Creating a community means inviting people into a shared space to connect, converse, share, and form relationships. It’s a vital part of human nature to want to feel a sense of belonging, and it’s partly why community-led growth is proving to be such a valuable tool for businesses.

In order for a community to flourish, people need to feel safe and welcome to take part. They should be encouraged to engage with their fellow community members. This takes a level of respect and responsibility from each member, to uphold a good standard.

Unfortunately, there are always the odd few members who let this standard slip.

Ultimately, each member of a community is human, and that means they are bound to slip up or make mistakes from time to time. Occasionally, some even make a point of being unpleasant, making things harder for those around them by being terse or just plain rude.

You’re probably aware of trolls on social media who try to derail conversations or share misinformation. Sometimes it’s unintentional or not malicious, where people barge into spaces and demand to focus on issues that aren’t relevant. However, sometimes people with this attitude can creep into your community and derail the discussions there too.

That’s where community moderation comes in.

Moderation is an absolute necessity to keep a community as friendly and approachable as possible. With a few watchful eyes making sure everyone has the room to participate and is being respectful, members can remain safe in the knowledge they are being looked after and can continue to enjoy the space.

In this article, we’re going to explore:

Don’t worry, as a community manager, this only takes up a small portion of the role. But, it’s incredibly important for keeping the peace.

Let’s get started!👇

What is community moderation?

Put simply, community moderation is the process of monitoring a community to ensure that everyone feels included, respected, and safe.

Community management doesn’t stop at acquiring new members and keeping them engaged. You won’t be able to keep anyone engaged or bring anyone in if the space itself feels too exclusive or uncomfortable.

This includes keeping an eye on discussions, to make sure each person taking part has the room to say their piece and is being respectful of the other voices.

It also includes tracking the style and content of messaging in the community, to make sure it aligns with the purpose of the community and the values of the organization behind it.

It’s not just about being ready for rude messages, it’s about encouraging good behavior and facilitating conversations that you hope to see more of. Show some positive reinforcement!

Community moderation at Reddit

If you’re familiar with Reddit, you’ll likely already have seen how community moderation can work. There are many Reddit users who volunteer their own time to help guide or create communities - Moderators, or mods for short.

Each Reddit community has a different subject focus, which means each follows its own topic, look, and rules.

According to Reddit, these moderators can: “remove posts and comments, ban spammers or other Redditors who may be breaking community rules, add other Redditors as moderators, and distinguish their own posts and comments as official moderator submissions.”.

These moderators are a valuable part of the process, in keeping each community going and ensuring members stay on topic. They establish and set out rules for community members to abide by, and will step in if any members don’t.

Community moderation in action

To help us explain how community moderation can work we asked Samraj Attwal, Community Manager at The Alliance, to tell us about a time they had to step in to moderate community activity.

We’ll look at how this anonymized situation arose, the steps Samraj took to resolve it, what they learned from it and how things changed after.

Here’s what Samraj had to say:

“On this occasion, we had a community member - let’s call him Gary - popping up in our Slack community with the same kind of messaging each time.

“His messages would always include promotions of his company, and oftentimes he’d post about events with links to lead-gen forms. These are things we don’t want to see.

“My first step was to review our guidelines. I needed to determine if Gary would have been able to know what we expected, from the guidelines we’d provided.

“After reviewing the guidelines, I knew that they weren’t clear enough. So a problem had been identified, but it was on us for not illustrating our expectations as well as we should have.

“My second step was to delete the post. As a community manager, it’s my responsibility to ensure that we encourage the kind of content we want to see, and leaving that kind of post in might suggest to other members that they can post the same.

“After that, my third step was to message Gary right away to let him know his post has been deleted and why. It’s important that these actions don’t happen quietly, but that we alert our members of the actions we take and open up a dialogue about community expectations.

“As expected, Gary was disappointed to have had his post removed. But, after an honest conversation in which I admitted that we messed up by not providing a clear enough set of guidelines, he was able to see where I was coming from.

“Then, my fourth step was to hear Gary out and let him know that I was there to help. I asked for his input on the guidelines, to understand if there was anything else he thought should change. I also told him I was happy to check any of his future posts before he shares them, to make sure they align with our expectations.

