The ways in which different people view and approach the task of moderation varies, and different people will have different ideas about how to best manage a community.
An academic study interviewed dozens of moderators across multiple platforms and grouped moderation approaches into five different categories:
Being able to understand the perspective behind each of these approaches and then applying them to your own community as needed is a powerful ability as a community manager. This article will discuss in more detail what these five categories mean and how you can apply them within your own communities.
Moderators that nurture and support communities (nurturing-type moderators) focus on shaping the community and conversations that occur in the server among members to match their vision. The foundation for their moderation actions stem from their desire to keep the community positive and welcoming for everyone, not just long-time members. They seek to create a community with a good understanding of the rules that can then develop itself in a positive way over time.
These types of moderators may implement pre-screening of members or content in their communities by implementing a verification gate or using an automoderator to filter out low quality members or content and curate the conversations of the server to be better suited to their vision.
Although this passive behind-the-scenes guidance is one type of nurturing moderator, these types of moderators also often actively engage with the community as a “regular member.” For nurturing-type moderators, this engagement isn’t meant specifically to provide an example of rule-following behavior, but rather to encourage high-quality conversations on the server where members will naturally enjoy engaging with each other and the moderators as equals. They are leading by example.
While nurturing- and supporting-type moderators operate based upon their long-term vision for a community, moderators that are focused on overseeing and facilitating communities focus on short-term needs and the day-to-day interactions of community members. They are often involved in handling difficult scenarios and fostering a healthy community.
For example, these types of moderators will step in when there is conflict within the community and attempt to mediate between parties to resolve any misunderstandings and restore friendliness to the server. Depending on the issue, they may also refer to specific rules or community knowledge to assign validity to one viewpoint or to respectfully discredit the behavior of another. In both situations, moderators will attempt to elicit agreement from those involved about their judgment and resolve the conflict to earn the respect of their community members and restore order to the server.
Those in the overseeing and facilitating communities category may also take less involved approaches towards maintaining healthy day-to-day interaction among members, such as quickly making decisions to mute, kick, or ban someone that is causing an excessive amount of trouble rather than attempting to talk them down. They may also watch for bad behavior and report it to other moderators to step in and handle, or allow the community to self-regulate when possible rather than attempting to directly influence the conversation.
Where overseeing and facilitating community moderators emphasize interactive and communicative approaches to solving situations with community members, moderators who see themselves as fighting for communities heavily emphasize taking action and content removal rather than moderating via a two-way interaction. They may see advocating for their community members as part of their job and want to defend the community from those who would try to harm it. Oftentimes, the moderators themselves may have been on the receiving end of the problematic behavior in the past and desire to keep others in their community from having to deal with the same thing. This attitude is often the driver behind their no-nonsense approach to moderation while strictly enforcing the community’s rules and values, quickly working to remove hateful content and users acting in bad faith.
Moderators in this category are similar to the subset of moderators that view moderation from the overseeing and facilitating communities, specifically the ones that quickly remove those who are causing trouble. However, compared to the perspective that misbehavior stems from immaturity, moderators that fight for communities have a stronger focus on the content being posted in the community, rather than the intent behind it. In contrast to moderators in the overseeing and facilitating communities category, these moderators take a firmer stance in their moderation style and do not worry about complaints from users who have broken rules. Instead they accept that pushback on the difficult decisions they make is part of the moderation process.
Those that see themselves as governing and regulating communities see the moderation team as a form of governance and place great emphasis on the appropriate and desirable application of the community rules, often seeing the process for making moderation decisions as similar to a court system making decisions based on a set of community “laws.” They may also see themselves as representatives of the community or the moderation team and emphasize the need to create policies or enforce rules that benefit the community as a whole
Moderators in this category may consciously run the community according to specific government principles, such as having a vote on community changes. However, they may also achieve consensus within the team about changes to the server without involving the community at large or even have one moderator make the final determination about community changes. This “final decision” power is usually exercised in terms of vetoing a proposed policy or issuing a ruling on an issue that is particularly contentious within the mod team or community. Very rarely would a form of decision-making be exercised, and it would be granted to very specific members of a team hierarchy such as the server owner or administrative lead. Even so, moderators in this category find following procedure to be important and tend to involve others to some extent in making decisions about the community rather than acting on their own.
This tendency is also seen in the way that they approach rule enforcement. Moderators that see themselves as governing and regulating communities view the rules as if they were the laws of a country. They meticulously review situations that involve moderator intervention to determine which rule was broken and how it was broken while referring to similar past cases to see how those were handled. These moderators also tend to interpret the rules more strictly, according to the “letter of the law,” and attempt to leave no room for argument while building their “case” against potential offending users.
Moderators that see themselves as managing communities view moderation as a second job to be approached in a professional way. They pay particular attention to the way they interact with other members of the community moderation team as well as the moderation teams of other communities, and strive to represent the team positively to their community members. This type of moderator may appear more often as communities become very large and as there becomes a need for clearer, standard processes and division of responsibility between moderators in order to handle the workload.
Though this metaphor focuses more on moderator team dynamics than relationships between moderators and users, it can also shape the way moderators approach interactions with users. Managing-type moderators are more likely to be able to point users toward written rules, guidelines, or processes when they have questions. Managing-type moderators are also much less likely to make “on-the-fly” decisions about new issues that come up. Instead, they will document the issue and post about it in the proper place, such as a private moderator channel, so it can be discussed and a new process can be created if needed. This approach also makes it easier to be transparent with users about decision making. When there are established, consistent processes in place for handling issues, users are less likely to feel that decisions are random or arbitrary.
Another strength of this approach is evident in efficient on-boarding processes. When a community has clear processes for documenting, discussing, and handling different situations, adding new moderators to the team is much easier because there is already a set of written instructions for how they should do their job. This professional approach to moderation can also help moderators when they are attempting to form partnerships or make connections with other servers. An organized moderation team is much more likely to make a good impression with potential partners. If you want to learn more about managing moderation teams, click here.
As you read through this article, you may have found that some moderation category descriptions resonated with you more than others. The more experience you have moderating, the wider the variety of moderation approaches you’ll implement. Rather than trying to find a single “best” approach from among these categories, it’s better to consider your overall balance in using them and how often you consider moderation issues from each perspective. For example, you can nurture and support a community by controlling how members arrive at your server and curating the content of your informational channels to guide conversation, while also managing and overseeing the interactions of honest, well-intentioned community members and quickly banning those who seek to actively harm your community.
It’s perfectly natural that each person on your moderation team will have an approach that comes easier to them than the others and no category is superior to another. Making sure all moderation categories are represented in your moderation team helps to ensure a well-rounded staff that values differing opinions. Even just understanding each of these frameworks is an important component of maintaining a successful community. Now that you understand these different approaches, you can consciously apply them as needed so that your community can continue to thrive!