One of the struggles I have found with having elevated moderator abilities in a small community moderated site is the risk of other members growing used to the fact that moderation is already "taken care of".

For example: on a low activity Stack Exchange site that doesn't have a huge amount of users with the ability to cast close votes, it's not uncommon for a moderator to have the time to read each question posted daily and decide whether or not it is within the scope. The frequent binding close vote of a moderator might mean that other users never get the chance to use their privileges and as a result become accustomed to the fact that there's little need for community moderation.

How can I balance my actions to encourage moderation by the community?


5 Answers 5


I'm elaborating on ChrisF's answer of building in moderation tools. This is important. But, that's not all there is to it. Every piece of forum software I've used has the ability for users to flag a post (usually for spam). Smaller sites, in general, don't use this feature that often.

Why? I suspect, it's because moderation is taken care of for users. What does it do for me to flag this post? Does it disappear immediately? Usually not. It still needs someone to come along and accept the flag.

Adding in another aspect to this self moderation is important. Gamification. If you do something that helps the site, the site administrators provide you with something in return: a shiny pixel; a slightly larger number; a way to show that you are winning the internet (or at least this small corner of it). The Discourse forum software does the same thing. You've helped this community grow? We will trust you just a little bit more by providing you with more benefits.

What do you do if you aren't on a platform that supports this kind of reward system? Make one, manually. Publicly acknowledge your users that are helping to moderate the community. Do you have 5 users that vigilantly flag every spam bot that posts on your PHPBB board? Thank them. Do you have a user that monitors your support subforum and diligently helps every poor soul that wanders in? Thank them too.

It's amazing what a little, intangible, reward can do. It helps people feel part of the community and it raises their reputation in the eyes of the community.


Build in the moderation tools to the everyday use of the site.

You'll either need a reward system so that you can automatically detect those users that are participating well (like the reputation on Stack Exchange, but other systems are possible) or have a mechanism for manually allowing people more access to the administration side of the site.

By building up people's rights gradually you can hopefully ensure that people learn the ropes almost without being aware of it. Additionally make any actions that your users can perform non-destructive and undoable so that if there are mistakes made (which inevitably there will be) you can reverse them.

The users at each level of responsibility should be able to monitor each other and even those above and below them in the system. This will help engender a feeling of community ownership over the site moderation. Once you have this the users will moderate themselves to a large extent.


Stress the fact that you can't (and won't) read every single word written on the site, and that good moderation starts from good flags from the users.

You need to build a culture of flagging where you usually won't find one. This is a few things Stack Exchange did to create one:

  • Make free-text flags a user's last resort. Itemize flag reasons. Give people a list of reasons why they would want to flag. Let them pick from this list, so that they can flag more efficiently. This also removes the blank page dread ("oh god what do I write now?") and social friction ("Hi I am sorry to interrupt but... Hope this helps! I appreciate what you're doing! Go team! --xXxsnip0rz2000xXx").
  • If a rank or group of users in your forums have the ability to fix some of those flag reasons (for example, they can pin things and one of the flag reasons is "please pin this"), allow them to handle these flags for you. This shares the burden and puts you closer to your fellow users.
  • Act quickly on reports. If you can set up notifications of some sort, that's awesome. Stack Exchange tells their moderators how long they take to handle a flag in average.
  • Thank people for their reports. Stack Exchange gives users the list of flags they've made and whether or not a moderator has acted on them.
  • Consider giving people a small cosmetic boost for good reports, like a badge.
  • Do not punish bad reporting unless it devolves into abuse and spam. You want to get more reports rather than fewer if that means missing trouble. If a user picks the "wrong" flag reason but you touch the post otherwise, the flag was still a useful one.

Another thing you can do is aggressively cut down on the "us oppressed users vs them nazi moderators" false dichotomy. If there were teams, they would be "us reasonable users vs them annoying pricks".

