When building a community, one of the biggest questions you’ll need to answer is this: do you need help to run it? Many times it’s a very stressful decision because you’ll need to give your moderators just enough power to make or break your community. To help you out, here I’ve answered nine questions that you’re likely to face as you hire and manage moderators. I realize that there are hundreds of forum software packages, so some questions may be more relevant to your particular situation than others. Ok, let’s get started!
Why do you need moderators?
To control your community
You can have the best-looking forum, using the latest technologies, and still easily fail. Why? Because when potential members look at your site, they’ll seriously evaluate your current members. If you let members trash the forum and act like delinquents, no one will want to sign up in the future. Moderators are the support beams to your forum. They should have the power to honestly enforce your rules when you aren’t around.
To clean your community
Moderators can edit out obscene content posted by forum delinquents, and move off-topic posts into a more appropriate forum. Depending on what forum software you use, there will be a range of other clean-up duties you can assign them.
To create the impression of a stable community
No one wants to move into a high crime neighbourhood in real life — so why would Web users be any different? By having moderators, you show the visitor that you care enough about your forum to enlist help.
The visitor will see that not only are you committed to looking after the forum, but also to looking after your moderators, and this will create the impression that the community is growing and stable.
To get big posters
A funny thing usually happens when a member is promoted: they post more! If you don’t trust me, visit any successful forum and view its members. You’ll see the moderators are listed within the top 30 members (at least), and it’s no coincidence. They feel proud and want to show off their new title around the forums, so they’ll post more to get the extra recognition. They’ll also feel the weight of their obligation, which will demand their presence at the forum, and will ultimately increase their posting frequency.
What are the ideal traits in a moderator?
I’ll admit, maturity is hard to define, and sometimes, to even recognize. Usually maturity is closely related with age, however I’ve met some crazy old guys and some extremely level-headed teenagers, so age can’t be used as your key criteria. One thing you can do to identify a mature member is to closely evaluate how they react when faced with different forum situations. Do they get angry easily? Are their answers usually unbiased? Are they considerate of others’ ideas and opinions? If you answered yes to those questions, then you might have found a mature member who’d make a good moderator.
To me, this criteria is flexible. Depending on what you want your moderators to do, their knowledge in the subject of your site may not be necessary. However, if you have a few good candidates to choose from, this criteria should be more heavily weighted than some others. If you have a moderator that knows a thing or two about your forum topic, then your members will follow and respect that moderator — and only good things can come from that. It will also save you time in disputes, as the moderator can argue effectively if their command is challenged, referring heavily to the forum topic, and leveraging their own knowledge.
A frequent visitor
It’s very important that the member already visits your forum, and establishes this as a habit. Depending on how active your forum is, you’ll want someone who will be there to perform their duties frequently. After all, what is the use of having a moderator if they only visit once a week? Depending on the member and the demand in your forums for a moderator, you might start off with a more than fair requirement that your moderators visit the site 4-5 days a week. In my experience, this seems to please the member, who will, in time, actually end up visiting the forums every day.
Willingness to help others
For your forum to grow, you need leaders who are willing to go the extra mile to help another member out. One way you can determine how helpful a potential moderator is, is to check their new-topic-to-reply ratio. If the member replies more often than they start a new thread, then that member probably prefers to solve other people’s problems rather than create their own questions. This willingness to respond to others can have a great effect on your members: in short, they’ll respect your moderator. On the other hand, if your moderator posts new questions more frequently than they answer the queries of others, he or she might be seen as not knowing the forum topic, and therefore, not able or qualified to lead.
When should you recruit a moderator?
If your forum is subject to frequent spamming, or attracts immature
Don’t ignore it — it won’t go away, and don’t think you can handle it all yourself. You’ll soon see that people who post inappropriate topics or ads won’t stop until they’re challenged. And if they see that you’re understaffed, they’ll take advantage of it.
If your forum receives too many posts for you to read yourself
Again, don’t fool yourself with this. When you start to feel overwhelmed by the number of posts that need reviewing, seek help. If you choose not to, then your guidelines will be broken without consequence, and you’ll start to wonder why the forum is dying. It’s also a great feeling to go on vacation and know that the forum will be well looked after while you’re away.
