Why members volunteer to moderate online communities
Why members volunteer to moderate online communities

Why members volunteer to moderate online communities

As a Community Manager I am often asked, “Why do people volunteer to moderate?” I imagine if you are a volunteer for a charity you are less likely to be asked as it’s assumed to be purely altruistic despite myriad motivations one might have. This post aims to look at the reasons people volunteer to moderate, with […]

17th March 2015

As a Community Manager I am often asked, “Why do people volunteer to moderate?”

I imagine if you are a volunteer for a charity you are less likely to be asked as it’s assumed to be purely altruistic despite myriad motivations one might have. This post aims to look at the reasons people volunteer to moderate, with the hope it will improve your skills as a Community Manager in managing and nurturing these vital positions.

According to sociologist Peter Kollock, there are three major reasons why members contribute to communities.

Three major reasons members contribute to communities

  1. Anticipated Reciprocity – A user is motivated to contribute to the community in the expectation that he will receive useful help and information in return. Indeed, we have seen such active users receiving more help than lurkers.
  2. Increased recognition – Individuals want recognition for their contributions. The desire for prestige is one of the key motivations for individuals’ contributions in an online community. Contributions will likely increase if they are visible to the whole community and are credited to the contributor. The powerful effects of seemingly trivial markers of recognition (e.g. stars, ranking) are overwhelming.
  3. Sense of efficacy – Individuals may contribute because the act results in a sense that they have had some effect on the community.

I’ve applied these reasons when exploring the motivations of Volunteer Moderators.

community management

Why people volunteer to moderate online communities

1. Requited reciprocity
This is the model above come full circle. Members have received said good will and are motivated to return it.

The majority of volunteers I’ve worked with over the years cite their primary motivation as wanting to give back to the community, relating interactions and personal experiences that have helped them. In my experience this plays a part for most volunteers, but those who are motivated purely by this notion are in the minority.

Nevertheless, these volunteers tend to be the easiest to manage as their desires are fulfilled by the community. They are not particularly interested in being rewarded, nor are they seeking recognition. You can’t force volunteers to fall into this category; It occurs naturally and it is nice to single these moderators out and acknowledge their contribution to the community. I suggest doing so privately. These moderators often slip through the cracks as they stay out of limelight and do their thing. Be sure to keep in touch with them. They can offer valuable suggestions and are usually a pulse of the health and goodness of the community.

2. Increased recognition/social capital
Increased recognition, widely referred to as social capital, status. I see this playing a much larger role as a motivator. Over time, regular contributors to online communities rise through the ranks and recognition forms an important part of their online persona. This can be attested to by the importance given to post count or join date. Some members get to a used-by state or saturation point where the community has fulfilled their needs. They are looking for something more rather than exiting the community and this may motivate them to seek promotion to moderator.

In one community I worked with, I noticed that all the members with the highest post counts (most active by one metric) were either volunteer moderators or well-known stirrers. Not necessarily troublemakers, but popular and well-known for being outspoken (so perhaps not moderator material).

These volunteers respond well to both rewards and recognition. Visible status such as a moderator tag/avatar/icon will be valued along with public or peer recognition. They are more likely to want to be involved in community decisions and may in fact feel left out if they’re not. They’re likely to be more vocal opponents about community issues, and this can be harnessed as they can provide great feedback (encourage them to offer practical solutions to any complaints they have).

3. Sense of efficacy
I see this behaviour in moderators with a penchant for helping to enforce rules, answer technical questions, reply to administration questions. In my experience they are often Mums who had a professional career before having children and are aware they have skills to offer the community.

These volunteers are easy to manage but they’re most likely to respond to financial rewards. They tend to play more of a staff-type role and often fulfil task-orientated duties that could well fall into staff member’s responsibilities. These volunteers respond well to recognition, but it should be on a peer-to-peer level. Avoid delivering it a way that may be condescending. Acknowledge their very practical contribution to the community. Ask if any processes can be improved or streamlined (e.g. Are they answering queries that could be added to a FAQ? Could we put up a sticky post explaining X? Does a rule need changing?).

Volunteer Moderators play an increasingly important role in a growing community. Understanding why members become Volunteer Moderators will help you build strong cooperative relationships that will make your community stronger.

What makes members in your community want to become Volunteer Moderators?

Have an opinion?

We'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments below

Comment & Discuss