Should you pay your forum moderators?

by Martin Reed on 3 August 2007 in Snippets

Many forum owners feel they can only attract the best moderators if they can afford to pay them. I disagree with this notion; I feel that if you have passionate members you can attract the best moderators absolutely free of charge.

The benefits of paying moderators

Paying forum moderatorsI can understand the argument for paying forum moderators – if you offer money for someone to carry out moderator duties, you can hold them more accountable for their actions and more readily discipline those that fall short.

If you pay for forum moderators, you may be able to attract those with expertise in the subject area of your community. You may be able to attract those with experience and qualifications, and you may be able to attract people who will be more reliable than volunteers due to the financial incentives available.

The disadvantages of paying moderators

The chances are, if you need to pay a moderator then they will not have the passion for your community that someone who is willing to do the job for free will have. Your paid moderator is far more likely to be motivated by the money rather than their love of your community.

A lack of passion can be reflected in the quality of posts a moderator may make. Additionally, lack of passion can lead to a reduction in motivation meaning the paid moderator may not carry out their role as well as a volunteer may.

If your members discover that the moderators in their community are being paid, they may feel less connected to the site – as soon as someone is seen to receive benefits different to others there is an instant distinction between ‘them’ (the moderators) and ‘us’ (the members).
The qualities of the best moderators

The best moderators will have the following attributes:

  • Passion
  • Maturity
  • Impartiality

I have no doubt that you can find people within your community who hold these qualities. When you have found these people, approach them with a view of recruiting them as a moderator.

I would choose a loyal member with a proven passion and mature track record who volunteers to moderate my community over a paid moderator every time.

Would you?

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Smiley August 4, 2007 at 1:38 am

No, never. Would never pay board staff.

In the future, though, (being realistic, I’d say 2-3 years) once the site has grown and there’s a flow of revenue coming in – I’m going to put enough aside to pay the bills, enough aside to give myself a little reward for my work, and what ever is left over, divide it between official site staff at the end of every year and give it to them a few weeks before Christmas. A sort of surprise Christmas bonus if you like!

But I wouldn’t pay regularly, I think it’s a bad idea if you ask me – exactly for the reasons you have put. They should be doing it because they love doing it.

Mike August 6, 2007 at 6:45 am

I was fortunate enough that someone on my volunteered to become a moderator. Probably after getting sick of the spam being posted. It is only a new forum, so I think I was pretty lucky.

Biddy August 6, 2007 at 5:45 pm

The one advantage of spam is that it does tend to encourage people to volunteer to become moderators!!

Smiley August 6, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Spot on, Biddy. That’s how I got my two board staff now. They started off as ‘Spam Control’, this gave them the necessary experience to become full time “moderators” (I can’t stand that word, don’t know why!)

car news guy August 7, 2007 at 4:41 am

I think a lot of it comes down to how much work you expect a moderator to do. If a fair bit is expected then I think it’s only fair that they get compensated for it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 8, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Smiley – Rewarding your moderators on special occasions is always to be encouraged. This is very different to paying them for their role as they are not working for the financial incentive.

Mike – I have no doubt that volunteer moderators are far more effective and enthusiastic compared to those that are paid; particularly if they are passionate about your community.

Biddy – That’s a good point! Who would have thought their could be advantages to spam?!?

Car News Guy – You make an interesting point. If you are asking your moderators to dedicate many hours to your site on a daily basis you may need to consider offering a small payment for their time. If you can find someone to do it for free though, all the better!

Eric Martindale September 14, 2007 at 3:51 pm

No – forum moderators should not be paid. It is a vital element for a moderator to have a passion for what it is that they do. However, one should differentiate between jobs that involve moderation and jobs that require mediation and management.

Managers, who mediate and moderate volunteers – have a vital task that often requires large amounts of time. These should be the first on the list of people to pay – when all things are in order there, THEN move to paying your better moderators.

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

Eric Martindale – I couldn’t agree more, although I would probably argue that it is possible to have those that manage your moderators as volunteers, too.

