It’s the truth, guys. I’m a moderator on the dating website OKCupid. Most people would probably be embarrassed to publically announce that they’ve risen in the ranks of online dating, but not me. I think it provides a unique opportunity to look into how services and products can leverage the dedication of their users.

First, some background. How did I even get here? I’ve been on the site for about 4 months now, and it’s not too bad. I’ve talked to some people, and I’ve even met up with a handful of them. I haven’t met the love of my life, but the site has been pretty much exactly what I expected.

Then this moderator thing happened. You don’t apply or anything, you just log in one day and you have a message. If you’re a dummy like me then you’ll get all excited thinking about the pretty lady that could be on the other end of the internet. Then your hopes are immediately dashed when their profile picture looks suspiciously similar to the logo of the website.

As it turns out though, the message was even more interesting than one from a lady. It was offering me the chance to help moderate the site. I’ve screencapped it below. Click it to read the tiny bits.

The blurred part is my username. That’s private. You can find me on Twitter and Facebook though.

It seems the only qualification to meet is being a “loyal and active member.” I’d like to pretend that means “go on a lot of awesome dates” but in reality I’m pretty sure it means “spend that month where you were unemployed sitting at your computer all day endlessly browsing profiles.”

This whole moderator thing piqued my interest for a lot of reasons. The relevant one to those of us in the digital product and marketing game is thinking about how this online service has mobilized their own users as a means to improve the experience.

As a moderator, I’m not getting paid, so why did I agree to this free labour? I sit there and look at reported photos and vote on whether they should be deleted or left alone. I even learned (most of) a whole confusing collection of acronyms and initialisms that are used in discussions.

An example of what the moderation panel looks like

This is moderation. The right side features the report, comments from moderators, and the chance to vote.

The reason I am doing this is that I’ve been given access and the right to judge. It’s fundamentally interesting to peek behind the scenes. You might even get your heart rate going when you think about the inappropriate picture that could be next. By the way, that hasn’t happened to me yet though. So far, it’s mostly dudes posting pictures of their motorcycle, but there’s a website dedicated to the disturbing stuff (obviously NSFW).

Even if you’re not in the business of starting relationships, you can learn something from this. If your users are passionate about your product and your service, just give them some access and they’ll help you out. It’s nothing for you, but it makes them feel important and it makes them feel like they’re part of something they care about.

For friends of mine who are bloggers, this is as simple as giving them their own log-in credentials. Instead of emailing word docs to an editor, they get to post their draft right in the backend of sites like The Huffington Post and the Eat St. Blog. It comes at no cost, it gets them closer to the action, and it even makes things easier for the editors.

Think about what you can offer your power users and what you stand to gain from them. Can they help police the site? Can they provide content? What will they happily contribute?

Now I’m just going to sit around and see what perks Plenty of Fish has up their sleeve.