Web 2.0 Communities for Business – Tip #9: Create a SAFE Environment

I have found ten common tips that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. This is my ninth tip in this series. There will be 10 total posts; each with a particular theme. These intended to be read in the order presented, as they will build upon each other…

Too Many Communities are Not Safe

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but too many enterprise (i.e., mission-focused) communities are simply not safe. I routinely look at newly launched Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 communities and immediate spot holes that I could easily compromise to do any of the following, within minutes or hours:

  • Hijack the community’s core mission and message with distracting, embarrassing or even detrimental content
  • Shifting the community’s focus or value though manipulated rating and voting
  • Disincentive or even harass contributing members from continuing to engage with the community
  • Capture personal information for use from anything from masquerading or stealing members’ identities to using private information for personal gain or exploitation

Of course, I would never do this to. However, I am always happy to evaluate communities and share my insights on their invulnerabilities to make them safer (as this ultimately helps the entire movement to use of social media to foster engagement, collaboration and outreach).

Four MUST HAVE Tools for Safe a Community

Any community should be created with four “tools” (really four key design and administration attributes) to be safe.  While these are “nice-to-have’s” for recreational communities, they are absolutely essential for mission-focused ones.

1. Authentication-based Attribution

Authentication is the process of verifying the identities of members of your community are when they visit. Attribution is the process of matching every contribution (from rating and voting to content creation and comment) to a member. When you combine these to together, you know which members are contributing what (and they know this as well). This simple action drives whole changes in behavior:

  • Members are more likely to contribute valuable content. (They are also far less likely to create damaging content.)
  • Members will be more polite to each other (as their interactions are no longer hidden by anonymity). This will foster a much more constructive dialog (ultimately creating more value for all).
  • You community manager is now able to recognize and reward constructive members—and penalize the opposite (see some of the other tools below to do this).

You do not necessarily have to publicize attribution to all members (this is critical when you want to encourage comments without fear of being ostracized by others—critical in many Government 2.0 communities). Simply attributing members’ contributions will result in the above behavioral benefits.

2. Privacy Controls

People will not join your community (or contribute) if they are afraid that their privacy will be violated (by you or other members). As such, you should follow the Golden Rule of Social Networking Privacy:

Keep all profile-related information private for any given person unless the member tells you otherwise.

When you do this, you build trust with your members by enabling them to maintain control of their identities. While this is highly valuable in any network, it is often a requirement for statutory compliance in communities that support regulated industries (see my prior post for more details on this).

If you don’t believe this, look at how its use has affected the growth of consumer social communities. For all the complaints about the arcane nature of Facebook’s privacy controls, they are still some of the strongest out there. In addition, Facebook (at least initially) followed the Golden Rule of Social Networking Policy for its members. As a result, it was a safe environment for people to join. This is reflected in Facebook’s dominance (when compared to other recreational communities) not only in total membership size, but also in participation by people 25 and older (i.e., people with a higher interest in maintaining privacy).

3. Member-based Content Flagging

One of the key purposes in creating a business-focused social community in the first place is to tap the input and creative thought of your customers, employees and partners. You should not limit this engagement to simply getting input and insight from your members; you should extend to enable them to police the community themselves. This requires you to put several items in place:

  1. Hooks on every piece of member-generated content that enable members to “flag” and report content of concern for review by your community manager
  2. View rules that automatically hide content that has been deemed of concern by a sufficient number of distinct members (here is where attribution again comes to play) in a given period of time
  3. Automated workflows and administration tools to enable community managers to review and act upon reported content (see Tool #4 below)

Example of a Member Reporting Copyrighted Content

You can optionally decide to hide any content that a member has deemed offensive from that given members (preventing further offensive as the member engages you community). The first company I saw do this was AOL, who enabled their members to effectively “stop listening to” offensive chat room members without infringing on their freedom of speech.

Letting members police themselves provides many benefits:

  • You empower your members, strengthening their trust and engagement
  • You get free 24×7 support for moderation: if a 14-year-old publishes offensive content at 2 a.m. other members may detect and force its suspension before your community manager even comes in the next morning
  • You tap the “collective intelligence” of your members to steer your community in a direction that is more welcoming to all.

4. Moderation Console

This is the tool that pulls everything together.  The moderation console is where your community leaders will actually manage your community. The enable them to provide members a safe community it must provide them the following functionality:

  1. Promotion of members and their content. This is intrinsic to rewarding good members and featuring them as examples to others.
  2. Removal of bad or offensive content. Without, this you cannot project the message and mission of your community
  3. Management of which members can publish content immediately and which must have their content reviewed by a community leader before publication
  4. Banning or blocking of members who violate your terms of service. This is a key tool for protecting your community from being hijacked. (However, banning provides no safety if you do not require members to authenticate and attribute themselves before adding content.)
  5. Automated review of content reported as offensive (so you can respond to actions members have taken to police the community)
  6. Full editorial privileges to correct content that contains inaccuracies, false claims or simple typos and remove offensive or copy right-infringing media. (Depending on your terms of service, your community leaders may directly publish these changes or send them back to authoring members for review.)

The moderation console builds upon the three other tools to enable you to provide an environment that is safe for your enterprise, its mission and the members of your business community.

Is Your Business Community Safe?

Does your community have all the tools to make it safe? If not, it is simply a manner of time as to when something will happen (and degree as to how extensive this will be.)

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