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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

Mary Poppins Moderating
Keeping it sweet

 10:39 pm on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

In all types of forums members sometimes need to be corrected or posts need to be removed or edited - for any number of reasons. At times, when there's a chronic situation or deliberate trouble-making or a very serious issue it needs a firm hand, but for the most part that's not the case.

Keeping in mind that member retention of long-time participants and newcomers alike is important, sometimes not knowing whether newer people will turn out to be outstanding regular members of the community, how members are corrected and/or edited can be a major deciding factor in the health, longevity and growth of a community.

Not only that, but the feelings of the member involved need to be considered, as well as how it "looks" to onlookers if there's anything that takes place that's visible in public. The approach taken and tone used by moderators can create bad feelings and deteriorate the climate in subtle ways, but on the other hand, depending on how things are handled, can be used in such a way that it actually contributes to community health and growth.

I've come to think of it as "Mary Poppins Moderating." Serving a spoonful of sugar with the moderating medicine really can help it go down, and can serve as an opportunity to open lines of communication with members, with episodes or infraction being turned into a positive and productive experience for all.

It's all about attitude and approach. Anyone have thoughts on the kinds of approaches - and attitudes - that sweeten up moderating actions and communications that are effective and keep people happy and help to build communities long term?



 4:46 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

How right you are, Marcia. I find it a constant challenge to get mods (elsewhere, not here!) to maintain that positive, helpful attitude even when dealing with apparent jerks. (I even struggle myself occasionally.) Some of these seeming jerks may turn out to be valuable members down the road.

For forum admins who doubt Marcia's sage advice, I'd guess that a major percentage of the mods, senior members, and other solid contributors here got edited at least once after arrival (including yours truly) - had this been done in a less than courteous manner, most would likely have gone away and not returned; this community would be much the worse without their contributions.


 6:20 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think that sweetness can become cloying, especially when it does not match the actions being taken.

OK, I'm a European, so we tend anyway to be more cynical in these kinds of situations. But I would far rather have the type of moderating which (IMO) is practised here - which says, "Look we're all supposed to be adult professionals discussing things in an intelligent manner. Your post didn't match up to that standard."

A Mary Poppins attitude hiding an iron will is something that is not uncommon in webmaster/SEO forums and newsgroups. Unfortunately the "sweet" moderator/admin is often accompanied by a band of groupies who will jump in to back up any "threat" to the established order.

At least on a board like this we can discuss whether we think Brett has taken leave of his senses...


 7:24 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

I had good results with a "Good Cop, Bad Cop" moderating aproach. A number of Moderators are the soft, sweet and mediating, while the others are hard and often cynical and harsh.

Of course it needs the right personalities for this kind of "natural roleplay", but i works well for me.



 6:18 pm on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ha, interesting strategy, Viggen. "Hey, look, I'm just trying to help you out here before Rudolf sees what you've posted. You know what Rudolf is like when he's mad..." ;)

I don't think mods need to be cloyingly sweet, but maintaining a good natured approach and a sense of humor really help calm down situations that a stern or sarcastic reply might escalate. Then again, just like in real life, some bullies just need to be backed down by someone bigger and meaner before they behave.

In reality, most TOS violators aren't bad people - they simply haven't learned the rules of the forum they are in, or are used to a different style of communication, or even have issues with the forum's primary language. Some gentle steering will work wonders in most cases.

I have a forum that attracts high school and college students, and in their personal interactions it would be common (and not particularly offensive) to say, "You are a $%&#@ idiot, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." Put that in a forum post to a total stranger, though, and you've got a very hostile exchange. Good moderation assumes that the poster hasn't adapted to the forum's style of communication vs. that the poster is a hostile, obnoxious jerk who deserves a severe tongue-lashing if not immediate banning.


 4:17 am on Jun 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm nice to the people who deserve niceness and not so nice to others. I admit, there are members that I want to help make the choice to never return. Yes, I occasionally remove posts without notification. Yes, I occasionally put people in read only when they go through thread after thread, posting the equivalent of nothing. My board has an automatic 100 post probation, which some people think means that we want to see 100 posts of "lol" or "haha" or other useless garbage. Those people are free to find other boards. Unlike most of you though, I'm not generally dealing with adults.

I have also had members who acted up in the beginning and then became some of my favorite people; not just on the board, but anywhere online. Some people just need a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) push in the right direction.


 5:30 am on Jun 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

It may be important to be careful that the "Mary Poppins" style of moderating doesn't slip into the much less attractive "Martyr" style of moderating.


 1:54 pm on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm a mod on a large forum a friend of mine owns (non webmaster related) and while I try to be nice whenever possible, I lose a little more of my niceness factor with each time I have to tell the same person the same thing. We have a few problem members that I no longer will play sugar and spice with. ;-)


 1:41 am on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I have a hard time being "sugah" at all. Base assumption: if you're posting on my fora, you DID read the TOS. In which case, if you're violating said TOS I'm going to stomp on you.

