As you use technology to develop personally and as a business leader, you will find yourself establishing and leading communities that embrace and expand your business. You will also find that you'll need community guidelines to nurture the community and allow the people in it to flourish. My Community Guidelines, at the bottom of this page, serve these purposes here at this blog. (You are welcome to borrow them for your blog.)
When you establish communities outside of your blog, especially in places where people can post more than just comments, you'll need more comprehensive guidelines, especially if it's open to the public. I maintain such such a community at the INDIE Business Network social network. While I don't beat people over the head with them, I enforce specific guidelines without hesitation when necessary. Here are some of them:
Encourage professionalism. Each avatar should be a photo of the person on whose page it appears. Not their fish or their baby or your pair of shoes. That stuff is fine for FaceBook and communities that have no professional angle. My social site is for small and independent business leaders, especially those in the beauty industry, so while I don't delete people who use the default image, I do delete pages with avatars that are completely unprofessional. (I've deleted lots of cute babies over the years!)
I encourage people to show themselves. After all, they're leaders! They may not be leading a business, but they are leading something — a family, a group of co-workers, a local running team, a non-profit volunteer group. Every person leads something, and I want my community to be a place where they can interact with other leaders who sharpen them and enhance their lives.
Encourage contributions. A few days ago, someone posted that she'd been a site user for many months and had never asked anyone for anything. That statement was followed by a list of questions she wanted people to answer. I checked her profile and saw that, not only had she never asked for anything, but she also never contributed anything either. Not surprisingly, her questions remain unanswered.
As a community leader, you need to be aware of people like this. Once I even had to ban someone from the site because she posted the same “help me” question on dozens of people's walls. People avoid communities where people walk around cutting and pasting, so don't tolerate this. As the community leader, you can lead the way by giving more than you take. When people see that you do this, they are far more likely to behave in ways that support the community.
Encourage people to link to their other sites. Encourage people to link to their own sites so they can be found in their own territory.
For example, at the INDIE Business community, as a member benefit, IBN members can add their product photos to the site. When they do, I encourage them to make the pictures big and juicy in order to entice a sale. I also encourage them to describe the product (this is an easy cut and paste job from their sites), and to leave a link where people can buy the product. Surprisingly, most people don't leave a link where the product can be purchased!
In case you are a member at the community, here's an example of what I mean. Here's a nice photo with a great product description, but no link to buy. And here's a super great photo with no description or link. By contrast, here's a good product photo with a great description and text and a link inviting the reader to buy the products. I added this to show people what's possible. Which one do you think might result in a sale? If you're going to take the time to add your product photo to any website, you might as well leave a link so people can easily buy it, right?
Encourage people to paste their blog posts at the site. Encourage community members to paste their blog posts at your social site. This gives them added visibility, especially if your social site is picked up in search engines as mine is. Let people know that they are welcome to add their posts to your site, and if you can, feature them at the site so their contributions are acknowledged. Again, you can lead the way by doing this yourself. It's a great way to guide new traffic back to your own blog, so be sure to encourage your community members to link back to their own blogs in the posts they add.
Since I cannot control every aspect of people's behavior, I try to lead by example. As I do this, I find that people naturally follow. There is very little spam at the site, and when there is, I eliminate it quickly. I do not engage much with people unless their avatar appears on their wall. I don't featured contributions that are made anonymously or that are only self-serving. As I consistently abide by and enforce my own guidelines, others follow suite. That's what leadership is all about.
If you have a small business, you are a community leader. You may need to adjust your mindset to accommodate that fact.
Everyone is a leader. But not everyone is an effective leader.
Whether your community is at FaceBook, at your blog, or at a social networking site like mine (or all three!), it's part of your job duties to lead that community is ways that help it to remain vibrant and engaged.
Question: Now, it's your turn. What do you think? What are your community leadership tips?