A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a panel on importance of reputation in online communities. I was privileged to share the limelight with the most excellent community managers: Bill Platt of Engine Yard, Sean O’Driscoll of Ant’s Eye View, and Annie Fox of Buzznet. We were quite an unruly bunch, and almost gave our moderator Caroline Dangson a heart attack when we decided to have a drinking game on-stage. Some say, it was diluted Coke, but there are no guarantees. Enjoy.
Monthly Archives: August 2012
Volunteer community moderators are your secret weapon in keeping your community friendly, professional, and helpful.
When run well, a volunteer moderator organization can do wonders for you. They can be your eyes and ears into what’s going on in the community, they can be your sounding board for new ideas, and a source of ideas and suggestions to make your community even better.
Before we even start with recruiting your volunteer moderators, let’s talk about what makes a volunteer moderation team work well.
Once you got that covered, you will need moderator guidelines. That’s a document with clear rules for the moderators to follow while enforcing your code of conduct and the terms. Things such as what to do with a flame post, when to lock a thread, and how to deal with spammers. Spend a couple hours in the quiet spelling that out. If you have never written such guidelines before, google “forum moderator guidelines” and adapt what makes sense to you.
Do we get to recruit moderators now? Nope, not yet. If you are starting a new volunteer organization, you better lay down the rules for how one becomes (and stays) a moderator right from the start. Who qualifies to be a moderator? Maybe someone who’s been on the forum for X months, or someone with N forum posts.
In order to avoid creating a clique, and to combat volunteer fatigue, you will also need to put in place some succession/election mechanisms that will allow you to introduce new blood on a regular basis as well as give the old guard a way to step down without losing face.
The rules that work well for my volunteer group are pretty simple, and go something like this:
- You have to have 500+ forum points to qualify.
- We hold elections every six months and qualified people can step forward at that point, while the existing moderators get to vote on the candidates. We allocate a full month for that process.
- If a candidate receives no negative votes, they’re in. Even a single negative vote is enough to take the candidate out of the race.
- All existing moderators have to re-commit for the next 6 months during the election time. If they don’t do that during the election month, they get removed from the group.
Note: Spare no energy to repeat that there is no disgrace in stepping down if you have no time or your priorities have changed. You want this group to consist of active moderators, not sleepers.
Procedure matters, of course. And you have to make sure you hold yourself to the highest standard first, and never ever break your word. Even if your favorite community member has just been vetoed from being elected a moderator.
Why? Because you want this group to work with as little friction as possible, and that requires that no single person has major problems with any other. Also, because you have to show them your trust in order to earn theirs. Trust begets trust, and you’ll have to always have their back, so that when the time comes, they will have yours.
Now you get to go recruit moderators. If you have no volunteer moderators yet, go find out who are the most active forum contributors and approach them. Tell them that you are looking for volunteers, and point them to the guidelines and forum rules that you’d ask them to enforce. First batch you can just let in at your own discretion, and make sure they know that the elections will be happening at regular intervals after that.
Give them a private forum to talk amongst themselves, where only you and the moderators will have access. Establish a moderator meeting or some such to get the group feeling like they belong, and if you have a VIP program, include them in that.
You will have to be an active participant in the forum yourself, to make sure you don’t miss any questions, and also to let them know that you are around if they need you.
As the moderators start implementing your guidelines in real life, you may need to amend them or to add new rules. If you are unsure what to do, ask your moderators. That will show them that you respect their opinion, and help them feel appreciated. And that is what makes a volunteer organization thrive.