How to motivate online community moderators

by Martin Reed on 23 May 2008 in Articles

Keep forum moderators of online communities motivated

Most moderators of online communities work for even less than peanuts; the vast majority work for free. As a result, you may find that from time to time your moderators are not as motivated as they used to be; they may be failing to remove certain forum posts, or they may have stopped visiting your community altogether. This article will explain how to keep your moderators motivated.

Even if they are volunteers, they still have obligations

Yes, you should remember that your moderators probably aren’t getting paid for their services. However, this is not an excuse to let them slack off. If you have forum moderators that aren’t pulling their weight, you need to contact them to see what the problem is. If there aren’t any problems, yet your moderator is still noted mainly for his/her absence, then you really should just let them leave.

If members of your online community don’t know the names of some of your moderators, you know that some aren’t pulling their weight! Effective moderators will always be well known within your community.

Make their role clear

If your forum moderators aren’t aware of their exact role or obligations, it is only natural that they will be hesitant in taking action or getting too involved in the community. Just think about the last time you were at school or work and were unsure exactly what was required of you when it came to a specific project. Pretty unmotivating, right? Your forum moderators will feel exactly the same way if they don’t have clear guidelines.

Be an inspiration

As the community developer, it is down to you to inspire your forum moderators. If they don’t see you getting involved and interacting with the community, they may wonder why they are bothering – particularly if they aren’t getting paid.

Not only does witnessing your own behaviour reassure your forum moderators that you are still taking an active interest in the community, it also enables you to lead by example. The more your forum moderators see you undertaking moderation duties yourself, the more they will learn what is and what isn’t acceptable within your community.

Always be approachable

A forum moderator who feels isolated and alone will soon lose motivation. You should always be approachable to your staff, regardless of your position. Even if you have different tiers of moderation staff, those who sit at the bottom of the food chain should still be aware that they can contact you at any time should they ever have any concerns.

If a forum moderators is unsure about a certain aspect of their role, you can clarify things for them before it becomes a bigger issue. A forum moderator who feels ineffective will soon lose motivation.

Involve moderators in your decision making

Are you thinking about updating or modifying part of your website? If so, consult your members AND your staff. If your moderators see you constantly consulting your members but failing to ask them for their opinions, they may end up feeling less important within the community. Not only will asking your moderators for their opinion make them feel more valued, you are also developing a relationship with them. The better the relationship you have with your moderators, the more effective they will be.

Ensure forum moderator positions are highly desirable

Forum moderator positions shouldn’t be given out to every Tom, Dick and Harry. They should be given out only on very rare occasions, and should always be highly desirable. When it comes to moderators for the chat rooms at Just Chat, we reject over 90% of applicants, and only recruit a few times each year. This keeps the positions highly desirable, and ensures we only select the very best people to act as moderators.

Moderators who know their roles are desirable and in high demand are far more likely to remain motivated and hard working as they work to prove themselves and keep their position.

Don’t forget the ego strokes

Do you remember the last time you were told you had done something well? It felt good, right? Your moderators want to be told they are doing well, and will appreciate your reassurance that they are doing a good job. Don’t forget to thank them for what they do every now and again. Even if you don’t pay them, you can keep staff members motivated just by ensuring they are aware that you appreciate what they do.

Send them an email from time to time, send them an ecard or perhaps even a small gift at Christmas time. The gesture will reinvigorate the relationship you have with your staff members.

Choose the right moderators from the start

This point is absolutely key. If you choose the wrong person to be a moderator from the start, it is unlikely you will ever be happy with their performance. You should only choose members who have demonstrated consistent passion, maturity, dedication and commitment to the community over a long period of time.

Passionate forum moderators will always be your best staff members. Those that absolutely love the community will strive to ensure it reaches its full potential. Passion and lack of motivation are exact opposites of the spectrum – choose the right forum moderator from the start and you shouldn’t have any problems motivating them.

Your thoughts

How do you keep your staff members motivated? Have you ever had problems with moderators losing interest in their role? How did you overcome this problem? Have I missed out any motivation techniques that you would recommend? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Online Furniture Store May 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

That picture reminded me of the old saw, if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys, so i suppose it is really very important to keep moderators motivated especially if they don’t get paid in actual monetary terms.

Amish Made Furniture May 24, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Let us take some unpaid work situations in offline life. Say the Boy Scouts movement or better the Girl Scouts movement. How do you get all those Moms to work so hard and do it for the love of doing it rather than for any money? That is motivation. Quite why the owner of the site can not do what such voluntary organizations do is something that I do not understand at all. Some of the advise given here are indeed very good but, one most important factor must be that the site must be exciting enough for a moderator to stay on it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 25, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Reena – Hmmm, not sure my moderators would appreciate being called monkeys, but it certainly is even more important to keep them motivated when they aren’t being paid!

Ramana – Once again you draw on a great parallel with real life. Sure, the site should be interesting and exciting to keep moderators engaged, but this is very subjective – if your staff members want to be moderators, they need to demonstrate their love and passion for the community first.

Mr Woc May 27, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Hi there

I think your very last point is the most important of all, make sure you choose the right people lol, as some people are able to motivate themselves and realise the work they need to put in, people also need to have good communication skills too, to be able to approach others with problems.

With experiance you can learn to spot these people.

If you get it wrong it can cost you sleep and crediblity, we pretty much make a rule that only people who have been long term contributers to the site even stand a chance of being a moderator, and even then you still might not be given the chance, as some people just are not up to the job.


Fat Loss Blogger May 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Excellent article and great ideas. Mods can make or break a community, tips like these can go a long way in improving the overall quality of the community.

Smiley May 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Well said. Just because they aren’t paid doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do their job. They have a position of trust and respect in your community, and should act as such.

