Keep your moderators personal but identifiable

by Martin Reed on 14 September 2007 in Articles

Your forum moderators should be identifiable as staff

Back in May, I wrote about how to give your site personal appeal and why it is important for you to do so. One of the methods I endorsed is doing away with names for your moderators such as ‘admin’ or ‘staff’, and giving them regular user names. A small move like this can immediately make your staff more approachable and make your community feel friendlier.

If you take this approach though, it is important for you to ensure your moderators are still identifiable as staff.

Why moderator identification is necessary

Giving your moderators personal user names is great – but only if you use another method to advertise their status. It is important for your moderators to be public – for the exact same reasons that people argue for ‘more visible policing’ on the streets.

Publicly visible moderators act as a deterrent to any members who may be thinking about breaking your site rules; if they can see who your staff members are and see them getting involved in your community, they may just think twice before bothering to post that spam link or flame other members.

When visitors come to your community, they will check out the content before making a decision on whether to become a member. If they can identify moderators getting involved in the conversations, your community will benefit in more than one way: not only do they actually see friendly, approachable moderators, but they also see that your forum is actually moderated! They won’t be able to see how friendly your moderators are if they can’t tell them apart from your other members.

Many of us have joined forums only to be disappointed when we come across abuse or spam. We look to moderators to prevent this – if we see that no action has been taken, we start to wonder how much the forum administrator actually cares about us as members. We may even look to help them out by reporting offensive threads. We can’t do this if we don’t know who the moderators are!

Give your moderators a personal but obvious presence

It’s a really good idea to make your staff come across as personable and approachable, and a great way of doing this is by giving them ‘regular’ user names.

If you take this approach though, you must ensure that you make their staff status identifiable in other ways – change the colour of their name, give them a custom rank; just make sure that your members can easily determine just who has those moderator powers. It is pointless having effective, friendly, popular moderators if nobody knows who they are!

What is your policy when it comes to naming and identifying your moderators? Do you give them ‘staff’ names, or let them keep their regular user names? Do you advertise their moderator status? Do you think that hidden moderators are the way to go? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Vyoma September 14, 2007 at 6:18 pm

I have no moderators yet. :) Will revisit this when my community grows.

Dave RH September 14, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Hi there, just surfed on in…I’ve tried to start forums at one time or another with no success. I’m subscribing to your feed, hopefully your posts will help me next time I try to launch a forum.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 15, 2007 at 5:04 pm

Vyoman – Ah, you still have all the fun to come! I hope you will keep us all updated on your progress.

Dave RH – I am glad you found us; it’s great to have you here. Why do you think your previous attempts at developing a forum failed?

Smiley September 15, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Yes, I’ve done away with the anonymous stuff now that I’ve moved servers etc.

I now use Username[Host] for management (“admins”) and Username[Support] for staff (“mods”).

That’s both for the new chat software (Chatblazer) and for the forums.

That way they get to use what ever username they choose, and they’re still differentiated from ordinary members.

I think I found a good balance.

As for looking to moderators to prevent abuse & spam etc, I’ve installed a hack for the forums where all posts that are deleted by moderators go into an archive where only I have access.. that way I can review the deleted posts myself!

The ‘report post’ hack is also installed. I know it’s a tiny, basically brand new forum now cos of the new database – but you can never be too prepared for the future.

Vyoma September 16, 2007 at 12:31 am

Yup. Expect me to spam your mail box with updates. :P

Sideshow Matt September 17, 2007 at 8:12 am

The staff of Klash Boards all have the same coloured usernames in the Index, and in the actually forums, as well as custom usertitles. There is also a list of the current staff in the Announcements forum, so that newcomers can see who and where they can approach if any trouble arises.

We try not to make our presence “overbearing”, as that would turn people off posting, and even joining. We still post when we’d like to, but try not to make our staff position so obvious, as to make people feel “free” to post, within reason.

It is definitely a fine balance between making your staff members overbearing, and making their presence non-existent. I’d like to think we at Klash have a great balance at the moment, thus our members don’t feel like they are constantly being watched.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 17, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Smiley – That’s a good way of keeping your staff members personal but identifiable! I also like the way you keep check on the actions of your staff; it can be all to easy to leave them to it – unfortunately this can result in disaster!

Vyoma – Bring it on!

Sideshow Matt – It’s always a good idea to ensure you don’t come across as too overbearing when moderating a forum. I always endorse the laissez-faire approach to prevent members ending up hesitant to post for fear of the wrath of the moderators!

Smiley September 17, 2007 at 8:55 pm

Well I don’t check on their actions as such, I just like to know what posts are being deleted, so if I think they’re being too heavy-handed, I can explain to them how I’d like such a thread dealt with in the future.

Although I agree with Matt that being too heavy-handed with members, I also think that being identifiable as staff doesn’t necessarily mean members will be put off at joining or posting – quite the opposite, actually! It means the management care, surely!

Staff are seen by community owners far too often as “security” or “bouncers” – what they don’t realize is that this rubs off on the staff. “Well, I’m here just to bounce people as that’s what I’m taught..”

I see it more as a “customer service” approach. They’re there for customer support, not as security, so should always be personal as to appear friendly to members, but identifiable so they can carry out their “customer support” role.

Smiley September 17, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Weird. For some reason it won’t let me post on your new article ( first 5 things a new forum visitor looks for )

Kevin Malone November 8, 2007 at 8:20 am

My moderators keep their respective user names, but are given the moderator rank image (which has the word “Moderator” attached to it). My moderators are chosen on integrity and activity.

