7 Best Practices for Online Community Moderation

Community Strategy // Community moderation is a skill, first and foremost. Take these seven steps to effectively moderate your community.

Jenny Taylor
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Ongoing engagement in your online community is the foundation for your success. And making sure your online platforms feel safe and enjoyable for all your participants is essential for the long-term health of your community.

That’s where community moderation becomes so important. And it’s another reason why having dedicated community management is so important.

All it takes is two or three trolls to ruin even a 40,000-user community — trust us, we’ve seen it before. Fortunately, with over 11 years of experience in the community space, we have tips and best practices for you to follow to ensure you can effectively moderate your online community.

Before we dive in, let’s look at what online community moderation means:

Community Moderation is the practice of managing comments and discussions from members/users on your platform so it aligns with your Terms and Conditions and/or Code of Conduct, usually done by a community moderator or team of moderators.

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, employees or customers enough freedom to feel like they can express themselves. You don’t want mayhem, but you don’t want to discourage discussions before they even get going.

Looking for a full overview of community moderation? Check out Your Playbook for Online Community Moderation.

Moderation typically involves three elements:

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

Next, we’ll help you establish a framework that will help you maintain these three elements.

Use These 7 Steps to Effectively Moderate Your Online Community

Community moderation is a skill that can be learned and can be helped along by strong policies to back you or your community manager up.

1. Establish Rules for Member Participation: The Code of Conduct

Your first step should be to create written, downloadable that are reviewed by an attorney, ready before launch day.

Members should genuinely feel like the online community is a place where they can express their knowledge and opinions without being stifled, but having guidelines helps protect you and the community.

Your guidelines should:

  • Clearly state expected behaviors as well as behaviors you don’t want to see
  • Define who the community is for and not for and what community means to you
  • Outline unacceptable content and materials, such as those of an obscene, graphic, or pornographic nature
  • Ban inappropriate behaviors, such as hazing, bullying, defamation, and intolerance
  • Describe unacceptable community usage, such as commercial advertising or overt self-promotion, or improper posting practices, such as thread hijacking, spamming, going off-topic, and incorrect content placement
  • Provide guidance for how community members should handle complaints between one another
  • Define key post types that aren’t allowed, like spam or solicitations

Make this document easy to find, such as a link in your site footer or on your community homepage. We recommend forcing acceptance of terms and conditions when users are first asked to login.

Online community platforms will often have moderation tools to help you keep tabs on this behavior. For example, Higher Logic’s Community software has a Watch Words feature to help you automatically flag and manage language deemed inappropriate, insensitive, or incendiary.

TIP: If you make your online community’s moderation rules overwhelmingly lengthy, not even your most emphatic community member will feel inclined to read it. As a rule of thumb, try to stick to one page (or under 500 words). You can place the community guidelines at the top and then add the necessary legalese at the bottom to ensure members notice the guidelines.

2. Create a Clear Escalation Path for Moderating

Now that you’ve written the guidelines, it’s your job to know them inside and out. By choosing to maintain an account in the online community, members agree to abide by these policies.

So what happens when they don’t?

We recommend a three-strike rule to protect the community forum and to give your users the benefit of the doubt. If you have it from the beginning, you always have your policy to rely on when you need to back up moderation decisions.

“My assumption is that people just don’t know better until they prove otherwise. Honestly with some heated topics, people just feel passionately and get out of hand and it’s not their true nature.”

Cindy Taylor, Systems Coordinator for the Association of Independent School Admissions Professionals

How to Implement a Three-Strike Policy

Strike 1: Educate

Provide a written notice to the member who violates the guidelines. It’s likely they didn’t know what they did wasn’t allowed (yes, even if they signed the Code of Conduct when they joined).

Educate them on what happened, why their post was flagged or removed, and guide them towards positive engagement.

Example: A user posts promotional content for their business, when that’s against the guidelines.

Response: Send a direct message to the user explaining why it’s not allowed and include a link to a relevant topic to their business, asking them to offer advice without selling.

