Martin Reed talked today about adding value to your community through articles, being responsive to your members and by developing your community’s personality. It’s a good article. I wanted to take one sentence from the final of those three ideas and expand on it in my own way. He writes:

Just make sure you pick the right personality from the start as it can be extremely difficult to change the character of your community once a personality has been established.

And he’s dead on. Every community has a certain type of personality. This personality is developed over time by allowing it to shine on your site. Your community guidelines are really a personality statement all and of themselves. For example, my guidelines say things like… we don’t allow vulgarities, we require that all members treat each other with respect and that people should have fun.

So, our personality is one that is family and/or work friendly, treats others with respect and has fun. Your guidelines (and subsequent enforcement) help you to become who you want to be – what you created the community to be. Sure, a community is filled with different people and that’s a good thing, in general, but there tend to be common traits that your best community members exemplify.

“Best” here is relative – when I say it, I mean the community members that most fit within the personality that you had in mind when you started your site. The “best” members are the ones that you’ll consider for your staff. Set the example for people by demonstrating the personality yourself and by promoting people to your staff who naturally handle themselves similarly.

Lack of guidelines and/or of consistent enforcement can lead to you waking up one day and realizing that your community has become someone that you don’t care for.

And, then, if you want to fight to get it back to where it needs to be, it’ll be difficult, as Mr. Reed noted. Creating, developing and maintaining the environment (the personality) of your community can be time consuming, but it’s a good part of what community management is all about.