I think that as soon as you add money into the situation, the motives behind your moderators can be questioned. When people do the work for free, you know it is because they are passionate about your community.

Shar October 1, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Hmmm. I just found this conversation and it is interesting indeed.

I have actually been a volunteer moderator on two very high profile official celebrity sites. One of those I only helped out for a short time as a favor but, the other one I’ve been involved with for five years. I am now the board administrator at the site.

I have to say I disagree with those who say moderators should not be paid. I have put in countless hours and have always had a lot of passion for the site or else I doubt I would have been made administrator at all.

However, I must say that I do realize the site IS a marketing tool and mods and admin have always been encouraged to engage members in interesting discussion to keep the board lively thus making the marketing more successful.

I am starting to feel a bit taken advantage of since I’ve been left on my own to run this portion of the site for so long without any offer of payment after all these years. I did not go into it for money and I will continue to stay without it but, one does have reason for wondering what the difficulty is with paying someone who has been dedicated to your site for so long and who is obviously doing a good job. Without being paid there is no accounting for years of experience.

There is a lot that goes into keeping a good moderator or administrator. My take on this is that after a certain time length that yes, moderators or at least the head moderator and admin should be paid once the site is established and is earning for you. This is especially true in cases where the site owner is obviously making quite a lot of money and where the moderators know it would not be a burden to the owner to do so.

Being admin often requires working in an “on call” type of way to ensure the site is kept running smoothly and that the environment is friendly and welcoming to all. I sometimes believe that those I am working for who are paid do not realize what goes into keeping the community running as smoothly as it does for that many years! It’s not just spam you contend with. It’s trolls, scammers who join and try to run a story line on other members to get money. You have to spot these people quickly and handle with care since some members will believe the person to be their “friend” You also need to be very sensitive to the press visiting the site, which things to delete and which to play up for the good of the site. How to manage volunteers under you and keep your group happy and a “dedicated” as they ought to be. Let’s not forget the trolls who like to disrupt your site in the middle of the night OR during a Christmas eve etc. It’s quite a LOT Of dedication to be expected after a number of years for no monetary gain. It’s the time constraints that get to mods and admin after a while.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the site I admin and it was an honor to be asked to be a part of this. Yet, it is as much of an honor for those who are paid. You see?

If you want people who are not only enthusiastic but, also dedicated and very good at their jobs to stay with you then I would think it is a very good idea to consider paying those workers. There is no evidence that money dampens enthusiasm. ;)

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 1, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Shar – It seems the issue you are having is a total lack of recognition. By the sounds of it, you work darn hard in your role. You are passionate, intelligent and dedicated. The community you moderate is very lucky to have you, and from reading your comment it seems that you receive very little recognition or thanks in return.

I am not completely against paying moderators – if they have been with the community for a long period of time and are consistently working above and beyond what is expected of them, there is nothing wrong with offering some kind of financial compensation.

It seems to me though, that the passion you have for the community you moderate means that you will always stay on regardless of any monetary payment. I think you would feel far more valued if the owners of the community thanked you and recognised the contribution you make.

Let’s hope this comes soon!

Ross Hill January 1, 2008 at 12:14 pm

I don’t think paying somebody is the right way to get a moderator in the first place, but once they have shown that they are passionate and love doing it then it could be worth considering to keep them around. As has been said, it all takes time.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 2, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Ross – I think that if you are ever going to pay forum moderators, it should be done in the way you mention. By starting them off as volunteers with no expectations of financial remuneration you are ensuring they are doing the job because of their passion and love of the community rather than for the money.

A passionate volunteer is often far more valuable and loyal than someone who is only doing the job for financial gain.

dan May 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm

I also am in favor of paying moderators if the forum is making money other than to pay for hosting, graphics, programmers and contents = ie, if it’s a “brand community”, marketing community, community around an e-shop, etc.

I pay good money to moderators of one product-centered community sponsored by the respective Corporation.

I also pay indirectly moderators on a forum with e-shop by giving them 10% discount on the e-shop.

