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Forum Moderators: rogerd
My own experience has been that the time you need to put in depends heavily on the post volume (moderating 5 posts a day is a lot easier than moderating 500 or 5000) and the quality of the posters. If the board is about Medieval Sacred Music, you'll probably have fewer spammers, idiot posters, etc. than if it's about, say, XBox Gaming. A rigorous registration program will cut down on bad posts but may also discourage new posters.
You can enlist help, as Brett has, but that has its own management overhead.
In addition to clearing spam, obscene posts, flames, etc., you'll have to decide how much other moderation is needed. Clearly, fixing bad titles and moving posts and threads to more logical locations is a benefit to visitors, but can be very time consuming.
On the other hand, operating a good forum can be very rewarding (emotionally more than financially) - a good forum becomes a real community, with real benefits to its visitors.
"On the other hand, operating a good forum can be very rewarding (emotionally more than financially) - a good forum becomes a real community, with real benefits to its visitors."
Could you explain this a little more please. On one hand you want to build a community but at the same time you really cant do it WELL without having to put a great deal of time into it. Then again if you are going to put all of this time in you would need to make money off of it. So how, forum pending, would you go about making money.
Brett seems to be 24/7 posting, reading fixing etc.
admins never seem to be gone for more than a couple of hours a day. The mods vary but some never seem to leave and others are here a lot less. It really depends on how busy our specific forum is.
I will give you an example of compensation. I went to an interview to do some contract php work for an seo company. One of the first questions was "have you ever heard of Webmasterworld?" I told her who I was and I don't think she even looked at my resume and I did the work and got paid.
As far as all of the money questions go, I have no idea.
sorry to reply as your question was directed at Brett.
Having run a forum in 2000/2001 I can share some of the points which I noted and looking back at my diary led me to close it down.
1, trying to control spammers/url droppers.
2, trying to moderate in a friendly way.
3, trying to recruit moderators (which turned out to be spammers)
4, trying NOT to read the private messages.
5, answering the same questions over n over again.
6, continously being emailed about board politics.
7, people discussing forum rules and not obeying them.
I hope you get my drift, I must say it was 1 of the hardest things I have done in my life, made very few friends, but a lot of enemies.
I always use webmasterworld as a guide to other webmasters on how a board should be run.
To be honest I think Brett and the team (admins and mods) must have spent a lot of time in the early days filtering out the bad elements of society from this forum.
Its bloody hard work mate, not for the faint hearted or emotianally sesnsitive.
Roger mentioned some of the aspects, related to dealing with managing and problems, but there's also the very positive, personally enriching side of moderating, related to what he mentioned about community building. There's a two-fold building process, as I personally see it, with both aspects inter-related.
Building community involves setting the tone and developing what you could call a "community personality," that's hospitable and service-oriented, which involves making sure that the needs of members are met, that they always feel comfortable and welcome, and keeping an eye out to maintain an atmosphere of friendliness, courtesy and cooperation. The welcome mat isn't so much what you say, it's what's demonstrated on a day to day basis, which is what people see when they read posts, which they often do for a while before ever posting. It's not so much what a community says, but what they do on a constant, day to day basis that demonstrates what they're about. If people like what they see they'll get the picture pretty quick and join in.
In the case of an information-based site, there's an aspect of moderating that involves stepping in where necessary to try to ensure that the needs of members are met with development in topical areas that are known to be of proven or potential interest on a community level, or within niches. Sometimes there can be posts that have tremendous potential for developing a discussion that can lead to a wealth of knowledge on a given topic, but they might lag a bit and not reach that potential without stepping in and "moderating" to encourage drawing out more complete answers and further defining the issues. Without active positive moderation some potentially excellent discussion can die still-born and never reach fruition for their potential value.
That also means being willing to share information freely and contribute generously to the input and quality of information. It's not hard to spot fluff posts vs. valuable posts, people do see and know which is which, and part of moderating is spotting which is which and who does what. There are some people who are a literal goldmine when it comes to contributing informations that's useful to members, and those people might never know just how much they've actually contributed to adding value to a community. Not only do those who are "fluffing it" for personal reasons need to be spotted and watched out for, but the valuable ones need to be fully appreciated and recognized. There's room for all, but it's good to know who's who and why.
