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GovLoop Community Engagement Guidelines – Your Feedback??

Greetings GovLoopers!

UPDATE as of 11/8/09: Based on initial feedback last week, please see the various changes in BOLD below.

In talking to many of the social media practitioners in and around government agencies, one of their stated best practices is the development and display of a solid policy that provides guidelines for engagement on a website. Taking a page from that insight and planning for some significant growth on GovLoop in the months ahead, I thought that now is a good time to dust off GovLoop’s Community Engagement Guidelines and see if it requires any updating.

First, you may be wondering: what has been serving as our rules of engagement to date? Glad you asked! Right now, visitors to the site can find a link on the site’s About tab that says “Etiquette.” It connects them to a discussion forum in which Steve provides a few recommendations and asks: “What is GovLoop Etiquette?” In addition to Steve’s initial seedlings, the community has provided some outstanding feedback. If we were to summarize all of that feedback, here’s what it would look like (mostly raw feedback with very few edits below):


GovLoop’s mission is to connect government to improve government. Since its inception, GovLoop members have engaged one another in a spirit of openness, transparency and collaboration. Toward that end, community members have provided feedback regarding the type of engagement that will occur on GovLoop. The Community Engagement Guidelines, as created and agreed upon by members, are shown below:

1. Fill out your profile. Post a picture. We all want to see you smile. Nobody likes those limited profiles.
2. Join the conversation. We want to hear your ideas. Yes, really. We do.
3. Treat others as you want to be treated. Simple rule. But makes sense always.
4. Spread the word about GovLoop. Don’t keep it secret. If you think it rocks, tell your friends.
5. Focus on improving government – share your ideas/best practices.
6. Be generous and give back – comment as much (or more!) on others’ content as your own!
7. Join groups, because somebody went to the trouble to create and, hopefully, seed, each one.
8. Before starting a new group, check for existing ones where you can join and start/contribute to a discussion. We’re getting a lot of groups with one member and/or no comments. The groups work best when used for active discussions not suitable for the forum, blogs or user pages. Consider before creating!
9. Ask to be added as a friend, and add a note of interest to your request.
10. Check out the profile of those asking to be added as your friend.
11. Read and add comments to blogs, forums, discussions, and member pages.
12. Have fun!

1. Try to sell your wares/company/product/etc.
2. Promote your event too much – post it up on the events calendar and that will get word out.
3. Spam people (i.e. posting the same message to multiple people or groups)
4. Excessively criticize an idea/person. Constructive debate is good. Name-calling is no good.
5. Be afraid. We are a friendly bunch. Ask questions. Connect. Be Merry.
6. Outright promote your company. Be part of the conversation and add value and people will notice.
7. Use it as a dating site.
8. Post inappropriate photos or link.
9. Feel like you must add every requestor as your friend.
10. Try to game the points system – quality of engagement is often more important than quantity.
10. Feel like you must respond to every comment.
11. Feel personally slighted if not everyone responds to your friend requests.
12. Feel personally rejected if not everyone responds to your comments.

While GovLoop is not a moderated site insofar as individuals are able to join and contribute without first receiving approval from the site administrators, there are some additional principles that guide our approach to community management:

– We encourage and support content that fits with the mission of GovLoop.
– We reserve the right to remove content that does not follow the guidelines below that have been created and agreed upon by the community.
– We reserve the right to move or deemphasize content that does not fit into a certain part of the site.
– We may revoke member privileges for members that continually ignore these community engagement guidelines. Generally, we will use a three strike policy (first infraction results in coaching, second in additional guidance and third time will lead to a temporary or permanent ban from the site).
– We will remain open to feedback and tell members when we have adjusted content they have posted.
– We reserve the right to delete members that do not maintain up-to-date profiles.
– We may encourage deletion and/or consolidation of groups that overlap in their membership or objectives.
– We may delete inactive groups after consulting with its creator.

In addition:

– Individuals and groups must make their commercial interests clear in every piece of content posted, if possible, and particularly if those interests are not clear in their profile. The purpose of the site is to share knowledge, solve problems, and make connections. Any Groups, Wikis, Discussion Forums, or Blogs that promote companies or services should be created through the GovLoop Partner Program and should be clearly labeled as sponsored groups. Contact [email protected] for more information. Government employees do not have this obligation unless they have commercial interests.
– This is not a place to be anonymous, but to collaborate in a spirit of transparency.
– While government activities have an inherently political element, GovLoop would prefer that members designate specific groups or forums to engage in this dialogue and asks that blog posts not include inflammatory or incendiary remarks based on partisan viewpoints.