Finally, I pay a moderator of a PR community for my company, ’cause she’s on a “marketing payroll”.

NOTE though: all those people ARE passionate about their subject, as you said Martin – without that, the moderator’s job isn’t done as well as by someone with a passion.

As someone said here, you have to be extremely passionate to work for free for someone who actually makes money on your work.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Dan – Do you find that moderators you pay are more effective at their jobs than those that are volunteers? Personally I think passion is the most important influencer of a moderator’s quality; people will always work harder in their roles if they are doing it because they love the community rather than the money.

When it comes to corporations though, I understand that most will expect some form of remuneration; in such cases passion and motivation still should be determined during the application process.

kickme August 9, 2008 at 12:47 am

Well I am sorry to say that I learned from my mistakes. I started giving bonus to mods . 100 -200 per month . Down the road I need some assistance and offered payment for extra work. When I paid it was not enough since the mod wanted the bonus and $$ for additional work. In that moment he decided to say that he will be leaving us soon . So there you go DO NOT PAY THEM

Mike August 14, 2008 at 10:48 pm

IMO, it all depends on the size of your forum. I mean, if they’re moderating 15,000 members and sharing those high responsibilities … then I do think they deserve some pay.

Crystal Williams October 31, 2008 at 1:48 am

I wrote a Knol on Online Communities several months ago. In it, I discuss motivations for participating in an online community. You can view it here: In a nutshell, I’m for keeping moderators and community leaders volunteer. They have to love and believe in the product (community) and paying some and not others alienates certain segments and creates ill-will in the community in general. What’s more is that research has found that quite often the introduction of monetary incentives into volunteer programs has unintended negative consequences. Paying moderators can actually hinder performance.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Kickme – Thanks for sharing your experience! The last thing I would want is a moderator that is only involved for the money; I want loyal, passionate staff members and very often money just can’t buy these qualities.

Mike – Yes, good point. If you are a professional community manager working for a large, recognised brand then you should probably expect to be paid for your efforts. When it comes to smaller, closer-knit communities then you may want to think twice before offering payment.

Crystal – Thanks for the link; I’ll be sure to check that out :)

Louise January 17, 2009 at 12:23 am

I’m setting up a forum at the moment and intend to pay a moderator. I think that they have a really important role and I will need thier assistance to keep the forum on track. I find it surprising that there is such an expectation of using volunteers. I think if it’s a non profit them that might be fine but to me it’s just like running my offline business, I fairly compensate the people that assist me making money. My difficulty now is finding out what a fair amount of compensation is for a forum moderator.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Louise – If you are running a corporate community and have very specific aims and goals, then employing someone with specific skills in this area is a good idea. This article was written in August 2007 – long before many corporations realised the benefits that online community can bring – therefore it was mainly aimed at smaller, independent communities.

I still think nothing can beat the passion that moderators who have a real, genuine interest in your community bring with them. Most of these people won’t even ask for financial reward – a salary doesn’t always guarantee you the right person for the job.

Ash March 4, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I think that moderators should sometimes be paid. After all I love moderating and so wish to do this as a job, and therefore I need payment for it.

It’s like saying that shopworkers should be doing it because they are passionate about the company and not because they want the money, or saying that about customer services or receptions.

When it’s a kid or young teen still in school who goes on a couple of hours each day and tends to spend more time chatting with the other members as normal than removing spam etc. then fair enough don’t pay them but some adults use this as their full time occupation, I know one person who does and I’m interested in starting this myself.

Mke April 29, 2009 at 4:26 pm

You get what you pay for.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 29, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Mke – I’d have to disagree. When I think of some of my moderators, I have no doubt that I would struggle to find people of their quality, skills, motivation and commitment to the community if the position was salaried.

Jarrod March 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I think the moderator should be paid. They are supplying a valuable service and should be paid accordingly. I understand the argument about how a volunteer might have more passion for the community, but at the end of the day I think money motivates just as well if not better (depends on how much money).

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