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I'm starting a new online community from scratch and I want to keep it professional and polite. What 'tips & trick' would you suggest to minimise the risk of it turning into a 'troll-cave'.

Obviously moderation would be the first thing that comes to mind, but I'm hoping to find a formula that requires the least amount of moderation.

8

To compliment Jan Doggen's answer, here are a few tasks you have to do continuously.

Demonstrate the values

As a leader in the community, you and other leaders, need to demonstrate the professional and polite atmosphere you want. Engage with users in the manner you expect others to follow. When you disagree with other users - and you will - do so in a respectful way. The goal is to come away from the disagreement with all sides still looking professional. Arguments can be heated and opinions and emotions can be strong, but your task is to show that such arguments can be handled in a professional manner.

Enforce the values

If you see a user toeing the line of acceptable, call them on it. Explain what it looks like it happening in a clear manner and encourage them to take a step back. The user may (or may not) realize what they are doing and the opinion of another can draw the behavior to their attention. With this, though, comes moderation. If the user doesn't follow your advice it may be time for a temporary suspension (or other course of action your community and leadership have decided upon).

Encourage bygones to be bygones

At some point, you're going to upset another user. This will be either because you disagreed with their position or because you had to perform a moderation action against them. When the situation has been resolved (argument is over, suspension is complete, etc), don't bring it up publicly at a later date. It happened but you've moved on. By showing your community that you can keep moving forward and still respect others for their opinions or can allow a suspended user to return, you are showing others should be able to do the same.

Ask the community for feedback (and act on it...sometimes)

The community will grow and others will have ideas on how to make it better. Give them a way to provide that feedback or actively seek it out. Encourage community discussions about changes the leadership team is talking about. When you implement a new idea, thank the community for their feedback. If you don't implement an idea, don't just leave the community hanging. Explain why you didn't implement a suggestion. You don't need (or want) to follow everything the community suggests, but by explaining why you aren't, you show that you've considered the idea.

5

Here are some measures that you have to take once:

  1. Have a short description of the rules in a clearly visible place. On forums you often see sticky posts that always stay on top of the lists (often with bold-faced headers to have them stick out).

  2. Confront new users with the policy. e.g. after sign up.

  3. Keep the tone of your rules interesting and in accordance with your rules. A good example is the be nice policy on SE sites.

You have no guarantee that your users actually read this stuff, but their presence + size + tone helps.

3

When reaching critical mass of users, you'll eventually have trolls.

Documenting "guidelines" (code of conduct) is useful for sure, to at least use as a reference when issues happen. But trolls will not read these guidelines anyway, and may not care when you point them to it.

The following Best Practice has worked for me:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Leading by example is probably the most scalable way to achieve a polite/productive tone on your community.

So the initial champions you curate on your Community will be key:

  1. because they engage a lot, others will see how they interact (and learn from them)
  2. Involve champions when authoring your guidelines
  3. you'll probably make your champion Mods, so they will be more than happy to have others following their behavior
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Great answers above. It's also important, in order to do these things, to think about how you want the community to grow over time. It's always nice to get big, but if you grow without establishing those behaviors you want to encourage, it's easy for the culture of the community to get away from you. Think about starting a little smaller and maybe growing a little more slowly and intentionally than you might otherwise, and be transparent about it. It gives that first set of members some skin in the game on developing and protecting the culture.

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I want to expand on @a-b 's answer.

Having a code of conduct is important because it lets new members know what to expect, this is our code of conduct for example: https://techqueria.org/code-of-conduct/

Is very important to have it from the beginning, otherwise, it will be impossible to enforce it. On ours I wanted to emphasize that it is a professional community and it is very important to respect one another.

Your code of conduct must outline the expected behavior from members, what things are definitely not allowed, what can happen to people if they break it, and where can you be contacted if someone has a complain.

We had cases, unfortunately, where we had to ask a member to refrain from some actions and a couple of cases where we had to ban users for continuous offenses; and it was only possible because we had a code of conduct to point them to, and because the members that felt disrespected knew that there was a code and moderators to protect them.

Think about it as insurance, hopefully you will never need it, but if something happens is much better to have it. Otherwise your members might interpret your actions and enforcement as arbitrary.

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Introduce Code of conduct

Some examples:

  • This is a good idea, but I think it would be good to have some explanation why a code of conduct would help to improve the community so that this fully answers the question. – Aurora0001 Nov 1 '16 at 15:42

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