Set The Standard, Not The Rules

Set the Standard, Not the Rules

I don’t do well with “have to”. I never have. In fact, telling me I have to do something is the best way to make sure I don’t do it. That’s how I got kicked out of religion class at Catholic School for not meditating! I prefer to learn by example and as such, I prefer others to teach and lead by example. I want you to set the standard, not the rules.

Set the Standard, Not the Rules


The internet is an incredibly difficult place to be sometimes. It can be wonderful and it can be horrible. So we set rules. And these rules are fine, up to a point. 


Like For A Like


What made me want to write about this topic is the frequency with which I see “like for a like” posts. These are the ones where you share a link to (usually) a social media profile. The owner/moderator of the group will state that YOU MUST follow EVERY SINGLE person who links up.


Before you read any further, please read this next bit, and let it sink in before you continue:
I have moderated forums and groups on and off since I found the internet, writing and fandoms in 2003. I totally understand how hard that job is. I once had someone try to delete my own group out from under me, claiming they hadn’t heard from me in ages (they hadn’t even tried to contact me). This is not picking at anyone or anything in particular. I am in a lot of groups (around 40 on Facebook), forums and online places in general and this is something I see coming up time and time again.


I understand that the underlying concept of “like for a like” is making sure you don’t just post a link to your site/blog/social media account and gain a bunch of followers without reciprocating.


Of course, no one pressures you to participate in these. That’s probably what some of you are thinking right now. But here’s the thing. Many people do like to participate, because the underlying principle of finding new people to follow is sound. Finding new people to follow who are also in a group based on a common interest is an even better idea.


My biggest problem lies in the rules. You MUST follow everyone. Some groups enforce this in different ways. And I choose who I follow on social media, not a moderator in a group.


How does anyone really know if you did like every other participant? I don’t know. I have my suspicions about the way some groups are moderated that either the moderator checks or group members feel like they have to (for lack of a better word) tattle to the moderator about people who don’t follow.




Rules generally don’t work. The last thing we need is another set of complex obligations to follow. The rest of our lives have rules everywhere. Laws. Our jobs. The road rules. Most people can barely follow any of those perfectly, so why do we expect people to follow detailed rules in an online space that is likely being squinted at on a smartphone screen?


Rules can help to bring a sense of order back in when something has gotten out of control, but I don’t believe they are sustainable long term.


(Side note, if you’re a Stargate fan like me, how brilliant is “The Road Not Taken”? It really fits in here about long term sustainability of rules, even though the episode was intended as political commentary.)


So if there aren’t rules, what do you do?


What you have to do is set the standard.


In some ways this is a bit like how non-parents say “I will always explain the reason for my decision to my child” and parents then laugh wildly, knowing that logic doesn’t work on children. Fair enough.


But people on the internet are generally adults (legally speaking). So you need to first give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them like adults. This is about being reasonable – don’t let someone abuse you or others, but a new person into a culture can’t be expected to know the unspoken rules straight away when no one has told them the rules.


Setting the standard is hard. To go back to my kicked out of religion class story, we were all supposed to be relaxed and meditating, but with the teacher pacing the room to make sure that’s what we were doing. How can you relax when someone is watching you relax?

Setting the standard can be mismanaged too. I’ve heard of intimidation being used in workplaces by incoming managers to “encourage” people to dress better. Setting the standard is not an excuse for passive aggressive crap.


Leading by example is hard. It is vague. It has the risk of treating people unfairly through omission. Humans are imperfect. We respond differently to different things based on unrelated feelings.


So why is it worth the “risk” to lead by example? Because in the end, I do believe that most people are inherently good. And when you let people be people, they shine through and you get better engagement, friendships and foster a collaborative atmosphere. 


How do you view “like for a like”? Do you believe that we can self-moderate as adults, given the chance?


31 Replies to “Set The Standard, Not The Rules”

  1. Always a tricky subject for some. I can’t answer for others but for myself, but yes I can moderate myself. I live by a principle of being kind, fair and considerate. So if someone “likes” my FB, blog, IG etc, I generally check them out and see if they have social profiles that attract and engage my interests. If they do I will follow or like in return. On the odd occasion I’ve included my details in a groups big ole like party, I have looked for those that pique my interests and liked those. I will not ever under any circumstance comply and follow through and like everyone single one. It’s about connection through genuine shared interests passions and not about numbers for me.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      You have raised a point I didn’t consider – what about those who can’t (or find it hard to) self moderate? Maybe the rules work better for them.
      I think many people do believe in the genuine connections over numbers, but then struggle when numbers are the first thing discussed often in blogging.

  2. I like your point… Set the standard. I used to link up to the like for a like parties to build my following and discover new blogs/ companies but I haven’t participated in ages being busy with a baby and trying to keep on schedule with my blog.