“Finally, my fifth step was to make changes based on what I’d learned from this experience. The guidelines didn’t state our expectations as explicitly as they needed to, so I adjusted them to add some clarity and kept in mind the suggestions from Gary as I did so.

“Now - Gary doesn’t need to ask for my approval on his posts. And, the guidelines let everyone know what we hope to see, so we’ve seen a significant reduction in this kind of occurrence.”

Imagine how this situation could have gone if Samraj wasn’t there to moderate as needed. Gary would have continued posting the same things, the topic and focus of the community would likely have strayed, and other members may have begun posting the same sort of thing - not knowing they shouldn’t.

With Samraj’s moderation here, they were able to quickly step in on a minor issue and bring the community focus back to where it should be. Not only that, but they were able to foster a relationship with a community member - encouraging them to continue posting, and letting them know that their input is valued.

That’s a pretty good resolution in our eyes!

Following the same style of resolution as Samraj is definitely a good way to start in your community moderation. Just follow these steps:

  1. Check your guidelines - were you clear enough?
  2. Solve the big problem - get rid of whatever immediately negates your expectations.
  3. Open up a dialogue - explain where you’re coming from and ask for feedback.
  4. Make changes for the future - take what you’ve learned and adapt so you can avoid it happening again.

Establishing and enforcing guidelines

Outlining a clear, straightforward set of guidelines from the start is something we firmly stand behind at CLA. Having rules for your community members to look at immediately after joining, means they go into the space fully aware of what is expected of them.

It leaves much less room for mistakes because everyone *should* be on the same page about what to do - and what not to do.

Depending on the tone of voice of your organization, the main topic of the community, and the type of cultures being brought into that space - there is a lot of room to adjust the guidelines based on what works specifically for the org behind it. No two communities will have the same expectations.

Here’s an example of how we’ve done it on CLA’s Slack community, so you can get an idea of what these could look like.

We outline from the beginning that we want everyone to be able to learn and collaborate, and ask for kindness and respect.

Then, we clarify what we do not want - so people know immediately what won’t be accepted.

To continue this clarity, we then create channels for different types of posts. We then explain them in the guidelines, so it’s as easy to understand as possible. Doing this helps people to avoid posting the wrong thing in the wrong place and provides a point of reference for them to go back to whenever needed.

It’s also important to remember these won’t be static throughout the existence of your community. You’ll find different situations arise, sometimes repeated instances of the same behavior, that will require you to adjust your guidelines accordingly.

“When enforcing guidelines, a lot of it is about maintaining humanity because each situation will differ. Even if it's virtual, it's still a network of varied individuals and you have to respect each member’s place in the community. Be sure to feel out each situation thoughtfully and act with kindness.“

Rebecca Boucher, Community Director at The Alliance

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to community moderation. What matters is that you go in with kindness and allow people the room to mess up. There will always be a certain amount of “feeling things out” in order to find the right resolution to whatever may crop up.

3 top tips for your guidelines

Focus on the ‘do’s, less of the ‘don’t’s

Keep it lighthearted, and focus the bulk of your rules on what you would like to see from your community members.

Keep your FAQs updated

As your community grows, you’ll likely start to see a trend in the topics that your members bring up or the questions they ask. Keep a note of the commonly asked questions, and use this to build out a hub of the answers so they can refer back whenever needed.

It’s not personal

You can give every last bit of your energy to maintaining a conflict-free community, but there will be times when it’s out of your hands. Or times when people who are difficult - or even aggressive - directly to you.

At these times, all you have to do is remain professional and calm. You are there as a neutral figure to ensure the cogs keep turning. If someone’s behavior starts to hinder the experience of other members, take the necessary steps to restrict them and allow yourself the time to calm down.

Always do what you can to resolve the issue, but remember that the good of the community is your top priority - don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch.

In summary

Thankfully, when it comes to brilliant, engaged communities, the large majority of members are simply there to make the most of it and have a good time.

Nine times out of ten, whenever unwanted situations arise, it’s just an honest mistake - like a member posting something that falls outside of the subject matter or is a bit too “sales-y”.

Inevitably, there will be times when further action is needed. So, in order to minimize this, it’s a good idea to go in with clear guidelines and an understanding of when and how to step in.

Remember, we’re all human and we all have bad days. You’ll make mistakes too, not just your community members.

Go in with kindness, and your community will meet you with kindness too.