Developing Rules for your online community: comments, and sub-brands

This post will serve one purpose for two timely issues. First, I received an email from an old friend and colleague requesting advice on best practices for community permissions and interaction. Secondly, I want to take a look at a current issues occurring within a social network of my peers. (Social Media Club and MyRagan)

Issue One: How much control should users have over their comments?
I’ve glued two emails from Cedric, who’s a talented Designer and SW Engineer the SF bay area together

…Had a question actually about blog comment etiquette – I’ve been developing some brand-centric social networking sites lately and I was curious what users should expect to be able to do once they comment on a post (assuming they’ve registered and logged in)…

…here’s my dilemma in more detail:

If a user can delete comments, they can remove content that may be relevant to comment responses later in the thread, thus breaking the discussion flow. This problem doesn’t show up in threaded comment discussions, as that typically results in deleting all ‘replies’ to that comment specifically. But in non-threaded discussions, people’s responses to other’s comments are tagged to the original post and you can’t really prevent people from self-threading their comments.

If a user can’t delete comments, they need to post again (if they can’t edit) or edit with a mind towards preserving the discussion flow (e.g. strike-throughs, editor’s notes etc)

If a user can edit comments, once the author of the actual post reviews their initial comment, they can a) throw off the discussion flow or b) subvert the discussion by changing the comment text to something more sinister (this scenario is probably less likely)

If a user can’t edit or delete comments, they would likely get frustrated and stop using the site for that.

Just a rapid set here and not at all comprehensive, but it seems like edit/delete becomes an issue more with non-threaded comments than with comments that can be explicitly replied to. As a user, I much prefer blog comments to forum discussions in most instances because the topic is more refined. But I don’t necessarily like the typical nested, threaded comments layout. What do you prefer as a blog reader?

Cedric (LinkedIn profile)

The goal is to provide the maximum amount of flexibility and control to the user without potentially damaging the community knowledge and content. One of the main reasons for social networks and online communities are for people to share and collectively learn and grow.

As a blog reader, comments are rarely threaded, and the conversation is linear, I’m used to that. If a user that is adding to the comments needs to clarify, they will post an updated comment which will restate or retract any said information. This could be problematic for posts with a large number of comments.

[When users own their own words, they will be more mindful when posting and publishing within their community]

There’s a “rule” in the blogosphere to “own your words” (started at one of the earliest social networks, the well). This mantra requires an individual to be responsible for what they say, own up to it, and stick to it (or update at a retroactive period). I’ve been in situations where I’ve conflicted myself in the past and have looked silly, we all do it. I recommend that social networks also have this rule, therefore users, (knowing they can retroactively change the past) will be more mindful in the comments they bring to a conversation.

Often people in real life are more mindful of the what they say orally. As we can’t go back and edit conversations in real life. In general, this is a good practice online as well.

Lastly, I need to know a bit more about the community you’re creating. If you’re creating more of a knowledge repository, let’s say “How to” content, then I would consider other tools to collecting knowledge that may have to be re-written by others. Consider a wiki, or collaborative document (I’m under the assumption users have to lgin, and there’s some control) where content can quickly be aggregated for a quick glance, and the users doesn’t have to scan dozens or hundreds of comments.

That’s a basic answer to your question, I would want to know more before suggesting anything else (voted comments, threading, aggregators, etc).

Issue Two: How much control should groups or brands have within a community

It’s been brought to my attention from Joseph Thornley that an existing social network for PR professionals hosted by Mark Ragan (Called MyRagan) has recently altered and updated a group within the social network.

I’m not part of this social network MyRagan, so I don’t have the historical data. I’ve spoken at a Ragan PR conference last fall, and I’m also speaking at the Social Media Club next month, so I’m tied to both parties, that doesn’t matter however.

Apparently, the Social Media Club (a workshop and conference) had a user group within MyRagan (Ragan has conferences too) was confusing to users as a potential advertising conflict:

We are recreating the Social Media Club tomorrow and re-naming it to read simply: Social Media Tools and Strategies.

The current logo for the club is giving the impression that we are somehow selling this space to an advertiser. We are not. These groups are designed as non-commercial places where free discussion can flow without fear of being pitched.

Your moderator will be Ragan editor Bill Sweetland.

Because we are changing the name of the club, you will all have to join it again. But, as you know, this only takes a few seconds. Look forward to seeing you back here soon.

Mark Ragan

From Chris at Social Media Club

I’m not going to weigh in at this time to what’s going on, but I want to bring it to everyone’s attention to an example of a sub-brand growing large in another brand, and different ways to deal with it. What’s right, and what’s wrong? I’m reading posts from the community to try to learn more.

I’ll add more links as relevant and helpful, here’s a few starter posts:

  • Chris Heuer of Social Media Club: Social Media Club No Longer Welcomed at MyRagan
  • Joseph Thornley: My Ragan shuts down Social Media Club Group: The danger of closed communities
  • Heather Yaxley: Are PR online networks a good idea?