On e-moderation (tongue-in cheek)

If you’re planning to become a moderator of an online community, be prepared as this task will draw you in and keep you occupied 24 hours a day! While moderating groups in real life means you have to mobilize yourself for several hours, online community research dynamics spread out over several weeks.

Online respondents can’t see you face- to-face, but they are constantly checking if you’re there. The moment any issues arise (a technical glitch, a content-related or an organizational fault) or anything needs clarification, they will post, start threads with questions for the moderator and will e-mail you. And they expect a fast (if not an instantaneous) response

It’s also in your best interest to keep on top of events as they develop. Posts need to be read on an on-going basis if not for other reasons, then simply because their number tends to increase rapidly (and they are made 24 hours a day – every respondent posts when he/ she’s got the time and the inclination to log into the online platform). To stay on top, to keep in touch with where the different threads are going, and to avoid becoming swamped by and lost in all the new information coming your way, in practice you need to check the online platform at least several times a day.

There are certain restrictions that apply to moderating an online community that you will not come across as often when moderating focus groups. If an online discussion is getting off the main subject and is moving toward an area your Client isn’t interested in, you can write a post to get people back on track but it will probably get lost in an avalanche of other posts made by community users. If this happens, you are advised to keep your cool and stay patient!

Keep in mind, that as a tool, an online platform suffers from a specific shortcoming: it doesn’t allow a moderator to pacify overactive respondents and get the less active and less frequent posters to involve themselves more in the discussion.

Unlike you, online community posters aren’t aware of the logic and the objectives behind the different subjects posted on the forum. Often, they tend to focus on their own threads that are on the sidelines of what the research aims to explore. Don’t write this extracurricular activity off, don’t skip over what they wrote in the cafeteria – there too you can find a lot of surprisingly ingenious and paradoxically relevant information.

It might look like online research ‘happens on its own’ with the moderator’s role mainly boiling down to ‘throwing in’ new subjects for the respondents to discuss on the forum – this is a complete misconception. Though in the background, the moderator’s presence helps keep the online platform on the right track. It also imparts the platform with a ‘human touch’, something even the best and the most sophisticated online platform and the best software can’t replace.