At the core of any social media strategy is building an engaging community. Sprout Insights recently spoke with four community managers whose collective knowledge gave us a good idea of how their organizations manage community.

Clare Tischer of TechStars, BJ Wishinsky, formerly of Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Justin Isaf, Director of Community at the Huffington Post, and Jenn Pedde of TheCommunityManager.com gave us their expert insights on comment policy, dealing with aggressive comments, and best practices for community managers.

Following these recommendations will help you build and guide a successful online community.

Develop a Comment Policy

The Importance of Having a Comment Policy

Commenting and engagement is the lifeblood of a community manager. However, it’s imperative that your company has a comment policy in place. Community managers must know the guidelines to help moderate the community, and help the flow of conversation.

If your policy is very strict, it’s going to stunt your community’s ability and desire to grow. For example, Clare Tischer said that TechStars’ general policy is “big on freedom of speech. Strong commentary is welcome; we just ask that people keep it productive.” Justin Isaf simply stated: “It boils down to this — if you are consistently or intentionally making this community a less enjoyable place to be, you and your comments may be removed from it.”

Be Stern, Be Fair

No matter how great your community is, inappropriate comments will arise from time to time. It’s inevitable. Handling these comments is an important task of the community manager. Across the board, our experts said that vulgar and threatening comments are always deleted, and community members who make those types of comments are banned.

However, aggressive comments are more subjective. There is a fine line between identifying potentially harmful comments and harming the community by simply deleting all questionable comments. For example, BJ Wishinsky very eloquently said, “For aggressive comments that may be well-intentioned but poorly delivered, the poster is reminded of the requirement to respectful of others’ viewpoints and given another chance.” BJ added, “To the extent possible, these occasions are used as learning opportunities.”

Fairness is crucial here. Stifling users’ voices because it might not agree 100 percent with the brand’s point of view is harmful. Community managers must allow both positive and negative opinions to stay public. And as Wishinksy stated, these situations can be used as learning opportunities — both for the community and the community manager.

Make Yourself Redundant

When we asked our experts what they thought was the best practice for comment moderation, they all echoed a sentiment similar to that of Justin Isaf: “Every community manager’s goal should be to make themselves redundant. If you build a strong and healthy community, they will do all your work for you.”

Jenn Pedde had this recommendation: “Always have a few of your best advocates in the community ready to help you.” BJ Wishinsky agreed and added, “Leave room for the community to moderate itself. Calling someone on an inappropriate comment often has greater impact when it comes from another community member rather than the moderator.”

The job of the community manager is to do just that — manage. Comment moderation plays a key role in the process of building and sustaining a valuable community. By having a clear commenting policy, allowing both positive and negative comments, and allowing your community to largely police itself, you’ll develop a strong, engaged, and highly valuable target audience for your brand.

[Image credits: jwalsh,Pixabay, Dan4th, James Cridland]