Online Community Moderation: It's Social. It's NOT Personal.

I’ve not gotten off to the high-volume start I’d hoped here at the ‘net Bard. New clients and a new promotion at work has increased my workload, prompting some reorganizing and rethinking of my routines (including blogging). It’s taken me a week or so to adjust to the new pace of things and get back in the blogging groove. The positive side is, it’s given me some good material for future posts on organizing your workflow for multiple high-volume Copywriting/SEO/SMM clients.

Today’s topic relates to online community moderation, but it also applies to anyone who is working and interacting on the social web (and that includes blog comments, message boards, twitter and any other web communities.)

My participation in the social web actually far predates becoming a web professional. Once upon a time, I was a “power user” and influencer on a very large topical forum, and after that I was an administrator and moderator on a few others. The time I spent in those communities were valuable learning experiences that led quite directly to my current career in web copywriting and social media.

One of the most important lessons I learned, if not the most important lesson, was to not take what people say on community sites personally.

There is a lot of emphasis out there on being authentic and transparent when posting to and interacting with the social web. I’m not going to contradict any of that; by all means, you need to speak in a real, human voice and act as if you are dealing with real, flesh and blood people rather than avatars.

However, it’s also important to note that behavior on the web can be radically different than it is in the real world. Yes, by all means, be yourself on the web. But don’t let “being yourself on the web” allow you to confuse your real self with your online persona. And don’t confuse another persona’s verbal attack on yours with a personal attack on your real-world self.

(Unless, of course, it is an attack on your real world self. Cyberstalking is a real threat, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’ll deal with that in a later post.)

What we’re talking about here boils down to differences of opinion, even quite heated differences of opinion, that remain confined to the online space and confined to self-defined online personas.

First of all, you need to be aware that there is a certain, very vocal contingent of participants in the social web who object to any level of participation by marketing and public relations professionals on community sites. They object to “cloaked” participation, where you’re not being upfront about the fact that you work in those fields; and they object to open participation.

This contingent shouldn’t be too much of a concern in online community moderation, because it’s generally accepted that on sponsored community sites, the moderators represent the sponsor. In these cases, you’re more purely a moderator than a marketer. Even when you guide brand-related conversations in a positive direction, it’s accepted that part of your job as moderator/admin is to guide all conversations in positive, safe directions.

That doesn’t, however prevent particular members of the community site or blog from taking a personal affront to your efforts to moderate conversations on branded social sites. (Which could include a blog that accepts comments or a sponsored message board).

Trimming inappropriate topics and judicious moderation of offensive or inflammatory posts is part and parcel of moderation, and neither is apt to make you the most popular persona on earth to whomever originated the comments you’re moderating. Unfortunately, those who don’t abide by the Posting Guidelines are also not likely to quietly accept having their voice squelched.

People participate in community sites for a wide variety of reasons, and those reasons often evolve and change over time. It’s also important not to underestimate the emotional investment some people make in their online community. For some people, interacting on the social web has filled a longstanding void of human interaction, which can sometimes lead to responses that to you, seem out of proportion.

In other words, when someone steps out of bounds, don’t forget to put on your asbestos underpants before taking appropriate action. Remember that whatever their response, it’s not personal, and it’s not about you.

It’s probably useful at this point to talk for a moment about online personas in general. In a previous post, I talked about personas in the sense of “fictional but realistic people who serve as your target audience in copywriting.” The idea of “fictional but realistic people” still fits when we are talking about the personas people operate with online on community-based sites. Your online persona may be (and in fact, most of the time should be) made up of elements that are real and authentic parts of your real-world self. But they are parts only.

It may help to think of it in terms of a fiction writer or a role-playing game. We create characters that are based on our real selves, and we participate online through those characters. But no matter what your intent, the online character created in the minds of others by your posts and comments cannot come close to approximating your actual self.

However, that said, there is a certain degree of “bleed” to be expected between your online persona and your actual self. If your real self has experienced a real trauma, online interactions can trigger memories of that trauma. Likewise, you may find yourself surprised by how much your real self is emotionally affected by what others share with you online, even knowing that it quite possibly isn’t reliable or true information.

Case in point: I was planning on linking to statistics regarding the widespread belief that many people misrepresent themselves online. However, all I was able to find were articles stating that statistics pulled from online surveys were considered unreliable, given that people often misrepresent themselves and their opinions online. Hello there, Chicken. Meet Egg. Many thanks to wrtrgrl and Wingnut on twitter, though, for volunteering that they personally know folks who misrepresent themselves online. In the absence of reliable statistical data, anecdotal evidence will have to suffice.

As moderator, it’s your job to make sure that the conversations stay within the bounds of your posting guidelines. Sometimes, that’s going to result in being on the receiving end of some pretty negative feedback. Sometimes, those negative comments will be from personas whose opinion and goodwill you actually highly value, and that can be tough.

Keeping in mind that those negative comments are a reflection of the other person and their relationship with your online persona, not a personal attack on you, can help you keep your equilibrium and make moderation easier.


  1. Kat

    πŸ™‚ Thanks! I like yours, too.


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    I love your thoughts! I normally don’t even bother to leave comments, but I wanted to let you know that you hit the nail on the head!


  4. ·

    I enjoy this website and this post was especially useful. I have subscribed to your rss feed and will be visiting this website from now on, thank you!


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