My forum, The Infinity Program Forum, which runs on phpBB, has had its “Usergroups” page modified, so that it instead reads “Staff List”, and has a message on the top of that page with more detail, including a link to the topic of the same name whereas all staff members have posted details about themselves, so that members can quickly learn more about them. Said topic is in “Requisite Reading”, the first forum on my forum list, and where announcements and important forum details are to be found.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 12, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Kevin – I love the way you have make your staff members appear more ‘human’ by allowing them to have their own ‘profile’ page. Even more important is the way you have made this information easily accessible by giving it prominent placement in your forum. I just wonder how many people actually click the ‘Usergroups’ link?

Kevin Malone January 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

Unfortunately, I did not have a way to keep stats, but I know that it was highly visible, being among the few links that occupy a simple header. I think it’s even more visible now, with the bigger and more “commanding” menu I have for the templates I’m using on vBulletin, a software I just updated to. With a big menu option titled “Staff List”, it’s sufficiently visible.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 7, 2008 at 3:22 am

Kevin – That really looks great. How did you find the conversion process? Are you glad you make the change? How did your members react?

Kevin Malone January 7, 2008 at 9:14 am

Mr. Reed–

The conversion process should have went smoothly, if not for the phpMyadmin version I was using for my previous board software, as it didn’t have “compatibility mode”, and therefore there were duplicates that had to have a huge manual FIND and REPLACE done for. This was during the process of moving the database over to the same server the vBulletin installation was on (my paid server space, rather than that of my friend, who was hosting the forum for me until I got it), so that the upgrade can be made. Said problem wasn’t a big deal, and nothing was lost; it just took a lot of time (the forum was back up on vB within 48 hours after we (me and my friend, a fellow admin) started the process.

I’m glad I made the change. I already familiarized myself with vB before hand, so I knew what to expect. I was planning the upgrade for many months.

Reading your response to me in another post on your blog, I did agree that it would have been best to consult my members before making the upgrade. But fortunately, many of them were actually thrilled with the change, or just didn’t care either way. The most bitter reaction was a user who also runs a forum, but uses IPB. He said he thinks vB was a bad choice, but still leagues better than phpBB. There was another, not as bitter, just being confused about a few features (either that he could no longer find, or that he could now find). Me and some members were quick to help him out, and all his questions have been answered to his satisfaction.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 10, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Kevin – As we all know, an upgrade or conversion rarely runs to plan! I am glad you got everything sorted out relatively quickly albeit after a lot of hard work!

It’s a good job the majority of your users were happy with the upgrade – failing to consult them before such a huge change always risks a backlash.

LaetusAtheos June 22, 2008 at 5:22 pm

The ‘staff’ for my forum is only myself, my husband (as admins) and one moderator. The only thing we use to identify ourselves as such is a rank bar stating our positions. Other than that, we have our personal user names.

I have participated on a forum that operated by having moderators who were mod1 mod2 etc and those who were moderators had a separate user name that they used to post. The identities of the moderators were kept secret from those without “back room’ access. In my opinon, that was a disaster because members tended to get upset with the anonomous moderators since they had no way to know if it was a member that may have biases or not.

My more personal system has never resulted is too much turmoil, just the occasional civil disussion when a member does question a staff action. It is a lot harder to attack the actions of an admin/mod if you have had pleasant discussions with them in the past and have grown to trust their judgement.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Laetus – I like the way you and your staff have ‘regular’ user names. Moderators with generic, almost ‘robotic’ names don’t help you build relationships with your members. Anonymity is not going to create an environment of trust, which is what successful online communities require.

It sounds like you have the right strategy, and are reaping the rewards of having a more open, transparent relationship with your members.

goundoulf January 13, 2009 at 9:40 am

All of my moderators have regular usernames, as they started as users. But now they belong to a different group of users, and the description shown under their name in every post clearly says they are moderators.

meadd823. March 4, 2009 at 11:10 pm

We begin as regular members when we accept the position of moderator we keep our original user names. Our user name it self changes colors with section moderator being green and supermoderators in a dark orange and administration in red. We can customize our group ID – most of us keep the word moderator in the title some where “vaccinate super-moderator” was a recent one I used.

Also on the forum opening page the various section of the forum are listed as are the user names of the moderators assigned to the section. The front page of each section as the moderators listed at the bottom. We aren’t difficult to find.

Jonathan Mark April 11, 2009 at 9:35 am

The only things moderators can do to discourage a member is to abuse their power which can properly be dealt with by the admin. How the moderators interact would never affect my registration matter of fact I’m on some forums now and wonder how members became mods but I still use the forums and the only reason I know who the moderators are, is because of consistent use.

Steve March 15, 2010 at 10:50 am

My question is, if moderators retain their normal username and they themselves often have strong opinions about various topics, the community often takes their posting more seriously and sometimes believe they “represent the official view” of the forum.

How do you prevent this? Apart from having stricter guidelines for moderators?

A real example: Someone asked an opinion on Camping XYZ, and the first three posters were 3 moderators all slating it. Which is fair enough, it’s their personal view. However, The forum received criticism and negativity as other posters, who did like Camping site XYZ, took this as the “official” view of the community.

Would it not be good to have two different usernames – for instance “Steve” and “Steve – Mod” with all personal views and opinions being posted under the “Steve” account? Is it not easier then to spearate personal vs official view?

Martin Reed - Community Manager March 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Steve – You make a good point. It’s important that you give moderators guidelines to follow – especially when you’ve taken them from your membership pool.

The fact is, as you rightly state, people view the opinions of moderators and other staff members differently to those of other members. You need to remind your moderators of this and give them precise guidelines as to what kind of discussions you are happy for them to be involved in, and those they are to avoid.

Moderators should still share their own opinions and display their own personalities, but they need to be aware of the extra weight their voice can carry. In the example you mention, it may be worth the community manager advising moderators to clearly state that their opinions are their own – and not necessarily those of the community or administration as a whole.

It might even be useful to get the moderators to add something in their signatures to this effect.

I hope this helps.