In today's day and age, many people hide behind a keyboard. Some of our online communities have become places to mock others, instead of a space to welcome, encourage, and teach others.
GitHub's State of the Octoverse report talked about the importance of online communities. It pointed out that those communities who are healthy and sustainable are characterised by a few key features.
I talked about some of the characteristics of good open source communities in one of my recent blog posts.
Now I want to talk about how this relates to online community forums, and how you can be a good community member. Some of the things I'll talk about are directly related to GitHub Discussions. Many of these concepts however are platform agnostic. You can apply these things to whatever online community you are running; Discord, Slack, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, whatever you are using.
Online communities are great for bringing people together. They are diverse, unconstrained by geography and timezones. But no matter what community you are managing or participating in, you should ensure your community is a space where everyone can have good, respectful conversations.
Everyone should treat online communities in the same manner as you would in the physical space. If you are having conversations and discussions in your communities, the same rules apply as if you were talking to someone face to face. Treat people with respect, encourage open ended conversations, be inclusive, and be curious.
The practices below apply to online communities, but each has a physical world counterpart. Just remember the most important thing; treat others as you would want to be treated.
No matter what community you are joining, make sure you understand what the community's purpose is. Read the community guidelines, and read the announcements. Understand why that community exists and how you can contribute.
Before you start posting things, take the time to not only read through all the "welcome" docs, but also a moment to search and read the forum topics and threads. Don't just start posting without seeing if your conversation has already been started.
Only after you've done both of these things should you make your first post.
In a forum style setting, make sure you mark correct answers. If you come across a comment that is correct or helpful, mark it as the answer so others can quickly find solutions too. Communities are all about helping one another, so make sure you're helping put the correct information front and center.
Communities are driven by just that - the community. Upvote answers, comments, and threads to ensure others in the community can find the correct answers, helpful information, or interesting facts.
This will enable your community to grow organically and stay on topic.
Nobody wants to come into a community and try to piece together a conversation. That's why you and your community should organise your conversations into threads. Many platforms such as Facebook, GitHub Discussions, and Reddit have a "reply" feature where users can reply directly to a comment and continue the conversation.
This will ensure your discussions are organised, and new members can easily follow each conversation.
Members want to come to a community and understand what's going on. Online platforms have features to help you organise your conversations. GitHub Discussions has categories, Discord and Slack have channels, Reddit has flairs, Facebook has tags. Make sure you are posting conversations in their correct topic. This will make it easier for people to find answers, questions, and discussions that suit.
Finally, once you've chosen the correct category or channel to post in, keep that discussion on track. If you deviate from the original intended conversation, start a new conversation in the correct category. This will ensure the posts are useful and discoverable.
Many of the things described above relate to all types on online community platforms. Watch the video below to see how they relate to GitHub Discussions:
If you are looking for more specific guidelines, such as a code of conduct for your community, check out the Contributor Covenant which has a good overview.