When you feel you need a team to help you take your community to the next level
Ok, let’s say you’re doing fine with all the criteria above, but your forum isn’t growing, and it’s starting to get stale. This would be a great opportunity to make changes in the forum. Your members will enjoy the change, as it shows that you’re still looking ahead, and that the forum has a future. Recruiting a moderator is a good chance to get advice from someone who’s on the "outside". The moderator can supply some fresh ideas to make your forum more exciting and worthwhile for users.
How can you recruit the right moderator?
Research the potential recruit as much as possible
The best thing you can do is to find out everything you can about this person. Play the investigator: view their past topics to see how they handled adversity. Check out their profile and see what information they’ve included in their bio, what their favorite links are, and any other information that will give you an insight into who they really are.
Make sure you have a decent online friendship
It is a good idea to have a relationship with the potential moderator before you promote them. If you don’t already know them, set aside a week to really get to know the member. You may just see a side of the member you don’t want showing up in your forum. Having a friendship before you promote them also opens up a lot of communication channels. Otherwise your conversations with the member could seem awkward and almost forceful, or — even worse — you could experience long periods with no communication at all.
Read the recruit’s posts and see how he or she handles different situations
We’ve discussed this breifly already, but it really is important to see how your potential recruit reacts to hostile situations. Otherwise, you could blindly recruit a moderator and wind up praying they’ll handle confrontations maturely. Also, make sure they’re polite, and that they welcome new members, as this shows that they care, and are willing to go the extra mile — even if they have nothing to gain themselves.
Ask other members what they think of the possible recruit
Indirectly figure out a way to see what others think of the member. View past topics to see if other members follow the recruit and respect him or her. If the other members don’t get along with your recruit, then trouble is ahead.
Email the member, ask if they’d like to be a moderator, and analyze
When you’ve gone through the above criteria, it’s time to ask the member what they think about becoming an official leader in your forum. This could actually be a make or break criteria: many times I’ve received a reply with little evidence of care or interest. Phrases like "I’ll give it a shot", "I’ll try", and "If you want me to" are a dead giveaway that this is not the right person for the job. A winning member should show that they are honored, and would really like to help out the forum. Try your best to determine the tone in the message.
How can you control your moderators?
Set up a "Moderators’ FAQ" or "Rules" page
This tip will save you lots of time answering the questions your new moderators will inevitably ask. Even if you think your set up is user-friendly, a new moderator will always ask how to edit a message, etc. You need to also create some kind of rules or guidelines page so that your moderators can learn, understand, and practice your theory of forum management. In reality, this means that they’ll know when to complete small tasks like deleting, editing, and moving topics. Otherwise you’ll let the moderators effectively come up with their own methods, which will create problems in the future.
Email them your expectations
Once you have elected your new moderator, email them a personal welcome letter. Show the moderator a little of your forum management theory and clearly state what you expect from him or her. Make sure it’s a casual and fun letter — you don’t want to scare the new moderator away. If you have chat events or a private forum, tell the moderator how they can access these features.
Keep in constant contact with the new moderator
Make sure you’re around to answer all the moderator’s questions — trust me, it’s worth the hassle in the long run. Soon they will have everything figured out, and you can leave them to their duties. For the first week or so, make sure you closely evaluate how they handle their new responsibilities. Don’t assume for a second that they won’t abuse some power you’ve given them. If you think they should have done something differently in
a situation, then coolly email them. Think of this as a training period: the more time you spend on the training period, the less time you’ll spend in the future.
Create an exclusive means to communicate with your moderators
One popular way to accomplish this, is through a private forum. I personally like this method, as long as the forum is hidden from other members: otherwise regular members feel they’re left out. Creating a private forum is a great way to communicate your experiences to your moderators. They can post questions, ideas, problems and so on. It’s also a good way to discuss future plans, and by doing this, your moderators will feel more involved with the site and its future.
How can you make your moderators feel good?
