Forum Moderation – Who Cares?
A lot of us that have incomes tied to the web spend time in webmaster forums. Some do it just for “link-building”, but a lot of us do it mostly to stay abreast of things we need to know to do our jobs, to make vital business contacts, and to get a little social interaction in a business where you’d otherwise be working in a vaccuum.
What makes a forum “die”?
If you’ve been on the web a while you’ve seen it happen. For whatever reason the regular contributing members go away and the place either becomes a ghost town or becomes over-run by bots posting links to Ugg Boots, male enhancement products, and adult links. At that point it’s useless to go there, as nothing of value is being said.
A forum is a social structure
Any social group can break up for a number of reasons. People simply losing interest in the topic is one… which is why scant few instances of active “Beanie Baby” forums can be found. There’s also the chance of personality clashes driving a wedge that causes a group to fracture and disband. But unlike social groups in real life, a major factor in a forum is the administrator and moderator function.
Starting a forum from scratch is a daunting process, and is an entirely different topic. That said, with regard to the continuing success of a forum that’s established, most that’ve been involved consider Moderation to be the single largest factor to the continuing success or downfall.
That said, let’s look at Forum Moderation… the right vs wrong way.
DOING IT WRONG
As you stated, moderation is a major factor in the life or death of a forum. Spammers contend OVER-moderation is the problem, but in my experience forums lose good members more frequently to…
- Lax moderation – spammers flood the place, and productive members get tired of wading thru the textual equivalent of sewage
- Arbitrary & Capricious moderation – Rules are applied with a very uneven hand
DOING IT RIGHT
There are other factors to be considered, the whole community aspect, the overall attitude of the admins and mods, etc… but a large hurdle to keeping a forum going is to have a clear set of guidelines that are easily found and understood and regular enforcement of those guidelines. Members need to know what the boundaries are, know that if they report a problem it will be dealt with.
Guidelines should be exercised firmly but genially, and evenly so people arent left guessing what they can or cant do. Never use the infraction system where a gentle PM will suffice, particularly in the case of valued contributors.
[NOTE: I’ve been known to be less than genial with the guys that clearly fit the “dogs” description below. I’m learning to place it a little more between the lines, but contrary to widely circulated rumor… I’m not perfect.]
Feed the Lions, Shoot the Dogs
Exceptions should be made only where common sense dictates, with the benefit of a doubt accorded productive members that have proven to use good judgment. The rules are made for the benefit of the forum, not the other way around.
Trust is EARNED, not GIVEN, and after a member has proven their value it is not inconsistent moderation to give a little more latitude on link drops than someone who just arrived. If you know they arent taking advantage of the system and you know their affiliations you can relax a bit, over-moderating them isn’t productive.
Anyone immature enough to enter a forum and assume (without glancing at the guidelines) its just fine to start cutting and pasting their URL all over needs immediate moderation to make it clear that this is not the norm.
Who are “the dogs”?
- Obvious spammers posting solely for the benefit of their sold sigs
- SEOs starting threads to ask what link juice is and how it can benefit their site
- Speed-posters going for count
- Serial trolls that visit for no purpose than to insult people
These should be removed immediately and without mercy. They add no value.
CONCLUSION: Make rules clear, and inspect what you expect
Nothing is more frustrating to productive members than to follow guidelines while watching others ignore them without consequence. The alternative to consistent moderation is a dead forum.