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I think online communities are the most incredible features of the Internet (besides e-mail, of course)! A community posting board on your Web site can be a great way to encourage repeat visits and to build loyalty to your site.
But every community has its ups and downs, and in Web communities, the downs are when someone posts something inappropriate or a heated discussion between members turns ugly.
How can you manage your Web community? Start by posting a set of community rules, both in legalese (written by a lawyer to limit your liability) and a Top 10 Rules list written in plain English. Examples of rules include:
1. If we feel your post violates the member policies, we reserve the right to remove it.
2. All language in the forums must remain PG-rated.
3. Harassment is not tolerated. Your membership will be discontinued.
4. Commercial advertising is not appropriate and will be removed.
When someone registers to join your online community, set up your registration process so they must read the rules and then press a button that says "I Accept." And post a prominent link to the rules.
Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books). She is currently working on her next book and new company.