broken on a case-by-case basis. I hate allocating a disproportionate amount of training time toward the nuances and gray zones of guidelines. And I probably hate nothing more than discouraging a member who had the best of intentions but somehow found themselves in the sticky spiderweb of having violated one of our guidelines.
But the reality is, guidelines are important for any community, and absolutely crucial if your goal is to deliver a highly impactful experience.
However, guidelines can only be of value if community members adhere to them — and that’s only possible if members are aware of your guidelines, understand your guidelines, and finally, are motivated to follow them.
That’s why I am excited to share this super-simple hack. It’s so easy, it might nearly seem too obvious — but I haven’t really seen any other communities deploy this yet, so here we go!
If you want community members to be aware of your guidelines, understand the core principles of them, and follow through, send them a regular reminder (we do this annually) or ‘how to be an awesome member’ via email. That’s it! These added insights transfer nicely to various other community communication initiatives.
I realize it’s rare for us to lift our kimonos and get the opportunity to see actual examples of community initiatives in action. That’s why I’m all the more honored (and admittedly also slightly nervous) to share this example with you. The actual email will follow shortly!
Should a member have a subpar experience with another member, they now know that this isn’t something we intend to be part of the community experience or that we tolerate. Instead of associating such an experience with the entire community the member is more likely to think that the individual isn’t acting in line with guidelines and will assume that the community leaders are likely unaware of this transgression. They will probably bring this issue up to us verses writing the entire community off and canceling their membership. See? Much better!
If there were members who were considering taking their chances on not adhering to guidelines, I am certain they are less likely to do so if they are aware that all other members are also acutely aware of guidelines and would immediately notice if they themselves weren’t adhering to guidelines –– even in a one-on-one member setting (i.e. a setting we as community leaders aren’t privy to).
Most members (especially those who stand to be the 'most thoughtful' members) want to be part of a community that cares. In the end, the sole purpose of guidelines is that you want the best for your community members. Therefore, investing time and effort into not only conveying the 'what' of your guidelines but also the 'why' behind them, will build loyalty — especially among the members who are most likely to positively contribute to your community.
Without further ado — here’s the email we send. Be sure to scroll all the way down for crucial pointers on how we very intentionally increase the impact of this particular approach.
Some context on Dreamers & Doers, our community: It’s a highly curated and values-driven community. This impacts the type of guidelines that matter to us. Thankfully we have very few 'bad actors' and the vast majority of guidelines that cause friction are around interpersonal interactions. That being said, the essence of the email and bullets right below, are highly transferable to nearly any community!
Unless you have an extremely short list of guidelines, I highly recommend not listing all your guidelines in the email (you can always link to them). Otherwise you run a high risk of losing what could have been a captive audience.
Come up with an easy-to-remember principle to help members follow along: In our case we chose: “Is how I’m showing up allowing me and fellow members to be #BetterTogether?”
The easier to understand and remember this, the higher compliance will be!
You always want to provide simple ways for members to let you know if they notice guidelines violation. Full disclosure: we didn’t have a single member take us up on this. But just knowing that we care and that our door is open might change the mind of members who were previously considering taking their chances with guidelines.
The last thing you want to create with this approach is having members constantly over-analyzing each other. That’s why we made references to things like all of us being human.
If you take this approach, it’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity to remind your members of your community’s core values and value proposition! You see us doing this throughout the email.
Most people probably don’t find guidelines really fun or interesting. So we made sure to add a little spunk in our tone, added a GIF at the end, and also sprinkled in a few emojis — all things that are also very onbrand and inline with the overall vibe of our community.
If you’re launching a new community, you could make this email part of the onboarding process instead. However, I do recommend taking this approach with all members about once a year or so to ensure you effectively demonstrate your community’s commitment to upholding guidelines.
Finally, I want to manage expectations. You probably won’t get a ton of replies to an email of this kind (we didn’t) — although a few members told me in-person (or on Zoom, let’s be real!) that it meant a lot to them to see this note come through from us.
The few replies we did receive speak for themselves:
I hope that this extremely simple hack supports you as a community leader while delivering an even more impactful experience for your members. Plus, the next time you want to pull your hair out as it pertains to community guidelines, you now know that you’re 100 percent not alone — there are plenty of community leaders (like me!) who are right there with you.
Gesche Haas is an entrepreneur, investor, mentor, and advisor. She’s also the CEO and Founder of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community and diverse ecosystem that amplifies extraordinary entrepreneurial women through PR opportunities, authentic connection, and high-impact resources. Dreamers & Doers has built a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem of over 34,000 women globally and also publishes a monthly newsletter, The Digest, that curates top resources for female founders.
Sign up for Gesche's Substack to read more of her work or reach connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter