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I Live in an Alternate Universe:
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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.

by Guest Blogger, Lena West, Chief of Social Media Strategy at xynoMedia

Not many people have an opportunity to visit my home. For anyone who does visit, from my good girlfriends to my parents, we have an understanding that includes three "ground rules":

  1. Leave any and all negative energy in your car. Don't bring the cloud above your head into my space. (This, of course, does not go for my friends and family who visit because they are going Nononothrough a tough time - I just mean keep your funkiness to yourself in general.)
  2. Remove your shoes at the door. I don't want whatever you've been walking on out in the street transferred to the floors of my house. (I keep a basket of various sized flip flops and slippers at the door for my visitors' convenience.)
  3. Wash your hands immediately after removing your shoes. Don't touch anything in my house before washing your hands. Who knows what you've touched prior and I don't want to find out by getting sick. (This one rule, along with removing all carpet out of my home and not wearing outside shoes indoors, has cut down on the number of cold and flu incidents by at least 80%.)

It's probably safe to say that you have "rules" at y our house, too. Maybe it's, "no ball-playing indoors" or "no eating in bedrooms" or "chew with your mouth closed". Who knows? But - home training - as it's called, we all have it (let's hope).

So, doesn't it make sense then that the place where you put a lot of time and energy should have ground rules, too? I'm not talking about your office, I'm talking about...

...your blog/podcast/online community.

Formally, they're called "Terms of Use" (TOU) pages; which is just fancy terminology for, "Lookie here, this is how we roll here. If you don't like it, you're free to play someplace else." Usually, it's a separate page on your blog - like an About Us page would be on it's own page. If you don't have pages on your blog, then create a blog post so that you can link to it in the future. It's a good idea to turn off comments for that particular post.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when creating yours:

  • Yes, you need one. Yep, I'm talkin' to you. Having a TOU page let's people know that you take your social media efforts seriously. Even if your blog or podcast is a hobby, if you take the time to set the gound rules, people are less likely to pee on your doorstep rain on your parade.
  • TOU pages don't have to be formal, but they do have to be clear. Stay away from legal-ese and instead use human-ese.  The easier your TOU page is to understand, the less likely someone will say, "Oh, I didn't know that."
  • If you have a TOU page, it removes the personal edge when you have to check someone. People tend to respect the written word and if you have something pre-existing in writing, and you can direct people to that content, it feels less like you're picking on them and instead puts the focus on how they can realign their approach to be more in keeping with the tone of your online space.
  • Many people are afraid to create a TOU page because they mistakenly think they have to think of every possible scenario before it happens. Not so, a good TOU page is like a good business plan, it's a living document that changes as you encounter situations which warrant updating it. Inevitably, there will be some jerk who comes along and presents some scenario that you never would have imagined. That's par for the course. You update your TOU, and move on.
  • When someone violates your TOU the best thing to do is unapprove their comment for the time being (or, if you're moderating comments, don't approve it). When they comment, they have to add their email address...write them back and let them know that their comment has violated your TOU, give them a link to the TOU and ask them to resubmit their comment. Under NO circumstances should you EVER, EVER edit someone's comment - not even to fix a typo. It presents a whole other set of legal complications that might (and probably will) come back to bite you in the butt.

To give you some examples of what TOU pages look like, here are a few links to our clients' blogs:

Media Assassin blog TOU - more formal in tone
Inside from the Inside (a project for The Wizard Academy) - more conversational in tone

Another benefit of TOU pages is that it helps you to set the tone for your brand. If you have a more informal brand, your TOU might reflect that.

Do you have a TOU page for your blog/podcast/online community? If so, when was the last time you reviewed it? If not, as my father would say to the driver of a car that's sitting still at a green light, "What shade of green are you waitin' on?"


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Great article! LOL at "What shade of green are you waitin' on?"

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