I’m a lot more careful these days about who I hire as support staff. Infact, it’s no longer up to me who becomes staff.

It’s a 3-way decision. Between myself and my two fellow management, we vote on it. If I vote yes and they both vote no.. then it’s a no. I won’t over-ride their decision, I want to show them respect and trust.

I don’t trust my own judgement of people these days, as the owner of the site people will inevitably ‘suck up’ to me, which has happened before. So I’ve blocked myself from making major decisions in the site if it involves a user to ensure
a) it isn’t a biased decision and;
b) to protect me from being manipulated by ‘suck ups’

I don’t even suggest people for staff now. It’s up to my two co-hosts to come to me with suggestions of staff, we all watch them for the requirements (cool head, sense of humour, friendly, loyal, ethical etc) then vote.

I’ve written out a ‘staff handbook’ with staff policies for new staff to read and in the staff room they are ‘tested’ on the handbook, a sort of quick test to ensure they’ve read and understood the different policies and what their job is.

I’ve also already told you before I require a reference number e-mailed to me that I’ve sent them via snail mail before they become staff… this is to ensure they are genuine.

Because of this professionalism we put into it, I think we’ve attained that ‘high status’ you advise a staff role should have.. we hire one or maybe two new staff members every 3-4 months depending on how much the site has grown, so it is a highly desirable position, and one that is hard to attain now’a'days.

I believe that’s how it should be. I’ve seen several other sites make their friends mods/admins (and I, too, have been guilty in the past of this.. ie: Good Chat, but I’ve learnt and moved up since) and seen these sites crash because they just weren’t the right people.

I’ve even had a site, lately, come into Friendly Chat and spam my members. “If you don’t use Friendly Chat and use my site instead I’ll make you staff” — he’s literally just making people staff in hope they’ll use his site. ( = the spammers)

Not a very professional way to go, huh?

Nicole Price May 31, 2008 at 6:34 am

Managing human resource s the toughest management function IMO. How people think and react is just so beyond our control.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 4, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Woc – I agree with you. Choosing the right moderator is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you select the wrong person, untold damage can be caused to your online community.

Fat Loss – Thanks for your comment. You’re right – moderators have a huge influence over the success (or failure) of your online community. They are also key influencers when it comes the the development of your community’s personality.

Smiley – I think many community developers are worried about really enforcing the duties of their moderators as most are unpaid. However, if they aren’t doing their jobs properly they should be given the opportunity to change their behaviour by letting them know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. If they still aren’t performing their duties as described, they need to be let go.

Staff guidelines or handbooks are an extremely good idea as they help clarify a moderator’s role and outline exactly what you expect from them.

Nicole – Yes, managing people is certainly very challenging! It is possible to influence how people think and react though, and that should be one of your aims when trying to get the most from your community moderators.

Jane S June 9, 2008 at 2:43 am

I work with volunteers not only in my job as a community manager for a fledgling community, but also in my life as the wife of a parish priest. In both situations you have a similar tension set up: here you have a person who is paid, giving expectations to people who are unpaid. If the people you choose are passionate enough about the subject and feel there is a big enough pay off for them in being involved, they don’t see the inequity. But let the relationship get frayed around the edges….

For me the major issue is accountability, and that is not solely determined by your remuneration but is certainly influenced by it. I expect a volunteer to do what they said they were going to do – I might expect a paid moderator to go a bit beyond that. Just as it might be reasonable to expect your parish priest to take pastoral calls at 3am, but less so for the average Joe in the pew!

Smiley June 10, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Ah, I run a tight ship. My staff now really need to be seen to be making an effort and doing things by the book, since I’ve offered excerpts of the staff handbook for download by users.

I didn’t do it for that reason, though. I did it because I like to know the users trust me and my methods, they can read little bits of what I expect of my staff now, be in the know.

The users sort of feel like I’m on their side, but one of the policies is I’ll always back up my staff in cases of unsubstantiated complaints so my staff feel like I’m on their side.

Unfortunately, people will always think of themselves as on a different side to authoritative figures, however silly that sounds for a website.

But at least I have best of both worlds and the full trust of both.

I’ll be improving it sometime during the next couple of weeks (working on the updated client at the moment), I’m afraid I rushed to get them up as I was going away for my weekend that has left me with minus count braincells.

Feel free to have a gander of what goes on in my head when I’m thinking about to run things. My only problem is I know exactly how I picture things, but I’m rubbish at explaining, so I’m forever editing the things. Remember they’re just excerpts, the actual handbook is actually quite professional. I was well pleased with myself. I’m a closet bureaucrat;

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:07 pm

Jane S – I agree. If you choose volunteers who are passionate about their role, the fact they are unpaid shouldn’t be an issue. They should be perfectly willing (and able) to adequately do the job assigned to them. You’re right though, that if the relationship with your moderators starts to fray, they may lose motivation and become less effective – this is when action needs to be taken. Thanks for the great example!

Smiley – Giving your members access to your staff handbooks is an interesting strategy; I am not sure if I would share this information just because one of those users may be a competitor (potential or actual).

It is important for your staff to be aware that they have your support by default, but they also need to know that they need to fulfil their obligations to you in their role as moderators.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 11:13 am

Man I’ve got the opposite problem of “Involve moderators in your decision making”

I post up a lot of ideas and ask for feedback and don’t get much. Time to remind them that they need to be a part of the decision/idea process again, kind of a circular event. Some of them do their job well with the exception of that, but it’s one of the more important tasks I think.

Christina March 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Interest and motivation for a particular subject can lessen over time. I like your advice about the ego stroke. Positive reinforcement is very important, especially if you are dealing with volunteers.