Moderating Online Communities: The SEE Method

Posted on March 1st 2011


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.
Vanessa DiMauro

Vanessa DiMauro

CEO, Leader Networks

Vanessa DiMauro is a trusted business advisor, and founder and CEO of Leader Networks, LLC, the world’s premier B2B social business consultancy. Vanessa helps organizations drive top line growth through innovative digital strategy design and thoughtful execution. Her experience as a social business executive spans over 15 years and her award-winning track-record is fueled by passion, experience and consistency.  Vanessa's work has been covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CIO Magazine and she was recently named a Social Marketing Master by Forbes. She is serves on the board at a number of leading organizations such as Social Media Today, The Society of New Communication Research and is a former Executive In Residence at Babson College - Olin School of Management. 

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Comments

Posted on March 1st 2011 at 3:08PM

Very interesting input indeed. I haven't thought of it in such terms but those 3 points make sense.

FGJohan
Posted on March 1st 2011 at 6:49PM

I really like the idea of encouraging others to be visible in that I think it helps greatly for the interactive exchange of ideas.  Another article here at SocialMediaToday.com about the need for creating interactivity on social media made me think that interactivity should be the norm, but for so many big brands, social media is becoming more like one-way mass media.  I'd be excited to hear your comments on this both here and at this other article.  (I shall encourage others to view yours as well in that it's quite relevant to this issue.)

Best regards,

FG

geoffreymh
Posted on March 2nd 2011 at 4:53PM

Hi Vanessa

Thank you for raising the important skill of moderation of online dialogue - as vital as facilitation of face-to-to face meetings. It is all about making it safe to talk by discouraging censors, bullies, trolls, flaming and casual observers.

For example, on April 5th 2004, Microsoft launched Channel 9 (a sprawling developer feedback site that includes forums, and mobile phone and video blogs from key Microsoft players). An unnamed person wrote in the first post on the controversial topic Internet Explorer security: “Spyware creators have been taking advantage of gaping holes in Internet Explorer’s security model… This is the primary reason I use Firefox rather than Internet Explorer.” According to the site’s creator, Lenn Pryor (Microsoft’s director of platform evangelism), “There’s a fine line between controlling the message and brutal honesty. If you run a bar, you serve drinks to people, and anyone can say what they like about your bar or a bar down the street. The only time the bartender needs to step in is if there is a fight. And if the person comes back the next day and they are sober, you let them in again.”

“Design with the Distracted Participant in Mind” (http://tinyurl.com/48944da) is the record of a relevant discussion from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation’s LinkedIn group.


FGJohan
Posted on March 2nd 2011 at 8:59PM

Geoffrey,

That link was quite resourceful. Thank you.

FG

Vanessa DiMauro
Posted on March 4th 2011 at 3:05PM

Thanks for the link!  Your point about safety is also very important - people tend to contribute more when they are in a safe and protected space. For many professionals, it is difficult to get accustomed to putting one's thoughts "out in the open" in a permenant and traceable way - so the environment really matters.