Generally, each of the following areas of the site are to be used for the purposes stated below:

Blogs – A blog post is basically a piece of information writing. I always want comments on mine, but I also try to state an opinion. A blog post isn’t really the right place for links alone. Also note that newer blogs bump down the older ones, and now that we have so many active users, if you post two or three blogs quickly in succession you are probably going to knock someone’s content off the front page without others having the opportunity to read and comment.

Forums – The forum posts work differently than the blogs. Every time there is a new answer, it brings the question back to the top of the front page. That means that before you create a new forum post, it’s a good idea to see if someone already has created a related topic that you can jump in on and add to. At this point, chance is they have! This keeps discussions building and growing instead of fragmenting.

Groups – The groups are a great place for niche questions that you think only a small subset of the GovLoop population would be interested in, or to work on specific problems with a targeted group instead of the crowd. Like forums, the groups pop to the top of the front page list whenever there is new activity. Like forums, someone has probably already created a group for your interest – it’s a lot better to jump into an active group and start a discussion than start a new one and not have the people and content to support it.

Thank you for being a member of GovLoop and for your ongoing contributions to its mission to connect and improve government.



a. Are these “Do’s” and “Don’t” sufficient to guide our engagement on GovLoop?
b. Are there other guidelines that you would add or do some of the ones above need to be more specific?
c. Should we provide additional commentary and/or make it more formal like TSA’s Evolution of Security Comments Policy?
d. What should we do when a member does not follow these guidelines? Should we spell out a series of steps – initial coaching message to steer toward closer adherence, a warning if it happens again and (I REALLY hate to say this one) ban someone r if they are not wanting to play nicely?

It’s your community and we really want to ensure that GovLoop remains a safe space for government employees to collaborate (and where they are not bombarded with marketing messages) and connect (without wondering about the intentions of other members).

Eager to get your feedback!

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Stephen Buckley


At the link you provided for the TSA blog’s “Comment Policy“, the TSA states:

“This is a moderated blog. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect.”

It goes on to describe other aspects (and not very clearlyl), but at least TSA tells people — ahead of time — that nothing gets posted until TSA clears it. “Moderation” in online forums has always meant that. Unfortunately, many people are not really aware of that type of online forum. Based on what they’ve seen, they (quite reasonably) assume that the “moderator” (or “owner”) of a discussion area is someone who can only coaxes and cajoles people to “please, be nice”.

But what about the “noisy idiot” who refuses, or is oblivious to, “be nice”? (We used to call them “flamers, but it’s telling that the term fell into disuse as the behavior became commonplace as more uncivil people came online.)

The main characteristic of GovLoop’s “Comment Policy” is to make it clear to people (just as good parents do for their children) what the RULES are (i.e., what is Mandatory) and GUIDANCE (i.e., what is Suggested), and what the CONSEQUENCES will be for not obeying the Rules. (By definition, one need not obey “suggestions”.)

As I indicated before, the problem with “noisy idiots” is not new. Even when they were using someone else’s pre-Web Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), they would often challenge the BBS owner by asking: “Why do you think you have the right to censor me?”

In response, people (i,e,. “system operators”) who owned their own BBS (and paid for the extra phone-line into his house) would often respond with this justification in the form of an acronym — BITSOTW! —> “Because I’m The Sys-Op, That’s Why!”.

Judgement and discretion are required, since there are often shades of gray. But as long as you are Clear and Consistent (just like parenting and refereeing), then people will give you their respect, and feel comfortable knowing that someone is making sure that everyone will “be nice” (and not wander off-topic) … or else.

vr, Stephen Buckley ( @transpartisan )

P.S. Does the GovLoop platform (i.e, Ning) have any moderation tools, other than “banishment”?

Daniel Bevarly


Great list. Very thoughtful. My off-the-cuff comment and I have thought this often about GovLoop members is the tendency post a blog to the forums and post a forum to the blogs. IMO, blogs represent POVs or are used to educate or inform. The forums are purely engagement or interactive where the intention is to solicit feedback and collaboration. Like your post here. Would this not be more of a forum than a blog? Just an observation. Otherwise, I am really looking forward to GovLoop at its next elevation.

Steve Lunceford

I think these are a solid first step. I also agree that you probably need some clarity around the ramification portion (what happens if the rules are broken). Would encourage a three strikes policy that ratchets up and would include temp ban as a possible step before any outright ban.

Bill Murray

Andy, I was thinking the same thing as Steve – clear consequences for breaking the rules would be good – and I also liked the Community Engagement Guideline governing commercial interests and making those clear.

Meagen Ryan

I think these guidelines strike a good balance between encouraging users to participate and safeguarding the health of the community. I this the explanation of the different types of content is very helpful, because I don’t think the purpose of each type is obvious to new or infrequent users.

Kudos to Govloop for practicing its values of transparency and participation by requesting input on these guidelines.