Moderating Comments and Managing Online Communities


Much has been writing over the years about how to manage comments in a blog or online community. However, recently, I was asked my opinion, so I thought I’d share it here.

Let’s be clear: there are ALL kinds of people on the interweb so its easy to create a moderation policy built for the lowest common denominator. And as someone who has a community, I can tell you from personal experience that its deeply troubling to stare down the lowest common denominator. But in my view there are several approaches to community moderation. Let’s be clear, almost all sites require some sort of identification, so that’s a given. I don’t view this as much of a deterrent for spammers (creating a fake email or persona isn’t THAT hard); I see it as more of a benefit to real people.

Open Door Policy: The most liberal of comment moderation policies. All comments are auto-approved without any technical or human moderation.
Pros: The community is completely transparent to one another, with the exception that people will often use pseudonyms on communities like this.
Cons: Spam and lowest common denominator magnet. These two elements will likely crowd out your actual community. 

You don’t see this policy very often because the “Pros” don’t really outweigh the “Cons” for most community managers. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist at all. But where it does, communities usually have a high tolerance for one another and the ability to overlook spam.

Knock-First Policy: An in-between policy where a technology spam filter like Akismet is employed to detect spammy links. Automation may also detect profanity and hold in moderation.
Pros: Keeps the community free of junk without over reaching-gives the community a true voice that is consistent with the community’s own language. Not terribly time-consuming to manage.
Cons: Comments can create community drama without being spammy or profane. 

I personally use this methodology. I think its strikes a good balance of empowering the community while making it enjoyable for most.  My comments require a sign-in (LiveFyre) and Akismet moderates for spammy links and the worst profanity, the rest is auto-approved. My community is really very respectful, and my topic isn’t terribly controversial, so I don’t have much a challenge to this. However, from a best practices standpoint, I think this methodology has some merit as well. I think it tells the community you trust and value them. It also doesn’t feel heavy-handed.

The challenge to this, is how the community treats one another (and the brand/moderator/poster) and at what point does the moderator intervene? If this is a real concern, then I suggest creating moderation guidelines that you can point to if you feel you may have to cool things down in your community on occasion. Be very clear (read: not lawyer-esque) when you will delete or hide community posts and how you will handle it when/if that happens. I personally think deleting posts is the nuclear option, and one that is best used only in the most extreme circumstances. Another option is to close comments on a thread. I think this is a pretty agressive move as well. After all, why even have comments if the community can’t express itself within defined limits of respect? Just to be clear, this policy will challenge you on occasion. There will be moments of deep discomfort. But this is another reason for defining a moderation policy, write it when you’re unemotional, refer to it when you’re emotional or unsure.

Unlock Policy: This is the most extreme policy, where all comments are automatically held in moderation, until a human can review and approve them. 
Pros: Keeps out all the riff-raff.
Cons: Delaying comments prevents organic timely conversation. Can you keep up with reading every single comment and approving in a timely manner? 

From my view this is a fear-based policy: “We’re afraid of our community” is what this says to me. It’s also basically a message to the community that there is no value in organic conversation. If your going to do this, make sure that your moderation policy is EASILY available and that you inform your community as to how frequently comments are approved.

What you choose for your online community is a decision you’ll have to weigh with the values of that community and your brand.  

Now go out there and ENJOY the online community you’ve worked so hard to create.


PS: Join me for more blogging tips and tricks April 30th at 6PM for Blogging for Business at Pacific New Media

Image: Creative Commons BiochemSoc