    1. That’s a really good point too, Bec. We’re all pretty busy and some days it’s very hard to know if we would ever get around to liking/commenting as per the rules, even if we have the best of intentions to do so.

  3. I really enjoyed this post – it is so very true and relevant. Setting the standard for behaviour is so important and usually people will follow if they respect and wish to be respected by the “leader/moderator.” However, online interactions don’t always follow the normal rules and people seem to think they can do anything they want behind the anonymity of a screen and pretend personas. In an ideal world we wouldn’t need rules but it seems adults sometimes can’t be trusted to operate politely or respectfully online either. I hope we can get to a point where we no longer need to be governed by rules – I personally dislike being treated as a child as well!

    1. Something interesting that I’ve observed, and this is just based on where I end up, is that many times forums and places where you can be anonymous have a better track record of leading by example than places like Facebook where it’s immediately personal (usually with a real name). But that might be more to do with the types of forums and communities I’ve had experience in. I agree that it is a bit idealistic to hope that standards work, but at the same time I don’t think we shouldn’t strive for that, even when rules are needed to stop the nastier side of the internet.

  4. Go Stargate fans! But getting back to your original question I’m not a huge fan of the like for a like where there is a MUST involved. I rarely do it as I want a community that wants to be on my blog/FB/Twitter/Instagram the numbers don’t overly interest me, but community and relationships do. Going the other way life’s to short to follow accounts that hold no interest for me, out of some sort of guilt induced obligation. Sometimes I think it depends a lot what you want out of social media. For me I’d rather have 5 engaged followers who I can get to know, than 500 who I have no clue about. On my blog FB page, for example, I have no rules and have only had to block 2 people in 3yrs. But on a disorder support group, I help admin it gets trickier and we have rules set out after a couple of incidents. But overall even on that we rarely have issues and it is far more a lead by example, which has flowed throughout the group to create a warm and supportive environment. Most people act like decent human beings, but having rules does help with the odd bad apple.

    1. I usually do participate and then only like the ones I want to. And because it’s usually in blogging or other communities where I’m active, I find that I do like a large percentage anyway. I know it breaks the rules, but that way I will become a genuine fan/community member and not a number. And I’m fine with my actions that way because I believe it’s very reasonable.
      Maybe it’s ground rules we need, not detailed rules?

  5. As you know I admin a social sharing group and I don’t police it at all. It’s up to the people who leave their links to reciprocate. People work out pretty quickly who the link and dash people are, and so they don’t actually see any benefit from it after a while. I know of a group that has an A4 size flowchart to explain their rules. In my opinion, if you have so many rules that you need charts to explain them, then maybe it’s time to take a step back because people don’t like their posts so heavily moderated.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Time is another factor – some weeks I totally link and dash, others I have the time to read and comment.
      It’s that sort of flowchart of rules where I think it’s just over the top – I can totally put my hand up and say I wouldn’t bother reading it.

  6. Lol I’m a bit of an ex-religion class rebel like you and it jacks me off to be told what to do! As you pointed out I am an adult who has a fair bit of personal integrity. I will always do the right thing and follow/comment on blogs and social media accounts when I participate in a forum or link-up. But there’s no way I would blindly follow everyone (especially ones I don’t connect with or that aren’t useful to me) because there’s not even enough time to interact with the blogs/pages/accounts I DO really like!

    This was a great, thought-provoking post Vanessa – I really enjoyed it!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Catholic school and I did not mix very well 🙂 I was encouraged to “look into other educational opportunities” after grade 10.
      I’m glad the post was useful for you 🙂

  7. Some people self moderate well and others are just plain selfish, ignorant and I believe they need to follow rules, however, ironically it’s probably the ones that need to that don’t. I’m not in to the like for like thing, someone did that to me the other day and I had no clue who they were – NEXT!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Always the way – those who need it won’t listen.

  8. I don’t participate in “like for like” things because I would rather people follow me because they find what I do/say helpful or valuable. When I first started blogging, I participated in a ‘like link up’. The problem was 2 fold. First of all, I had a whole lot of crap in my facebook feed that didn’t interest me, so I eventually either hid or unliked them. Secondly, although I got an initial boost in followers on my page, they weren’t necessarily engaged, and no doubt unliked me over time too (in the same way I did). These days I will not participate in anything that requires me to follow or like them on social media. I will only follow people or pages who I am genuinely interested in hearing from, and I am happy if others do the same for me! If I am in a group (and I am not in many), I will only join the group if I agree with the ‘rules’. If not, then the group is not for me. I guess this is me setting my own standard.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      A lot of the time (particularly on Facebook, because it never shows you the same thing twice!) I find a group, join and then decide if I like it. So I guess in some ways this is a part of that process.