Here's a list of flag reasons that may come to mind in a forum:

  • Thread flag reasons:
    • This thread is important needs to be pinned
    • This thread is derailing and needs to be split here
    • This thread is degenerating and needs to be cleaned up
    • This thread is going nowhere and needs to be locked
  • Post flag reasons:
    • This post is offensive, spam or gibberish and needs to be removed
    • This post has a broken link and I have the right one
    • This post is breaking the forum and needs to be edited
  • User flag reasons:
    • This user's name, avatar or profile is inappropriate and needs to be changed
    • This user has two account and they need merging
    • This user is impersonating someone else and needs to be stopped
  • Unfortunately many of those measures require forum software changes that moderators do not usually have the power to adopt. You can simulate them by encouraging people to use some sort of flag reason form, but that only risks making the process even more convoluted and dreadful.
    – badp
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 23:13

You could attempt to use minor rewards as an incentive. If you have a voting system in place, give them points per moderation. However, as with any crowd-based moderation, it would stand you in good stead to set the bar early on, cracking down on under-moderated or over-moderated posts. This ensures that people will not try and leech points or other incentives whilst doing minimal effort.

Also, give them reasons why they should improve moderation. Say it's for their own benefit and that they are helping others out in the process, not just themselves.


Please first note that the participation rate of members in meta issues does not depend on the size of a community; for example, I know a community with about 700000 users while its users participating in meta issues being less than, I guess, 0.5%.

I also agree with the other answers emphasizing that a rewarding system can encourage community members to participate in meta issues because people are usually motivated to do tasks by rewards; however, the following points should be given priority over establishing a rewarding system in a community:

  • Moderate fairly and be open to any criticism from any one.

    Please note that one cannot expect community members to do janitorial tasks while they or their opinions are treated unfairly. Unfortunately, many communities do not treat members having very novel ideas or criticisms of the community mainstream while they complain why their members are not willing to participate in meta issues (I think some examples of such communities are clear enough to readers that it is not needed to address them here). When you, as a community manager (administrator or moderator), treat a member unfairly, you may lose not only the member's meta participation but also that of any one aware of your behavior.

    To clarify this point, let me give an example of unfair moderation. When a community member questions some part of the community mainstream, (s)he is often called a troll by the community leaders, which should be avoided, and likely experience some severe disciplinary actions from the community managers. So, how can one expect such a member to participate in janitorial tasks while violation of the freedom of speech is intolerable to many people?

    It should also be noted that community managers should not only avoid (implicitly) discouraging a member from expressing his/her opposing opinions but also encourage community members to criticize the community mainstream if they really want their community to flourish.

    Please note that following the recommendation of this point may be opposed by major contributors of a community; even, they may implicitly threaten to reduce or stop their contribution. However, one should not sacrifice right principles to satisfy some special contributors. It seems that community managers have to decide which one is their top priority: success of their community as a whole or satisfaction of a group of their community members; major decisions usually need to be made at high costs.
  • Convince your community members that they are the real owners of their community.

    As we know well, people usually do not consider themselves responsible for taking care of public spaces because they have not a sense of ownership to such spaces. Analogously, members of a community may lack a sense of responsibility if they feel that their community is not theirs.

    Thus, one effective way to motivate community members to be involved in meta issues is to convince them that they are the real owners of their community. This should be done in various forms, for example, by mentioning it in writing guidelines and casually talking about it in public places such as Meta or chat rooms; however, decent practical behavior of community managers is the best and most effective way to persuade community members of the fact, for example, by prioritizing community needs and implementing community opinions as community norms (policies & rules).
  • Be as responsive as possible when a meta issue arises.

    Let us put ourselves in regular community members' shoes. Suppose that we devote a considerable amount of our time and energy to do some janitorial tasks (such as flagging) on some content on our community, which needs some moderator intervention to be effected. After a long while we see no response from the community moderators. Now, are we still motivated to do janitorial tasks? I think the answer is clear.

    You may argue that following this point may not be practical. However, if moderators of a community are so busy in their real lives that are unable to be responsive enough on meta issues, this means that the community needs more free moderators or some means enabling a group of community members to handle some kinds of meta issues. If we want our community members to participate in meta issues, we should first assure them that their time and energy are already respected to us.

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