This article highlights 9 of the best examples of community guidelines on the web. We will start off by examining the key elements of a community guidelines page – and the role that this key document has in a thriving community. Then, we’ll look at our 9 community guidelines examples and highlight what makes each so great.
What are Community Guidelines ?
It is important for a community to have a set of guidelines for members that are easy to read and understand.
These guidelines should discuss:
- behavior that is encouraged from a community member,
- behavior that is not acceptable.
- what will happen if the rules are broken.
The community guidelines document is often one of the first things your members will read. You want to use it strategically to achieve the following outcomes
- set the tone for positive contribution
- outline your moderation philosophy
- explain the consequences of bad behavior
- enable you to manage abuse and problems effectively
- explain to members how to flag content or members in violation
Community Guidelines set the tone for positive contribution
Although community guidelines are used to prevent undesired behavior, the key role of community guidelines is to inform members of what they CAN do within the community.
New members benefit from effective initiation – an onboarding process that makes them feel welcome, encourages them to enroll in the mission of the community and what small first actions are a good starting point for contribution. Effective community guidelines can help make clear what members have permission (and encouragement) to do.
Begin by asking what members would do in an ideal world to share, collaborate, organize and help each other. Use the community guidelines to tell members that they should engage in such activities and that doing so is encouraged and valuable.
You should then think about how each member would do each of these activities in the right way. If you want members to answer each other’s questions in a forum or channel, then it’s safe to say that you would like members to speak to each other respectfully, helpfully and share resources. You can either add these as separate bullet points to your list (‘Be helpful’ or ‘Treat other members with respect at all times’) or add these to existing bullet points.
Community Guidelines outline your moderation philosophy
The community guidelines are the ideal place to share your philosophy. Will you monitor content carefully or adopt a hands-off approach? Can members discuss controversial topics like politics or religion? A short paragraph at the top of your community guidelines can help to explain your involvement and why you are taking the approach that you are taking. Look at these 2 examples below to see how the community organizer is stating their entire philosophy on managing the community. This helps members understand your role in the community and set expectations.
- Mumsnet – Mumsnet Talk is not a pre-moderated forum. Our policy is to keep intervention to a minimum and let the conversation flow. That said, we’re also here to make parents’ lives easier, so where necessary, we will use our discretion to delete posts (or ban posters) if it seems to us that doing so is in keeping with this aim.
- Guardian – The Guardian website provides a growing number of opportunities for readers who wish to discuss content we publish, or debate issues more generally. Our aim is to ensure this platform is inclusive and safe, and that the Guardian website is the place on the net where you will always find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussions.
Community Guidelines enable effective management of problems
A clear set of community guidelines will enable you to manage the community effectively when problems arise.
If one member is behaving disrespectfully or insulting another member for example, the first thing they will say is “nobody told me this” – unless a set of community guidelines exist. Having guidelines will enable you to assert that the conduct for behavior is clearly set out in the community guidelines. In summary, they were forewarned and now action can be taken, if necessary.
It’s easy to begin with a description of content that is unacceptable, including any content that is:
- Offensive (racist, sexist or otherwise)
- Insulting (name calling, ranting)
- Inflammatory (flaming or stirring up controversy)
Community Guidelines explain the consequences of bad behavior
Depending on the severity of the violation, you may choose to either
- remove a piece of content, comment or post
- suspend or delete the members account
- report this member to the authorities
The community guidelines is the ideal place to explain to members that you have the right to delete posts, comments or accounts and that you may report members to authorities in extreme cases. When I worked at Yahoo! Answers, any content that was related to terrorism or child pornography was instantly reported to authorities without question. It’s not a good idea to post in a comment that you intend to drive to the white house and shoot the president…
Best Practices for Writing and Effective Community Guidelines
Below are some concrete tips that will help you write effective community guidelines
1. Choose an appropriate format
Choose an appropriate format that works well for your community
- the Guardian have 10 “standards” which represent their guidelines.
- Flickr file each guideline under Things to Do or Things Not to Do
- Dribbble write each guideline in the first person such as “I will” or “I won’t”
Consider what way to structure your guidelines (which format) that will speak to your community the most.
2. Ensure information is well-organized
Consider formatting guidelines when they are very long.
For example, community guidelines are crucial for Airbnb – who have multiple set of guidelines for their forms, hosts, guests and so on. Thankfully, they structure the guidelines into a set of links from a Guidelines home page. Consider doing the same if your community guidelines are very long.
