When should you pre-moderate online community content?

by Alison Michalk January 24, 2011

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In the world of online content moderation there are generally two approaches. Pre-moderation and post-moderation. Post-moderation is generally considered best practice for the majority of community and content types as it instills trust, allows for free-flowing dialogue, and fosters  self-governance. So when should you consider pre-moderating content?

A recent blog post by Community Manager Philip Wride (@pwride) led to a discussion between us on Twitter. As it’s most common to opt for post – or reactive – moderation we’ve collaborated to provide you with a list of circumstances that *may* call for pre-moderation.

Pre-moderation involves assessing user-generated content before it goes live. It is widely considered an impractical and cumbersome beast. Although it ensures your content is a-ok it stifles free-flowing discussion – users are unlikely to wait around if there is a delay in publishing. In fact they may submit (and resubmit) content waiting to see it. (There are also legal ramifications of stamping ‘approval’ on all content, so be sure to run it by legal.)

To implement pre-moderation you need to be well-resourced. Possibly around the clock depending on your audience and activity. If you don’t – expect it to significantly hamper your chances of an engaged and healthy community. The other risk is that you may find yourself wanting or needing to respond to urgent posts (especially if there’s been a delay in approving them), which will decrease peer-to-peer interaction which essentially is what an online community aims to foster!

That said there are circumstances in which pre-moderation might be best suited to your project and needs.

Pre-moderation: Content examples

Videos & Images

These have the capacity to be much more offensive than text so it can be wise to pre-moderate pending circumstances. There are also more legal concerns to factor including music copyright, advertising etc. If you need to screen all entries – such as a competition – it can make sense to pre-moderate and kill two birds with one stone.


Pre-modded Q&As allow the Community Manager to serve as a content curator. Philip utilizes these in his current role as FIFA UK Community Manager for EA. Members’ posted their questions, and as CM Philip would sift through and pick out the ones that were constructive and well written. They’d then be published and developers would provide responses.

Product Feedback

Whilst some CMs and companies may prefer to have this as post-moderated there are sometimes situations where it can be useful to be pre-modded. These “silent” or “hidden” submissions can then be approved and spark discussion from the community. For example, you may request users post their top 3 product improvements they’d like to see, you approve selected posts all with different lists and then gauge which one’s gain the most traction. You might choose to hide suggestions which are off-topic or distract from gleaning the best input from your members.

Public consultation

If you have extremely risk-adverse stakeholders some public consultation may benefit from pre-moderation. It may filter out a lot of the ‘noise’ and duplication and enable you to maximize the outcomes of audience participation. We’re not suggesting you censor people’s input but you can remove duplication and highlight posts that will generate further engagement. Many companies that are new to online mediums might move onto post-moderation once they have a trial run with pre-moderation.

Professional advice

If you have a forum/blog where people ask for professional help be it medical, legal, financial you may want to pre-moderate the questions and approve appropriate ones which can then be tackled by your experts. Especially if there is risk that members may respond to one another with potentially dangerous advice.


People love getting creative with offensive, spam, and advertising in their usernames. You may be able to approve usernames during the registration process, where people sometimes expect a short delay (or maybe they can post straight away whilst their account is verified).

This applies in particular to kids’ communities as it’s often the only free-form UGC field. Most online kids’ communities aimed at the tween audience (eg. Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin) have very limited communication functionality which is excellent for this demographic. However if you do allow user-submissions anywhere  to the site you may need to pre-moderate them.

High-profile user content

Particular content feeds that appear in high-profile places such as your homepage might warrant pre-screening, so you can choose quality content to represent your site/brand/community. On that note beware of the risks of streaming twitter hashtags! We don’t advise pre-moderating them either however – we would suggest an all or nothing approach with twitter streams.

Our tips for pre-moderated content

– Do publicise that you pre-moderate submissions
– Do state a time-frame that you will publish it in (the shorter the better)
– Do adhere to the time-frame!
– Do have a method for notifying the community that comments may be rejected based on your clearly publicised Guidelines to limit the questions you’re bound to receive.

Note: ‘Report Content’ functionality

It is crucial for all communities to have an effective method for users to report content – regardless of moderation methodology. Content may slip through the cracks, or be interpreted differently by your audience. Don’t launch without this! Be sure to clearly signpost the methods / tools for people to report content.

What do you think of this list? Let us know if we missed any examples.
Alison (@alisonmichalk) & Philip (@pwride)