October 10, 2023

Community Management Myth #2: It’s all About Enforcing Rules and Policing Behavior

By David D.

This is part of a blog series on 10 Myths About Community Management, please see the main article for more details.

There exists a common misperception that community management is simply about reactively enforcing rules and policing member behavior online. While setting clear guidelines is part of the job, this view overlooks the deeper relational aspects at the heart of what makes communities thrive. An effective manager is far more than a moderator – they empower growth through leading by example, not commands.

At a surface level, it’s easy to perceive community work as akin to monitoring an online message board for infractions. However, the role demands a more holistic focus on cultivating an atmosphere where people feel encouraged to participate, learn from one another, and resolve conflicts respectfully. Setting policies alone does not foster the open dialogue and fellowship that strengthens bonds between members.

Like any group, an online community will experience disagreements as differing viewpoints and personalities interact. But a skilled manager understands confrontation need not divide if handled constructively. They leverage active listening, empathy for all sides, and deft facilitation to redirect disputes towards mutual understanding. The goal is empowering respectful discourse, not unilateral control.

Community organizing requires bringing out participants’ shared humanity above all else. Managers appeal to our inherent capacity for compassion through positivity, setting a precedent of leading civilly by their own example first. Strong yet gentle guidance gently redirects tension to consensus building where possible. Rule reminders exist to protect vulnerable voices, not suppress authentic expression of diverse lived experiences.

Like community hubs themselves, effective leadership embraces our inherent complexities and imperfections. Managers understand community as an ongoing process of growth through shared challenges rather than a perfectly harmonious ideal. They nurture self-exploration and resilience alongside responsibility through compassionate partnership, not reactionary punishment alone. Progress emerges organically through this spirit of unity in diversity.

Online discussion boards lack the richness of in-person cooperation, yet virtual spaces imitate our need for fellowship all the same. Community managers cultivate this through one-on-one outreach that reminds participants of our shared hopes beyond any dispute. Personalized concern shows members they impact real lives and, through crises too, fosters willingness to walk together despite disagreements.

More than behavioral referees, skilled stewards empower individuals as whole human beings deserving dignity through participation however they are able. Management invites contributions from all walks through empathetic assistance navigating learning curves or personal hardships. Diverse talents strengthen understanding when united for the collective beyond any one identity. Leadership harvests what members sow for themselves at their own pace.

The true work of community emerges from within, as understanding and care for “the other” regardless of conflicts outwardly. Managers help reveal our shared potential through direction that lifts all voices, resolves what divides and celebrates the rest. Technology assists this work of heart, but fellowship arises because fellow humans believe in harvesting goodwill over harm together, disputes and all. No rules or policies alone could cultivate spaces where people glimpse, and are glimpsed in fullness of spirit despite outward frictions.

David D.
David D.

Building Online Communities since 1998 | Full Stack Community Professional | Host of Community Live