Longwood Gardens - Manicured Garden
Creative Commons License photo credit: likeaduck

I was on Quora the other day and I happened across this question: “Do forum moderators often become less effective the longer they hold power?” I look over the 4 answers that had been posted – all of which were pretty short – and found that 3 of the 4 said yes, moderators do.

But that hasn’t been my experience. I would argue the opposite – that forum moderators often become more effective the longer they are moderators.

I can’t speak for the communities you visit and the people who run them. I can only speak for myself, the communities I have managed and the forums I have been a member of. The question, as it is asked and answered, really applies mostly to volunteer forum moderators. I have managed more than 100 different volunteer moderators during my time with online forums.

You Must Develop a Process for Finding Moderators

It starts with a process of identifying good candidates. I look for people who are exemplary. People who follow the guidelines, treat others with kindness (kindness over knowledge – always), seem to have some technical savvy with the community software and possess a passion for the community over an extended period of time.

We have what amounts to a moderator handbook, as well as past documentation of situations that have been handled. New moderators are encouraged to sit back, read and watch for a month or more as they acclimate to how our team works together to ensure the community remains on track. They are always encouraged to ask questions and I am always happy to answer.

Quality Assurance

A good moderation team has a leader that ensures that the decisions made are the right ones. On my forums, that is me. All moderation decisions are documented and I quickly review them when I visit the forums. If anything isn’t handled in a manner that meets with my standards, I correct it immediately and use it as a learning opportunity. I fix it, publicly if necessary.

This allows us to achieve consistency from moderator to moderator, which is crucial. Without someone reviewing the decisions and comparing them to our commonly applied standards, each moderator could go in a totally different direction. This would confuse our members.

This is what it means to have a well managed online forum. If you simply hand random people keys to the forums and let them do whatever they want, you are the one to blame for poor moderation, not the moderators.

Ineffective Moderators

What I have found is that if someone is going to be an ineffective moderator, we learn that fairly quickly. They don’t stick around for years. They generally leave because they aren’t into it or I remove them.

Of course, I have had my fair share of horror stories and people who have changed over a period of time. Definitely. And people can become fatigued (at some point, everyone must move on).

Veteran Moderators Are the Best Moderators

But for the most part, my best moderators are the ones that stick around for the longest. With moderation, the more that you do it, the better you generally become at it because your senses become more and more tuned and you have a deeper understanding of the nuances of the community that you manage.

On a community that I have managed for more than 13 years, we have a two tier staff. The first tier consists of guides that do not have moderator powers. They welcome people, weigh in on staff matters and report violations. The next tier is the moderators. I have 5 moderators presently and 4 of them have been in that role for a long time.

  • Moderator #1: 11 years, 1 week, 2 days on staff. 9 years, 1 month, 1 week, 4 days as a moderator.
  • Moderator #2: 7 years, 10 months, 3 weeks, 2 days on staff. 7 years, 5 months, 3 weeks, 1 days as a moderator.
  • Moderator #3: 7 years, 1 month, 1 week, 3 days on staff. 6 years, 7 months, 3 weeks, 6 days as a moderator.
  • Moderator #4: 5 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, 3 days on staff. 5 years, 1 month, 2 weeks as a moderator.
  • Moderator #5: 1 year, 3 months, 3 weeks on staff. 2 months, 3 weeks and 5 days as a moderator.

The Greatest Team of Moderators I Have Ever Had

I have managed a lot of moderators and I have had some great teams. This is the greatest team of moderators I have ever had. I feel very fortunate to have them and I am exceptionally proud of them. From interacting with them over these many years, what is clear to me is that they have become better with age. Here are a few examples:

  • Most people that have made it to this tier can spot the easy stuff. Obvious spam, racial slurs, extremely rude people. But it takes an experienced eye to spot the small stuff. An odd phrase, a bad acronym, a put down hidden in a sea of text. They have become much more detail oriented.
  • Their documentation of violations gets tighter.
  • In general, less errors are made. My philosophy is that mistakes will happen and we use them as teachable moments. But mistakes happen less.
  • They become better at picking out things most people would miss. For example, someone who creates a second account. Hotlinking. Covert spam. Things of that nature.
  • As they spend more time in the role, they become more comfortable and confident. Moderator isn’t a role that most people can step into and do well. I try to find the right people.
  • We develop a greater sense of team and camaraderie.

I had the first 4 moderators as my only moderators for 5 years before we added someone new because no one stepped up in my eyes and demonstrated to me that they should be a moderator. I always, always prefer being short -taffed and great than being overstaffed and mediocre.

They deserve credit for growing and becoming the wonderful moderators they are. It was a lot of care on their part and a lot on mine to make sure everyone was operating at a high level and as a team.

If I could summarize this post, I would say this: if you find that moderators often become worse with age, look up the chain. That is likely the fault of the person responsible for selecting those moderators and helping them to grow.