Moderating a community is as much about what you do as what you don’t do. It can be tempting to want to be that ever-present voice who keeps things rolling along smoothly. However, the trick of the trade is knowing how and when to step in and when to step back in order to effectively manage any given situation.

Whether you’re moderating a social network, or your own website’s forums, the same rules of community management apply. Here are eight effective moderation tips that you can apply in just about any situation.

1. Define Your Voice

How you position yourself in a community is important to help personify your brand. It’s important to document your tone, manner, and even the type of language you use. Depending on your brand, business, or the type of community you run, you may even want to have a list of unacceptable words and terms for moderators.

2. It’s Not Your Community

It’s important to recognize that without members, fans, or followers, there would be no community. In the grand scheme of things, members see themselves as the owners of their own communities and will band together to make things happen. They’re running the show and you should respond based on community reaction — within reason, of course.

You also want to become a member of the community, not a ruler. As a moderator, you can contribute to conversations and content within the community. Showing you’re a real person who’s interested in the content and conversation of the community will help you earn the respect of community members. When you have to be the strong arm and get a conversation under control, members will pitch in and help you manage the situation.

3. Let the Community Moderate Itself

You don’t want to become an ever-present nagging voice in the community; eventually, you will just be ignored. You want to recognize when to step in and when to let community members figure it out for themselves.

In a nutshell, your job is to keep conversations on topic and make sure people aren’t attacking one another. If either one of those things is happening, and community members are stepping in to shut it down, let the conversation run its course and don’t step in unless you think you have to.

4. A Little Controversy Is All Right

There are very few community managers out there who won’t welcome a bit of controversy with open arms. If everything is humming along perfectly all the time, then life in the community gets dull.

Further to the comment above about letting the community moderate itself, don’t jump in right away if the topic gets a little heated. Sit back and watch to see how things progress. A sensitive topic engages people and gets them posting. If everything remains under control, there’s no reason not to let it run its course. With a little controversy in the mix, other members will flock to the conversation to see what all the hubbub is about.

5. Know When to Ban a Member

In any community, some members are more vocal than others. These type of members keep things interesting and engender lively debates; they add flavor to the community. However, sometimes a vocal member is there just to make trouble.

When you’re trying to figure out whether or not to ban a user, ask yourself: Does this person help the community more than hurt it? Is this person making threats towards other members? How you answer these questions will help you decide what to do about trouble makers.

6. Have Clear Guidelines

Rules are important to any community. Even if you feel as though no one ever reads them, you should have your guidelines posted somewhere on an FAQ page or forum post. That way, you can always refer someone to the guidelines whenever the need arises.

It’s best to avoid referring to them all the time, or you’ll be seen as that aforementioned nagging voice. However, when things are really getting out of hand, it’s good to have the guidelines to provide justification for your actions — or to finally pull the plug on a member’s repeated offences.

7. Nurture the 1 Percent

If you’ve heard of the 90:9:1 rule or the community pyramid, then you know that, on average, 90 percent of your community members are lurkers, 9 percent are occasional contributors, and the remaining 1 percent are the heavy contributors.

You should definitely spend some of your time trying to convert the occasional contributors into a higher participation role, but don’t take the heavy contributors for granted. They are the main reason that 90 percent of your community sticks around — because they create something to see!

So, do something special for your 1 percent. Create incentive programs, get their opinions on how to grow the community, give them special access or behind-the-scenes previews. Some day, you might even want to make one of your best contributors a moderator.

8. Have a Crisis Plan

Of course, you can’t always predict when something is going to go horribly awry in a community. However, you can have a plan in case something does go wrong.

First of all, you should know what you can and can’t say in the event of a crisis or PR disaster. Secondly, you should know who to contact and who to get approvals from before making official statements to a community or to social networks.

Finally, it’s important to make sure you’ve had a discussion with the powers-that-be about any methods you might use to quell the community in this type of situation. For instance, you may want to say things like, “I’m working on finding out more information,” until you can actually say more.

It’s important that people you’re working with know that you need to say something immediately in a crisis situation. So, work closely with brand managers to make sure any statements released through a community and social networks are sent out as quickly as possible.

How do you manage your community? Please share any community moderation tips or tricks in the comments below.

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