Discuss Communities - Online Community Management Topics

Forum Management Managing forum members

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Articles about managing forums, members and staff, policy creation, and general moderation.

Managing forum members​

A discussion forum puts a lot of emphasis on other users. There are many different types of users. Aside from you (the administrator or admin), there are moderators (your forum staff team) and members. You might have added other user groups like premium and charter members. Understanding how to manage forum members is critical in ensuring your forum’s success. This chapter will cover everything you need to know to manage forum members.

Creating forum rules and other policies​

At the start of your forum, unless you’ve bought a forum with existing policies, you want to create new policies for the community. Create several different policies and important topics for your discussion forum. Creating these important policies and topics is best before members join and actively participate in your forum. At the end of the day, it is important that you only create policies that you plan to enforce at all times. Making changes, later on, could create dramatic results.

The most important policy your forum needs is the forum rules or guidelines policy. These are the rules of the forum. This is what all members have to abide by. Important rules to add may evolve around spamming and advertising, abuse and harassment, illegal activities, and profanity and adult-rated content. It’s best to look at the rules policy on other forums like yours and adopt what they have in place. There is such a thing as being too strict with your forum rules. If you’re too strict, you might lose members or discourage people from joining the forum.

Your forum should also have other policies like Terms of Use (which could be integrated with your rules) and a privacy policy. Usually, the forum comes with default terms of use and privacy policies. But over time, especially if you add methods of earning a profit, you’ll need to adjust your privacy policy. You should also cover the requirements for cookies and child protection online. This is often required by law in many countries where your members and potential members will be. Finally, add sticky topics to each section where additional rules might be needed.

Moderation styles​

There are many different types of moderation styles for running a forum. Some styles could cost you members and even cause you to fail. Some moderation styles can enable toxic members and cause everyone to walk on you. There is a balance and a fine line in moderation styles. You need to choose a style and stick with it. Changing styles throughout the community’s life often creates more bad than good.

As I mentioned above, there is such a thing as being too strict. Rules are important to have on a forum. It’s also important to enforce the rules. But creating too many knit-picking rules and looking for every opportunity to warn or ban a member will leave you with an empty and inactive forum. And in a lot of cases, rule violations are accidents like not searching for a topic before you create it or going off-topic a little bit. You have to develop the best judgment for these sorts of things. One better method of helping you is to join other forums and observe how they moderate their users and how active the forum remains.

Being too strict is one thing; being too soft is another. Don’t create a rule and then never enforce it. Letting one member get away with a rule but not the other will cause drama and toxic behavior on your forum. If you let members get away with breaking the rules and don’t enforce them, the rulebreakers will walk on you every chance they get and then complain when you fight back since you never did it before. Don’t be a dictator on your forum but be a moderator when you have to and set examples if needed.

Dealing with spam​

The worst enemy on a forum is spam. The most common violation on a forum is spam. The hardest thing to combat on a forum is spam. Spam has been a forum problem since forums were created. Spamming is not stopping anytime soon, either. It is important that you can identify spam when it happens and stop it before it drives members away from your forum.

The best way to deal with spam is to enable automated efforts to block spam before it is posted. You can use forum features or plugins that enable Stop Forum Spam and Akismet, both services created to detect and remove spam. You can also require new registered members to answer security questions to block spam bots. You can moderate all new member content until you know they’re not spammers, and you can even moderate new accounts to check before you let them use posting permissions.

With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, spam will likely only get worse. A feature like security questions will soon be obsolete because the spam bot’s AI will quickly solve them. You need to remain consistent with being able to identify spam. Human identification of spammers can beat the bots whether or not they use AI. But not all spammers are bots, some are humans, and they should be dealt with swiftly to protect your community.

Banning and suspending members​

There are multiple ways of dealing with problem members. After they violate your guidelines and you’re forced to act, you can do several things. You can warn the member and coach them, suspend them or a feature for a certain amount of time, or you can ban them temporarily to even permanently. In most cases, any actions you take against problem members will be logged onto their account, but it’s good to discuss them in the private staff section so that other team members are aware of it.

When you ban a member, it will usually ban their username, email, and IP Address. If members know their way around the internet, they could essentially attempt to rejoin using different information. The most forum software will try to identify when people rejoin using similar IP addresses and information. If you discover a banned member registering again, you should ban them and maintain their ban until they give up.

Some forums have an appeal system for bans issues for less serious offenses. You could implement such a system if you wanted to, but you’re never obligated to do such. In most cases, you should try not to ban something unless they absolutely deserve it. If that is the case, I wouldn’t recommend allowing them to appeal their ban.

Complying with internet privacy laws​

There are many different privacy laws concerning the internet in many different countries. You should know the laws in place to protect privacy online in your own country. You should also understand the laws of other countries you want members from. The last thing you want to do is violate the privacy of a member. Many things can happen as a result. You can be sued, and you even be charged with a crime.

One privacy policy worth exploring is called GDPR. That stands for General Data Privacy Regulation and was introduced in Europe. Most modern forum software comes with GDPR compliance features. One of these features that you likely see everywhere is the cookie notice. Most countries have adopted using the cookie notice whether they fall under GDPR jurisdiction or not.

Another privacy law is known as COPPA in the United States. It stands for Children Online Privacy Protect Act. It was created to protect children’s privacy while they use the internet. Most forums that comply with COPPA require members to be at least 13 years of age or older. Once the member is 12, or under, protection rights and rules can become complicated. You still must ensure that 13 to 17-year-olds have adequate privacy rights.

Adding staff members​

The need for more forum staff members may arise as your forum grows. You may or may not want to create additional moderators, but moderating the forum alone might become a daunting and overwhelming task at some point. You should be the only administrator (unless you have a partner) to protect the security of the overall forum. Administrators typically get full access to the settings that can break the forum if inputted incorrectly.

Creating moderator staff members on your forum is good as it grows. Moderators can enforce the forum rules, ban bad members, and delete/move content. They should also be tasked with helping you keep the forum active. It is important that staff members are professional and respectful to other members of the forum. If you notice a staff member abusing their powers, you should tend to it immediately before it destroys the reputation and activity of your forum.

A great strategy for adding new moderators to a forum goes like the following. Once you’re too busy doing forum moderation and staff activities instead of keeping the forum active, that is the time to add a new moderator. Once you are too busy to keep the forum active, you need to hire an additional moderator. In most cases, moderators are volunteers and consist of very active and helpful members of your community. Watch for the best types of members and ask them to join the team before anyone else.