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I see words "admin", "community manager" and "moderator" on many different forums (like Reddit or Stack Overflow or Facebook). What is the difference between them?

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While there is overlap, I see the roles as follows:

  • Admin - is administrator for the platform, user management, site layout, creating new forums etc. Doesn't concern himself with content (posts etc.), but can -and often does- also fulfill a moderator role. Quite often they are site owner and thus supreme ruler :-)
  • Moderator - is responsible for the posts of a section of the platform, they resolve disputes etc.
  • Community managers - responsible for the community, tries to increase engagement and makes sure that the overarching goals of the community are reached. They usually are admin as well.

As with any role, the larger the organization, the more clearly these roles are separated. For a lot of small communities these are actually one person :)

Larger (community focused) companies also often differentiate between Community Managers, Community Directors and Community Strategists.

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    Ninjaed! That's what I was going to say. I'd add that you're more likely to find CMs in larger communities, or those with some corporate overlords/backing like SE. – Journeyman Geek Nov 12 '14 at 11:26
  • Sorry @JourneymanGeek :-) I'll add your suggestion! – Von Lion Nov 12 '14 at 11:37
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    That's a good general overview I think. It might also be worth it to note that in more business-y sites, admins or CMs may be paid employees; moderators could also be paid, but it is far more likely that they are just trusted users and volunteers. In the case of reddit since it was mentioned in the original post, all of their employees are admins (some who may take on a CM role), and moderators are anyone who moderates at least one subreddit, which are user-created without any sort of approval necessary. – ipavl Nov 12 '14 at 12:25
  • Why do you say that community managers usually are administrators? I don't believe that's true. Can you provide some examples? – Air Nov 12 '14 at 18:15
  • This has been the case for all communities in which I participate. But you are right, this is not always the case, especially not when you subdivide the admin roles (tech admin, sys admin, platform admin etc.), but a lot of smaller communities basically only have a handful of personnel on staff, the community manager usually also does some admin stuff :) – Von Lion Nov 13 '14 at 8:57
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Roles can be confusing because they are often shared. It's important to separate the individual from the role and recognize that individuals often perform multiple roles.

Admins (short for "administrators") manage organizations at a high level. I would say that every organization, by definition, requires some amount of administration. Larger organizations can have multiple administrators to handle different areas.

This role is distinct from the owner role but it's common for one person to perform both roles, referred to as an owner/administrator. As organizations grow in size and complexity, owners are more likely to delegate administrative duties, in which case you would see the admin making fewer management decisions and performing a more strictly technical role. On the other hand, owners can also delegate some of the decision-making to administrators; the key thing to realize is that the owner still has the power to override the administrator.

In the context of a web forum, the administrator manages the forum software. As an example of what this might entail, the phpBB forum software allows administrators to:

  • create, delete and group subforums;
  • modify subforum descriptions;
  • define site-wide word filters;
  • define size restrictions for users' avatars and signatures;
  • manage site statistics;
  • perform backups; etc.

Moderators manage interactions between community members and their main role is conflict resolution. Not every organization has moderators but people who are naturally good at conflict resolution may perform this role informally in professional or casual situations.

In the context of a web forum, the moderator enforces community standards. These standards might include some kind of rules about the scope of the site and/or the scope of specific areas within the site. It's common to find web forums built around shared interests that have a dedicated thread or subforum for discussions and content that's outside of the scope of that shared interest (off-topic). Moderators are responsible for making sure that discussions take place (and content is shared) in the appropriate area.

Using the phpBB forum software again as an example, moderators can:

  • "lock" threads so they cannot be replied to by regular users;
  • create "announcement" threads that always appear first in a list of threads;
  • "sticky" other users' threads to the top of a subforum (underneath announcements);
  • edit or delete other users' individual posts;
  • move threads from one subforum to another subforum;
  • split one thread into many, or merge many threads into one;
  • view and act on reports from users about rule violations (including banning users);
  • view a log of other moderation activities; etc.

Community manager is a role that is less well-defined than the other two, and found mainly in larger organizations (and commercial organizations in particular). In some cases it's basically a euphemism for moderator, or a name for a class of moderator with expanded privileges relative to a more limited class of moderator, but it can also be seen as a role of its own.

As a distinct role, the community manager tends to focus on encouraging and guiding growth and participation within a community, as opposed to enforcement of community standards. For example, this article at socialmediaexaminer.com indicates that the community manager is responsible for:

  • clearly communicating the "voice of the company" to group administrators;
  • marketing the company by adding visual content to the group page;
  • answering questions from community members about the company;
  • recognizing individual community members (presumably as a way of increasing user engagement and retention);
  • providing official responses to complaints or criticisms; etc.

Note that in this context, the community manager is not affiliated with Facebook itself. Unlike moderators and administrators, community managers may operate both inside and outside of their own organizations; they might even operate exclusively on third-party platforms. This necessarily gives them less official power on those platforms, unless they are granted additional privileges (implying an additional role!) by the third party.

A key thing to realize about community managers is that what they are actually managing is their company or brand's presence within a community. When they operate on a third-party platform, that means they may not really be managing the community associated with that platform. Their role may even be in direct conflict with the standards of that community; an example would be when the content they contribute so closely resembles outright advertisement that it is judged by that community's moderators to be spam.

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