Moderating involves active involvement with the membership, and how it's done depends on individual styles, temperaments, personal preferences and time availability. It does take an enormous amount of time collectively between a lot of people with a large, busy site and of course different people put in different amounts of time and effort with different degrees of involvement, but it's the collective of all put together that sets the tone.
So there's what I'd refer to as the "negative" side of moderating, which is dealing with problems, and the "positive" side, which involves involvement with topical or content development among members, as well as community development which involves the different aspects of member relations.
That's all applicable in principle to a small forum site, which of course would take much less time relative to the size and volume. But the watching and involvement aspects have to be done on a constant basis once there's a steady flow of posting, even with a small site. Some people like large communities, some like small ones; there's a place for all, but the principles behind them are the same, even though management issues would be different.
That's some of what's involved up front, but that's aside from the normal aspects of running any site with matters like administrative and technical issues, and that can vary depending on the scope, and also depending on what software is used, as in the case here it's custom developed.
miles, in your case if you're evaluating whether to take over a certain forum, in your place I think I'd look around for other similar forums related to the subject area and see how those are going and how busy they are. That would give you an idea of what to expect and how much of a commitment it would take on your part.
One thing I have to say about commiting to something like that decision is that if the motive is strictly or even mostly "business" it'll show to a degree and could end up being burdensome. If it's something you enjoy, or even love or have a passion for, then whatever time you put in will be rewarding to you and it'll be worthwhile. And that will show, too - and give much more chance of success.
We spent a LOT of time discussing what I shall term "real world" issues -items such as legal liability, copyright infringement, and loooooooooonnnnngggg researching sessions on where other boards (not just those related to SEO) put themselves in jeopardy. Most of the members were veterans of other boards and knew first-hand how boards tend to degenerate. WebmasterWorld was so small that there really wasn't a bad element here, so we all worked on removing the incentives that draw them.
It takes as much as you have to put into it. There is always something on the "todo" list that can use attending too.
> Do you compensate them or do you just let them feel
> good about what they are doing.
I feel you have to in order to keep quality moderators. I do it in very specific ways:
Resume: As jatar said, there is the intangible resume line when you go into applying for a job. I've been a reference for several moderators and helped them with 9-5 jobs.
Work Referrals: Being that we are search engine central, I get several inqueries a day for work. I distribute many of those jobs to moderators and make recommendations. There are several moderators who've acquired six figure jobs from contacts made in the forums. I have never asked for a referral fee or percentage.
Site Referrals: Being a moderator does put one on the hotseat and affords them an extra look by members. Outbound referrals from moderator profiles are significantly higher than for members. That translates into site traffic for moderators.
Conferences: We do reimburse moderators and cover a portion of their expenses in coming to WebmasterWorld conferences. Those directly involved in planning and execution of the confernces (eg: doing the work) are fully reimbursed.
>worth the time?
I feel that you will have to decide that based on your own site.
Roger had it figured in the amount of time required is directly proportional to the volume of posting. I am putting in twice as much time right now as I was just in november.
What time is involved:
25% Member relations. Email and phone can take a significant, but important amount of time. I spend more on it than most people because I feel it is one of the core reasons for our success.
25% Posting. It's important that the site operator continue to post messages and interact with the membership base. A disconnected sysop is a system in trouble. Communities work long term because someone takes a stand for them and follows through on the commitment.
25% Business Operations. The simple day-to-day logistics of mantaining and operating a business.
10% drive bys (spam). This is hardly a problem at current, but another round will come probably when we step further into the limelight.
9% Future Development and Planning. This is the one that always suffers during growth times. There is never enough time for strategic planning.
1% Going back to old posts you wanted to respond to, but didn't have the time at the time. ;-)
Running and building are both very strenous tasks, and can cause you to pull your hair out.
After my experiences, I created my own messageboard system with my own admin tools in ColdFusion.
But now that I am on a blog, I don't have the same choices or control. BTW Aimoo.com has some nice free options.
But I have always been looking for more information, resources and discussions.
