I really like being a moderator.
Do you want to learn how to be a moderator?
Because we are going to talk about being a great moderator.
Welcome to the inner lair, chosen one. Moderators are a special breed, and are some of the most important people of web communities today. They can help make or break a community and lead it to success. They are there to help facilitate conversations between fans in accordance with the brand guidelines of their company and foster a spirit of cooperation. Becoming a great moderator takes time and practice.
There are two types of forums, one revolving around shared interest and the other that is more informational in nature. With a shared-interest forum, you're bringing together people who happen to be interested in a common topic where they can explore and connect with each other on a larger range of topics. Collaboration between members is key here.
Informational forums, are largely used when the community are searching for or share content that is useful to the member (and is easy to search and find in one location). But where you want to fall on that spectrum will have a big impact on what kind of rules you'll need and how tightly you're going to want to enforce them.
So, with all that in mind, let’s dive into some actionable tips to guide you on your moderation journey.
1. Be Objective
Guidelines are there to help keep things as black and white as possible. Sometimes grey incurs, and usually you will have an opinion. But it’s important to try to stay objective, and keep your opinions and feelings out of the discussion. When grey areas do occur, that may be a perfect time to raise a flag with the moderator team to get a group consensus, a time to update guidelines, or even reach out to the community manager/company representative if you represent a brand.
2. Be Considerate and Helpful
Know your community and create a nice environment for discussion, support and connection. Some members may be lurkers, so be cautious and considerate when you call people out publicly. It’s better to be safe than sorry and communicate through a private message instead of shaming them in public. Use your judgement if you feel that things need to be called out - use your discretion and seek a second opinion.
Ask forum members to treat the forum with the same respect they would a public park, as a shared community resource and a place to share skills, knowledge and interests through ongoing conversation.
3. Have clear Community Guidelines
Having a well-designed forum with clear on-boarding instructions, ways for a user to immediately understand what it means to be a member there and how to get involved, is important. Not only that, but it helps save you time from answering repetitive questions. New members should feel right at home, understand how to become a member of the community, and know where reach out for help.
From the user experience, category and thread organization and user management, making sure everything is organized is important. If the forum is messy, it will only cause problems for the users and make your life harder. Have a wiki, and describe in detail how to use the forum, before a new member posts something offensive or/off-topic.
4. Be consistent and visible!
Engage in a number of different ways and levels. You don’t need to comment on every post to be “engaged”. Take advantage of the various ways your platform supports showing engagement such as up-voting, or liking. Remember, you want to be the example of how you wish your members to interact. Be visible, positive and encouraging!
Showing your members that you are there is important. If a member is helpful, or does something great - let them know about it! Reinforce the positive contributions and behaviour that you see.
5. Use Your Powers for Good
The community is more important than you. That goes for any single member of a forum as well. If a forum member, no matter their status or privilege, is damaging the community, they need to go. The forum reputation brings you new contributors and it's the type of reputation that determines the quality and characteristics of the contributors you get.
Don't see mistakes as bad. It's similar to a kid learning to ride a bike without the training wheels. It may take a few times and that's normal.
Some forums have permanent ban options and allow you to even block an email or IP address. These are reserved for the worst spammers and abusers. A ban is more permanent and has major negative connotations, so it must be used as a last resort. You must practice fair policing.
Asking nicely has its limits, eventually you must take action.
6. Find the value for your members.
Having a clear strategy and philosophy around your forum and alignment is very important. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is your community about? What's your user demographic?
- What's your target user demographic if you're not so fond of the one you have now?
- What's the goal of the forum for you? What would be the goal of using the forum for the users?
Understanding the value add for your users is important. Remember, people are coming to your community because there is some value for them, which means your members are like minded and interested.
Often times in some communities, there are barriers for beginners. It’s important to make sure that new ideas, and beginners are welcome. But equally important is also making sure the guidelines and code of conduct are visible and well integrated into the experience.
As a community manager, and moderator, you facilitate and foster a civilized place for public discussion. When you create an inclusive community and many ways for folks to get involved and contribute, you will see an increase in engagement and membership. Engagement drives collaboration.
You need to ask yourself are they engaged? Do they have a voice? Adapt the tool to the user, not the user to the tool.
7. You’re only as good as your platform.
If you are needing to approve every post, and locking all the threads, something is wrong. Be aware of threadjacking and have systems to defeat the trolls. For example, some forums have spam filters that can help catch most of the spammers automatically, allow thread locking/closing, and temporary bans.
It’s also very important to have an off-topic thread. Consider creating an introduce yourself thread, and a category for meta discussions.
There is no one size fits all approach. You need to do the research to see what is best for your community. What type of interaction style do your members want? What kind of features? What do you need to be successful as a Community Manager?
8. Don’t Burn out!
It’s ok to need to take a break, or only commit to a few days or hours a week. It’s important to let the community manager know and your fellow moderator team.
Make sure you take the breaks and time for yourself that you need before it’s too late. Getting positive feedback and engagement from a community is energizing and encouraging! However, some communities are hard, and suck up a lot of time and energy.
Be conscious of this. Building a moderator team and support system around you is very important, and follow some of the steps above to make your life easier!
Being a moderator is great experience and an opportunity to connect with the internal team of a company and gain new skills. It will help you create relationships, not only within your organization but also with your community members.
Author Alexandra Bowen is a Community and Developer Relations Manager for DreamFactory Software. She has mostly worked as a Community Manager for Tech companies and startups.She has created Community and Social Media strategies from the ground up and has been a one person community team who wears tons of hats.