How Many Moderators Do You Really Need?

Posted by drathbun in Moderating with the tags , on August 12th, 2008

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. :lol: 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:

  1. Number of active users
  2. Number of posts per day
  3. Average age of board members
  4. 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. :lol: 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. :-P 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… :-P

Case Study
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. 8-)

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 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.

28 Responses to “How Many Moderators Do You Really Need?”

Posted by Callum on August 12th, 2008 at 5:39 am:

Interesting topic, I’ve run into a few of these bumps on my boards, although my user count (67) or ppd count (50~) doesn’t compare to this site or many other boards, moderation is an important part of any board. The board I run is an online forum-based role play so my users have a high passion for subject matter, sometimes a little too much which is where moderation comes in. Also, your mention of the member maturity is a big factor although this isn’t restricted to age like you say, I myself run the boards and I’m 16 and my members are of all ages, I find that some of my older members are the less mature ones so it can be either end of the scale.

I agree that in the end it’s the board owner’s choice of moderators, who they are and how many are needed and it’s unique to each and every board. Just analyse what goes on around your board and make the decision =]

[/essay] =P


Posted by JimA on August 12th, 2008 at 7:12 am:

Very nice post, I like to read this posts. 😀

Posted by drathbun on August 12th, 2008 at 12:50 pm:

Cal, thanks for your comment. I knew someone was going to pick up on the maturity aspect of my post. 🙂 As I said in the post, I’ve meet some very mature teenagers and some immature adults, so it’s by no means an absolute correlation. Maturity as a member attribute is certainly a factor in moderation requirements. Age is just one factor that impacts how mature someone is or acts online.

Posted by Jwxie on August 13th, 2008 at 4:33 am:

Well, honestly, I think first, you should define the theme of your site before even counting the numbers of moderators….
I mean, look, there are huge forum out there that are not technical or anything specific. There are forums that are all-theme-applies. You may have hundreds of members suggesting different new board to be open, sure you will have to decide which is should be open and while many will only fall into consideration only. So only a few new boards open and then you may have some members who want to be the moderators.

Sometime, I think it is really about the imporantce of the theme. I am an admin for a chinese forum, a very pouplar one, it is a all-kinds-themes, yet most people come for our bt and drama, movies and HD stuff. So we are a HUGEEEE forum and we, so far have about 150+ moderators for 120 boards.
It’s really about how the management wants to go. Some people go different method to choose or to invite a new moderator, some have another methods.

So the real question is : what do you expect your moderator to do. Hahahaa

Posted by Darren on August 13th, 2008 at 11:17 am:

It’s difficult to be too precise about required numbers as it depends how active your membership is, you may have many users who just read your forum. Again as I mentioned in the selecting moderators post I consult my admins and moderators and assess how busy they are. Another consideration is the development of the forum, if you have a strong team you will have plenty of scope for feedback and discussion about how to develop your board, you also have a ‘panel’ of people to give the forum the right moral direction. Another key consideration is time coverage, when are people online? When can your moderators operate? Spend some time finding out when people are around you may spot a period when your forum is always unmoderated, this is probably at night. Think about brining someone on board who lives in another timezone, they can providing moderat support when others are asleep.

Posted by Girlintrouble on August 13th, 2008 at 1:00 pm:

I’m definitely aware of how important this issue is. A board I have actively visited for the past three years is now in meltdown due to a small percentage of users who due to geographic cliques caused trouble. Moderation did not occur. In fact the moderators themselves gave up and stopped visiting the site, leaving all the work to a few admins. When mods fail to moderate then replacements need to be found quickly. Some people do not like to be confrontational and cannot hold their ground without losing their cool. They do not make good moderators. In this case, spin off clubs were formed but many people came back again and again to cause trouble. Now the forum just has a few regular members who hardly post. None of the member were young due to the content of the site and it was a flourishing site. So this demonstrates that a moderator presence and action when required can make a big difference to the survival of your forum.

Posted by Jwxie on August 13th, 2008 at 5:42 pm:

Girlintrouble, I agreed with you. Keeping the moderators at their feet is an important key factor that will determine the popularity and the maintanace of a forum. I have experienced some great loss of members because they certainly do not agree with the moderators or the admins. Yet, we did nothing wrong but to keep our rules.

Posted by drathbun on August 13th, 2008 at 9:19 pm:

First, thank you for your input and feedback to my post.

Darren: I think what you said was exactly my point. It’s nearly impossible to provide a precise mathematical equation that will tell you how many moderators you need. 🙂 The time-zone coverage was one attribute that I had planned to cover but decided my post was long enough without it. Thanks for bringing that up for consideration.

Girlintrouble: I have seen something similar to what you describe as well. Ultimately a board is a social environment. Like any society it can go through various phases, some of which are more destructive than others. In one case an admin left their own board because of pressure from the community. 😯 In another case a large group of users broke off from an original board to found one of their own when the overall board rules were changed. The moderators have something to do with this, but in some cases the core issues run beyond what a moderator can manage.