One of my favorite books is by Amy Jo Kim called Community Building, has a lot of checklists and really logical planning methods for building community.
I think I have developed my own bag of tricks to help grow and develop a community.
But I would love to be able to share, and explore new tricks.
Some operators use ads to try to cover operating expenses. There are almost inevitably conflicts, since the advertisers you attract are going to be the ones related to the forum topics. Pretty soon you'll get requests to delete unflattering threads, etc. (Affiliate links are a slightly different kind of advertising, but the concept isn't all that different.)
Charging users to participate in the forum is great, but relatively few fora have the loyalty and content value to pull that off.
Many operators, I'd guess, build the forum into a site that offers other paid products or services, or sells ads. They hope that creating a community will make the site a frequent destination for its visitors. You have to count on pulling forum users into the rest of the site, though, not always that easy. The site operators can post publicly, too, both demonstrating their expertise and enhancing their credibility, and perhaps drive some traffic to other parts of the site.
The short answer is that it's tough to make money from a forum. Very few are able to command a fee for participation, and web advertising is a tough way to make a living in most areas. Do it because you enjoy it, or to build a community for a profitable site.
There were some old threads about monetizing WebmasterWorld that might have some relevant ideas for you, too.
One of my favorite books is by Amy Jo Kim called Community Building, has a lot of checklists and really logical planning methods for building community.
I would really recommend this book, too.
BTW, I am currently developing a forum site (not a technical subject, so no competition for Brett) but reading some of these posts is making me wonder...
but the work to get to that critical mass must have eaten a lot out of brett's life ;)
Luckily I've been hanging out here since Nov 2001, and I've seen how well WebmasterWorld is run, and how many excellent things are done here. I immediately based many of my operating principles on how Brett runs WebmasterWorld.
I feel the keys to making my community successful so far have been:
* Setting the standards and goals right from the start.
* Getting other members involved in running the community. This includes moderators and door greeters. If you ever have time, be sure to read Brett's excellent Moderators guidelines document.
* Having new members welcomed when they join, and as part of this keeping the nature of the community open, welcoming, and friendly. I've seen exactly the same trend on my forums as I first noticed on WebmasterWorld. At first the moderators/door greeters were like "Eeeeew, I don't want to welcome people". Now even many ordinary members get in on the act of welcoming new users, and it's not just the door greeters. I've found this to really help in encouraging the lurkers to take part and add value to the community.
* Tossing the spam and flame wars. They are evil.
* Documenting a welcome post and moderators guidelines.
Running a community-type forum is massive amounts of work. My site is only a tiddly little thing compared with WebmasterWorld, but it still takes up most of my time. I'm averaging 250 posts per day, fwiw, and am in the position of being unlikely to ever make money from the site.
It's very emotionally stressful and pretty difficult to deal with all the issues that come up. You'll never please all the people all of the time, and it's often very hard to deal with some of the annoying characters. It's also one of the most rewarding things I've done in a long time.
"Iīll open a forum, with that x free software, Iīll be famous and Iīll make money selling products to webmasters through affiliate links, or receiving sponsorships"
And all the hard work?
There isnīt any other forum with this sense of community.
Iīm always busy, and my eyes are ruined because of these damn computers, but I still manage to come here as often as possible.
Itīs a pleasure to read not only the news and "tricks", but the doubts and questions that have always answers and opinions.
I've seen it in the bookstore and thought about buying it as I have set up the forums for my company's site and was looking at ways of encouraging people to use them.
The software you use to run your forum also effects how easy it is to moderate and maintain. Before I set up the forums for work it was suggested that we set up a news server instead, but I argued it would more difficult for our customers to configure a news reader than use an web message board.
Just thought I'd chime in. Not a forum expert, but had one for a couple years. The first was kind of stand a lone, and had a hard time attracting users. I had links to it from my other, similarly themed sites, but it just did not go over. Maybe 300 posts over two years. And, yes, it is in DMOZ and Google and all that, and has a 7 rating...
I wondered if my topic just did not generate that much to discuss...
