It is never easy to be the person enforcing the rules, and it is even harder when you are the one saddled with the task of both creating and enforcing them. Referees get yelled at in football, umpires in baseball, parents by their children, and sometimes even police officers by the people they are giving tickets to. So, of course, moderators are in a tough position, and are bound to anger – or worse – alienate their communities if they aren’t careful to always act fairly and judiciously.
So to help carry out that tall order, here are the five most common mistakes to avoid while moderating.
1. Deleting Negative Comments
This is the single most damaging way to undermine your project and alienate a community. Don’t look at negative comments as being disasters. Believe it or not, they are actually a good thing. People want to know that they are part of a non-biased group, and are participating in an uncensored forum where airing grievances is as acceptable as giving praise. If you make them feel otherwise, they will lose interest.
A negative comment is a validation of your authenticity and a chance to address a real issue. So value your negative comments. See them as something productive. Don’t stifle them.
The temptation when running a discussion community is take the hands-off approach, allowing it to evolve on its own. But this is often an ineffective way to proceed. As a moderator, it is your job to stimulate and channel the discussion into the most productive conversation it can be. Of course, there is a fine line to walk here; you don’t want to dominate the conversation and you don’t want to lecture. What you must do, however, is monitor closely and step in with focused, unobtrusive direction or leading questions whenever it becomes necessary.
3. Selling or Exploiting
If your discussion community has been formed for research purposes, or if its purpose is the free exchange of ideas and information, keep it that way. The greatest sin of moderating is to exploit the community you are supposed to be fostering and keeping healthy. So don’t muddy the waters by selling or shamelessly self-promoting. Your job is to protect the integrity of the community and preserve its original purpose.
4. Withholding Research Conclusions from Community
When your community is research based, your members are an integral part of the research project. They are doing you a favor by participating, and they are investing themselves in the project. You owe it to them to share the results of the study. Obviously, this doesn’t mean divulging any personal information, but it does mean transparency. Don’t just use them and drop them when their role is finished.
5. Unjustly Banning Users
Banning users for violations of protocol that they were not aware of is a common way for moderators to get themselves into hot water. Be sure to be very clear about the rules from the outset, so that there can be no mistake, and always make sure all of your members are aware of the ban and its justification.
In all forms of moderation, transparency is an essential asset. The purpose of moderated communities is always exchange – be it of ideas, information, opinion, or anything else. So you should under no circumstances see yourself as a censor (though occasionally you may be forced to remove inappropriate content). The goal is to keep the exchange channels open and the information flowing freely. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.