AUSTRALIAN WRITERS’ FORUM: A MODERATE SUCCESS?
Pauline has suggested that I ePen some words about internet forum moderation based on my experience with the Australian Writers’ Forum (AWF). If the AWF is a nice place to be, that’s the forum members’ fault. But since Pauline has flattered me, let me indulge…
Since we want the forum to be a friendly place, I strive to be polite, even in the face of personal abuse. When my role requires me to ‘have words’ with someone, I do it privately to avoid bringing down the tone of the forum.
Rather than being dictatorial, I endeavour to be receptive to suggestions, making everyone feel involved. Unlike a blog, a forum is for a group of people. Managing a forum is therefore different—and harder.
I’m tempted to respond to every post. This is especially true when things are quiet: I feel an obligation to create activity. But since the aim is to encourage a community, I mustn’t dominate. I love discovering that half a dozen others have warmly welcomed a newbie before I noticed their arrival. I’m embarrassed to have the highest post count; hopefully someone will overtake me soon.
Also in the spirit of group ownership, AWF has entrusted some members with specific responsibilities. This isn’t limited to formal moderation duties: we also have social media co-ordinators, event organisers and list maintainers.
Rather than selecting moderators based on their technical ability (eg, proficiency with forum software), the AWF’s moderators have been chosen for their people skills. The primary role of moderators is to work with others to keep things pleasant; if they can also delete spam expediently, that’s a bonus.
You can’t please everyone. An example is off-topic posts: some people are happy for discussions to meander like small-talk, while others are strictly businesslike. The use of ‘off topic’ channels helps, but this will always remain an awkward balancing act.
Another fine line is marketing. Writers need to promote themselves and their output, but we don’t want AWF to be dominated by advertising like so many twitter feeds: our focus is on support rather than sales. A compromise has been to establish specific forum sections for publicising personal information.
While the main focus of AWF is our discussion board, we sometimes run real-time chat sessions on writing-related topics. Despite significant enthusiasm for these, they’ve proved difficult to run because of members’ disparate interests and circumstances.
Flaming seems virtually de rigueur for on-line forums, so it seems sensible to eschew content that risks conflict. However, a writers’ group must encourage its members to comment critically on one another’s writing. Some critiques posted on AWF have been brutally blunt, but I’ve been impressed at how well most people accept negative feedback. Many times I’ve been ready to douse an anticipated conflagration that never occurred.
Much has been written on the right way to express criticism. My main criterion is that it should be about the writing and not the writer. Nobody should be insulted, even if they write as poorly as I.
The right way to receive criticism is also important. In addition to taking it in good humour, it’s best not to defend one’s writing too much. Doing so can leave reviewers feeling that their comments will always fall on deaf ears, making them less inclined to express their opinions in future. This doesn’t mean that all suggestions have to be accepted: they can be set aside quietly.
While any AWF member can post snippets of their work for review, the best way to get good feedback is to contribute to group discussions for a while so that others know you’re not just ‘on the take’.
The Bottom Line
There aren’t any great secrets here. Running a forum is mostly common sense and its success depends on its members.
AWF membership is free. Please join us!
Thanks Peter. I think the advice here is relevant to all kinds of on-line forums, although peer review certainly adds a different and difficult dimension. Some writers’ forums avoid this aspect and I can understand why, even though it can be a valuable resource for writers of any level of experience and expertise . FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW; YOUR FEEDBACK WILL BE MUCH APPRECIATED.