3. Outline your moderation philosophy
A moderation philosophy is a statement that outlines your viewpoint as the community organizer in relation to how you will moderate the community. Will you be passive or active? Hands-on or hands off? Outline your moderation philosophy at the top of your community guidelines document.
Here’s a few good examples:
Mumsnet Talk is not a pre-moderated forum. Our policy is to keep intervention to a minimum and let the conversation flow. That said, we’re also here to make parents’ lives easier, so where necessary, we will use our discretion to delete posts (or ban posters) if it seems to us that doing so is in keeping with this aim.Mumsnet Community Guidelines
Ubuntu is about showing humanity to one another: the word itself captures the spirit of being human. We want a productive, happy and agile community that can welcome new ideas in a complex field, improve every process every year, and foster collaboration between groups with very different needs, interests and skills. We gain strength from diversity, and actively seek participation from those who enhance it. This code of conduct exists to ensure that diverse groups collaborate to mutual advantage and enjoyment. We will challenge prejudice that could jeopardise the participation of any person in the project.Ubuntu Community Guidelines
4.Use a consistent tone of voice
Use a consistent tone of voice that will resonate with your audience. How would they speak to each other? How would you speak to them? Do you use formal language or informal? Below is an example from Flickr that uses plain language and talks openly and directly in ways their audience understands.
Don’t be creepy.
You know the guy. Don’t be that guy. If you are that guy, your account will be deleted.Flickr Community Guidelines
5. Encourage the positive before discouraging the negative
Begin with the things you want to encourage your community to do – emphasizing the behaviors you want to see. The Ubuntu community guidelines starts off by asking members to
- Be considerate
- Be respectful
- Take responsibility for our words & actions
- Be collaborative
- Value decisiveness, clarity and consensus
- Ask for help when unsure
- Step down considerably
6. Add examples where necessary
If you believe that illustrating a rule or guideline is enhanced by providing an example, then definitely add one. A few examples below from Hacker News really help to paint the picture of how certain behaviors can be avoided without diluting one’s point in the slightest.
When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. “That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3” can be shortened to “1 + 1 is 2, not 3.”Hacker News Guidelines
Please don’t comment on whether someone read an article. “Did you even read the article? It mentions that” can be shortened to “The article mentions that.”Hacker News Guidelines
7. Include community-specific guidelines
Consider specific guidelines for your audience. A great example of this is Mumsnet’s notice on disclosure of abuse. As a site where people often come for support when vulnerable, they had a need to ensure both they and they community are being responsible when anyone disclosed abuse – to do their best that people who needed help would get that help. Think about any specific contexts that you need to address when writing your guidelines.
We urge all our members to point anyone disclosing abuse to the appropriate authorities and/or seek professional support and advice in real life. We have a directory of suitable organisations here.
8. Specify what action they should take
There’s a right way for members to report abuse – whether emailing you or clicking a report button beside a piece of content or another course of action.
There are also wrong ways for member to report abuse – by accusing people directly perhaps or taking action into their own hands. See a few examples below of how you can help members to understand they too can cause harm or lower the quality of the community if they try to tackle what they feel is bad behavior in an inappropriate way..
If you suspect someone of being a troll, please don’t trollhunt (accuse them publicly on the discussion thread). If you’re wrong, you could cause untold hurt; if you’re right, you’ll merely be giving them the kind of attention they’re after.
Instead, report your suspicions to us and we’ll check them out.
Please bear in mind that we’d rather err on the side of being taken in than of accusing a genuine poster who’s in need of support of being a troll.Mumsnet Community Guidelines
Please don’t complain that a submission is inappropriate. If a story is spam or off-topic, flag it. Don’t feed egregious comments by replying; flag them instead. If you flag, please don’t also comment that you did.Hacker News Guidelines
You might also consider an avenue for reporting employees if they violate the guidelines, particularly if your employees are very active in the community..
9. Specify what action you will take
You want to reserve the right to remove content and/or delete accounts (with or without warning). It’s important that the community knows you don’t do this lightly – nor are you trying to silence certain voices and not others. Yet, you must be clear – certain violations will result in content or account deletion.
Here’s the deal: We like to give second chances. However, when we discover you stepping across any of the lines listed below, we will take action, which may mean deleting your account with or without warning.Flickr Community Guidelines
10. Revisit guidelines regularly
As you can see from many of the community guidelines above, the community organizers have shaped their guidelines over time. They have literally seen thousands of cases of each abuse type and behavior and regularly revisit their guidelines to enhance and improve their efficacy
11. Index in search engines
9 Community Guidelines Examples –Who does it best?
Here are 9 of the best community guidelines examples on the web.
