The Sound of Music & Community Management

My wife is oddly fascinated by the film The Sound of Music. So when it came time to pick a place for a brief family getaway during April school vacation, she selected the Trapp Family Lodge, the excellent mountain resort in Vermont run by the family depicted in the movie. During our visit, I saw something that made me think differently about online community management. In fact, I saw it next to the hot tub.

First, some background:

There are a couple of schools of thought about drafting and promoting rules of conduct in online communities. There are those like Patrick O’Keefe who argue that such rules are important, while there are others like Richard Millington who argue the opposite. There are valid points to be made on both sides. My view is that these rules are unpleasant, but necessary.

That said, you don’t want to start a relationship with a new participant by telling them what they’re not allowed to do. Presenting a newcomer with a scary list of rules is off-putting. The trick is to convey the rules while making a new visitor feel welcome.

And that brings us back to the hot tub.

If you’ve ever used a hot tub at a hotel or other public place, you’ve probably seen an ominous looking sign with a list of things you’re not supposed to do (you shouldn’t get in if you’ve had too much to drink, have a heart condition, are a bratty kid, etc.). The sign at the hot tub at the Trapp Family Lodge is different: It says what their guests are encouraged to do. Granted, the prohibitions are implied. But isn’t this a better way to communicate with your customers?

Hot tub rules

Perhaps we should approach community guidelines the same way. Maybe the focus should be on things we want our guests to do. It sure would be a lot more inviting and less threatening.

Is such a thing possible? Can one draft community guidelines that promote positive behavior rather than calling out negative behavior?

Please join the conversation and post your comments below.

2 comments for “The Sound of Music & Community Management

  1. May 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    You’re absolutely right Dave. Rules or guidelines should be seen as an opportunity to show users what to do and help your members participate. This might include writing clear topic subjects so they get better responses from members. Or searching to find the answer first, rather than ask and irritate members with the same old question, which is unlikely to get a response. I read once that after the first post 70-90% of users never return. I’m sure a lack of response is one of the reasons!

    Some of my favourite (haha yes I have some) rules start with the “Dos” these include Lonely Planet and Yahoo Answers. For those writing rules – I have a post here that might help!

    I love your hot tub rules! And I hope you had a great holiday, you obviously thought about work at least once 🙂

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