Community moderator privileges – easy to give, hard to take away

by Martin Reed on 18 June 2009 in Articles

global forum moderator

As your online community grows, you will need help. You can’t be expected to continue building relationships with every member, reading every post and being the sole public face of the community. The time will come when you will need to recruit additional moderators or representatives. This needs to be done carefully – once you give powers to members, it can be very difficult to take them away.

Recruit carefully

Don’t make the mistake of giving additional powers to your most popular members, or your most active. Instead, choose the members that you know and trust; ones that have demonstrated their commitment and loyalty to the community; members that create the best content and display all the qualities you want your community to be associated with.

Think minimal

Don’t give out a huge number of powers and responsibilities to your moderators – indeed, you may find you don’t need to give them any at all. At Female Forum, I have a handful of community representatives that have responsibilities, but no actual moderator powers. The community is still young – I don’t want members to have the extra burden of responsibility for moderation, and I want conversations to flow freely and with minimal moving, editing or deleting of posts during this critical time.

One global moderator

Your community should have only one person with ‘global moderator’ powers – ie the ability to access and edit all areas of the community. That person should be the community manager. Yes, you can have more than one moderator (as your site grows, this will probably be a necessity) but there should only be one overall manager. Giving global powers to more than one person can lead to confusion as to who is ultimately in charge, and inconsistency when it comes to the enforcement of your community guidelines. Additionally, the more people that have access to the administrator panel, the higher the risk of security being breached.

Easy to give, hard to take away

You need to think very carefully before giving members additional powers or responsibilities. Most of your dedicated members will love having a higher status within the community and will readily accept any powers you give them. Problems can soon occur if you need to rescind those powers, or if you change your mind further down the line.

When recruiting and nurturing moderators in your community, start slowly. Begin by offering responsibilities without powers. Then, if your community needs more people with actual powers to delete or move content you can give these powers to the members that have proved themselves. Your members need to earn their additional powers and responsibilities.

One step too far

If you are reading this and have a sinking feeling in your stomach because you recognise you have too many people with the keys to your community, there is a way back. If you have assigned too many powers to individuals or groups of members, it is possible to scale them back but you need to be very tactful and diplomatic.

Once you have given powers to members, taking them away is likely to result in them feeling snubbed. You now risk having your most valuable members feeling alienated and becoming less active, less enthusiastic or even leaving the community altogether.

How to remove global moderators without alienating them

1 – Decide why you want to remove their powers

Yes, you should only have one global moderator – but if you have had more than one for years, without any problem, then is taking away their powers worth the risk of alienating and losing that member?

2 – Be honest

Communicate openly with your moderator and tell them exactly why you are removing some of their powers.

3 – Reassure

If you want your moderator to continue with reduced powers and they have a good track record, reassure them that your decision to reduce their powers has nothing to do with their abilities or commitment to the site. Focus on all the positive things they have done, tell them they are valued and tell them why they are valued.

I made the mistake of having an additional global moderator at Just Chat. Eventually, paranoia got the better of me and although the site wouldn’t be the community it is today without the contribution of this member, I needed to ensure I was the only one with access to the forum admin panel for my own peace of mind.

When I emailed this individual, the email went something like this:


Today, I took the decision to remove your access to the admin panel of the Just Chat forums. All your other moderator privileges remain intact.

Please be aware that the reason I have removed access is nothing to do with my confidence in you or your abilities – put simply, I have become less comfortable with knowing there is one extra ‘key’ to the admin panel out there. You make a great contribution to Just Chat, and the community just wouldn’t be the same without you.

I don’t believe you have needed to use your login to the admin panel on a regular basis anyway so I doubt this will have a major impact on your ability to carry out your moderator duties.

If you wish to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Again, please be reassured that my decision to remove your access has nothing to do with my confidence in your abilities, or the trust I have in you. I have made this decision solely because of my own paranoia that there is more than one login to the administrator panel out there.

Thanks for all you do.