Jwxie: You also make good points. The subject matter and how it will be treated are things you should consider as a board owner before you set up your moderator guidelines / rules to be enforced on your board. Here is where experience can come in handy. If you have participated in a similar board before starting your own, you may have some ideas of what to do… and what not to do. 🙂 Sometimes it takes more than one attempt to get it right. Moderators can help, but they can only follow and enforce the guidelines set up by the board owner.

Posted by Darren on August 14th, 2008 at 8:42 am:

In response to Girlintrouble’s post above I would advice people starting a forum to think fairly early on to develop a strategy for moderation and more widely quality control. It will take time to work out what works and what’s needed, the first thing to do is to decide what standards you want from your posters. On my website I established early on that we wanted well composed quality debate and news. Initially without a strategy the moderation was a mixed bag with everything done reactively. Eventually the forum quality dropped due to spamming the quality of new posters. We lost control and ended up fire fighting. I realised we needed to prevent the fires in the first place, fire fighting put too much pressure on the moderator/admin team. Our response was to evulate users with a probation period deciding whether we kept a poster. We enabled admin authorisation which cut out spammers and created forum rules outling what we expected from our posters (for example no text talk, debate the points not the person etc etc). Within the rules we set out warning criterias. Friendly warning, yellow card, and red card. Since we have done all that the forum has thrived, the quality returned and we’re attracting the kind of posters we want on the fourm.

Posted by Jwxie on August 14th, 2008 at 7:07 pm:

Recently we decide to make certain things under one unify ruling. For example, spamming, maclicious actions, register more than one account to bot the game unfairly, and ect, we make them into a unify ruling. We create a web page to show what are the punishment
yet, we still keep the moderators feel to make other rules, but these new rules must be acceptable with quality and quantity
we have 2 meetings per year for all moderators and 2 meetings for the high administration as well

Posted by drathbun on August 14th, 2008 at 10:00 pm:

It’s interesting to hear you (Jwxie) mention moderator meetings. Afterall that’s part of what we were able to do at Londonvasion for phpBB. 🙂 In the early days of my board we had quarterly conference calls for the moderators, mainly because we were still figuring everything out. I don’t think we’ve had one in a few years now because everyone is comfortable with the way things are running. We also have (as I expect many if not most boards have) a private moderator forum where people can discuss issues with the board.

Darren: what you have described fits well, I think, with my final paragraph of the original post. As the board owner you need to set (and enforce) expectations. Some boards allow a higher “noise” level and as a result have a wider range of post and user quality. What fits on this board doesn’t work for that board and so on. It sounds like you reacted with an appropriate solution that was appreciated by your board members, and all is going well now.

A board is a community. If a person is not comfortable in that community, they can move. 🙂 It’s not like there is a shortage of boards on the Internet. Keeping users happy and feeling safe in your community can be a full-time job. How many people you need for that job… well, that was the subject for my post so I won’t repeat it all here. 🙂

Posted by Wil Vincent on August 18th, 2008 at 3:14 pm:

Being the webmaster of a Linkin Park Fansite, I’d thought I’d show you two sides of the coin, and chuck another ball into the works.

The LP Fan site I own is the most updated for news on the internet. More so than the official one. Therefore the content we are discussing involves a lot of rumours, and reaction to setlists, news etc. Because of this, there tends to be a lot of Spam and people repeating themselves in 5 different threads. Because of this, we need about 5 moderators to keep track of this throughout the day. however, has a different problem. Because it is a private forum (You have to pay to use it, as it’s a benifit of the official package,) there tends to be less in the way of general spam, and more bickering between users who have built up opinions over the 4/5 uears they have known each other. Because most of this bickering is harmless, there is only the need for one, two at the least moderators. Because with a private forum, you have the following differences

A: No spam sex, etc posts
B: Users are more likely to appriciate the content of the forum.
C: Banned users generally won’t pay another $35 dollars to re enter the site

Also a comment that was noted back in the origional post is the skill of a Moderator. One of the Moderators of is simply one of the best I have ever seen, sticking firmly to the @Company Line@, yet still having fun with the users. Remembering the reputation of the band may be at stake in certain cases, he ha a lot to do, yet does it really well. Yet, I have been a moderator on other sites, where a lot of the team were moderators just for the colour change….. Therefore making moderation of the site a lot harder……..

Just my two cents

Posted by Anon on August 19th, 2008 at 2:15 am:

We use *lots* of Moderators, not because of the users – because of spam!
When you have a dozen new spammers registering each day, you need a 24/7 watch, lest your forum drowns in pron and fake drugs.
Unfortunately phpBB (v2) is wide open to spammers… v3 is somewhat better, but the censor still can’t parse links, making it impossible for instance to censor the 800th pron picture post from always the same URL – you only can sit there and clean up the mess…
Extremely aggravating.

Posted by nikhil on August 19th, 2008 at 9:10 am:

This post is great, a real time case study type with comments from some very experienced users.

Posted by Darren on August 19th, 2008 at 11:56 am:

Is it possible to get the blog link in the menu?

