Online Engagement: To Moderate or Not to Moderate that is the Question.

When organisations set up any type of online discussion forum (and there are loads of them out there but that’s for another blog and maybe more) the conversation inevitably leads to discussions about moderation. The more risk averse the organisation, generally the higher the level of moderation. Also the more controversial the topic, again, a higher level of moderation is likely. But is moderation the only way to manage an online forum?

There are a couple of pros and cons to consider when thinking about ‘do you moderate or not?’

First of all with moderation there are broadly considered to be two types

  1. Pre-posting review and approval, also known as Gate-keeping
  2. Moderation – post review

Gate Keeping (pre-posting review and approval)

  • Strong control over content
  • Focused discussion reduces ‘off topic’ conversation
  • Clear rules of engagement and participation, useful for inexperienced participants
  • Can be overly controlling, and will limit potentially valuable tangential discussion
  • Can alienate participants
  • Slows conversation

Post-hoc Moderation

  • Manages risks without excessive control
  • Guiding role of moderation can stimulate participation from shy participants
  • ‘Referee’ function can build community and reduce tension in complex and contested issues Time consuming, especially where high degrees of negotiation are required
  • Can still attract criticisms of control or censorship
  • Slows free-flow of discussion

The final alternative is an open forum with no moderation. This too can have positives as well as negative impacts:

Unmoderated (open forum)

  • No risk of accusation of censorship
  • Low cost
  • Free flowing discussion
  • Can allow discussion to flow to unexpected areas
  • Some risks of hijacking
  • Can lead to domination by small number of vocal contributors
  • Discussion can drift towards irrelevancy

So with all of that in mind, which approach, do you take? Ultimately it comes down to two things: purpose and context. Why are you engaging – what outcomes do you seek; and what is the context of the engagement – is it controversial, is the sponsor organisation risk averse?

Moderation can be useful but the important thing to note is that it may not always deliver the engagement outcome that you need.