Discussion on 'Advice for the Accidental Community Manager'


Write your thoughts, ideas, comments below on Jessamyn West’s piece posted on The Coral Project blog.

What do you think the most important advice is that she shares in the piece? What would you phrase differently?

A problem like the comments

Thanks for starting the thread, Andrew. Her points were absolutely consistent with my experience managing online communities.

What I thought was the most valuable was the examples on how to moderate effectively. She says:

Making it clear what the real issue is can really help working out disputes since some users will view any sort of sanction as an implicit “You are a bad person” statement. A few examples.
“We’re not the thought police and you can think what you like but on the site you need to treat other members with respect.”
“There is a difference between being angry and responding angrily to something.”
“Your behavior seems like you’re trolling. If you are not trolling, could you please change your behavior?”

For me, these examples illustrated how to set clear guidelines while not making anyone in the community feel judged.


I’m glad you liked it. That’s the big deal for me too. Until you learn otherwise, assuming people are just making accidental missteps is a good way to encourage people to learn the community norms and want to interact further. A lot of people react negatively to being told “You’re wrong” (surprise!) and there are ways to set expectations, often, without having to have a “You’re wrong” statement in there.

After a while if people aren’t showing that they can absorb the norms or the expectations, then you move on, but at first? I just assume everyone has come from the dentist and move on from there :smile:


Thanks for writing this, Jessamyn!

One of the tools we use the most is simply emailing a user to say, “Hey,
is everything okay?” Sometimes just sending a sympathetic email to
someone, even as you are deleting their comment, can soften the blow and
turn an irate user into just a slightly crabby user who decides to go
take a nap.

Interestingly, the ability for mods to initiate private messages with users ended up being one of the first “moderation tools” on my fledgling community site (that is still basically in open alpha). I had a long roadmap of different mod tools I want built, but giving volunteer mods (we call them hosts) as well as staff the ability to initiate PMs ended up jumping the line, and my devs threw together a quick working prototype of it for me.

It isn’t a tool I would use for every random drive-by user, but its been vital in helping keep conversations from devolving into flamewars between dedicated users.

The one other thing that I think is essential for community enforcement
is having a place where the community can discuss moderator actions. We
have a part of the site called MetaTalk where
people can bring concerns about moderator actions that did or did not
happen. In this entirely-optional part of the site, the entire community
can weigh in on disputes and moderators participate in those
discussions. Having moderators that are actual contactable community
members is an important part of community trust. And on the back end,
having tools so that moderators can respond quickly and effectively to problems also increases community trust that the system is working.

I’ve loved periodically lurking around MetaTalk to see those interactions. It really is quite neat. On my site I named our semi-equivalent “townhall” where we have “town hall meetings” – though I’ve had to explain in some detail what I mean by that, especially since the term has mostly become known nationally in the US because of presidential candidates stumping for votes. We mean it more in the northern new england (where I am from) sense of the term-- that is, a place to go to where you feel like your voice will be heard, and you can be an active participant in decisions and “meta” discussions that affect your life and the lives of your neighbours.

I’ve noticed a lot of similarities with internet community management / moderation / flamewars / drama and small town issues that come up in real life. So I’ve kinda been having fun using that angle, as a way to bring “reality” back to online interactions, trying to move away from the “conceit of unreality” that tends to happen in online spaces.

Of course, the “active and positive citizenship in a small new england town” metaphor doesn’t necessarily translate to other sites, but it has been an interesting way to get my users engaged in the process of setting policies as well as helping them feel like stakeholders in our site and in the upholding of our values.

We have a lot of back end tools that help us […] identify which users interact most heavily with which other users.

Can you expand on this a bit, @jessamyn? I would be interested to hear what cool usecases you found for this.


Can you expand on this a bit, @jessamyn? I would be interested to hear what cool usecases you found for this.

Sure. Basically we have a thing we call the InfoDump which is all the metadata about the posts without the content. So you can see who posted, what time they posted, who they favorited, a bunch of stuff. This allows us to see stuff like who is favoriting each other, who are commenting at the same time, that sort of thing.

Mods can, additionally, see who is flagging whom and look at someone’s history of flagging and being flagged.

We don’t usually do much with this (and I am writing in the present tense even though this is past news for me) but if there is an issue you can kind of see who is following who around the site and who maybe has trouble not being a pill on Friday nights, that sort of thing. If you know people have a bit of an “affinity group” with one another you can deal with conflicts accordingly.

A lot of times people create factions of a sort where they will back other people up who they perceive to be in their affinity groups (rural users maybe, or gun owners) and they’ll support other assertions by those people even if they’re not ones they necessarily agree with. So if you get a bunch of users who say WE WANT A CHANGE, it’s worth untangling it to see if it’s just one popular user basically rallying their troops on a topic as opposed to a groundswell of “grassroots” type of support.

I, too, had trouble with implementing the town hall metaphor even though I think it’s a really useful one for me (based on my New England upbringing and residence). Like to me there is something nice about being like “This is your chosen community, you are all here together and no one has more rights to it than anyone else. There are basic rules for interaction. Let’s figure out how to work out our differences” but it’s interesting to me how many people really want to just “call in the cops” or other non-democratic ways of working out or resolving disputes.


I like both your & Jessamyn’s points about giving people room / having empathy. I think one of the problems with online comment sections and many online communities is that there is rarely breathing room. When people are hurting for whatever reason it’s rarely helpful to see things from a “who’s right or wrong” angle.


This is such a vital thing, and so rarely talked about as a practice. It’s the human behind the comments . It’s a consistent behaviors around platforms that doesn’t get a lot of solution based focus.