Posted by Darren on August 20th, 2008 at 8:42 am:

Interesting cases Wil Vincent, In think spam can be controlled by simply using admin authorisation. We’ve adopted that on our forum which isn’t private and we don’t get spam anymore. You make a good point about ‘moderator status’, I am wary of people who ask to be moderators (not many), we tend to decide collectively who has the right attributes.

Posted by drathbun on August 20th, 2008 at 2:21 pm:

Anon: if your spam problems are that bad then you probably want to have a look at some of the anti-spam MODs available. There are some for phpBB2 that are extremely effective.

Darren: The website team is working on getting a blog link in the header. It’s a question of screen real-estate and priorities. 🙂 As to your other comment: people who ask to be moderators are almost never good moderators. I think that’s a really safe statement to make. If your board is small then admin authorization is okay, but it’s not an optimal solution. It’s putting the workload on you. I touched on this a bit in the anti-spam talk I did at Londonvasion.

Wil, thank you for the detailed examples you provided. Can you share some metrics, like how many posts per day you’re getting on the public board?

Posted by Darren on August 20th, 2008 at 4:30 pm:

Fair point about workload drathbun, I am extremely lucky to have two dedicated admins who put a lot of time into our project, it’s probably medium sized at the moment but we may have to rethink the admin authorisation if it gets super busy.

Posted by Jwxie on August 21st, 2008 at 1:53 am:

Hey guys, been busy
I think, SPAM is a problem and a factor for the need of moderations.
Once again, back to my Chinese forum, it’s huge… We have points system and rank system. Users want to rise their rank and get more functions in the board, and so they will spam / “watering”. Watering is a very common-forum term meaning “pointless-and-continuous-reply”. They will go on 10 posts and just say “thank you”, or “3453453”, or “dfgry465”.
We have moderators to catch them and since i have mention above. It is part of their tasks daily.
When we catch one, ban for 3 days, second time will be gone.
We use a different bbs software but the concept here is the same .

I have no doubt but the admin auth but look we have 200 moderators in total. 7 is super moderators, but only 3 is active. 7 is global / high moderators, and while the rest are either “co-moderator” or “moderator”.

Posted by Jwxie on August 21st, 2008 at 1:55 am:

and by the way, people will submit their applications for requesting to become a moderator, what we did is even crazier…

we have a thread where these applicants will reply for 30 days and then he can submit his applications.

Sometime, some application have to wait for 3 months to get his applications accepted. Some maybe 1 month or 2 month.
yet there are some recruited from outside / other forums.

Posted by bunny on August 28th, 2008 at 12:53 am:

Is there a way to log or track what the Moderators are doing? I mean, there’s a group of 10+ moderators that are on this forum and only about 5 or 6 of them are actually “doing” anything! We want to put a stop to the lazy moderators though they claim to do their parts, no one ever sees them on – even though they are on the same time zone as several of the other group members.

How do we prove they are not fulfilling their duties so we can get moderators who actually WILL do their job? Is there a Mod- Tracker we can put on our boards?

Posted by drathbun on August 28th, 2008 at 7:13 pm:

Hi, bunny, thanks for your question. You didn’t mention which version of phpBB you are using.

In phpBB3 there is a moderator log that you can review and see who is doing what. In phpBB2 there was no such feature. As you have suggested, you can “guess” which of your moderators are active, and which are not. But to truly know exactly who is / is not performing their duties requires a database log, which phpBB2 does not offer.

Posted by forummom on August 29th, 2008 at 12:00 pm:

Do you have any guidelines on the minimum age for moderators? Would child moderators (say 10 or 12 year olds) need parental consent to be a moderator if it’s a kid site? Would adult who are moderators need background checks if it’s a kids site?

I’ve heard of COPPA, but I’ve not heard about it in the context of moderators. It’s not my site. But I have become aware of it and wanted your recommendation as I when I searched online, I had trouble finding guidelines on this.

Posted by dumbie on August 29th, 2008 at 1:27 pm:

1 moderator for each user. thats gonna be coooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool. 🙂

Posted by drathbun on September 2nd, 2008 at 8:57 pm:

forummom, unless it’s a very unusual situation I would not see 10-12 year-olds as effective moderators. If it’s a kids boards, I would submit that you still need adult moderation. That’s just my opinion, of course. 🙂

Posted by unholyman on September 11th, 2008 at 7:17 pm:

Legally no you dont need adult permissions If your not paying the children to host and set-up boards for them but drathbun said I would hope there is a adult overseeing whats going on aswell I have a mod who is 12 years old he does a very good job lets me know when he see’s Spammer I Told him I could see if he followed the links and if he did I would ban him myself I check them if they are adult rated spammers They are put on 3 day ip ban, ban username, and delete user . Hes just learning and Im teaching him what I can about boards/forums and html

Posted by Daisy on September 14th, 2008 at 2:08 pm:

interesting thread – another site I admin on has just reached 5,200 members and we just upped out mod team from 4 mods/ admins/Webmaster to 9 mods/2 admins. I’m thinking of making another admin to share the load. With numbers and activity comes increased reports ect., it seems.

Posted by mrGTB on October 7th, 2008 at 11:10 am:

I would say about one moderator for every 500 to a 1000 users myself.

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