The aftermath

Initially, the moderator in question was very unhappy with my decision. Despite my reassurances, they felt snubbed and felt that I no longer had faith in them. However, after a little more communication and reassurance I managed to keep hold of my most valuable moderator and there was now only one key to the admin panel – my own.

Of course, it would have been far better (and less risky) to have simply never given out the global moderator powers in the first place. You live and learn, though – so don’t do what I did. Give out moderator powers slowly and sparingly. It’s easy to give out powers. It’s very difficult to claw them back.

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sally June 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

“I’ve removed you as a mod but it really has nothing to do with you” With all due respect, if this was really the message you sent to this person–I would have left and never come back. People need to be given specific reasons why this is happening. And maybe you did give reasons but perhaps you should clarify to the readers (us) whether you did or not. The reason itself doesn’t have to be stated, of course, nor would anyone expect it to.

Certainly there are times when moderators have to be removed. Usually when a mod’s powers are taken away they will quite. Being able to hang onto one in the aftermath is rare.

Kyle Maxwell June 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

“Giving global powers to more than one person can lead to confusion as to who is ultimately in charge, and inconsistency when it comes to the enforcement of your community guidelines. Additionally, the more people that have access to the administrator panel, the higher the risk of security being breached.”

Are these the only reasons you have for this? If you have consistency and a good partnership, then I’m not sure this is required. And security / risk evaluation of your site should take FAR more into account than just “who has the password”.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 19, 2009 at 6:23 am

Sally – I thought I did give the reason in my example (my own paranoia!). Additionally, I mentioned in the article that you need to decide exactly why you want to remove certain powers before doing so, and then to be honest with them as to why you are taking that action. I would appreciate your advice as to how I could clarify the article.

The situation is certainly different if you decide to remove all their powers – and yes, they are then far more likely to leave the community. That being said, if you decide to remove all their privileges I am guessing that’s because they have made serious errors – firing a moderator is very different to the scenario I am talking about in this article.

Kyle – If you are a community manager, you should be the only person responsible for reorganising the community or deleting members (normally the additional powers given to ‘global moderators’. If others have access to the admin panel, changes could be made without you knowing. Members could be deleted without you knowing. Major mistakes may be made. If you are the one person in charge, you should be the only one with an all access pass.

If you have a good partnership with someone who already has global powers, then you need to think whether revoking these powers is the ideal situation (as I mentioned in my article). However, if they don’t already have global powers I strongly recommend not giving them out in the first place!

Nicole Price June 19, 2009 at 9:02 am

I do not find anything offensive in your communication.

Jael June 19, 2009 at 10:24 am

The problem I see is that this leaves the forum with a single point of failure.

What happens if you get hit by a truck and you have no one who is familiar with the admin process or access to it?

sally June 19, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Yes, Nicole–that is exactly the problem. In order to “not be offensive” everything else is sacrificed. He is sending a message to his Moderator–and informing this person that powers will be removed. This person has a RIGHT to know exactly where they went wrong–or how else will they learn? Saying the only reason is “my paranoia” is not communication. It tells them nothing. Martin is at that time, only speaking to one person. Not addressing six or ten people. Since he IS only speaking to one person, then the message is targeted for that person alone. “My paranoia” must logically then, be in reference to that moderator.

If his is only a “general” feeling of paranoia (maybe because of past experience with someone else) and he would be more comfortable with sole control of Admin, then he needs to explain it very clearly. Then there would be no room for misunderstanding.

I agree with Jael about the “single piont of failure” It is too simplistic to simply not let anyone else have access to Admin. The mention was made about ‘they could delete someone without me knowing’ but this left me feeling bewildered. Surely whoever you have “hired” you have set forth beforehand the specific areas of control and responsibility they are in charge of. Either they work within those bounds or they do not and start stepping outside them. If they do, then you can take punitive action. But don’t make the mistake of just shrugging your shoulders and saying “Well, I guess it would be better if I don’t trust anyone” Maybe it would be better. On the other hand, you end up paying a heavy price for that. : )

Agent June 19, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Martin – In your article and your reply to Kyle, you mentioned the term “Global Moderators” and used it in a sense that they can access the Administration control panel. That is not true in any of the forum software I’ve used, particularly phpBB and IPB. Administrators are ones who access the ACP, while Global Moderators are similar to individual board moderators. They moderate most every board in the community and sometimes have additional abilities over the individual moderators. They also use a Moderator CP as opposed to the Admin CP. Creating the board and assigning permissions comes in the ACP, as does banning a user. Moving, editing, and deleting posts, along with warning a user comes in the MCP.

