You should look at moderation as an opportunity to educate, not criticize. Specifically, the act of removing content and informing a member of a guideline violation. This is a great moment, where you can guide the member to a more fruitful existence in your community.

I don’t see removed content as a strike. I’m not counting to 3 and then kicking you off. Context is everything. Mistakes happen – it’s all about how the member responds. I like to invest in the members who are trying to get better – and get rid of the ones who don’t care.

This is part caring and part process. The caring aspect is mental. It’s the thought that you want to have as many great members as you can and the understanding that there are people who need some help to become that great member. You need that mindset, and you need to surround yourself with people who have it.

The process is about how you handle violations, especially how you notify people. It should happen in private. Doing it in public makes it easier for the member to take offense or feel humiliated. You should create a database of contact templates that you and your moderators can use. These are pre-written messages that cover many common guideline violations. You don’t want to write the same message over and over – that’s a waste of time. You want to write a great message and use it again and again.

These messages should be polite, direct, honest and helpful. The education is how you explain the violation. Don’t just say what the violation was; provide guidance on how to avoid that issue in the future.

For example, if someone pastes a full article from another site into a forum post, that’s not something we allow. When we contact them, we don’t just tell them it’s copyright infringement, we explain appropriate quoting practice.

When we remove a post for profanity, we not only quote the word that was problematic, but mention that if a word is not allowed, it also shouldn’t be self-censored or abbreviated. This proactively eliminates an assumption that some will make: that they can just add an asterisk in the word and it is OK.

There are opportunities for education before violations occur, through signposting and onboarding. But, for a lot of people, the first time they truly come in contact with your guidelines will be when they have run afoul of them.

While there will always be people who don’t want to listen to anything, the tone and content of your notification has a direct impact on how the message is received. If you are abrupt and critical, you can expect anger in return. If you are respectful and communicative, you can expect a more varied response, including some thank yous, apologies and acknowledgements.

People are used to vague, cryptic, unhelpful warnings from social media platforms, online communities and software. When you go a different route, it stands out.

Mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Neither are guideline violations. Where mistakes can make us better people, guideline violations can make us better community members. That takes someone willing to listen, but it also takes a moderator who sends the right message.