Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monitoring Community

For those of us who work in social media environments where the traffic is manageable (that probably can be translated that we wish it were higher!) monitoring is an ongoing but not huge job. Yes, it’s labor-intensive, but we know the issues and the values involved. Judgments can be made and unacceptable contributions can be removed or banned.

However, when you have a large vision and are willing to invest resources, you need more structure. All firms—large or small, experienced social media user or newbie—can learn from best practices of organizations that monitor their communities for the greater good.

I’ve written before about the Pickens Plan. It was launched in late summer and, in the run-up to the inauguration, is aiming for 2 million members. The plan wants them to be active, and that’s a lot of participation to monitor. My sense is that their district leaders are volunteers, but as I’ve noted before, Pickens and his people are not forthcoming about organizational details. But the leader in my district is an activist and has said some interesting things about the community lately.

What piqued my interest was an email in late November. It hit the right tone as a “friendly reminder.” It directed the reader to a blog post and that, in turn, to the Pickens Community Guidelines. If you follow links there, you see that the community is hosted on Ning and uses its terms of service but the guidelines seem to be specific to the Pickens Plan.

The guidelines are long but very much worth reading and thinking about. Let me highlight a few issues of interest:

  • “Be Polite” is the first rule, and it has specifics.
  • There are a lot of rules, all of which make sense to me, about proper use of the individual’s account on the Pickens Plan
  • There are many rules that can be summarized as “no commercial activities”
  • There are fraudulent or unethical activities that will result in account suspension.

and finally, to quote directly:

• We welcome constructive feedback, but will not tolerate excessive public posts criticizing Pickens Plan staff (including Site Administrators and Regional Leaders).

• Public posts debating these rules and/or moderators' enforcement of such will be removed without comment. We do encourage feedback and invite you to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

So there’s a lot of effort here. I get the sense that they may be using some filtering software also, but again they aren’t forthcoming (in this case quite understandable) about tools and techniques.

Ok, so this is a huge public effort. What about large corporations, especially on the B2B side? I looked at IBM and easily found a values statement and a set of guidelines for a community of current and former IBMers. There may be other communities and sets of guidelines. This particular one is hosted on Xing, a global networking service, with its own guidelines. IBM added guidelines for its own employees on top of those.

Adobe makes a big effort to get customers to offer content that will be helpful to other customers. The guidelines for the Adobe Forums are specific to that purpose and, again, make a lot of sense.

What are the key take-aways on monitoring communities? I’d suggest:

1. Communities must be monitored in terms of acceptability and relevance.
2. They need rules of the road. The rules need to be tailored to the nature of the community.
3. The rules must be enforced. That requires individual judgment and action, and that is fine. If moderators don’t perform effectively—whether it’s an employee, a PR agency, or a volunteer—the organization should replace them, quickly and decisively.

This is a conversation. If it’s not civil, there will be many of us who do not wish to take part. Those who want to form a community should carefully think through its objectives and the guidelines and activities that will be necessary in moving toward those objectives.

1 comment:

Bryan Person said...

Mary Lou:

When we do community management and moderation for clients, we always work with them to craft a set of community standards/guidelines that are published for all members to see -- just as we see on the PickensPlan community.

It makes the "rules of the road" pretty obvious for members, and we think that creates a more comfortable and welcoming environment for them.

Internally, our moderators also have a sent of guidelines that they use when reviewing comments/contributions from the community. This ensures, as you suggest in point 3, that the rules are enforced, and it creates some consistency to the moderation, which is especially helpful for very large communities that require several moderators who are working on their own.

Bryan Person | @BryanPerson