Then a user at one of my other sites that has just been growing phenominally (glasses at DMOZ and Yahoo, Kim Kommando Pick of the week, etc) suggested I add a forum to that site. So I took the old forum down (actually just used a re-write to the new forum- did not want to loose the DMOZ and Google goodwill!), bought a new forum software program, and tied the main site (www.widget.com) to the forum (forum.widget.com).
It went live Dec 31, and now has 350 topics and 1000 posts or so. Not too shabby! Some of the web friends that contributed to the main site (and thus I know) have been signed on as Mods, so I have some known quantity there.
Anyway, I would really try and think out where you are going with the forum, and take the good ideas from other forums that you frequent. (I hope that is OK, Brett! I PROMISE mine has NOTHING to do with anything technical at all!) I even posted a link in my moderators forum to this very thread to help them!
I would also suggest that you have something else to drive people to the forum. My first forum died of lack of input. I am finding incredible opertunities to cross-promote my main and forum site, and I think both sites benefit!
Also, I think when people post about all the time that goes into forums, you should keep in mind that those are ESTABLISHED forums. As your forum grows, you will hopefully be able to add mods and such to take some of the work out of your hands. So don't let the workload scare you.... you will give it as much as you can, though!
Sounds like progress, carfac, good job. I find the ratio interesting, though - 3 posts per topic sounds rather low, in my experience. Do you have a lot of single post topics, or are many of your topics a single Q&A? Do you have many single message posts?
One thing that has made WebmasterWorld so strong, I think, is Brett's emphasis that orphan posts (single message threads) be dealt with rather than scrolling into oblivion. I've seen WebmasterWorld moderators jump in to help, perhaps by moving a post to a topic that might yield a reply, by contacting another member, or suggesting some resources even when the mod may not have had a specific answer. That certainly makes newbies feel welcome - I know I've posted in many support forums elsewhere and had posts languish for days, weeks, or forever.
If you have a lot of unanswered posts, you might encourage your helpers to try to take some action. It certainly works here. :)
Sounds like progress, carfac, good job.
Thanks- I feel good about this start!
3 posts per topic sounds rather low, in my experience. Do you have a lot of single post topics
Growing pains, I think. We do have an annoucement board, which is single posts, and meant to be that way. There are a couple other topics that also do not warrent replies, or I am not surprised they do not have replies. Without getting too specific, they would be like asking were to find a rare, red with white stripes widget...
OK, I had an idea about making some money with a forum, and I wanted to bounce it off you guys.
We- unlike Brett- DO run ads. I hate it, but this site is a non-profit corp, and every penny counts. What if we had a yearly membership, for a nominal sum (5 dollars? Ten Dollars?) and that membership got you NO BANNER ADS! A good idea? Technically, I could do it!
that ($10) membership got you NO BANNER ADS
Hmmm, maybe what you should do is install some really annoying popups and charge $25 to get rid of them... ;)
Seriously, I think most users just tune out regular banners and wouldn't pay to get rid of them. I think you need a better "value add" to make a fee work. A private forum like the one here would be one idea. And if you got popular enough, perhaps a fee to post might work. You'd lose some visitors, but if your traffic was high people might think it worth a few bucks to be able to make the kind of announcement posts you mention.
If you are in a specialty topic, some kind of affiliate links could work, too, although it might call your neutrality/impartiality into question. As noted in my earlier posts, monetizing a forum is tough. The percentage of forums that can be profitable on their own (i.e., as opposed to being a community-builder on an otherwise profitable website) is probably similar to the ratio of successful movie actors or concert musicians. Lots of people try, but very, very few succeed.
Seriously, I think most users just tune out regular banners and wouldn't pay to get rid of them
I was thinking about this some more. The main site is an informational one, with all kinds of free data that can be found no where else, all in one place. I know may professionals in the industry- some of whom have written books on the subject, and whose names you would know!- use it daily as a resource. Could that, with a non-profit status (the membership would obviously be tax-deductable), a low membership fee be the real seloing points, and the lack of banners be a "bonus"? I would still want to keep the site open, for free- to anyone...
Oh, I did just run the stats on the site. The topic to reply ratio is a bit higher than 4:1, rather than the 3:1 I quoted above.