A while back battye wrote a post about how to select moderators. I thought that it was a really good post. It spawned a few comments, one of which included a question about how many moderators do you really need. I thought that battye’s response was interesting. He said:
I would probably go with one moderator per 50 active/regular users.
Based on that, I am very much understaffed. To be clear, battye does provide a bit more detail in the rest of his response, including some ideas about time zone coverage and other aspects of running a board. I am taking that bit of a quote out of context because I felt like I wanted to write more than a simple comment / response to his post.
I feel like there are several important factors that can be used to determine how many moderators you need, and some of them are probably more important than others. The factors are:
- Number of active users
- Number of posts per day
- Average age of board members
- The level of “passion” inspired by the subject matter of your board
I would like to add that this is probably not an exhaustive list but these are the four main elements that I have seen in boards that I participate in. I would like to provide more specific details about each of these, followed by some of my own thoughts on how you determine how many moderators you need. I don’t think it can be summed up in a simple equation.
Number of Active Users
The first attribute is, of course, from the original post that I am responding to. The number of active users on your board probably has some impact on the number of moderators that you need. If you have tens of thousands of board members or users then you probably have a more active board and therefore need more moderators. But it’s not necessarily a given, which is why I added the second item on my list.
Number of Posts Per Day
I am probably splitting hairs here since active users are probably posting users, but that’s not always the case. Moderators have two general areas of responsibility: they have to moderate users, and they have to moderate posts. So it would seem that both factors should be considered when determining how many moderators you need. A small board (with several hundred members) that posts thousands of posts a week is potentially going to require just as many moderators as a larger board (several thousand members) that has the same level of posting activity.
What’s the difference between moderating a user and moderating a post? In a simple scenario, a moderator might have to warn (or ban) a user because of activities related to only a few or perhaps even zero posts. A new member might not have read all of the rules, and as a result they don’t realize that a 500×500 pixel 3GB animated avatar is a clear violation of the rules. That user probably needs moderating.
Posts require moderating if they need to be split / moved / locked and so on. So post moderating is clearly going to be a heavier burden on a board with a high average daily post rate. That’s why I called this out as a separate factor to consider.
Average Age of Board Members
This is not an absolute truth but I feel like it’s still valid more often than not: if your board members have an average age in the teens, they’re going to require more moderation than a board where the average age is in the 60’s. Yes, that’s an extreme example, and I use it on purpose to make the point. I have been privileged to meet some very mature teenagers (and some very immature adults) over my years. And yes, I am old. But by and large if you go to the type of site that caters to a younger crowd (car enthusiast sites come to mind, as do those related to video games and other “typical” subjects of interest to this age group) I think you will find the need for moderation is higher than for subjects that attract an older demographic. Before I say too much more on this subject, let me finish with my fourth point, which is…
Passion for the Subject Matter
Politics. Cars. Religion. Video Games. All of these subjects seem to bring out the passion in people, especially on anonymous boards on the Internet. If you opt to run a board on one of these or other similar subjects, the rules for moderating are probably going to be quite a bit different than what would be used for a board discussing home repair techniques. It is likely that your moderator / user or moderator / post ratio would be much higher as a result. Topics that inspire extreme viewpoints like cars (Turbo charging or Supercharging! 8 cylinder brute horsepower versus 4 cylinder NOS-boosted quickness!), politics, or religion are interesting topics that spark a lot of discussion. Discussions are the life-blood of boards; without discussion there’s not much of a need for the platform. But discussions that get out of hand can result in divided communities and failed boards.
It is probably not a coincidence that many of the more volatile subject matters are also those that cater to the younger crowd. As people age they naturally become more moderate. Mainly because we’re too tired to get riled up about much of anything anymore…
I would like to provide some statistics from my largest board. As I type this post, we have over 32K users of which 18,500+ have posted at least once. Our board has over 443K posts and we average about 500 new posts per day. There are officially 16 members of the forum moderator team. Based on my moderator logs, half of those do the majority of the work. That gives me 8 active moderators for a community of fairly substantial size. Yet because our subject is interesting to an older demographic and doesn’t really inspire “passion” like some of the other subjects I mentioned earlier in my post, that seems to be a ratio that works for me.
If you want the math, that’s 8 moderators for 18,500 users for a ratio of about 2,312 users per moderator. Even if I increase the level of activity required to be an “active” user to those with five posts or more the ratio only drops to about 1,000 users per moderator. Either number is certainly a bit higher than the 50-1 ratio suggested in the original post that I’m responding to.
It’s not just the total number of active members that should drive your thoughts on how many moderators you need. Frankly, nobody can really answer that question for you. The questions to ask yourself are: Are you comfortable with the general level and type of discussion on your board? More importantly, are your users comfortable? If so, then you probably don’t need more moderators. The core term from the word “moderator” is “moderate” which has (according to dictionary.com) the following definition:
kept or keeping within reasonable or proper limits; not extreme, excessive, or intense
Every board has a certain signal to noise ratio. The “signal” is the good content that you want to encourage, while the “noise” is the background static that you put up with to some degree in order to maintain your board. As a board owner you need to decide how much noise to allow. Too much noise and your signal (desirable content) is lost. Too little noise and the board will seem sterile and uninviting. A good team of moderators becomes the volume control that you use to manage that signal / noise ratio.