Fantastic forum members make fantastic staff members

by Zane Friedman - Guest Writer on 30 January 2008 in Articles

Finding good forum moderators

*This is a guest article from community developer Zane Friedman*

One of the most important factors of your site is your staff – your administrators, moderators, and in some cases chat operators. In this article we’ll go over what makes a good moderator or administrator, some specific roles that different moderators and administrators should take, and how your staff should act on the forums in order to attain the best effect from your member population.


Administrators are the chief leadership of your site. They have all the powers of a moderator, but unlike a moderator, their powers are site-wide. They also have the ability to create forums, modify forums, delete forums, edit site settings, create announcements, and other such functions. Because administrators have this stupendous power, the position of administrator should only be given to those members who you feel are most fantastic.

What makes a fantastic member?

Fantastic members usually:

a. Only post when they have something worthwhile to say.
b. Post intelligently.
c. Do not get involved in site conflicts before they are promoted to staff members.

The Cyber Mum/Dad

This is the guy or gal who’s going to spend hours everyday browsing the forums and reading the chat logs, looking out for the member population and hiding your members from the evil of the internet. All in all, this is going to be your administrator who watches out for your member population like a mother watching out for her children.

The Weight Of The Law

This is the down to earth, level headed administrator who sends this message out to your forum: The rules are the rules, and that’s not going to change any time soon. This position is hard to take, especially because administrators should be friendly with your community, and taking moderative action constantly can make as many enemies as it can make friends. This administrator has to find a happy medium.

The Advocate for Troubled Newcomers

This administrator has less to do with moderative action, and more to do with helping actions. He or she should always be on the lookout for the newer members who are having problems with the community at large, or are having little problems with smaller issues.

Obviously having other administrators is perfectly normal – if your site grows, don’t limit yourself to 3. If your site is smaller, try to take a role or two yourself, or have another administrator take more than one role. Having too many staff members is not a good idea.

A good policy to have, taken directly from a forum admin

Most members have only come in contact with my happy, smiley side. I feel like I’m having a great day when I can log on, cruise the forums for new topics and comments of interest, exchange greetings with some friends and maybe check out the exchange or work on some custom content. I’m pleased to be able to say that this description captures my experience here the great majority of the time.

As you know, however, I am also an administrator of the site- one of the folks who the webmaster has charged with keeping things running smoothly, fixing things (to the extent of my ability to do so) when they aren’t working, and in general making interim operational decisions about things when he isn’t around to confer with. Please understand, neither myself or any of the other administrators “run” the site – the webmaster does that. However, when I act or speak as an administrator, I do so for the webmaster under his authority. This, btw, also holds true for our moderators.

Usually, when I have to do something as an administrator here, I am not happy and smiley. This is because generally whatever is going on is taking me away from the things that I came here to do, as described at the start of this comment. My time, just like everyone else’s, is limited. If I can use it doing things I like, well- that’s great. If I have to use it stamping out fires and doing traffic control- hey, that’s not so great. I guess it’s common knowledge here that I’m an attorney. Doesn’t mean anything at SC4D- we have no laws, no police and no courts. Nobody to issue me a license to practice in this jurisdiction. We only have the rules and a staff that the webmaster has charged with the duty of enforcing them.

Source: SC4Devotion


Moderators are kind of like the administrative representatives of a particular forum. They have the ability to move whole threads to different forums, pin threads, combine threads, delete threads, move individual messages to another thread, edit messages, and delete messages. I don’t have as much to say about this group, and most strategies/suggestions pertaining to moderation have already been posted on the blog by Martin.

One very important part of a moderator is independence. Do not hire moderators who are going to ask you permission to do everything. If you assign a moderator to moderate a forum about sports, that moderator should know that he has an obligation in the forum, and maybe it’d be a good idea to post some specific forum rules, even though the webmaster and none of the administrators have told him to.

Keeping a professional distance

The last part of my article is one of the most important. It has to do with one of the most important qualities of all your staff members – they should keep a professional distance. While topics which are stupid, or whose tone is a bit negative about your community should not be locked in order to let all your members have freedom of speech to a certain degree, they should be ignored by your staff members. Your staff members should post when they have something to say and keep away from the topics which you’d rather not have on your forum, but which do not conflict with your forum rules.

Pick your staff members carefully, and rest assured I wish you a very successful community – both in terms of staffing, and in terms of everything else!

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Nicole Price January 31, 2008 at 5:31 am

Concerning your last paragraph, shouldn’t forum staff actually take part in such an ‘unwanted’ thread to put things right?

Zane Friedman - Guest Writer January 31, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Nicole – that is, for the most part, up to the webmaster. Remember that these are the threads that aren’t intellectual or worthy of being on your forum, but don’t conflict with your forum rules. Your moderators have no valid reason to lock them delete them, or even put things right because of this.

If the webmaster wants to have a forum where the moderation team strictly “polices” the community, then you are absolutely right. However, we don’t encourage this on Community Spark, and, surprising as it may seem, keeping a professional distance away from such threads often increases the amount of freedom you grant your members rather than decrease it.

Eva White February 1, 2008 at 4:13 am

Fantastically explained article. I think every forum should work on such detailing to make their forums successful.

Hirsutism February 1, 2008 at 4:16 am

Good article. But do all the forums really work on such detailing. I feel there is less of warmth among members but more of putting each other down going around some forums.

Online Furniture Store February 1, 2008 at 6:40 am

Good idea there to have a guest post now and then; good post too!

Zane Friedman - Guest Writer February 1, 2008 at 11:49 am

Eva White – Thanks! My ideas have certainly been successful on my forums… Now it’s time they were successful on yours! =D

OFS – Again, thank you.

Amish Made Furniture February 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Absolutely brilliantly brought out. The part of being professionally distant is hitting the nail right on the head.
If the commentator is doing what you say he should be do, this should be relatively easy. It is when that does not happen that moderators have a problem and have to use judgment. It is a two way traffic after all.

Zane Friedman - Guest Writer February 1, 2008 at 11:21 pm

I’m so glad you liked the article! Yes, professional distance is one of the important factors of any team. The definition of professional distance and how to approach it is a topic which I could write another whole article on. Who knows?maybe I will!


Nicole Price February 4, 2008 at 6:32 am

On second thoughts, not participating in such threads does help push it down the order thus giving them less visibility. Participating int hem would just push them up and attract more viewers.

Zane Friedman February 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

Nicole – would you really want your most visible threads to be the least intellectual ones?

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 11:39 pm

I’ve gone with a (Support) tag as you know for staff members. I’m trying to build a ‘friendly’ relationship between staff & users.

I want them to be seen as more “customer support” rather than “moderators” who are there to police the rooms.

The system has worked up to now. Recently, though, as popularity grows we attract more troublemakers.

We have rules clearly set out, they’re clear rules. We don’t publically scold, I set an example to a new staff member just today actually.

Someone came in with the name “thebitch”, as a new community I don’t want these kind of names in the userlist. I showed the new staff member what I do in this situation.

I don’t just boot them, nor do I publically scold them or publically ask them to change it.

I PM’d them and politely EXPLAINED why I want them to change their name, then asked them if they would be so kind to do so.

They immediately logged out and came back under a new name.

If you treat them with respect, you’ll get the same back. If you scold them publically, they’ll feel alienatedand lash out.

Staff participating in threads amongst arguing members etc would alienate the members who are arguing as they’ll feel “ganged upon”.