There are four types of community forums, which are outlined by the SPAN framework: support, product, ambassador and network. Most communities are built around at least one of these concepts, but in reality, most communities exist as a hybrid of two or more. Regardless of the purpose that the community serves, one thing is certain: you need moderators.
That being said, let’s take a closer look into some actionable tips that you can put to work today to become a better moderator.
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 is important as it will allow a user to immediately understand what it means to be a member of the community. 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, what behaviours are acceptable and know where reach out for help.
From the user experience, category and thread organization to 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. Be sure that you have a wiki so that you can describe in detail how to use the forum, before a new member posts something offensive or/off-topic.
4. Be Consistent and Visible!
Make sure that you engage in a number of different ways. 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 Community Moderator 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 what their status or privilege is, behaves in a way that goes against the community values and guidelines, they need to go. Remember that your community reputation is at stake, and having a poor reputation, or one that’s known to be toxic will lose you new contributors. Additionally, your reputation will ultimately determine the quality and characteristics of the contributors you get, so make sure you stay vigilant.
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 community 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.
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