I host an online Yammer community for a religious organization called The Tent, and we work very hard to make all of our members feel welcome. We want them to feel welcome in the work we do, and in the different physical and virtual spaces we provide. We want everyone to know that their voice is welcome and their opinion is respected. We want everybody who should be in our network to be in our network.
We maintain our community network to be a safe space, and towards that end we created community guidelines so that everyone clearly understands what is allowed, and the type of behavior we expect. As part of the account creation process, we insist that all users agree to these community guidelines. Though we know that likely many of our users will just click “Agree” without reading the fine print, our community guidelines are important and they help to guide the work we do. The guidelines (we call them the “10 commandments” of our Yammer network) are pretty clear, innocuous and straightforward.
Most days, we don’t even need to think about our community guidelines. People, by default, behave themselves. They ask their questions, they provide answers, they connect with one another in positive and constructive ways.
And then, there are the other days.
IV. Thou Shall Not Insult.
If someone upsets you, respond to the issue itself rather than questioning the character of the person. If you must respond to the person, do so privately. Messages and communication in The Tent addressed to people, or about people, need to remain positive and respectful.
There are days when people get into arguments in our Yammer network. These arguments are usually nothing more constructive disagreements, focusing on the sacred nature of the work we do. Sometimes, however, the arguments get more heated. Hiding behind the relative anonymity of an online social media account, our members sometimes say things they would likely not say if they were talking face to face.
II. Advertising and Spam are Not Kosher. Please don’t post anything that promotes your business, product, program or service. The Tent is not a place for advertising or promotion.
The administrators of The Tent Yammer network reserve the right to remove any comment or resource they deem inappropriate for this network.
There are times when people post advertising when we prefer they don’t. Usually, their post is innocent enough and they are only trying to assist another member of our community. Whether someone is looking to find help creating a new website, to raise funds, or to develop leadership at their organization, there is often a user in our network who is ready, willing and able to help.
We work hard to maintain our online space as a place for networking and collaboration, and we feel that inundating users with advertisements and promotions will prevent the type of engagement we are encouraging.
Our community guidelines make it clear that we reserve the right to remove people from our Yammer network who do not adhere to the community guidelines. Such an action is an absolute last resort. We want our Yammer network to be crowded, busy and robust. The fewer users we have, the more challenging it will be to achieve those goals.
However, sometimes removal is necessary. If someone is violating our community guidelines, usually a friendly note of awareness takes care of the problem immediately. We thank them for their participation, and explain why their post conflicts with our guidelines.
Usually, the response to our friendly note is kind and generous. They were unaware of the policy, or at least they did not realize that the helpful post they were making violated any rules. Very sincerely, they were only trying to help. They tell us they are sorry, and promise not to do it again.
Violation 1: But sometimes, the response is not so encouraging. We had a user in our network, let’s call him Jonathan Nelson (not his real name). He made posts advertising his consulting business. We wrote him a gentle note telling him why we had to delete his post. He wanted clarification on the rules, because he was only trying to help. We explained the rule and why it is in place. We got no response.
Violation 2: And then he made his next post, advertising his consulting business again. We deleted the post, and we told him that any further infraction would result in him being removed from the network. He was angry. He wanted to talk to senior leaders. He wanted the rules to be changed. He wanted to post what he wanted to post.
Removal: We removed Jonathan after his third post. We clearly explained why, and that if he wanted to rejoin our network next year, we would be happy to reconsider. He was even angrier than before. He demanded to speak to leadership, and to be given other opportunities to promote his business. We stuck to our policy and removed him from our network.
The process of removing someone from your network because they broke the rules is a painful process. It is a painful process for the community manager, and it is a painful process for the person being removed. Comfort is found, however, in the hard work we do to maintain our community as a place for open dialogue, constructive disagreements, and conversation free of unwanted advertising.
And, in case you are curious, Jonathan did request to access our community again after the new year. During our conversation with him considering his request, we decided to make his removal permanent. It was painful. And it was the right thing to do.