  9. It’s a tricky situation because I have liked every single profile there and then just not really enjoyed lets say.. my Pintrest feed and un followed some eventually. I do think you should participate, and check out every link and like the ones that are relevant to your inerests, that way you’re an engaged liker! None of this link dump ‘n run! Bec x

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I think that’s what is good about like for like, you do get to find more people. The other issue that has come up as I’ve talked about this (a lot, this week!) is that of time. Do you have to like within a certain period of time? What if you get busy, or forget…there are just so many variables that I think make the MUST nature a bit impractical. Some weeks or days I have link dumped and run…even on my own (joint) weekly link up! Other weeks I get to them all.

  10. I also participate in a few FB groups and sometimes have participated in the like for like posts. I don’t mind seeing rules posted as I can decide for myself if I agree with the rules and wish to participate. What I mind a great deal is when the admins later post reprimands aimed at the individuals not following the rules, publicly. Had they not posted that some weren’t engaging I wouldn’t have even known as I’m too busy to monitor. When this happens, what was positive (I’ve made some great connections this way) becomes incredibly negative. If the Admin recognizes individuals not “following their rules” they should reach out to them individually. I enjoyed reading your discussion here in the comments.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Oh wow, I haven’t actually seen the public reprimands. I’ve certainly been suspicious that some will go through and police it, but not the public nature, that’s way out of line in my view.
      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this, it has been a great discussion to have and to see how people feel about it.

  11. I like the blog link ups because it does encourage me to read other people’s blogs and I’ve discovered some awesome ones out there. But it’s easy to get caught up in the rules of how many you must comment on- some even specify the comment can be as simple as a “thanks for posting” and it seems a bit pointless sometimes. There are many times I have read a post and had nothing much at all to say to it so commenting seems a bit…empty! Like for a like on facebook- I joined in a few times and then ended up “liking” a whole bunch of pages that I don’t really like!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I would feel spammy leaving a comment like “thanks for posting” – it would make me feel like I’m doing it only for the link back to my blog.

  12. I really, really want to believe that self-moderation is possible, and like you said, that people are inherantly “good” and want to interact in a positive way. But I have been part of too many online groups over the years that have self-imploded due to in-fighting, bickering and unreasonable “rules”. I do believe that once a group gets too big to moderate, splinter cells will break off and form their own sub-community – this is because people vote with their feet when they feel excluded or victimised or just disagree with something (whether this is real or imagined!).
    To return to the original point, this “like for a like” business rubs me the wrong way too. I don’t like absolutes – and would probably immediately walk away from any such community or link-up requiring that much effort from me to be a member. However, if a request is reasonable (to MY OWN MIND), I will join in and abide by the guidelines most of the time.
    In the end, big communities function (as opposed to forming, storming, norming… exploding) on a long-term basis (I’m thinking of things like Reddit or Fiction Alley or here) because MOST people do the “right” things (eg. basic ettiquette) most of the time!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      FA was one of the first online communities I ever used and they moderate so well. I think it ruined me when I saw what other forums were like!

  13. I’m not a huge fan of the like for like, especially when someone says “I’ve liked you, so now please like me”. If I like what I see and interests me then I will like, otherwise I just keep moving on.

    Every fortnight I run a little Share the love Sunday on my Facebook page, and encourage people to interact with other pages in the form of interacting with posts (commenting and/or sharing) something that has interested them. The idea is creating meaningful engagement rather than just like for liking. Through this I’ve found some wonderful pages to follow and blogs that I now read on a regular basis and I know others have too. I don’t set rules but simply suggest that people interact with one other page that they find interesting and go beyond a simple like and it works well. I don’t police it, and I don’t expect everyone to like it interact with every other page and I think that’s why it’s successful. People engage with the pages they discover that they have an interest in and it’s built a lovely community of people with shared/common interests.

    On a side note: I LOVE Stargate and I think it’s one of the most underrated shows of all time! Every few years Dave and I research every episode of SG-1 and Atlantis and every time we watch it we get a little bit more out of it and discuss different things.

    1. That should have been rewatch, not research!

    2. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I think that’s a great balance to have – genuine interest in a blog or page is the only type worth having.

  14. I like the saying {and have the sticker from Sparkling Adventures} “Be the change you wish to see in your children” – which is really hard!!! Because it comes back to that saying “Do as I say, not do as I do” 🙂
    But really at the end of the day if they see you being calm then they will be calm – a bit like what needs to happen online – be the change and others will follow.
    I think that asking people to “Like” other pages is not fair unless you like that subject that will be on that page!
    Maybe asking people to “Like” like-minded people would be more ideal so that people can connect with the same mindset 🙂

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Like-like-minded – I like that 🙂

  15. […] from 26 Years and Counting wrote this post about one of the methods that is most commonly used to grow social media following…like […]

  16. I don’t like the like for a like posts and often skim over them because I hate the feeling of obligation to then go and like every page and the feeling of guilt if I don’t. I want to ‘like’ pages and people and groups that interest me and would hope that people would do that same for my page because then it would feel more genuine.

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