6 Best Practices for Moderating Online Communities

It’s no secret that as online communities get bigger, effectively moderating them gets harder and harder. The irony is that bigger communities also need effective moderation even more to ensure the community remains a positive and useful place to spend time. So, as a community manager, you’re stuck with a job that’s getting harder as it’s getting more important.

So how can you keep your online community moderation effective? We’ve broken it down into 6 key best practices for you to follow. Follow them and you can save time and be a more effective community manager (your members will thank you.)

Why is Online Community Moderation so Important?

The reality is that most of us, especially busy professionals, have very limited time to spend in online communities. That’s why it’s essential that those communities be pleasant places to spend time as well as places that consistently provide value. Ensuring both of those things happen requires good community moderation.

Communities do best when they have consistent rules. It should be clear what the community is for, what’s encouraged, what’s forbidden, and what will happen when rules are broken. Clarity and consistently are key. When all of this is done right, it’s easier for members to feel a real sense of belonging to your community, which is how it can thrive. If you need a little inspiration, you can always check out an effective online community case study.

Okay, so let’s get into those 6 steps.

1. Review Your Existing Online Community Guidelines

The first place to start is with your online community guidelines (if you haven’t created any yet, you can start with this guide). Consider whether your guidelines are still sufficient for the community you’re managing now. Guidelines will usually need to be updated periodically, especially if a community is growing. After all, imagine if a platform like Facebook or Reddit had the same community guidelines now as they did on day 1 (scary right?)

As you look through your guidelines, ask yourself whether any issues have come up which couldn’t be addressed with your guidelines. You can also ask your community for their feedback on how they think your guidelines should change. You might not agree with their suggestions but it’s good to have your finger on the pulse of your community to get ahead of potential issues. Also consider whether any issues are a result of the guidelines themselves or how you’re enforcing them.

Just be sure you’ve done this first step before moving on to the others. Otherwise your efforts might be wasted because bad guidelines can make every other technique listed here less effective.

2. Encourage Discussions

This is a fairly straightforward technique for better community moderation, but it can be criminally under-utilized. Simply get into the habit of regularly raising questions and asking members to participate. It may help to do this on a schedule and prepare topics ahead of time.

This has a few benefits. One is that it’s scalable. Regardless of the size of your community, starting discussions regularly takes about the same amount of effort. Another key benefit is that these prompts are great chances for you to model good community behavior.

Just be sure to monitor as you go. It’s critical to find patterns and determine what topics, types of questions (open ended or more directed), and other techniques get you the best results. If you don’t track these things as you go, it’s much harder to go back later and figure out what worked and what didn’t.However, bear in mind that encouraging discussions doesn’t always mean posting a prompt to the entire community. It can also mean setting up 1:1 meetings with key members. In most cases, this wouldn’t be scalable, but with the right tools you can intelligently automate and manage the process.

3. Listen to and Track the Feedback Your Community Is Getting

This has been embedded in a lot of the tips listed here, but it’s worth discussing on its own. Put simply: if you’re not taking in and analyzing your feedback and results from whatever community management techniques you’re using, you are wasting a lot of time and effort.

After all, something might feel like it was effective but that was just your bias. In other words, don’t forget to ensure your conclusions are statistically significant. Or, maybe you do something that’s quite successful but after the fact you can’t quite figure out why. This is why every online community manager needs to learn how to track and analyze data. If that sounds daunting, there are some very user-friendly guides for getting started.

But besides just drawing usable conclusions about your community and the techniques you’re using to manage it, asking for feedback has other benefits. For one, it’s yet another way for you to set the tone and lead by example. You want your community to be an open place where people can freely ask for input on things. If others see you doing just that, they’re more likely to feel comfortable asking their own questions.

Then obviously if you’re not listening to your community, you’re missing out on chances to improve. Considering how competitive the online community space is, you just can’t afford to miss out on those chances.

4. Allow Members to Moderate One Another

This is another community management tool that’s just not used nearly enough by overworked managers. It’s easy to get stuck into the mindset that you are the only one who can or should moderate your community, but ideally you can share that burden.

This has benefits besides the obvious “less work for you to do” one. Most importantly, this is empowering for community members who want to participate and improve the community more actively. When you help to create and maintain something, you feel more attached to it. That’s why this is in many ways a community building technique as much as it’s a community management technique.

To do this more effectively, you can use a variety of gamification techniques as well. This could be simply giving moderators badges for certain achievements or even organizing special events to say thanks for the work they do when a certain milestone is reached. Just be aware that member-moderators are people and you can’t afford to neglect them.

5. Fight Trolling

This step is absolutely critical. It may sound obvious, but trolling can be far more subtle than the more blatant abuse we’ve all seen online. Spotting all kinds of trolling early on and addressing it properly is something you simply can’t neglect. After all, one bad experience can easily turn off many members from wanting to participate in your community, especially if they feel you’re allowing the behavior to continue.

To begin, you have to start back at your community guidelines. You need to have what constitutes trolling and online abuse clearly defined. If you’re seeing problematic behavior that isn’t included in your definition then it’s time to update it. Then there’s the question of how to respond to all kinds of trolling when you encounter them.

Here it can also be helpful to have something like a “three strike rule” for more moderate issues. Of course some actions are bad enough that an immediate ban may be warranted so keep this in mind.

6. Step Back

We saved this tip for last because it’s both the least expected and in some ways the most important one. After going through the previous 5 tips, you might be tempted to really dive in and try to precisely control your community. But good online community management is just as much about letting things happen as controlling them.

For example, if you decide to use community guidelines to ensure a very narrow set of topics or types of posts are allowed, you might be preventing the community from evolving. The kind of “hive mind” of a community is a huge part of what makes them special compared to something like a basic newsletter. If you’re stifling the community’s evolution, you’re not getting everything you can out of it.

So remember, a good moderator knows when to jump in and when to step back and let things happen. Even if the difference isn’t obvious at first, you’ll get better with time.

Putting it All Together

Ultimately, a great online community moderator can build a community that will eventually moderate itself. By building a robust culture and empowering community members to call out behavior that violates the guidelines, you can eventually get there with these 6 techniques.

Just remember that besides relying on community members, using the right tools is the easiest way to be a more effective community manager at scale. So before you give up on something like setting up 1:1 meetings with community members, see how easy it is with Orbiit. With the right techniques and tools, you’ll be unstoppable.

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