Writing safety advice for your community site

by Martin Reed on 16 May 2007 in Articles

If you run an online community it is important that your site contains prominent safety advice. I strongly believe that online communities and online chat forums are not dangerous – as long as users are reasonably educated that the same potential dangers that can occur in real life can also happen online.

Educate your users

You cannot presume that all of your site’s visitors are clued up to the potential dangers of getting in touch with new people – for some reason many think the same rules that apply in the offline world do not apply online. As a site owner, you must take some responsibility to educate your users by posting clear safety advice.

What your safety advice should cover

A good safety advice page should cover the following information:

-An introduction to your site-

What is the target audience and general subject matter of your community?

-Basic safety advice-

The typical staples of never revealing personal information and a strong recommendation to not meet users in real life, or to meet in public places should be sufficient.

-Safety features-

What safety features does your community offer and how can a member use them? If you have a chat forum, make users aware of the ‘Ignore’ feature if you have one installed, and how to use it. If your forums have a facility to enable users to block messages from others, make this clear and advise your visitors how to use the feature.


Is your community moderated? To what extent? Provide information on moderation, and advise your members how moderators are selected. It also helps to provide information on how moderators are monitored, and exactly what roles they undertake on your site.

You should also provide information for users to contact you should they wish to provide feedback on any of your moderators.


Do users need to register or hand over any personal information in order to use your site? What information are you collecting during registration, and why? You should refer users to your privacy policy for further information. If you don’t yet have a privacy policy, stay tuned – I will write an article on how to create one in the near future.


Are your members able to complete profiles on your site? If so you should advise them what pieces of information they add to their profile will be publicly visible. It is worth reminding users that they shouldn’t reveal personal information in their public profiles.

-Reporting Incidents-

It is important to make it clear how users can contact you with any safety concerns, along with how you will respond. Advise the reader what information you would like them to include with any reports (for example user names, dates, times etc) and give them an idea of when they can expect a response from you.

And finally….

Safety advice for your community site

Screenshot of prominent safety advice button (click to enlarge)

There is no point on going to the trouble of publishing safety advice if your users cannot find it on your site. Provide a clear link to your safety page – keep it prominent, and keep your users safe.

Have you published safety advice on your community website? Do you think it is an important requirement, or do you feel that online safety is solely the responsibility of the individual? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

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Smiley May 17, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Done. Also removed the competitions & incentives.

Keep up the great work, and thanks for the excellent advice.

It really is refreshing for someone experienced to actually share their knowledge publically like this.

Martin Reed May 17, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Hey Smiley – I am glad you are enjoying the blog and that this article was useful to you. Best of luck with your site, and I hope you continue to be a regular reader and contributor here.

Smiley May 18, 2007 at 8:03 am

I am enjoying it a lot – as I’m new to a lot of this stuff. I naturally enjoy learning and I like to think of myself as a quick learner.

Your advice on here is a huge help to me, I tweak based on your advice and I’ve actually already seen results from such tweaking.

I’ve added a ‘new user advice’ page and at the top of the forum I’ve put a link that says “New to chatrooms? Confused? Click here” – and I’ve had a few compliments about the page.

It’s a lot harder than I first thought, I mean REALLY harder, I never realized before just how much hard work you’ve put into JC. It’s took us 8 months just to be found on Yahoo search engines.

I also made the fatal mistake of not bothering with a “recommend this site” button for 8 months. I finally added one last month and 40 people per day are referred to the site through it according to matrixstats – And all these months I went without it.

All that free word-of-mouth advertising I’ve passed up on. I could kick myself sometimes, something so small and simple can help a huge amount – that’s why I really enjoy taking your articles in and tweaking it to my own satisfaction.

Martin Reed May 18, 2007 at 10:45 am

Smiley – Thanks for your comment, I am glad the advice contained within this blog is useful to you. A ‘new user advice’ page is a great idea – it adds significantly to your site’s usability, which is always a good thing.

Perhaps I will write an article in the future about word-of-mouth advertising.

Smiley May 18, 2007 at 10:52 am

Woohoo! Please do. :)

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