Let’s examine which of the principles above shine through – and how and why their guidelines shine!
Example 1 – Flickr
Flickr have an excellent set of community guidelines. Clarity and brevity are the key here. They keep it short and sweet – their goal is clearly that members actually read these in full.
They have a nice format (Things to Do & Things to Not Do) which aligns with their clear, simple approach. I love the simple, clear language and tone of voice also. These guidelines are easy to understand and contain the memorable “Don’t be creepy. You know that guy. Don’t be that guy” line.
Example 2 – Hacker News
Hacker News is similar to Flickr in the sense that the community guidelines are short and sweet, very logical and human readable.
I particularly love their intro.
On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity.
Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they’re evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they’d cover it on TV news, it’s probably off-topic.Hacker News Guidelines
Their format is also interesting and breaks down rules by submissions (posts) and comments. This makes a lot of sense for them and worth thinking about contexts for your guidelines – are there different contexts that require different guidelines or rules?
Example 3 – MumsNet
The MumsNet community guidelines are very well-written, clear and easy-to-understand. They have also links to separate guides for their trolling policy and another for trans-gender and gender-critical issues. I like the way their philosophy is at the top and reflects their worldview. This is then followed by a few bullet points to describe the main categories of things that are not tolerated
Example 4 – Airbnb
Airbnb operates as a multi-sided platform built on trust. After all, what can be more trusting that giving someone your entire apartment with all your stuff in it for a few days while you’re not there?
Thus, community guidelines are critical to their success and they have many of them, broken down by safety, privacy, content, community expectations and so on. They also offer some guides directed at hosts, some at guests etc. The layout of this complex information is nicely done, structured in a directory where it’s easy to find what matters to each reader.
The tone of voice is also very clear and professional and the format of the guidelines is “what is allowed” and “what is not allowed” which again is a nice reflection of their reality – people staying in other people’s homes would often ask “am I allowed to do this or that?”
Example 5 – The Guardian
The Guardian is a media outlet which naturally reports on the news – typically hotly-debated topics like politics, religion and sport. They set out an excellent motivation at the start to create “a place where you will find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussions”.
They use a format of 10 principles to illustrate the values they expect from each member and they do a great job explaining how they will respond to violations (both at the top and in the moderation section). Having a menu at the top is also a nice way to enable people to quickly find sections they want to zoom in to.
Example 6 – Ubuntu
Start with positive. Ubuntu is an open source project so the questions of who can collaborate and how are at their core. Their guidelines refer to this when they say things like “We gather opinions, data and commitments from concerned parties before taking a decision” and “consensus is elusive. A decision must still be made.” They do a great job of saying who will investigate issues and how.
Also noteworthy is how they start with the positive – what they “strive for” as good behavior before addressing the non-tolerated behaviour
Example 7 – WordPress
The WordPress community guidelines put a lot of focus here is on what members should not do on the forum. They also add a “bad stuff” section at the bottom (spam. threats etc.). This separation hints at the distinction between things that they do not want you do (because they want the support forum to be used for certain objectives and not hiring, finding jobs etc)and things that are just downright bad.
This distinction works well. Although there is less focus on the positive behavior, these guidelines fulfill the primary purpose of communicating effectively what each member needs to know. They also explain the reason why certain actions are prohibited (e.g. do not bump posts because that actually prevents a topic from being noticed by volunteers).
Example 8 – Dribbble
Dribbble is a platform for creative professionals and graphic designers to showcase their work. Key to their success then is members only uploading their work and only design work.
Their use of the first person for each guideline emphasizes the fact that each person must take a personal responsibility (almost like making a pledge) to be a good community member.
Their language is also clear and concise and very easy to understand
Example 9 – Patreon
Patreon is a maker-community which helps artists to monetize their contributions by allowing fans to make small donations. What is really excellent is their information organization (menu on the left showing selected area on the right), their tone of voice and clarity. They also have a superb motivation which is shown in the screenshot below. Notably they say they are PROUD of their community guidelines. So they should be. We should all aim to get to this point with our guidelines – where they are a source of pride for the company and the people who worked on them!
In this article, we have outlined what a community guidelines document is, why it is important and what role it can play in your community’s growth.
We also looked at 9 excellent examples of community guidelines so that you can learn from the best. You can also have this standard of guidelines but it will take some time talking to your members, watching the good and bad behavior in your community and constantly refining. It can be helpful to get feedback from your super users as you develop these and remember this is a living document – so go back and revisit it frequently to make it reflect the awesome value your community is bringing to the world.