Balancing moderation and control in online patient communities [4/5]

In my first blogpost, I described the 5 building blocks of successful online patient communities, i.e. diversity vs similarity, extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, privacy vs trust, moderation vs control, and sociability vs usability.
Let’s zoom in on the trade-off between moderation and control as a key success factor when running online patient communities. This trade-off should be managed by a moderator who needs to act as a good parent. This means that he/she needs to help and guide the participants, but without limiting the patients’ freedom in the online community.
The presence of a moderator plays a vital role in the success of an online patient community, since he/she enhances the functioning of the community by providing technical support, maintaining group processes, nurturing the social aspects of the community, and facilitating learning. First, by acting as a filter, the moderator helps to keep communication focused on the topic of the community. Second, by acting as a “watchdog” of netiquette, the moderator aids in keeping communication civil. For example, the moderator might explain that unprofessional statements (e.g., personal attack on a member) are frowned upon, and he/she is quick to caution those responsible of it.

Despite the need for moderation, this should not be overdone in a way that is experienced as controlling. Patients still need to feel free to express their opinion, ideas, and feelings with the help of a moderator who is present in the background.
In the online patient community, “Patients Like Me”, moderators introduce themselves via an online post where they welcome patients and describe themselves. In doing so, they stress the fact that they are there to help participants and are always available for additional support.
In contrary to the forums on “Patients Like Me”, the Patient Consulting Boards of InSites Consulting are primarily research-driven. Consequently it is crucial to guide patients through the discussion and keep them on-topic. Hence, we have installed several mechanisms that ensure high quality moderation with less control. First, through formal moderation we make sure the patients provide in-depth answers and stay on-topic in their discussions. Informal moderation, then, is used to encourage patients to write down their opinions and ideas and to check whether they understand all questions correctly. Second, before we start the consulting board, a kick-off session is organised in which the moderator explains the goal of the board and creates trust to install an open, honest and positive atmosphere. Third, every consulting board contains a social corner where participants can come up with their own topics and discuss them. Fourth, participants can be put in the driver seat as co-moderator of the community. One of the most active participants is then selected and asked to co-create topics with us and guide the discussions with his/her peers. Finally, InSites Consulting works with local moderators who understand the patients’ culture and are able to develop a close connection with them which leads to more valuable insights.
In the following blog post we will look into the final building block: the trade-off between sociability and usability. Stay tuned!
Source: Sarah Van Oerle (2016) “Value co-creation in online health communities: the role of participants’ posts, network position and behavioural patterns

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