How to Moderate a Forum

Quick and easy Moderating tips, for some people who have been asking lately. 1. ETIQUETTE STATEMENTneeds a whole lot of behavioural statements (play nicely) but the most important ones are: The Moderators word is final, do not discuss bans or penalties on the forum. If you have a question regarding a penalty, please email the…

Quick and easy Moderating tips, for some people who have been asking lately.

needs a whole lot of behavioural statements (play nicely) but the most important ones are:

The Moderators word is final, do not discuss bans or penalties on the forum. If you have a question regarding a penalty, please email the head honcho (usually called the Admin, so they know it’s serious)

If you have an issue with another member, please contact a moderator. Do NOT attempt to resolve issues in the public spaces, keep them to Private Messaging or notify a moderator.

DO NOT publish private emails and direct messages. Do NOT publish the private information of another member (home address, telephone number) .

Everything following implies to the member that if they are good, they too can reach the exalted status of Community Moderator and the uber powers that they have. Manage behaviours through rewards, not empty threats.


Your structure is 3 or 4 community Moderators per subforum (volunteers perhaps), reporting to a forum Senior Admin (volunteer) who reports to some overall Admin (paid staff, customer service or technical support depending on type of forum) reporting to Community Manager (Head of Customer Service). Other titles might be Developer (technical, hopeless at customer service usually. heh.) Citizen Journalist, Citizen Editor (finding external or internal articles that are worth spotlighting on the News page) and so on .

Make sure your moderators names, titles and badges are not copyable – do not allow Moderator, Mod or Admin in the ‘titles’ field. Give your moderators their own colour or a special non-copyable badge.

Note that Blizzard (World of Warcraft) in the middle has blue title and blue watermark. In fact Blizzard Moderators are nicknamed “Blue“. Really gives a sense of policing…

Your badged moderators show up in a thread and it should be apparent that the cops have arrived. This is not seen as negative (unless you have been spoiling your community) but as engagement and caring.

Remember: Mazlows law says we want to feel safe and secure in our community. Any community!

Every member will work hard to get one of those esteemed badges. Children in particular should not be fooled by fake moderators.

Communities want hierarchy. They say they don’t but they do.
Members aspire to become moderators, mods to become senior mods, senior mods to become Admins (paid) and so on.

Make sure the moderators have a secret forum. They need to be able to debate openly amongst themselves controversial bannings but provide a united front to the normal members.

They also need the forum to support each other emotionally when one gets a threat, or a member dies or something.

RAP SHEET – make sure there is ‘naughty’ forum for threads about a player. Available only to Moderator community. Capture the

  1. Naughty Members logon name and any alts you have discovered.
  2. their sign up email (and all changes to email over the years),
  3. their signup IP address and all other IP addresses. We never had this in a searchable database so it was a matter of searching on partials using in-community search. NAUGHTY members will signup with a new username but use the same or a similar email address, and the same IP address.
  4. Uber-admins (usually technical operator) should have ability to track MAC addresses from the signin cookie. Funny how NAUGHTY members log out, create a new login, but forget to wipe the cookie. 🙂
  5. Private messages (email, inforum mail, direct messages called DMs or private messages PMs should be copied onto that members RAP SHEET. Plus their responses “I’m sorry” or “get lost who do you think you are”.
    This is important to know how the moderators are throwing their weight around.

When you have caught a naughty member or suspect one, create a post, with their identities on it, IP addys etc and links to the naughty activities (usually in Evidence Locker or locked threads) and the things outlined above. By the way, we often see the same birthdate, birthplace or other similar profile information on multiple accounts. A bit of detective work will reveal if they are alternative logons (alts) of a member.

EVIDENCE LOCKER – move bad threads into evidence locker. Do NOT delete them. Well, if someone has posted up a photo of their willy 180 times, delete 179 and keep one in the evidence locker. You never know when you might need to compare. Heh. But seriously, it’s useful in a year or two to see how bad the photo was (was it explicit or implied) and compare with other behaviours when determing a permanent ban.

By the way, if its a spam posting particularly as a “joke” by a drunk member who has been otherwise good for a few years, consider the punishment BEFORE removing posts. Because trust me, if you have to remove 180 pictures of their private parts manually, you’ll start off planning to ban them for a week, but by the end you’ll be be adamant it’s a permanent ban. And definitely castration.

MODERATOR LOUNGE – to engage in locked off discussions. Why was such and such banned? Who unbanned blah de blah? I heard a rumour that… How do we deal with this? You get the idea. Give the ADMINS their own forum too. Customer Service can be very stressful with the language that members will use to them, the threats and the engaged discussions. Suicide on the forums is also an issue. Let mods support each other. Includes BAN CALENDAR.

First, post on the thread in question before it gets out of hand. You’ll learn quickly what the trigger points for your community are. I usually post something like “Some advice – can everyone relook at the Etiquette statement (link to it) before posting on this discussion?” Then they know that you know that they know that they are heading for trouble.

