Once your discussion forum gains momentum and you've got a steady influx of visitors, maintaining a civil environment will become increasingly important. In this, our third in a series of "How To" articles focused on building bigger, more vibrant forums, we'll present ways to manage your community that will minimize negative behavior but still promote a lively, spontaneous atmosphere.
Before you open the doors to invite guests and prospective members to explore your new forum, the rules of engagement should be somewhat established. We say somewhat because they'll probably change over time as others contribute to the management and growth of your community.
While the details will probably evolve, you'll want to implement a basic framework of rules as soon as possible. Getting people to agree to guidelines as they join will be far easier than imposing new rules on an established community down the road. Below is a short list of suggestions to get you started:
- Rudeness, insulting others, personal attacks, threats or inflammatory posts should not be tolerated
- Repeat, redundant posting to increase post counts should be discouraged
- No advertising, spamming, solicitation or commercial self promotion should be allowed
- Prohibit discussing any illegal activities
- No posting of lewd comments, language or photos
- No posting of misleading or irrelevant comments, stay on topic
- No posting of disturbing material (benign images that suddenly change to a screaming face)
- Limiting members to a single forum account is advised
While this list is by no means all-inclusive, it will hopefully provide an overview of the types of forum behavior that should be monitored and controlled. For additional ideas, try Googling the term "sample online forum rules."
As your forum community grows, so will the need for additional moderators; you'll know when you need help. It will be that moment when you've reached your limit on how many threads you can monitor, questions you can answer, and squabbles you can defuse. Recruiting moderators is a natural progression in the growth of every healthy forum community.
While choosing the right moderators is good for everyone, empowering the wrong personality can wreak unimaginable havoc. Below are a few key points to consider when selecting candidates:
- Has the user contributed regularly over a period of time? Are they knowledgeable?
- Do they have good grammar, spelling and syntax skills?
- Does the user have the right personality? Are they even tempered, likable, and fair minded?
- Do they have the time to commit to being a moderator?
When extending invitations to prospective moderators, try approaching users who post a high number of quality posts and appear to be committed to the forum. Approaching candidates can be as simple as private messaging them and asking them to become a moderator. Explain why you've considered them and clearly define their role.
Clearly defining moderator responsibilities is of utmost importance. They must know what's expected of their position as well as which decisions and activities are assigned to others. Moderators are typically assigned a particular discussion forum or user group and are expected to perform the following functions:
- Visit the forum at least once each day
- Keep posts clean and move off-topic posts to appropriate categories
- Communicate with unruly members and advise them of the consequences of disruptive behavior
- Edit postings when necessary so that they conform to the forum's content guidelines
- Delete or move single posts or entire threads when necessary
- Lock or unlock posts as required
Supporting your volunteer moderators once they've assumed their new roles is also critical. Be sure to communicate frequently with them, recognize and reward their contributions and give them some time off occasionally so they don't get burned out.
To promote cohesiveness and decorum, moderators should be responsible for their own "code of conduct." While similar to general forum rules, moderator codes of conduct are intended to preserve neutrality, authority and confidentiality. Below is a list of suggestions for your consideration. Prospective moderators should agree to:
- Be respectful of all members, each other, and represent your forum with professionalism
- Be discreet and maintain confidentiality regarding moderator activities and member information
- Consider member feelings before hitting the submit button, both in public forums and private
- Deleting member posts should be done only after conferring with the forum admin or other moderators
- Resign from moderator duties if there is a breach of confidentiality or the code of conduct is not followed
Because each forum and its audience are unique, moderation styles and guidelines will differ. Consequently, you'll want to craft your own strategy as it applies to your community. As a general overview of forum moderation practices, the list below provides a starting point.
- Be professional: Personality is good but don't take liberties or get lazy. Try to use correct grammar, punctuation and capitalization when you're typing. How you present yourself reflects upon your forum and people's perceptions.
- Watch out for trolls and spammers. Always be vigilant and proactively seek them out and take action to minimize their annoying posts.
- Watch for members abusing other members. Don't tolerate flaming; disagreements are fine but any more than that will discourage guests from joining and drive quality members from your forum. Make sure everyone has a chance to participate.
- Choose forum staff carefully. Make sure the people you choose lead by example and are patient and fair.
- To expand on the previous point; watch for troublesome forum staff. Don't let moderators intimidate other members or dole out unnecessarily harsh penalties for infractions. Conversely, timid moderators can be just as harmful to the health of your forum.
As your forum community grows and more people participate in the discussion, you'll most likely be amazed by the things people say. You're the host, so the responsibility for maintaining a functional environment falls to you. A good moderating strategy will help that goal immensely. Hopefully this article has provided a solid reference for establishing a moderating plan for your community. For more tips, tricks and strategies on building your forum, please refer to our previous articles in this series. Thanks for reading!