Evolution of social norms and the help center

Table of contents

  1. Platform mechanics: Unique features - Common sense = Help Center
  2. Social norms and rules
    1. The only source of new rules is the real cases in your community
    2. Hosting public discussions of the rules makes the rules legit
    3. Users must understand and support the rules you create
    4. Keep the list of official rules short
    5. If one wants to change a rules, they need to prove that the change brings some benefits
    6. Maintain the culture of welcomeness and kindness

The larger the community, the more nuances there will be in the social norms and the mechanics of the platform. The Help Center is the place where you need to collect all the necessary information about the community and the platform.

Platform mechanics: Unique features - Common sense = Help Center

If you’re using third-party software to run your community, you’ll likely have all the documentation and all you will need is to adjust it for your case.

If you are developing your own platform, you will have to write all the documentation yourself. Your task here is to describe the key principles of how your tools work as well as how to use these tools effectively. In order to keep it short, you need to focus only on aspects that cause misunderstanding among a large number of users. When the platform mechanics change or new tools get added, you will need to update the help center.

Please note that you need to keep the help center short. It should contain only descriptions of the unique features of the platform and community minus what an average person understands without any additional explanation.

Social norms and rules

The only source of new rules is the real cases in your community

A few rules are enough to make a group of several people follow some designed behaviors. As the size of the group grows, new types of interactions appear on the platform. Interactions that go beyond known behavioral patterns. This includes violations as well. If some behavior begins causing repeated violations or great negative consequences, you need to work on a rule regulating that behavior.

The rules of a community change throughout its life. You need to make sure that all rules are up to date by constantly adding new rules when needed, deleting unnecessary ones, and simplifying others. When working on new rules, be aware that it is very hard for many people to understand and internalize “rules in advance”. People tend to resist new rules for behaviors they have not personally observed on your platform. Arguments with “if” or “in another community” are not enough to perceive users in most cases. The best approach is to introduce a rule for a behavior that has already caused some damage so users understand the context and are ready to enforce the rule.

Hosting public discussions of the rules makes the rules legit

The ability to collectively discuss problems and rules that limit negative behavior plays a big role in setting new community rules. Your job is to encourage users to initiate public discussions about any violations they see in the community, and then do your best to make sure that the community takes the right direction in solving the issues. Consensus obtained through public discussions in which anyone can participate has great weight and legitimacy. Users and volunteers will internalize such decisions, follow them and force others to follow them as well without any effort from your part.

Users must understand and support the rules you create

In developed communities, all moderation is performed by the users themselves. For a proposed rule to have any effect, you need volunteers to understand it and accept the rule internally.

If you see significant resistance from users, especially those whose opinions you value, you must reconsider the proposed rule. Modify it based on the feedback from the users or abandon the idea altogether. If you are convinced of the need for the rule, you can try to propose it later, when you have users who share your views on the platform.

Keep the list of official rules short

Not all violation related discussions need to end with creating a new rule in the help center. Many nuances of moderation and user interactions on the platform can remain in the form of publicly accessible meta-discussion.

Here is a list of things that usually need to be added to the help center:

  • The most important rules that shape the culture of your community that you want to pay special attention to.

  • Rules that will not change over time. This is especially important for rules where users’ views are almost equally divided, and all the proposed solutions have their own pros and cons. You need to choose one thing, add it to the help center and then live with the rule.

  • Counterintuitive rules that may cause controversy. The rules written in the help center are perceived as official; people either accept them and remain in the community, or leave the platform. This helps to keep the community out of disputes.

If one wants to change a rules, they need to prove that the change brings some benefits

Almost any problem can be solved in several ways with approximately the same effectiveness. When a rule is first introduced, the community typically chooses one of several similar options and then follows it.

From time to time, users may propose changing existing rules or processes to an alternative approach with the same effectiveness. Agreeing to do that results in disputes between users and waste of time without any benefit to the community.

When you see proposals to change existing rules, kindly ask their authors to prove that their proposed approach is significantly superior to the existing one. If it is not, decline it.

Maintain the culture of welcomeness and kindness

Kindness between users sets the foundation for an inclusive, safe environment where people want to interact with each other. When users treat one another with respect, it creates positive connections not only between the users who are directly involved in a joint activity, but also everyone who sees the activity from the outside.

The common factors that cause users to be rude:

  • Imbalance of users. There will always be more newcomers than old-timers. Not all new users follow the rules, they ask simple questions, and initiate topics that have been discussed many times before. Regular users might react negatively to such things from time to time.

  • Depersonalization and lack of non-verbal communication makes our innate sense of empathy blind.

  • Misunderstandings between users experiencing a difficult life situation (for example, problems at home or at work) quickly escalate and develop into conflict.

The larger the community and the older it is, the more difficult it is to maintain a welcoming environment in the community. Here are some suggestions on how to maintain the culture of welcomeness on a platform

  • Delete all rude content. Contact the violator. Explain why you have deleted their content and talk about the importance of treating each other with respect no matter the circumstances. Motivate volunteers to do the same.

  • Identify critical points in the community where most rudeness occurs. Prepare a set of templates that users can use when facing a situation that causes them to feel negative emotions. Templates should be both for content (what to say) and for behavior (what to do). Constantly talk with regular users that rudeness causes new users to leave the community, and never leads to a change in one’s behavior.

  • Help users experience empathy and compassion. Prepare a series of stories that show how users whose behavior causes negativity see the community. Show that these users have good intentions and would like to learn about the topic of the community.

  • Encourage regular users make edits when they see any issue with the content. This helps to show what is expected from users in a particular situation.

  • Initiate discussions about new rules, help pages, templates, etc related to welcomeness on your platform. It is impossible to be too kind, especially online.

Reacting negatively to some content or behavior is as natural as posting content without knowing all the nuances of the rules of a community. When discussing negative behavior, do not blame the users. Your task is to motivate users to be welcome and kind. Remember to provide them all the necessary training information and tools.