When locking threads, explain why in the last post. “I am locking this thread because in spite of warnings the discussion has not remained civil. Do not reopen this discussion on a new thread. If you have an issue with this, please private message me” Leave it to fall away into the long tail. If you remove threads to the Evidence Locker while the debate is still hot, they will simply reopen the discussion starting with “I don’t know what happened to the other discussion, but here it is again…”

In extreme cases – where the majority of the community is up in arms, not just a few trolls (troublemakers) – advise them that the discussion can continue for 48 hours but after that the thread is locked. They will get fed up and members will say “isn’t the 48 hours up yet?”

Warn members that they are close to the line. Ask them to reconsider their post -never ever edit their posts, that is making a rod for your own back. Tell them they have 12 hours to edit or delete a post. Advise them of temporary bans. Advise them of permanent bans. Ask them to respond. In responses I look for ‘sorry’ or acknowledgement in some form before I unban a permanent ban. Surprisingly few will actually act contrite and not be. With a ban, advise them of email address for questions (they can’t use private mail on forums during a ban period). Advise them again not to publish private moderator messages.

I’m a big fan of IGNORE lists. When you’re busy or have a silly troll on site, reminding everyone how IGNORE works, cuts down the one-to-one messaging you have to do. It keeps troublemakers away too.

Setting up karma points tells the rest of the community how useful or creditable the member is. Helps manage behaviours, and establish influence.

Don’t make the punishment sexy. Giving them a NAUGHTY badge is fun, they work hard for those. The punishments should be boredom (muted) or banishment (temporary bans working up to a perm ban). Keep a calendar and unban them when you say you will. Not sooner, not later. Put the calendar in the moderator forum, not the public space! Send a message – ignore what they did, didn’t do – please rejoin us on our community and we look forward to your valuable input.

Have a HOT Topics forum for rowdies. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. Still moderated, but allow ranting and hot topics. This at least will keep the other forums clear and clean. Those who don’t like a good fight shouldn’t be in there.

What else? ? Oh probably be flexible. Be watchful. Be part but not of, the community (I mean, if you have a ‘friends’ list, it will imply you have favourites). Encourage the community to quote the etiquette statement. Forgive first time transgressors. It’s useful to put a dollar figure on each member – stops gungho moderators from banning left, right and centre. By stopping discussions on bans, the moderators are under less of an attack. Here’s my Rules of Engagement if you are interested.

Any other tips?

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  1. It’s a pretty good list. I’d also add SQL backups and patch installation, even though it’s more admin.

    It is important someone does it though.


  2. I think it is all about content and making sure you focus on keeping the forum reputable. Make it easy for users to signup and create.

  3. Hi Laurel, thankyou for sharing. This is valuable. How detailed do you think you need to be on the type of content….specifically ensuring that the content drives knowledge sharing and not an opportunity for irrelevant spamming or of course completely inappropriate material? Do you believe it is important to spell out what is OK and what is not? Interested in your feedback…..

    Thanks again for another great post! Michelle

  4. Great tips here. I must pass them onto some of our forum moderators – lots of things we could all learn.

    Something like this for real life events and the moderators/chairpeople there would also be smashing.

  5. Actually Colin that is an etiquette statement, otherwise known as a code of conduct, otherwise rather cynically known as Rules of Engagement. It should be written by the host and faces out to the community. Or written by the community and enforced by the host.

    Here’s mine for this blog (top right of blog)

    This How to moderate a forum post is more how to moderate a community than specifics on how to set up an etiquette statement.

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  8. I would like to ask two questions, please.

    Is the vocabulary such as being “good” or “naughty” indicating these rules are geared toward an immature readership/membership?

    Why is it that anyone would consider a moderation slot on a forum/discussion board an “exalted” status?

    I will, if you’ll excuse me, post a comment about my second question. It is my view the only “exalted” member is the non-staff member. The general membership, if you will. Without them you have nothing.

    Thank you for your attention to this post.

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  12. This article is quite a good summary of what is required to well-organise a site. There is one aspect I disagree with, however.

    That is, I wouldn’t go with a big heirarchy of leaders. I’ve seen this kind of thing before and all it leads to is internal politics with people trying to gain rank. I have always had a policy that, if I can’t trust someone with the full set of moderation tools on the site, as well as (pretty much) all private discussion, then I can’t trust them as a moderator from the start.

    Dedicated and committed members who are well-liked, level-headed and are good communicators are needed to moderate. Just ONE of those can do better than half-a-dozen so-so forum leaders. Also, just as a good set of guidelines are needed for the community to function, similarly a good set of guidelines are needed for the moderators to know how to handle the many and varied issues that come up.

    The best forum owner I know of (OK, I am a moderator of his site now) actually CALLS people to talk to them on the phone — often even people he has had to moderate. Going out of his way to get in touch with many of the members, even on a huge site, has made a huge difference in the amount of respect he gets and the success of his site.

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