Brands Need Discussion Guidelines to Keep Out Rattlesnakes

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Community and discussion guidelines are essential for civil discourse and effective brand marketing.

Uncivil discourse can harm a brand. Crafting discussion guidelines is essential.Louis C.K. has this hilarious bit about road rage in his recent HBO special, “Louis C.K.: Oh My God.” He observes that once behind the wheel, we give ourselves permission to treat other drivers with vehemence and hatred. As Louis says, when he’s behind the wheel, he has “a different set of values. I’m the worst person I can be.”

In addition to being a perfectly written piece of comedy, this is dead on accurate. But I’ve noticed that such horrific behavior isn’t limited to cars. It’s also found on blogs, news sites, Facebook, and YouTube. More than I’d like, I see people posting scathing and offensive comments as “anonymous,” but increasingly, they’re also doing so as themselves.

What is it about “comments” that makes us the worst people we can be? Where are the decorum and the civility? Do we acquire a different set of values because we aren’t face-to-face with whom we disagree?

I’ve become increasingly appalled at the lack of civil discourse in comments. Why do we think it’s ok to call someone an idiot or illiterate, or to brush them in a broad and insulting stereotype?

Anonymity gives us a false sense of superiority, closes the door to reasoned discussion, and blunts our sensitivity to respecting others.  This insidious behavior can have a detrimental effect on the building of a brand community because it creates an unfriendly, unwanted environment for members.

That’s why community and discussion guidelines are essential for your digital marketing platforms.

All too often, we focus on our own internal social media policies, but spend little time thinking about how we want our communities to function. Just as news media have a responsibility to foster reasoned discussion of a topic, brand journalists must ensure that all opinions are welcome as long as they adhere to the rules of civility.

Here are five ways that you can make all members of your community feel welcome and unthreatened.

1)   Define appropriate behaviors. How do you want your community to act? Some basic rules for commenting will keep forums useful and pleasant, encouraging return visits. You should absolutely forbid offensive remarks.

2)   Make it clear you will delete. Actively monitor your comments and don’t be afraid to remove those that are offensive. Your guidelines will be clear about this: personal attacks, spam, and off-topic comments should be banned from the discussion.

3)   Promote your guidelines widely. Don’t hide them at the bottom of your webpage. Post them front and center, write a blog post about them, tweet the links occasionally, and most importantly, live the values.

4)   Don’t allow anonymous posts. Ever. Require an email address for commenters or have them sign in using Facebook or Twitter.

5)   Use a community voting system. Commenting systems such as Disqus allow visitors to vote comments up or down, allowing your members to self-police. Public shaming works well.

Be careful to penalize poor manners, rather than opposing viewpoints. Contrarian opinions can create lively discussions and should always be welcome, as long as they don’t cross the line into insult.

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