Having a comments board on your website—as we do here at OPEN—can be an effective way to drive traffic to your site. A board gives everyone with an opinion (read: everyone) an opportunity to share their two cents, often on whatever comes to mind. It creates a community.
What makes comment boards so good at garnering hits is that people involved in a message board discussion will often visit many times, coming back to see what people thought of their comments, to read other comments, or quite often, to argue with other commenters.
But because comment boards are usually open invitation parties full of strangers, these arguments can get downright ugly. Not everyone is a thoughtful guest. Some people visit just to “troll,” or intentionally inflame the discussion. And when people start mucking things up, they often don't stop until EVERYONE IS TALKING IN ALL CAPS AND RUINING CHRISTMAS FOR EVERYONE.
It can get real ugly. If you want to see how ugly it can get, read YouTube comments for awhile and peer into the belly of the beast.
Along with the trolls, sites can get polluted a number of other ways as well—advertisers, squatters, everything that comes from having an open door policy. That’s where moderators, or “mods,” can help.
What’s a mod?
A moderator is a person whose job it is to break up message board fights, so to speak, by “moderating” the discussion. If your board community has turned into the Wild West, a mod is John Wayne.
Does your website need a moderator? Have you been asking yourself any of the following questions?
Where did all this spam come from?
Spam filter or no, the spam-mongers of the world will figure out a way to stick their cruddy links onto your page. Even the best protected sites still can get bombarded daily by commenters of the spam variety. On a reasonably well-trafficked site, it's not unusual to have to spend an hour a day combing articles to clean the spam gunk. And that’s a lot of your valuable time. A mod can claen it up for you.
Why did so many deranged four-year-olds decide to comment today?
Oh, it's not every deranged four-year-old; it just feels that way because people use the anonymity of the Internet to act like four-year-olds. Often those people, being the shrillest, will dominate a discussion. A mod can silence these overpowering, and often offensive, voices so civil discussions among adults can take place.
Why is there no sense of community in my online community?
A mod can act to enforce “community guidelines” that help steer your message board culture by encouraging certain norms be followed. A mod can push discussion to stay on topic. Some websites prohibit self-linking (self-promotional links.) Some websites prohibit name calling, or insulting people in general. But all are geared towards one thing: getting people to act as civil online as they would in real life.
Once people feel comfortable in an online community, and can expect a certain level of discourse to take place, they are more likely to participate.
WHY IS EVERYONE TYPING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME?
Well, because they are obnoxious. A moderator can monitor—and curtail—commenters whose aggressive tone alienates other users. Mods can also help encourage people to follow desired models of grammar, subject matter, etc.
You can’t fix poor commenting skills everywhere on the Internet, but you can enforce them in your own little community.
Why does my community look different every day?
This is the most subtle difference, but the most important. When properly kept in order, with all the riff-raff at bay, and with reasonable expectations on what kind of comments are celebrated and which ones are taboo, your community can find its voice. And if it’s an engaging one, people will be drawn to it.
If you’ve been asking yourself these questions lately, maybe it’s time you hired someone to be your website’s moderator. Because keeping the trolls, spammer, and other webbernet ne’er-do -wells in line can be a full-time job.
Jacob Harper co-founded clothing store/apparel brand Vintage Vice in 2006 at the age of 23. Jacob sold Vintage Vice in 2009 (the company still operates successfully today) and has been working as a writer and teacher ever since. He is currently a head writer of the weekly political sketch show Top Story! Weekly at the iO West in Hollywood.