Now. I CAN be nice when it's apparent that you didn't understand a particular exclusion, or when it's obvious that English isn't your natlang, or when you've just blown sky-high due to deliberate provocation. All of which happens with fair regularity on practically every forum anywhere in MY networld.



 4:14 am on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting. Being a southerner, I'd think Marcia and RogerD were suggesting "simple courtesy" :-)


 4:25 am on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I joined over a year ago. I had never been part of a forum in my life outside of asking one question getting an answer and leaving not even knowing the name of the actual forum. I started out reading and reading and reading. I asked several questions. Pretty quick I thought I knew a lot. I quickly found out that I did not. I made some pretty stupid comments. I have had my share of posts edited, removed, and pre-moderated. I have even had a few admonishment stickys from Brett. At first I was very upset at the way they did things around here. I even sent some pretty nasty sticky's to mods. (I don't know why they still talk to me) I can look back now and see that these mods are very forgiving and understanding. They are very patient and after meeting many of them at 2003 London Pubcon I thought they were quite nice. I have a large collection of stickys where they have encouraged me and given me praise on my posts. I have enjoyed posting here and really can't imagine going very many days without WW.


 4:02 pm on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Base assumption: if you're posting on my fora, you DID read the TOS

Vkaryl, that's more in the category of "wishful thinking" IMO - I'd guess fewer than one in ten posters actually looks at the TOS before jumping in unless you have spoon-fed it to them somehow. A significant portion probably have no idea what TOS stands for, or, for that matter, what "terms of service" means.

I'd recommend at least one or two friendly, courteous attempts at education before putting on the stomping boots. ;) The member you save may be a great contributor down the road.


 6:29 pm on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

rogerd: should have "defined" first I guess.... Not everyone who uses this resource has public boards.... the only fora I run at the moment are completely private and by invitation (MINE) only. Everyone ON my fora (either the really busy ones or the not so busy ones) HAS read (and in some cases contributed to) the various TOSs. These are people I've known for years and who've known ME ditto. It's mostly unlike any of them to fly out at anyone over anything (except for the time I made my own "hawk" views explicit, and a man I've known for years was so disturbed he left - but then he came back in just a couple of days.... We agreed to disagree, and to post as we always had.)

I'm sure that public fora would handle this sort of thing in a whole other manner - and I'll probably have to "moderate" my tone as soon as I start running a public board for a non-prof whose website I manage.


 7:16 pm on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

>I think that sweetness can become cloying, especially when it does not match the actions being taken.

Definitely. I hate Mary Poppins, she's mod-ing at quite a few forums I read. Get your TOS clear, concise, and bullet-proof and then just read 'em the their rights.


 4:41 pm on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

On the forums I mod on I try to educate if it is a non-habitual offender. I point to the specific portion of the TOS. If it is a habitual I also PM/sticky them stating that it needs to stop. I then pay close attention to IPs for the next few days for the supporting posts on the thread for the habitual poster. If the IP are from the same block or ISP I post it ;).

Take care,



 4:52 pm on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

Some of the best senior membors and moderators have had posts deleted and broke the TOS at some point. Specially in the begining. The TOS is long and no webmaster can expect anybody to read those things. Unless you made them take a quiz before they joined like zeal.


 6:13 pm on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

Mary Poppins should be a mod of the Happy LaLa forum, for sure. But an experts forum?

A good bouncer bends will.... to avoid having to bend Will.

Here's an approach one-size-fits-all.

"Hey YourHandle. Has any other moderator already contacted you yet about your post "blah blah"? I just have to follow up and report back. Thanks"

IF NO REPLY: then go ahead and follow up with knowledge that no-one has discussed it yet. It apears that you are not the only one with awareness, and not one to blame, yet one who has influence in how the matter is matter perceived.

IF ANY REPLY: then you have opened a conversation, and can stay third-person/non-confrontational as long as necessary to make the point/clarify/educate/whatever... or get to the point as necessary.


 8:07 pm on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

I own a site with a growing forum. Some discussions sometime deviate into discussions that are nor related to the site's subject but still generates a lot of interest to most of my active members. Should I let them post on that or should I remind them that we are getting out of the subject?

Thank you for your help


 8:35 pm on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting. Being a southerner, I'd think Marcia and RogerD were suggesting "simple courtesy"

Come now, you don't have to be southern to appreciate courtesy... ;)

One of my standard stickymails back when I moderated FOO went something like this:


Just wanted to let you know that I had to edit your post in X thread. While your post wasn't really outrageous, and I don't think you were trying to start trouble, I'm sure you'll understand that other, less mature, members could easily read your post the wrong way and take it as "bait" to start a big argument about (choose one: sex/politics/religion/etc.)...

We really try to avoid ever discussing sex, politics, religion and any other cultural "hot button" topics in the forums here, because no matter how mature and intelligent the first posts on the subject may be, someone else will ALWAYS drag the thread into the gutter as soon as any of those subjects are mentioned.

Thanks for understanding!


