Moderation isn’t about keeping your community safe from bad actors or creating a code of conduct (that you never enforce)—it’s about encouraging members to participate in thoughtful ways.
If your community is a living and breathing city, the moderator is equivalent to the mayor. One wrong move starts to feel like Gotham city, with no Batman in sight.
CMX describes moderation as “the backbone of what makes communities welcoming, safe, and positive spaces for everyone to participate in.”
Before diving into how to get community moderation right, you need to ask yourself…
…what counts as moderation?
If this question is what brought you here—congratulations, you are thinking in the right direction. If you haven’t given it much thought, don’t worry (yet).
There are about ~82mn search results for “community moderation”. I didn’t go through all of them (maybe 40?)—but most of them are wrong. Or at least don’t talk about what counts as community moderation and jump straight to do’s and don’ts.
At the risk of repeating myself—Moderation isn’t just about keeping your community safe from bad actors or creating a code of conduct.
Educating your members about community values counts as moderation.
Encouraging meaningful conversations counts as moderation.
Embracing feedback from the community counts as moderation.
…and more that you will figure out as you build your moderation stack.
A deep dive…
Establishing rules and guidelines is the first stage in influential online community moderating. No soliciting, spamming, personal assaults or unsuitable content are a few examples of frequent restrictions. This contributes to developing a safe and respectful atmosphere by setting clear expectations for behaviour.
After establishing the guidelines, keeping a close eye on community discourse is crucial. This includes answering messages, regulating conversations, and eliminating anything that isn't compliant. The dialogues must be monitored by the moderators, who must reply to them promptly and responsibly.
In addition to keeping a close eye on the discussion, moderators must promote mutual respect and cooperation. To achieve this, members should be encouraged to collaborate and contribute constructively, and offensive language should be discouraged.
Finally, it's critical to establish guidelines for how moderators should address arising difficulties. This covers dealing with members who break the rules, getting in touch with the moderator if anything is wrong, and how the moderator ought to utilise their authority to impose the rules.
Community moderators don’t have to be at the pro max level.
While moderators may need to take a hands-on approach to moderate a community, there are also ways to take a more passive approach. For instance, a community can be set up with automatic rules triggered when specific content is posted. This can reduce the amount of work a moderator must do while still being effective at keeping the content posted in the community respectful and appropriate.
It’s also important to note that moderators need not be perfect. It’s healthy for a community to have a diverse range of moderators who can bring different perspectives and approaches to moderating the community. This helps to create a space that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.
Nobody read the Community Guidelines…
Community Guidelines (called Code of Conduct) are the most critical documentation for both you (as a moderator) and the community.
You can’t tell members what is acceptable or not—you need to show them—explicitly. To emphasize further, in the words of Philippe Kruchten: “If it is not written down, it does not exist.”
And before you ask, No—boilerplate content for community guidelines does not work—it is ambiguous at best and potentially misleading.
Zooming out of the picture, the same line in a community guideline template can mean different things for different communities (take promotional content, for example)—it is crucial to make your code of conduct personal and unique to your community.
That said, it’s OK to leave out edge cases—there are too many of those (trust me on this), and it is better to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. And if you see something coming up repeatedly, you can always add it to the code of conduct.
Do’s > Dont’s
Instead of telling members what they shouldn’t be doing (which is a waste of your resources), highlight what they should be doing.
Example: Instead of saying “this post doesn’t belong in #marketing”, say “this post seems like a better fit for #self-promotion”.
Ask for feedback
Someone came to you with a potential improvement to your code of conduct, and you promptly updated it (with due credits)—great, but not enough.
You should proactively reach out to the community members for their thoughts and suggestions on the code of conduct—this allows them to look closely and reflect if the community values match their values.
Enforce your Guidelines
You will inevitably encounter a violation, and you must take action.
Make sure to inform the member who violated the code of conduct why you took that action. I love the three-strike rule from Higher Logic that recommends educating the member on the first strike, moderating on the second and removing or suspending the member on the third strike.
Be prepared to answer questions.
And not just questions, repetitive questions—that keep coming back.
Sometimes members try to search through the archives to find what they’re looking for but cannot (maybe wrong keywords?). Make sure the questions get answered if nobody responds to them for a while.
What could go wrong?
This question may sound vague (apart from intriguing), but an important one to ask yourself (or anyone in your team).
Think of everything that could go wrong and a possible way to deal with it. Please make a list and share it with everyone who moderates the community.
Your community will Grow.
And so will the effort required to moderate it—this is where you call for backup. Community growth through community moderation is an effective way to foster a healthier and more vibrant community. Communities can grow and thrive by fostering an environment of moderation and engaging individuals from different backgrounds.
Ask your community for help.
You don’t need to look for help outside the community; your most engaging/active members would be more than happy to help.
If you need much more help, you can create an official program to recruit volunteers to help moderate the community.
If you are building your community on Slack (or similar platforms), tools like Skunk Mod or setting up custom replies with Slackbot can help reduce overhead.
And at the risk of #self-promotion—we’re building moderation tools at Magic. Drop a hi if you’d like to try it out for free.
To sum up, moderation can make or break your community. It is essential to balance safeguarding your community from bad actors and encouraging members to participate thoughtfully.