The Notion of "Virtual Community"
The term virtual community designates people brought together via the Internet by values or a common interest (e.g. a passion, hobby or profession). The goal of the community is to create value through exchanges between members (e.g. by sharing tips or advice, or simply by debating a subject).
Setting up a virtual community can be beneficial to a website because a community creates a feeling of belonging among members and allows the website to evolve in a collective effort.
What is more, a large community of users can be positive for the site's image because it introduces a likeability factor and gives the user a feeling of trust.
Nevertheless, if the community's scope is not properly defined, divisions can emerge and solidify frustrations. In that case, the community runs the risk of producing the opposite of its desired effect, i.e. conveying a negative image.
The community is formed when the members take over the discussion forum or even the whole website. And yet, this take-over phenomenon can slow down change because the slightest modification of the website risks to cause an influx of conflicting contributions, which is not necessarily easy to manage.
Setting up a community must be the subject of planning and reflection during which goals are defined. It is imperative that the community's unifying theme compliment the website's goals. E.g. a website about tools would be well advised to set up a DIY community.
In addition, it is a good idea to have a behavior policy in order to define the parameters of the exchanges between members.
A virtual community can be very productive and become the symbol of a website. Nevertheless, bringing individuals together creates relationships and can sometimes lead to cyberdebates.
Therefore, it is necessary to equip the community with rules for correct use and do everything necessary to ensure that these rules are respected by all. Above all, it is particularly important to ensure that the personal freedoms of members are respected by guaranteeing their anonymity. Therefore, mechanisms must exist to conceal member email addresses and all data of a personal nature.
Implementing a "charter," which defines the rights and duties of community members and possibly reminds members of the rules of netiquette, is one way to communicate how the community is to work.
The term "moderation" designates the process of controlling and filtering the contributions of members (whether in a discussion forum or on a mailing list). The goal of moderation is not to censure but rather to improve the quality of exchanges by deleting the contributions deemed harmful to the community.
As a rule, a distinction is made between "pre-moderation" and post-moderation". Pre-moderation consists of approving member contributions one by one for posting. Conversely, post-moderation consists of publishing all contributions automatically and modifying or deleting them after they are posted.
The people in charge of moderation are called "moderators". Moderators play a decisive role because they are responsible for the smooth exhange of information between members.
In order to legitimize their actions, a clear and concise moderation policy must be made explicit. The moderators should have a role in developing and modifying the moderation policy. In addition, the moderators will be more accepted if they are former members who have contributed actively to the life of the community.
Choosing moderators is difficult because they are responsible for the community's equilibrium. Moreover, moderators must possess good analytical and personal skills in order to treat members with respect.
Given their status, moderators are generally respected by the community's members. However, because they are performing a type of "censorship", sometimes community members do not accept moderator surveillance. In such a case, it is not uncommon for a member to repeatedly post sarcastic criticism concerning moderators.