Email them once a month, and let them know how much you appreciate
their helping out
Remember that these moderators are volunteers; they give up their free time to help you out. When you find your true moderators, you must try everything in your power to make them happy and keep their interest in the site alive. Moderators will continue if they know their duties and presence on the site is appreciated and wanted. Send them a nice email once in a while, asking how they are and telling them how much you appreciate what they’re doing.
When you first recruit a new moderator, create a new topic to welcome them
Have you ever been to a party where you don’t know anyone, and it looks like you’ll end up standing by the punch bowl all night feeling uncomfortable? But then someone out of the blue says ‘Hi’, and you feel a little better. Often new moderators feel unconfortable when they first begin — and even if they have been around the forum for a while, welcoming them through a dedicated thread is a really nice gesture, and a great way for you and other members to boost the morale of the new moderator. Simply introduce them, and express how happy you are to have them aboard.
If you have a ranking system, make sure the moderator stands out
For instance, allocate them a different badge or star color. It makes them feel important, and helps members recognize your moderators. This means members can more easily message the moderators with questions and comments, as well.
Find another word for moderator
Depending on your forum subject, you can get really creative about what you call your forum helpers. Over time the name "moderator" has gotten a little twisted, and has started to imply negative connotations. To provide some fun and excitement in your forum, find a neat word to call your moderators — they’ll appreciate it. Here are a few I’ve come up with:
How can you keep your moderators?
Keep the forums moving forward
Continue to add features and promote the forum. No one wants to moderate a dead or stagnant forum. My personal goal in my own forum is to introduce a new feature every week, whether it’s a chat event or a new forum feature. Moderators will recognize that this site is a pretty happening place, and thay’ll want to continue to help out. They’ll stick around only as long as the site continues to grow and prosper.
Backup your mentors in disputes
If there’s a dispute between a member and a moderator, side slightly with the moderator. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, but try to follow it as much as possible. You and your moderators are a team, and you need to show your leadership. Sometimes being a moderator can be stressful, and they can take a lot of flack, but if you back them up, they’ll feel better. If they did something wrong, such as deleting a topic incorrectly, calmly show them their error and how to better moderate in the future.
Keep your moderators informed
They are part of the site and want to know what’s happening. If there is a secret new forum coming soon, tell them about it and ask what they think. Let them grow as leaders, and give their input on the site’s development. They will feel more important and a greater part of the site.
When should you have a "little talk" with your moderators?
If they haven’t been visiting frequently
This is quite possibly the most likely scenario in which you’ll need to have a chat with your moderator. If you realize that they haven’t been around in a week or so, casually email them to ask if everything is ok and remind them that you really need them to moderate a few times a week. If that doesn’t work, email them an ultimatum, and then regretfully inform them they are relieved of their duties. Don’t be shy about this: having tardy moderators not only gives you extra work and more stress, but your members will notice it too, and begin to wonder whether you’re a good admin.
If they let obscene content run through your community
You need to stress that the moderators act according to your guidelines. If they let language fly without giving out warnings or editing the offending posts, then they are no better than those making the posts. They won’t earn any respect from other members, and they make your forum look bad. Again, email them or relieve them of their duties.
If they display a lack of tolerance or show major biases
Depending on your forum subject, many topics can get offensive in nature and very sensitive. For example, topics like religion are notorious for attracting fanatics who rant their opinions. If a moderator joins in, rants their own biased opinions, locks topics they don’t agree with, or edits posts because they don’t like them, then you have a problem. To be effective, your moderators should remain objective during heated discussions, and try to calm things down before they get themselves into a fight.
If they abuse their power
Locking or editing topics that the moderator doesn’t agree with is a type of
power abuse that’s more common than you’d think. You usually won’t notice because you can’t tell what they’ve edited or deleted unless a member comes out and complains. Again this can be controlled by solid rules and guidelines for your moderators and the rest of the members.
Building a community takes a lot of work — I bet I opened up many eyes with this article, and hope this shows how dealing with moderators can turn you into a
manager. Like all things though, it takes a lot of time, hard work, and dedication. To be successful you must trust your moderators and make them feel important. Keep them updated on the community’s status and talk to them. In the end, it’s all fun and games, so enjoy it! Good luck!