Online Community Hygiene 101

How to structure your first online community

Communities die with bad hygiene.

How many Slack groups have you joined only to be disappointed right away because thereโ€™s no structure?

If youโ€™re planning on starting your own online community, your role is to make community expectations clear as soon as members join.

People join communities for signal, and if you allow your community to become noisy, it will lose value and interest from your members.

Hereโ€™s five rules you should follow to get started and keep good community hygiene.

  • Choose a community host. We have used and recommend Slack. Other people prefer Discord. IT really depends on who you are building for. Find which of these your ideal member already uses, and choose that option.
  • Start with only 1-2 channels. It will be tempting to create 100+ channels as soon as you get started, but this will lead to confusion and a lack of engagement. You want to make it as easy as possible for your early members to find what they’re looking for, less channels = less ditractions = better conversion on desired action steps.
  • Respond to every message yourself. New members are expecting answers, and your group looks weak if questions are going unanswered. Step in yourself to help as much as possible.
  • Connect members through introductions. Nobody knows your members better than you. When somebody introduces themselves, reward that type of behavior by tagging other members you think they should talk to. This is a great way to create serendipity and keep members around.
  • As you grow, set up dedicated channels for specific topics. This a good workaround for the problem of promotional work. Be careful with adding too many channels at once, but once established, navigating people into the right channels becomes a powerful way to help subgroups emerge. Some of our favorite channels are #general-questions, #great-reads, #job-openings, and #events-and-meetups.
  • Platforms die because of self promotion. It will be impossible to stop this completely, but you should try to keep promotional work to a minimum. If people wanted to be sold on something they’re not interested in, they would go to LinkedIn.
  • Establish ownership and reward moderators for removing spammy material or redirecting things to the right channel. It will be up to you to determine how to reward this type of good behavior, but it will let you not worry about playing the bad guy.
(Example of a spammy Slack message that offers no value)
  • Kick members out when they repeatedly break the rules. Unfortunately some people don’t get it and will continue to break community guidelines no matter how many times they are warned. We recommend implementing a three-strike policy, and if they keep breaking rules after you warn them, remove them from the group. If you don’t, they will dilute your community value.