More often than not, I got an apology and a "thank you" for the edit. Two key points: "I'm not saying you did anything bad, but someone else will take it the wrong way," and "Thanks for understanding!" You've avoided putting them on the defensive by not pointing a finger directly at them, and you've given them credit for understanding before they get a chance to argue. And by doing it through private messaging, you've saved them the embarassment of a public rebuke.

This approach also worked well with link dropping: "I'm not saying you were trying to self-promote, but unfortunately even genuinely helpful links will be taken as a sign that link dropping is welcome... Then the self-promoters will come out of the woodwork, and the moderators simply won't be able to keep up editing enough to keep the forums readable. Sad but true."

But then when the polite method doesn't work, sometimes all there is left to say is, "Knock it off... you know perfectly well what I'm talking about, and if you don't stop, your account will be deleted." Which works a lot better after you've bent over backwards to be polite first.


 2:42 am on Jun 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>One of my standard stickymails back when I moderated FOO went something like this:

That example is Mary Poppins Moderating. Just a spoonful of sugar - a little bit - not a 5 pound ssck.


 2:24 pm on Jun 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

"We're worried about the other guys, not upstanding citizens like you" is not only effective (in person, too, not just on forums) but has the benefit of being accurate in many cases. I'd guess in most forums the majority of posts requiring edits are, in fact, made by innocent users who simply haven't read the TOS. Some are obviously innocent, and others are just too difficult to determine. Since even mods don't have psychic powers (those are only given to admins ;)), having fixed rules for everyone is the only sensible approach.

Fixed rules for all makes it easy to assume everyone has innocent intentions, and avoids most hurt feelings. Indeed, I've seen cases where seemingly blatant spam posts were make by well-intentioned newbies who were simply trying to help. A gentle explanation prevents losing these members right off the bat.


 2:38 pm on Jun 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think that it is good to be kind to forum members if it is their first offence at least.

In reality, most TOS violators aren't bad people - they simply haven't learned the rules of the forum they are in, or are used to a different style of communication, or even have issues with the forum's primary language. Some gentle steering will work wonders in most cases.

I would agree with rogerd's comments above and also add that sometimes forum posts (and email for that matter) can be misunderstood. Either the tone can come across wrong or there could be a double meaning. Also joking and sarcasm can sometimes be misinterpreted in a written context.

Like in the real world, diffusing a potential problem situation is always the best way rather than being a bull in a china shop.


 7:18 pm on Jun 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

Excellent thread!

Even in the worse cases its far better to get the offending member(s) discussing in private (and off the public board) and with you and not each other (if more than one).

It is alot easier to manage to (rather than edit, sticky, find and deleted or sticky/post to others mod with permissions, wait, sticky, etc).

Always ensure the very last line of every private response is an upbeat comment rather than counseling.

The cooling affect most often produces this:



 12:08 am on Jul 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

In child-rearing books, advice is often given to address the behavior and not the child. Same thing in moderating any age member, I think. A no nonsense address to the behavior, but "sugar" and understanding for the person.


 1:06 am on Jul 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

I've come to think of it as "Mary Poppins Moderating."

Ha ha, I've always called it keeping the children happy.


 4:14 pm on Jul 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

Haha, Tekno... you aren't far off. On some forums (not HERE, of course), the similarity is quite striking - short attention spans, limited impulse control, impetuous behavior, poor social skills... ;) On the plus side, integrating (previously) poorly socialized members into your community can be as rewarding as raising a child. Well, OK, not really, but it IS nice when you succeed. ;)


 5:13 pm on Jul 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

I love Marcia's point about newer posters potentially becoming important long term members. It must be very difficult to decide sometimes what path to take with a given member, especially newer ones...

I sometimes see members in here who are behaving in such an obnoxious way that I wonder why WW doesn't boot them out.

At the same time, a friend of mine (formerly a boss too), had his account terminated by WW a couple years back. He made a critical comment about G - but the comment was also badly misinterpreted by WW in other respects. A shame really, because he never reapplied here again, and he's one of the savviest Web people I've ever met. I learned more from him than any other person I ever worked for. He's now an active, respected poster on other (lesser) forums, but I can't persuade him to come back here...

Definitely an instance that confirms Marcia's wisdom regarding the need for patience and widsom when handling questionable posts from members who *might* turn into great long term contributors.

Moderating a place like this has to be an exceptionally difficult job. My hat is off to everyone who makes WW so great.

<P.S. Count me among those who were sad to see Marcia resign as a mod, but are happy to see that she's still actively posting.>


 10:14 pm on Jul 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

i think if the mod acts and replies like a simple human bieng, the matter could be resolved.


 1:01 am on Jul 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi, Arkantos, welcome to WebmasterWorld. I'm sure you are right, though sometimes mods have to make a super-human effort not to respond to attacks, insults, obvious lunacy, etc.

It's sort of like the people at the airline counter who have to stay calm and help people even when those people are hostile or irrational, and blame that counter person because a flight is late and they'll miss their cruise departure, job interview, etc. The good reps maintain their cool no matter what.

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