Community Moderation: the dos and don’ts of creating a safe and thriving online space
Most of us have first-hand experience with how an inappropriate post or offensive comment can disrupt an otherwise thriving online community. Without some form of community moderation or intervention in these situations, months of hard work can sometimes be undone in a matter of days. This reinforces the importance of mastering moderation techniques in your community, and the importance of being prepared if the need should ever arise.
To help you put together your moderation strategy, we explore the dos and don’t of online community management, with actionable steps that you can take whether you’re just starting out, or managing a large community.
Community moderation: the dos
Let’s say you have a thriving community of entrepreneurs who are interested in sustainable investing. A debate starts about renewable energy, but it quickly escalates into an argument, with members calling one another out. Abusive language and inappropriate images start appearing in the conversation. Suddenly you have to decide how you want to approach the situation in order to reinstall a sense of balance inside your community.
1. Do: create clear guidelines
To ensure that moderation is always fair and transparent, clear guidelines for the community are necessary – and they should be updated regularly as your community grows. Guidelines will help align members to the values and principles of the community, guide them on what is and isn’t acceptable on the platform, as well as inform them of any consequences for going against the guidelines. Additionally, equally clear and concrete guidelines are needed for all moderators in order to protect the community and its users. Moreover, creating a safe space in this way encourages users to interact, which in turn drives traffic and engagement to the platform.
Top tip: Workshop your guidelines with the rest of your team, and make sure each point aligns with the core values of the community. You can even reach out and ask your community members what matters most to them.
2. Do: take action
Even with clear guidelines in place, there will always be a possibility that members will go against them, and that action needs to be taken (for instance, stepping in, deleting comments, or removing users). It’s important to always be fair, transparent, and above all, consistent. Members should see clearly that their interests are being taken care of by the moderator, and that it is a safe space for all. Allowing certain infractions while penalizing others will do more damage over the long term. Even when it’s difficult, make sure to take swift, consistent, and constructive action.
Top tip: Try to moderate and resolve any conflict or infractions as quickly as possible. Allowing interactions to get out of hand and ruin the experience for other members on the platform should always be avoided.
3. Do: explore new tools
While AI tools aren’t a fix-all solution, they may assist when moderating large communities. Auto-moderation can help ease the burden by automatically answering messages and temporarily muting or deactivating posts or comments. This is particularly handy when you have community members across different time zones and you’re offline for long periods of time.
Image recognition, a tool we have embedded into our own community platform at Panion, can detect and flag inappropriate photographs and visuals. This will also greatly assist in your moderation strategy. The technology identifies, analyzes, and takes appropriate action, allowing peace of mind about the visuals being posted and shared within the community.
Top tip: Only use these tools to assist you in your overall strategy. AI can’t replace human judgment, so it’s imperative to still review and make the final decisions.
Community moderation: the don’ts
Let’s imagine you have a startup accelerator community and a disruptive thread of comments has erupted. You’ve logged on, and while there is a lot of inappropriate content, you’re unsure what action to take. Should you remain silent? Should you stop the debate, and delete all the comments, including those that are not offensive?
4. Don’t: maintain silence
Without moderation, the values and general tone of the community can evolve in the wrong direction quite rapidly. Once that happens, it’s extremely difficult to return it to its desired state. Rather than let the atmosphere turn into something it shouldn’t, don’t be silent when you should be speaking up and acting. Use your guidelines, along with AI tools to make sure that no inappropriate comment or problematic user disrupts the community and all the hard work that has gone into building it. Delete or mute the comment, reach out to the members involved, and communicate the guidelines and the repercussions of inappropriate actions.
Top tip: Your members shouldn’t be silent either. Encouraging members to report abusive content like bullying or slurs should be built into the community’s ethos. Not only does it keep everyone aligned to the same values and principles, it also creates shared responsibility for everyone to create a respectful and positive atmosphere.
5. Don’t: over-moderate
Remember that debates and conversations are positive and can be productive. People have differing opinions and this fact should be celebrated and not censored. Therefore, a clear and thorough set of guidelines for your moderators are important: you need to determine when to step in, and when to allow your members the freedom to interact. Rather than delete entire threads or discussions, take the time to reach out to specific members who are problematic, while deleting or muting single comments or posts that go against your guidelines.
Top tip: If a comment thread is becoming heated, consider adding your voice as the moderator and reminding members that while debate is encouraged, respect and tolerance between members should always come first.
6. Don’t: exclude your team
Your team should assist you in your moderation efforts, as they know the business, its values, and its people better than anyone. Set key deliverables, and ask your team to monitor the platform as well as any conversations taking place. Not only is this effective in terms of active moderation (spotting and flagging problematic content and keeping best practices top of mind), but they will also be able to share their own unique insights and impressions which can be worked into your moderation strategy. To help streamline the process and create actionable tasks for you and your team, consider using a project management tool.
Top tip: Ask your team to monitor the platform daily. Moreover, once a week, ask them to share their findings and experiences in the form of a weekly report or meeting. Try to determine and identify whether there are persistent problems, whether the community is properly informed on the guidelines, and if any remedial actions should take place.
As your community grows, so will the need for a moderation strategy to ensure that all your members are safe, secure, and most importantly, continue to enjoy their online experience inside your community. In times of doubt, revisit your guidelines, realign with your moderation team, and don’t forget to include your members in the discussion.