An introduction to community moderation

Screenshot 2016-03-09 21.19.12

Every community I’ve worked on has been set up slightly differently

This week I travelled up to Leeds to run a workshop I called ‘An introduction to moderating online communities’.

It was attended by three groups associated with Leeds Mind. All of them were thinking about online peer support. Some had a platform built and in testing. Others were still figuring out what, if anything, they wanted to offer. The session was designed to give a basic overview of those important questions and decisions that anyone setting up an online peer support community should consider. We also explored the benefits and risks of some of the options available and started to think about the needs of specific communities.

“It was a very thorough, well-paced and thoughtfully structured workshop. A great introduction to the topic providing plenty of points to consider”                                               Zoe Ward, Senior Commuications Officer, NHS Leeds South and East CCG

I started the presentation by posing a list of key questions which we considered throughout the session. I thought I’d pose them here too.

What is the problem? Why? What is your experience?

These are questions you should be asking people from the very beginning. Without it you risk making expensive mistakes and creating products people don’t want or need. Talk to people. Test your assumptions. Don’t just ask what people want. Ask why they want it and then consider different options for solving that problem. Create something small and test it out. Keep on asking, reviewing and making changes – what people say and what they do in practice can be quite different.

co design


What is community moderation?

Next we went back to basics and defined our terms. Moderation, safeguarding, peer support, engagement – these can sometimes mean different things to different people. We can’t make useful decisions until we’re all talking about the same thing.

What kind of moderation do we want?

In defining community moderation we came up with a number of different types (including pre and post moderation) and a number of different roles that a moderator could have (including ‘policing’, providing support and facilitating peer support). We discussed what these might look like in practice.

Who will moderate?

Every online community I have been involved in has been set up differently. They have each given their moderators (and sometimes peer supporters/advisors) slightly different roles and responsibilities. Sometimes this was a conscious decision, sometimes an evolution. Sometimes I think it was because those involved had only ever considered one option. In this section of the training we explored the benefits and risks of moderation by different groups.

These included:

  • paid staff who are not members of the community,
  • volunteers who are not members of the community,
  • people who were once members of the community but are no longer
  • current community members or ‘super users’ (I wrote a little more about some of the issues around training community members here)

We also considered the role of all community members in moderation and whether different types of moderation might be more or less appropriate for different groups to undertake. I’ve written more about this here.

How will moderators appear to the community?

No magical moderators here – this section explored the different names or personas that you might ask your moderators to use – and why. These included individual moderator names (e.g ClareF), a single persona or character (e.g The Ele) and/or a single moderator name under which everyone works (e.g. Jo@Samaritans).

What will our moderators say and how will they sound?

A biggie. This discussion was all about what moderation will look like within the community. It’s definitely one that you’d want to try and answer with as much community input as possible.

When and how will moderators step in? When they do step in, what will they say and how will they sound? Will they start discussions and share content? What support will they offer people in crisis?

I also outlined some suggestions for basic moderator training – and some suggestions for creating useful moderator guidelines.

How will we keep the community as safe as possible?

Another biggie – and often one that often becomes a focus for concern. It’s all too common for conversations about online support to jump straight to risk – and stay there. In this session we did discuss risks and worries – but also good practice, privacy, confidentiality and safeguarding, mitigating risk and establishing the right balance for your community.

When do we want to moderate?

As part of those conversations about safety and risk we discussed options for moderation hours and how moderation might be structured to balance appropriate moderation cover with concerns over capacity and cost.

What will happen out of hours?

What might happen during those times when a community is not moderated? In a pre moderated community, not much. Some communities even choose to close when there’s no moderator around. In a post-moderated community, interactions and support will continue. What can you do to help ensure these are as safe as possible?

How and when will moderators and the community communicate?

There are lots of different times when moderators and the community will want to communicate – and lots of different ways they might do it.

For example:

  • when a new member joins the community
  • when a community member flags/reports a post
  • when a moderator needs to communicate a moderation decision
  • when a community member is distressed
  • when a community member is in crisis
  • when a community member is suspended
  • when a community member wants to ask questions/give feedback/complain
  • when site admins/moderators want to communicate with everyone at once.

For each of these situations we discussed what might need to be communicated (for example guidelines, introductions, guidance, feedback, signposting) and different channels for communication (for example videos, email, private message, a public post).

Throughout the session I made sure people had chance to chat about their own community and start making some initial decisions. At the end of the day everyone came together to share and workshop some of their ideas for next steps.

“Thank you for an engaging and informative workshop. The content was exactly what we had hoped for and was delivered in an interactive way that meant I was able to get the answers to questions that have been challenging me for the last 6 months.

I left the workshop with lots of answers, and clear way forward in developing moderation for our online peer support community. I also now know where to go to get the answers to any further questions that I have.

Your workshop has helped us find answers to some of the dilemmas which we were facing around moderation and enabled to move forward in a confident and informed way that will ensure the success, sustainability and safety of our online forum”                                         Kathy Engler – Peer Support Manager, Leeds Mind

2 thoughts on “An introduction to community moderation

  1. Pingback: Community moderation training for OCDAction | Clare Rose Foster

  2. Pingback: Thinking of recruiting volunteer moderators for your online support community? | Clare Rose Foster

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