How to effectively moderate forums

by Martin Reed on 27 June 2007 in Articles

As regular readers will be aware, I have often written about the importance of moderation. Articles I have already written on this subject include ‘The importance of speedy moderation‘, ‘Responding to a community revolt‘ and ‘Personal advice – abusive members‘.

In this article I want to be a little more specific and write about the most effective way of moderating your forum.

Why forum moderation is necessary

If you don’t moderate your forum, it is likely to be overwhelmed with spam – this is the primary reason why I ensure all the forums I run have some degree of moderation.

Many feel moderation is in place to prevent arguments and abuse between members – I don’t disagree with this view; I feel it’s an important role but one that should come secondary to dealing with forum spammers.

Spam and abusive posts are detrimental to your online community – you must moderate your forums to prevent irreversible damage from taking place.

Why moderation should be taken seriously

Think before deleting forum posts

Many forum administrators will often delete comments they disagree with, or members they suspect of spamming, then think nothing else of it. This is a mistake.

Forum moderation, if done incorrectly, can be worse than having no moderation at all. Over-zealous moderation can result in members ending up feeling alienated and angry when they find their posts or accounts deleted for no understandable reason.

A community relies on its members – before you take decisive action against yours, make sure you are making the right decision.

How to avoid conflict when moderating

As I have said before, it is essential that your online community has a set of rules or guidelines for your members to follow.

Before you have to take action against a member, you should always contact them and try to get them to remove or edit the post themselves by referring them to the rule you feel they have broken.

In this way, you are making your site user feel far more valued on a personal level – this is far preferable to the member simply returning one day to find their post(s) or account deleted.

The key to effective forum moderation

In my opinion, the key to effective forum moderation is the ‘laissez-faire‘ approach. You should only edit the accounts or posts of your members as a last resort.

If you are unhappy with any content they have created, speak directly and confidentially to that person.

This way, you will not end up alienating your community – they will respect you far more as a moderator and will feel far more valued as a member of your community.

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George June 28, 2007 at 10:29 pm


Do you think it is a good idea to have blog commenting rules as well?

I have been thinking of making my rules clear. Currently, I just delete comments I think are spam, but I am thinking that maybe I should make my comment policy more clear, by writing about it.

Tim June 28, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Nice post Martin,

@George: I only delete posts which use excessive swearing or advertise [insert sexually aimed product]. Being criticized is generally a good thing, it means people care enough to complain about your blog and start a discussion (which adds content).


George June 29, 2007 at 2:51 pm


I agree, but I might want to state that I delete posts with excessive swearing, etc.

Martin Reed June 29, 2007 at 5:39 pm

George – Depending on the number of comments your blog gets, it may well be worth publishing commenting guidelines/rules.

I think it is pretty easy to discern what is and isn’t spam, but you are right in your thinking; by having clearly available guidelines, your contributors will have no excuse in ignorance should you delete their comments.

This really is something I should get around to doing on this blog – I am currently busy working on a brand new theme, though!

Tim – You are right that the comments that disagree with you or are slightly on the controversial side should definitely stay; there is nothing wrong with a little passion to fire up a community!

Andy July 1, 2007 at 3:05 pm

My dad was recently moaning to me about being ostracised on a motorbike related forum. Apparently the moderator was a bit of an egotist and deleted whole posts that he disagreed with. (ie criticisms…not abusive ones…of his favourite motorbike).

He should read your blog martin!

Martin Reed July 1, 2007 at 6:30 pm

Andy – thanks for your comment. It is essential that moderators are always impartial and never delete comments or threads that they simply disagree with!

Perhaps we should direct that moderator over to Community Spark for some advice! To be honest though, he should be getting direction in what is expected from him by the owner of the forum.

The moderator may not be to blame if he is simply following the policy given to him by the administrator. Either way though, it is a bad policy to have!

Andy July 3, 2007 at 8:39 am

heheh the problem here is the moderator is the administrator/owner :)

by the way nice site redesign!

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 3, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Ah, well – that’s a whole different kettle of fish then!

Eric Martindale September 14, 2007 at 3:46 pm

I’ve included this article in our in-house moderator training regiment – you’ve got some great stuff. Keep it up!

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 15, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Eric Martindale – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found the article useful. Just be sure to include details of what you expect from your moderators in any training manuals. The more they understand your vision, the better they will be in their role.

Sharaz June 15, 2008 at 12:51 am

Thanks for this post im close to releasing a forum for my site, but before i do that i need to do all my research, ive been looking around and you give some great advice.

Dan (calibration services) June 25, 2008 at 11:58 am

Effective forum moderation is hard. Most of the time its due to the fact that mods are working for free. The only effective way to do it, is yourself! my2c…

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Sharaz – Thanks for your kind comment. I am sure you will find lots of useful tips in the archives. Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck!

Dan – Effective moderation can be challenging, but the fact most moderators work for free shouldn’t make any difference to their effectiveness. As long as you make clear how you expect your mods to behave, offer them good training and are supportive, there is no reason why they should be less effective than you are.

Shaz, 17 August 12, 2008 at 1:58 am

What of cases where the moderators are not given the power to edit posts but are allowed to delete them and there are spam links and stuff embedded in the post?

What is the best measure of modding here because I keep getting some muffled complaints from the same posters?

goundoulf January 13, 2009 at 9:44 am

I don’t have any problem with spam as I have integrated reCAPTCHA in the registration page.

Before that, I used to have 4 or 5 new bogus accounts every day!

Mr Data November 17, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I’ve been to a fan site where they were talking about a thing called *soundfonts* which makes your midi files play better and I made a simple little comment though a bit harsh saying someone’s website wasn’t working.

The next thing I know the mod made fun of me so I tried to humbly apologize but the mod acted like I never posted again and then I sent a PM to the mod asking why he/she is dissing me.

A week later I never got a reply so I sent an angry email and after that I got banned and am not exactly sure why.

I probably should’ve just letted it go but I get confused at people very easy and hold grudges.

It’s hard to explain.

Mr Data November 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I forgot to include that the only response/reply on the main forum was I am a ‘rude person and should either quite posting or leave’ which got me fired up as I wanted to know what I was doing so rude as my posts were all on topic about *Soundfonts* and I BECAME friends with other fellow members.

She and the staff seems to have problems with me which is weird seeing the other members didn’t once I apologized and I made friends with a few.

And if you look at their FAQs it’s all sarcasm/snarkyness where you have a hard time telling what they really mean.

I’ve been thinking more and more maybe I am not the only one to deal with the overzealous mods and was taking it too personally..

Anybody who accuses me of being rude without providing reasonable or any explanation/statement on how to correct my behavior is going to get an equailvent to a fist in the face.
I just don’t stand kindly to that sorta crap.

Mr Data November 17, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Sorry for all the comments but my brain only works in parts or not at all and I don’t like the not at all option cause it will make me do something VERY desperate.

I guess the moral lesson here is never fight/try to reason with overzealous mods as they are too drunk with power to think clearly and you aren’t the saint you think you are to them.

Just like drinking and driving don’t mix.

*sigh* It’s sad that some people don’t even have a life outside of their website/forums no matter how small.

You either have mods with no life or mods that are overloaded with real life in todays world and can’t even have time for their own website/blog/forums.etc

Mr Data January 1, 2010 at 5:28 am

That site I mentioned is full of nothing but sarcasim on the rule pages which I can’t get a clear answer out of so I wonder if that was the first clue of bad communication with forum posters?

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