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  How Should My Moderation Team Present Themselves?
I am about to launch my community with a team of moderators. My questions are how should the moderators present themselves to the community and what details of themselves should they be allowed to divulge?

Congratulations on your new community. You bring to light a very good question.

Your moderators are the frontline of your community, your site representatives and first point of contact for your participants. It is important that they provide a human touch and face to the site, and that they participate and contribute to the community on that level. Their presence should be such that they provide support to your users, guide conversations, and uphold community guidelines or Terms of Service (TOS) where necessary. However, moderators need to balance their input in order not to take over the community’s interaction nor create an “us” and “them” scenario. Importantly, moderators should not be seen as “TOS Cops” or “Thought Police” - individuals whose sole purpose is deleting posts and issuing warns. Moderators who appear this way tend to alienate themselves, discourage contributions from the community, and stifle individuals from becoming viable and interested members of your community.

A simple example of how to present your moderators as a part of the community would be the naming of moderators. Rather than denote your moderators with a generic name such as “Admin” or “Moderator” you might create a prefix for the moderator name that represents the site and add the moderator’s first name or nickname to it, e.g. CASteve or CA_Nancy. This will provide further branding of your community and your site, allow your moderators to be viewed as more human, and help your members identify them.

On the reverse side of the coin, moderators who are too empathetic or too involved in the community on a human level can create problems. In situations where judgments need to be made on a community posting or on an individual community member, such strong connections can be difficult, and possibly impair or impede their moderation role. Moderators who are excessively eager to please the community or keen not to “rock the boat” amongst their peers may find themselves in a position where they are unable to take action on issues which a moderator with less emotional connection would be able to deal with.

There is a delicate balance between providing human connection and presence and being able to display objective distance where that is required in order to truly moderate in the community. In order to obtain respect and understanding from the community, as well as truly fulfill the role, a moderator needs to exercise this balance consistently and comfortably.

Having the moderators present themselves as people who have an interest in the site and the people who frequent it will help to encourage and foster relationships between the community participants and the site itself. This is crucial when building community and encouraging repeat visits.

Taking the above into consideration, there is also a balance to be kept between being personable and providing personal information to community members. This could be as basic as the name by which the moderator is known to the community, but it might also include other details such as contact information, personal circumstances and so on. Moderators should be aware of the problems which they might create by divulging such details and should be urged to be cautious.

Moderators should be given access to specific e-mail accounts (for instance, from our naming example above, CASteve@communityanswers.com) so that their own personal e-mail accounts are not visible on the site. Participants may e-mail them in the event of a question or problem that may not be appropriate for posting or sharing live on the site. This e-mail address can be used, as well, when a moderator must delete a post or contact a participant directly to address inappropriate behavior. In these instances the moderator e-mail address provides a safeguard.

In the course of community participation and exchange it is likely that members will come to learn something about your moderators on a personal level. However, it should be recommend that moderators are careful about what and how they present their personal circumstances. They should never give out their last names or personal contact information, e.g. phone number and address, since this would provide the means for disgruntled or simply eager members to contact the moderator offline. Should a moderator wish to divulge their personal information in this way, then it should be made clear to them that they do so outside of the auspices of your company and site and that it is at their own risk. On no account should official community usernames, e-mail addresses or other community resources be used for such purposes since that might imply official involvement and/or approval.

As stated before, it is important that moderators are seen to be real, human and approachable to your participants in order for the community to truly function. A moderator who is able to respond and exchange fully is likely to bring forth equally positive and productive community participation from site users. Balancing that with a calm and objective eye and with diligence towards their personal details is important, and will result in a fruitful and enjoyable experience for moderators, for community members, and for you as a community manager.

Best of luck with your new community!

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
http://communityanswers.com
http://cornerways.com
http://cwlive.com
 
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