I completely agree that the number of hands in the ACP should be very limited. It is a security risk and there isn’t really that much an Admin does in there once the board is initially setup. Admins should be working primarily at the user level, then the moderator, and finally the least amount as the Admin. There are always exceptions, but this is true based on my experiences as an Admin, Moderator and user among a number of communities.

The number of Global moderators doesn’t necessarily have to be so few though. I find that the boards are moderated more evenly if the same group of people moderate every where as opposed to five different groups or individuals moderating a board or two each. Some groups are a bit more strict to the rules and they can become separated from the community whole. You could enter this area of the board and be thrown a curve ball to find it’s almost a different community all together. Global moderators help to even things out throughout the community so all boards are maintained the same way.

Dan Malciu June 20, 2009 at 1:49 pm

You have hit a painful spot for many forum owners and this post is indeed very helpful for people starting with new forums or trying to take away moderation powers from some of their moderators. I understand because I am still a moderators for atleast 2 forums where I haven’t done anything in last 2 years, probably just out of courtesy the forum owners still keep my moderator status.

Jill June 21, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Hi Martin,

I feel this is a great subject to raise – and better if the focus is on thinking ahead to a time that there might be a temptation to allow access to the access to the admin panel of your site. We wouldn’t be having this conversation had you not raised it – so thanks for that.

The point that you raise is a good one – the website that I am involved with has a number of people with access but none are community moderators – all are people who are linked with the operational side of the site. We have distinct roles and relationships and communicate openly and easily about what we are doing. And because we are a volunteer site, this works well – we can back up each other during times of ill health or the need for a vacation. The site is also moderated 24/7 so we need to be able to cover the site across all world times too.

Each site will have it’s own distinctions and particular needs – and still I find the key point that you are making to be a valid one. Privileges are easy to extend and hard to take away – so don’t act in a hasty fashion and provide privileges unless they are needed for the job. Our moderators don’t have access to the system and even if they had it their job would not be easier or more rewarding. They are happy to be involved and recognised for their efforts in guiding the community and bringing calm and focus to current discussions.

It’s easy to share learning from an experience when it is all sunshine and roses – but when that isn’t the case and results in an upset it is less comfortable to share. I am grateful for your honesty.

Tami Vroma June 22, 2009 at 8:23 am

Boy are you preaching to the choir here! My situation was a little different though. I wasn’t the one to start the forum . . .I was the second member . . .and made it everything it was. I had the web design knowledge and the people knowledge. I was constantly saying, “you can’t write that or don’t say that”. It was an incredible community of over 400 horse lovers in Michigan. I got busy with real estate and I kept having the members email and ask for me to come back and run it. I didn’t have the time . . she ended up deleting the forum out of anger with almost 500 members . .it was awful!

Mr Woc June 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Hi there

Our site has been burned by moderators too in the past, I was very shocked to see peoples reactions when you did remove their powers, some take it well some take it very very badly, had a really bad experiance with one of my moderators and have been keen not to visit that place again.

We make sure at the very start of asking someone to be a mod, that we might well remove your powers at any time, and not to be offended if we do !


Wibowo Sulistio June 26, 2009 at 5:47 am

What if in the open and at the beginning, we describe the conditions when, and the process of how moderator privileges can be given to, and taken away?

That would make things clearer and much less awkward. It can be a single/repeated violation of community guidelines, or simply a prolonged inactvity period. Each community would have a different set of conditions.

Might even be better if the conditions and process is collaboratively crafted by the global admin(s) and the early and most loyal community moderators.

