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.