Rianna Gonzales

Online Community Moderation - What is it, Why is it important and How to get it done


What does it mean to be an online community moderator?

An online community is a group of people connected to each other for a specific purpose through the internet. Moderating an online community means, someone who is not directly part of the specific community takes on the responsibility for acting as a mediator and keeping discussions within appropriate boundaries. It often includes making decisions about what's allowed in terms of speech or behaviour, enforcing rules, responding to questions from members and giving out warnings when necessary.


Why is moderation important in a community?

Online communities are a place where people come together to share their interests, experiences and questions. Nevertheless, their opinions and behaviours may differ from person to person. therefore it is important to have moderators who watch over the community by ensuring that discussions and interactions stay within appropriate boundaries with all members being able to participate equally without fear of harassment or ridicule. Overall, moderation helps to stimulate engagement within an online community and create a sense of belonging among its members.


What does an online community moderator do?

The role of a moderator in an online community is crucial as it ensures that all members have an enjoyable and productive experience in the community. A large part of becoming a good online community moderator is knowing how to strike the balance between controlling conversations to maintain order, contributing to keep conversations fresh, and giving members enough freedom to feel like they can express themselves. You do not want mayhem, but you do not want to discourage discussions before they even get going.

Moderation typically involves three elements:

  1. Curating the user-generated content on the online community to ensure quality and alignment with the organization's rules of engagement
  2. Maintaining a climate that encourages open but appropriate conversation
  3. Participating in an online environment where the rules of engagement are established and protected.

A community moderator can encounter various challenges, such as deciding what is appropriate content, how to deal with differing opinions and making sure that the discussion stays on topic.

A moderator should be patient and understanding when trying to resolve any issues because it can take time for a person who has been negatively impacted online to become comfortable again. The most important rule of moderation is to avoid any judgement or prejudice against users since moderators are tasked with serving ALL members equally.

Here I will share with you some actionable tips that will help you moderate your online community:


1. Create a community policy/guideline and enforce it

Rules need to apply equally to everyone because this ensures fairness among particpants. One way to ensure uniformity is writing clear guidelines with examples of how infractions were dealt with in the past so new moderators know when its time to intervene. If someone posts something that is inappropriate, a moderator will remove the post and provide feedback on why it was removed. If there's an argument between two members in the community, or if one person doesnt want to follow the rules posted by moderators, a moderator may step in and mediate until both sides reach an agreement.

Some general rules can be followed when creating a policy for your online community:

  • Respect other members of our community, inlcuding their opinions and beliefs;
  • Keep your conversations constructive for everyone's benefit;
  • Be polite to each other
  • No spamming, no posting personal information about someone else on the site without permission etc.

Those are some simple guidelines that will help any online community from turning into a disaster waiting to happen.


2. Respond to posts quickly and efficiently

It is important to take care of problems and questions early and not let them linger so they dont turn into more serious issues or give the perception of inactvitiy. If someone is using improper language for example you may want to censor this quickly or if someone asks a question and members do not respond it would be good for the moderator to jump in and respond to get a discussion going, maybe even tag another person in the community who can better respond.

One of the hardest parts of managing a community is recognising when constructive criticism has crossed a line or turned into harassment. Unless the content is very offensive or illegal, don't delete it immediatley as persons may view it as censorship. Instead, respond to the post with a private message explaining politley that they have overstepped boundaries and warn them that if it continues then their account will be removed. You can also institute a "three-strike rule" whereby after three infractions occur, then all privileges get revoked until it's been determined whether or not this person should be able to continue participating in your online community.


3. Create an atmosphere where people feel welcome and are encouraged to participate without fear of retribution

In order for community members to actively participate and share their thoughts, you should create an atmospher where they feel welcome and are encouraged to do so without fear of retribution. This can come across as a chellenging task.

For example, you could have an "unpopular opinion" day where members can share thier thoughts on any topic without the fear of being ridculed or attacked by others in the community. Another option that would encourage participation is to create groups within your community for people who are interested in discussing certain topics and then encourage those members to participate actively with each other whie also providing them with ways to connect offline if they want.

Another way to encourage participation is for the moderator to personally ask for feedback from everyone else in the community. You might be surprised about what's going on behind the scenes that you never knew before!


4. Encourage community members to moderate one another

Encourage community members to moderate one another. The rush to remove spam and minor infractions are time-consuming for moderators, especailly when the community grows and more work needs to be done by moderators in order to maintain a healthy environment inside it. Increasing the number of moderators involved can be a solution to this problem; however, en event better approach would be enabling peer to peer moderation.

It's empowering for other group members who want input on what happens within their own groups (less "us vs them" mentality) while simultaneously providing some relief for the singel moderator! Also, it's great way to train people on how you moderate and, who knows? They might be the next moderator!


5. Keep the community policy/guidelines up-to-date

What is important to remember is that your community is a living, breathing entity. It will change and grow over time in ways you can't predict or control- but it's up to you as the moderator to keep those changes on track with the original intent of your community. Your guidelines will inevitably change as your community grows in size and evloves. The norms, objectives, and goal of your online community will gradually transform as more people become members. If you need to make alterations to your guidelines, make sure those changes are  communicated to the entire community in some way - either thorugh general announcements or email.


Okay, so those are five tips to help you on your community moderation journey. I hope it was helpful and if you have any other ideas or suggestions please add them in the comments section below.

Till next week....