Martin Reed - Community Manager June 26, 2009 at 9:35 am

Wibowo – I agree. Just as it’s essential to have community guidelines for your members, you should have guidelines for your moderators.

Sachin Gupta June 30, 2009 at 4:55 am

Hey this is a subject which needs attention with every people doing business online. When you have moderators acting on behalf of you is actually a big reponsibility to share… in fact the idea of creating a guidelines and what actually you want your moderator to do and for this what amount of power is required has to clearly chalked out to save any hassle afterwards. So being clear headed about it before hiring or recruiting them will be great and will save u from a lot of stress.

Flint July 2, 2009 at 2:45 am

Taking away moderator privileges is really hard to accomplish without losing the person you made a moderator and whoever follows him out ( if he decides to leave after you take away his privileges ). Some good tips here, but honestly I think it best to make carful decisions when appointing new moderators because it is as you said in your article title moderator privileges are “easy to give, hard to take away”

Marlyn S. August 4, 2009 at 1:35 am

Being a community moderator has its ups and downs. Do you have more tips on how to make an online community thrive more? Is it really hard being a community moderator? What are the main issues community moderators usually face?

Tom August 6, 2009 at 7:59 am

Hmmm, this is a very good point.

I’ve always given my highest hosts access to the admin panel incase my computer ever broke down or my internet went down and they needed access.

But I have two internet connections and a spare laptop now.

I’ll be sure not to add admin access to the hosts in future.

That way I can avoid having to take them away.

However, I’ve had to sack three Support staff members recently. Well, not I. But my site manager and her co-hosts decided they were no longer any good for the community. They’re the ones who are in daily contact with the staff so I hear their case and then take the correct course of action based on both sides of the story, and transcript evidence.

It never gets easier writing that “thank you but your services are no longer required” e-mail. Breaks my heart every time, especially if it’s a staff member I chose personally and/or had high hopes for. I had a co-host position lined up for, who I thought, was one of the best Support members. Man after my own heart he was. Great sense of humour, similar sense of banter, good laugh, easy going, really helpful with the users. But.. wasn’t a team player. Got other staffs backs up. Trod on their toes. Was put on a 3 week probation by my site manager (which I require the first step is before coming to me requesting suspension/dismissal), was brought into a meeting to point out where he was failing with his team playing, refused to change, had to send him the e-mail.

Needless to say I got called all the names under the sun. Backstabber, traitor, liar etc. It’s silly because it’s only over a screen but it hurts when you had ambition for them and they had the potential to go far in your community.

But they come and go. September is recruiting time!

Tom August 8, 2009 at 6:18 pm

An update on this.

After returning to my site after my absence cos of settling in with fiancee, the staff were in tatters. My staff was disobeying every policy I had laid down for them. Ie: they were publically scolding when they know that’s the one policy I really do hate to have broken.

So I asked one of them to stop doing it.. she stormed off, quit, said she was making her own site with her own rules. 2 other staff members said they were going, too.

So, no worries. There’s plenty more lined up to take their place but I thought I’d be nice. I sent an e-mail saying thank you, and even told them I’d help them by putting a link on my links page for them when their site is up.

What I got in return… abuse, death threats, and they’ve gone around telling my users that I’ve sacked them, rather than them leaving to create drama and try to stir up trouble.

I seriously don’t know why I bother being nice sometimes you know!

You just can’t win either way sometimes.

Tom August 11, 2009 at 6:24 pm

I now have the only key to the forum admin panel, and the top level administration for the chat. Took me a few hours to explain why I wasn’t giving the same powers back to my two co-hosts, but I don’t think they’re too fussed, they have all the tools they need. The C class ban, cookie ban etc I’m keeping to myself to ensure it isn’t used.

I think they’re a bit downhearted and believe I don’t trust them, but I’m sure, like your moderator (I think I know who it is), they’ll get over it.

Paul November 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I can see how difficult it would be to give someone moderator privileges but taking them away brings about an even more tough position.

If someone is not doing a good job though, you will have to let them go easily.

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