Strike 2: Moderate

At this point, there are no excuses. But you should still hear the user out. Place them on full moderation and send a second written notice of the violation, offering to talk on the phone or via video chat about the infraction and what community means to you. Have the template all set up in your email – keep the process clear and concise.

Strike 3: Remove

Suspend access to the community and send a final notice to the member in question. Three strikes — you’re out. It’s up to your team to decide if this is a temporary removal (i.e. 30 days) or a permanent one based on the severity of the offense.

TIP: Keep a spreadsheet with a list of people with moderation issues in the past and how many strikes they’ve received, clearly documenting these issues so you can back up your claims when you do remove the member.

Dealing with Violations Publicly

You don’t want to publicly shame members, but if everyone has already seen the flagged post before you could remove it, here’s what to do:

  1. Respond to the thread, saying that the post was in violation of the code of conduct, stating the specific reason why and linking to the guidelines.
  2. Close the thread.
  3. Remove the thread, if necessary. It’s up to you whether you want it to remain as an example for transparency and accountability or if it’s better off removed. It depends on the type of infraction and your guidelines, of course.

3. Enforce Infractions Consistently

Even if all your community members signed a clear terms and conditions document, you need to have a plan in place for when you see a violation.

Who will respond and how will you tell the member that they broke a rule? It’s not enough to just know what a violation looks like — you need to have a clear course of action outlined for a swift response that’s consistent.

Enforcing is easier said than done — telling passionate people they’re acting out of line can be hard. But it’s critical for maintaining the community’s integrity

4. Set the Tone and Let Champions Lead by Example

Moderation is more than just knowing the rules. As a community manager, you’re pretty much a living, breathing example of them. If someone wonders, “How should I start a conversation?” or “What should I say in response to X?” they can look to you.

But a community is so much bigger than that. A great online forum moderator builds a community that eventually moderates itself, letting community members feel as if they have some control and pride in what they’ve built.

Before you swoop in — provided it’s not too inflammatory — let the comment sit for a few minutes or hours. Your community should lead by example, marking it as inappropriate or responding to the troll themselves. If no one takes action, then you model the right behavior.

5. Recruit and Train Volunteer Admins

As your community grows, creating its own social norms and expectations, learn to trust them. Part of being a good moderator is training members, employees, or customers to moderate discussions themselves.

If you did your job well — wrote an excellent guideline and modeled good behavior — your members, employees or customers should be well trained, able to keep valuable discussions alive, and self-police unproductive behavior. It will be easier for new folks to get up to speed since they’ll have so many positive role models to emulate.

Once your moderation team includes members of your community and not just employees, you know your community is on the right track — they’re finding value in the community and taking ownership of how it’s used.

Visit How to Get More Engagement in Your Online Community for tips on recruiting community ambassadors to help you with tasks like moderation.

6. Listen to Your Community

When something does go wrong, rather than shut down, listen. Reaching out personally shows vocal or disgruntled users you do care, you are listening and you’re working to solve the problem. If it doesn’t feel appropriate, then have a manager or executive reach out. This simple gesture will go a long way.

If you’re hesitant to be very communicative with members during a crisis, remember that silence can be your worst enemy. Don’t just passively listen and churn out disingenuous responses — truly listen to what people say, let them know they’re heard and try to learn from their dissatisfaction.

Worried about negative feedback in your community? Hear what community manager Shannon Emery has to say.

7. Re-Evaluate and Assess Gaps

Finally, don’t be afraid of change. Your guidelines were never meant to be static. Your community norms, mission, and goals will evolve as more people use it, and if you need to change your Code of Conduct, do it. If you do, make sure you let your community know, either through a general announcement, email, or both.

Need More Help with Online Community Moderation?

If you’re looking for more, don’t miss our eBook – it’s your playbook for moderation, with best practices for community moderation and 6 do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Jenny Taylor

Community Strategist

Jenny is a Community Strategist at Higher Logic. She has a strong background in community management, working with customers to implement strategies that would ensure their community produced the most engaged users possible. Prior to Higher Logic, Jenny was ingrained in the nonprofit sector as a grant writer, marketing specialist and—you guessed it—a community manager.

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