Section Two: Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios
To undertake your duties in this online space there are several different roles you may find yourself in. Sometimes these roles may be combined but more often you will be acting in a distinct capacity. Below are the types of role you may be asked to undertake and some common-sense guidance to help you fulfil this role.
This is often the most familiar role in the online space – you are participating in online discussions, networks and forums simply as a participant. You neither own or lead these discussions and should have equal voice as other participants. You are contributing to add value to the discussion in a relevant way. Please be aware that discussions, debate and at the more extreme end, argument all magnify strength of opinion so it is important to understand that what you say and the way you say it. It will directly reflect upon the mood of the discussion and the reaction of people within it. Be professional and show respect.
Guidance and Tips:
- Avoid getting into an argument or inflaming a discussion
- Understand the impact of your participation / contribution
- Are children or vulnerable people involved and will you be interacting with them?
Your role is to simply provide or promote some form of information to an audience. To do this effectively you must be accurate, fair, thorough and clear in the information you provide. The rules of Accessibility and Plain English should apply. It is also a common oversight to forget to ensure that if you provide information or generate awareness through broadcast you must also provide a method or route for people to find out more or enquire about the information provided. If this is yourself make sure that you are set-up to manage this response. If it is someone else then ensure that they are aware that this is the case and they understand the information you have broadcast.
Guidance and Tips:
- You must have buy-in from the organisation
- Making the commitment to maintaining the accuracy an updating of this information
- Ensure that there is a clear and resourced ‘return path’ for people to enquire or respond to your information.
- Understand the restrictions of your chosen tool. For example twitter restricts you to 140 characters, if you wish people to “retweet” your information allow space for this to occur.
3. Lead Spokesperson
A lead spokesperson may start, lead or participate in a discussion but in this role you must accept the full responsibility as THE voice of the Council on the matters you are called on to discuss. It is therefore important to understand the impact of your position and the accuracy and rationality of your comments in an online space. You will be held to account for them either by your employer, the media or the public. Be professional. Be Responsible. Be credible. Most importantly never say anything that you cannot substantiate and avoid commenting on things that you are not spokesperson for (i.e.: if you are the Lead Spokesperson for Highways then it would be best you did not speak about Council issues relating to Child Protection, that is unless you are the Lead Spokesperson for this aswell!)
Guidance and Tips:
- Let the Press Office know
- Are you the right person or is someone better placed to do this?
- Have you attended the internal media training course?
4. Community Management (Moderator/Facilitator)
A Moderator/facilitator is one of the most important and difficult roles to undertake. You should not underestimate the time needed to encourage, grow and create valuable online discussion or communities.
Forum moderators are not police officers
The biggest mistake forum or discussion owners make when taking on forum moderators is expecting them to police the community. Many see the main role of moderators as enforcers of the site rules, as people who delete posts they don’t like and lock topics the moment they run off-course. If these are the priorities of your moderators, you are doing it all wrong.
The primary role of a forum moderator should be to promote interaction. A forum moderator should be posting new threads and adding new content to the site. They should be helping out members with their queries and they should be keeping threads alive by asking questions. That is not to say that forum moderators shouldn’t be allowed to delete or lock threads that are inappropriate – of course this should be one of their roles. But this should never be their primary role.
How to effectively moderate forums and online discussions
Why forum moderation is necessary
If you don’t moderate your forum it can be overwhelmed with spam and abusive posts – this is the primary reason why you should ensure all the forums you run have some degree of moderation. Spam and abusive posts are detrimental to your online community – you must moderate your forums to prevent irreversible damage from taking place.
Why moderation should be taken seriously
Many forum moderators will often delete comments they disagree with, or members they suspect of spamming, then think nothing else of it. This is a mistake.
Forum moderation, if done incorrectly, can be worse than having no moderation at all. Over-zealous moderation can result in members ending up feeling alienated and angry when they find their posts or accounts deleted for no understandable reason.
A community relies on its members – before you take decisive action against yours, make sure you are making the right decision.
How to avoid conflict when moderating
It is essential that your online community has a set of rules, parameters or guidelines for your members to follow.
Before you have to take action against a member, you should always contact them and try to get them to remove or edit the post themselves by referring them to the rule you feel they have broken.
In this way, you are making your site user feel far more valued on a personal level – this is far preferable to the member simply returning one day to find their post(s) or account deleted.
The key to effective forum moderation
You should only edit the accounts or posts of your members as a last resort.
If you are unhappy with any content they have created, speak directly and confidentially to that person.
This way, you will not end up alienating your community – they will respect you far more as a moderator and will feel far more valued as a member of your community.
Each online community will be unique and will develop its own “rhythm”, you may feel that the community is inactive when in fact it could be in a quiet phase within its cycle. Good community managers learn the unique rhythms of their communities and contribute, encourage and foster participation at the right times.
Guidance and Tips:
- Special needs of the audience
- Are children or vulnerable people involved
5. Forum Administrator
A forum administrator may indeed fulfil some of the advanced roles of the Moderator however if we separate the facilitation and moderation of the content of the site from the administration of the forum in terms of it being up to date, technical issues, adding or deleting accounts, routing general enquiries and ensuring the structure and the technical/functional integrity of the site remains intact then this can be seen as an administrative role. A Moderator/Facilitator is NOT an administrative role as it is responsible for the content and its integrity on the site/forum and is therefore a highly evolved role.