Moderating online communities for a professional membership is as much an art as it is a science. And, as with any art or science, attention must be paid to both the fine details as well as the overall structure.
Like an art, online moderating is a process which evolves over time, ebbing and flowing with the online dynamic, the size of the community and the culture of the group. And, like a science, it is often about creating structured programs that scale and which deliver repeatable outcomes over time.
There is no single way to be a “good” moderator -- there are many effective and different styles. In fact, a successful moderator develops their own, unique style to develop and expand the network of conversations within the community. One of my favorite litmus tests for an online community – or any other online interactions -- is that if a behavior is likely to be successful in an in-person setting, then it is likely to work online. The hallmarks of an effective or interesting network dialogue are very similar to those of a good person-to-person conversation: a meaningful exchange of knowledge, sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas. Effective online moderating is about creating successful interpersonal communications in a virtual space.
One successful methodology I have developed for online moderating is "The SEE Method" -- based on three simple tenets:Support Knowledge Exchange
This means the goal of the moderator is not to be "all-knowing" but instead, to facilitate and support community members in their exchanges of information with each other. In a professional online community, the membership is often filled with practitioners who have real, actionable experience -- a wealth of information just waiting to be shared with other members.Encourage Others To Be Visible Online
Bringing members from watching into a more visible, participatory role often takes some form of offline or 1:1 outreach. Many times, community managers are too focused on the public forum interactions and forget to reach out to the silent members. This can mean offering direct personal encouragement and support while each individual makes the transition into an active online participant. One by-product of this outreach are a flow of new ideas and inputs from members via personal email exchanges which can be turned into useful discussion posts.Enable Access to Tools and Resources
Successful online communities are useful and engaging for members -- that's why they are successful! They provide a reliable resource for professionals, a place to turn to for help or information when they have a specific need. Effective community moderation requires more than simply connecting with people, it means understanding how to bring useful information and resources to the membership in a timely and relevant way.
Here are some tactical moderation techniques to help SEE (Support, Encourage and Enable):
- Discover members: Introduce yourself and email them short overviews of the group. Give members a go-to resource (you and eventually peers)
- Educate members: Offer monthly tours of the community via screenshare or an informal discussions to help them get involved
- Connect members: Point people to valuable resources, discussions and resources contributed by other members -- in a somewhat personalized way -- to highlight the expertise contained within the community
- Involve members: Ask individuals for documents, opinions, posts and interviews to share with the community
- Reward members: Reinforce community-enhancing behaviors by thanking members, featuring members, sending “knowledge-gifts” or access to special events.