Online Community Manager: The Moderator Hat

The most notorious part of an online community manager’s job is moderating community comments, but it is something that has to be done. This task gets a bum rap because

  • You may have to delete comments.

  • You may have to remind participants to play nice.

  • You may have to ban abusive members or regular offenders.

  • You can’t choose sides.

  • You have to remain positive even when others are baiting you or doing their best to stir up controversy.

  • You deal with many personality types.

How to moderate comments in online communities

Possibly the most-talked-about aspect of online community management is moderating comments because it often causes the most controversy. Although comment moderation is only a small aspect of the job, if a member of your community doesn’t appreciate that you asked him to edit or delete a comment, or if you deleted a comment or banned a member for inappropriate comments, your action can be a source of discourse online.

Keep in mind, though, that community negativity isn’t something that happens every day and is more prevalent in poorly moderated or nonmoderated communities. The only reason you hear so much about it is because disgruntled members love to take their gripes public, and there’s nothing a negative person dislikes more than being asked to keep his negativity in check.

Not every comment is going to be negative, but it’s the unfavorable comments that are going to catch your attention. Very few people respond in a negative manner to a positive comment. Positive comments don’t cause people to get turned off and leave the community forever nor are they likely to stir up strong emotions. So it’s the off-color or heated comments that you’re most likely to have to moderate.

You’re also online to monitor the social networks to see what others are saying about your brand. Reach out and join the conversation. If the brand is being discussed in a positive light, say “thank you” and ask what they love the most about it. If you find negative comments, ask about the bad experience and take it private if necessary.

Moderating comments isn’t issuing smackdowns to naysayers or deleting content. It’s making sure that content flows in a positive and productive manner, even if sometimes folks don’t agree.

How to referee and mediate arguments in online communities

One of the most unattractive hats worn by community managers is in refereeing arguments among community members. When you’re content-heavy, whether that content is in the form of a blog post or tweet, you’re inviting folks to comment.

Although this is exactly what you want, you also have to enter into it with the understanding that everyone doesn’t feel the same way. Sometimes the most innocent posts can lead to flame wars and out-and-out fights.

It’s up to you, as community manager, to make sure that folks stay on topic and keep the caps on their poison pens. Respectful disagreement is encouraged and leads to thought-provoking conversations. On the other hand, arguments can put a damper on the vibe.

Getting things back on track in a diplomatic manner is sometimes a challenge, but for the most part, you’ll find people are receptive. Let them know you appreciate their passion, but remind them it’s a community discussion. You may need to throw out a question or subtopic to get things back on track.

As a neutral party, you can’t take sides, but you can encourage all parties to respectfully present their best arguments. In a heavy discussion, it’s very rare that either side will give in and agree with the person he was arguing with, but you can get each side to listen and then move on.

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