How to Build Strong Volunteer Moderator Teams

Posted by Patrick on October 8th, 2015 in Managing Staff

I have always prided myself on identifying community leaders and building strong teams of volunteer moderators. I have been very fortunate to have many amazing, wonderful people join the communities that I manage and become a part of my teams.

Recently, I was thinking about my team building philosophies, and I identified a set of principles that I adhere to, that have served me well. I’d like to share these principles with you.

While some of this depends on scale, most will apply very well to 99% of online communities – and the remainder can probably be altered to apply to the rest. For instance, if your volunteer program is so large that one person can’t handle it, that might be a clue that your organization needs to commit to community in a more meaningful way… and pay more than one person.

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People Move On

Posted by Patrick on October 5th, 2015 in Interacting with Members

The Long GoodbyeCarrie Jones writes about the idea of celebrating the “right kind of churn.” She draws on an example from Alex Hillman’s Coworking Weekly podcast, where Hillman explained that when a company leaves his coworking space to move into their own office, they celebrate the occasion.

They celebrate that the company has reached a level of growth where they require a bigger space to continue that growth. They might be losing a tenant, but they recognize the success of an alumni.

I believe in this. Your community members are a lot like the cast of Saturday Night Live. I’ve never sought to dominate the lives of the people who join the communities that I manage. You don’t collect humans. We’re all alive for a relatively short period of time. During that brief moment, we gravitate in and out of many different groups and communities, based upon where we are in life.

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Online community professionals in the U.S. are quite fortunate, legally-speaking, as compared to our counterparts in other countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a big reason for this. It might be the most important law on the books that relates to our work. It discourages frivolous lawsuits and allows us to host critical speech of the powerful, without serious fear of a lawsuit.

The Delfi ruling is a reasonable example of what can happen without it. A large company, and a rich man, demanded that an Estonian news outlet remove not only comments that vaguely threatened violence, but also comments that referred to the man as a “bastard” or a “rascal.” Even after they removed the comments, the company and man further demanded damages and, when rebuffed, sued the news outlet. A 9 year legal battle ensued – and the news outlet lost.

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Call of Duty: World at WarCall of Duty: World at War was released on November 11, 2008. 7 years is a long time in gaming, but it’s especially long for the Call of Duty series, which produces a brand new, big budget title every year.

I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty series and have spent many hours playing the games. The zombies mode, introduced in World at War, accounts for a majority of those hours. Most of that was co-op with my brother, Sean. My youngest brother, Trent, joined the team when he was old enough.

The zombies mode is such an incredible value-add for the series. I have never, ever felt like I didn’t get my money’s worth out of a Call of Duty game. I spend around $100 for each game. $50 for the game itself, and then another $50 for the extra content they release over the next year. For the amount of time I spend playing zombies alone (putting aside the main game content, as well as online multiplayer), the value I receive for that $100 is immense.

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Amazon.comAmazon’s Vine program connects prolific Amazon customer reviewers with products in need of reviews. I recently wrote about community monetization alternatives to display ads. The Vine program could serve as inspiration to certain communities, especially those who are dominant in a specific niche.

Vine is largely a win for everyone involved. While you won’t have to look hard to find criticism of it – especially from writers who feel their book was unfairly reviewed or that the average person is not qualified to critique their work – for the most part, it works really well.

Win #1: More Product Reviews for Amazon

Product reviews drive sales. Good and bad ones. The more products that Amazon has reviews for – and the earlier they have them – the more likely that Amazon will convert a viewer to a buyer. In some cases, Vine products are sent pre-release, because the manufacturer wants to have some reviews before it is available for purchase. Amazon then grants the Vine reviewers the ability to publish a review early.

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When Monetizing Online Forums was published, back in July of 2012, we wanted to show community professionals and owners that there were more ways to monetize a community than traditional display ads. We talked about display advertising, and how to do it right, but we discussed several other methods that could allow you to shift away from display ads while potentially generating even more revenue.

I was reminded of that goal this week when the discussion around ad blocking reached new heights, thanks to Apple. I don’t want to talk about ad blocking today. Instead, I want to help you diversify and discover new methods of generating revenue, that won’t be affected by ad blocking. If you want to know more about these methods, Monetizing Online Forums is a free download.

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Companies who sell products, especially high-end goods and those that stand for a certain mark of quality, should consider the power of community in the form of an owners club.

When I say high-end, that doesn’t necessarily mean $1,000 or $50,000 or $500,000. It’s relative. A high-end pen might cost $200. Obviously, a high-end automobile is much more. What is often true is that people who purchase a high-end good are making a commitment to a particular practice or interest. Not all of them are wealthy. Many save and plan to be able to make that purchase.

A person who buys a high-end woodworking tools is more passionate about craftsmanship than someone who buys cheaper ones. A person who spends $2,000 on a suit is excited about a certain level of dress. A person who spends $300 on a pen finds more enjoyment from the act of handwriting (or simply collecting pens). On average, anyway. Cost doesn’t always equal quality, and spending money isn’t always indicative of true interest. However, more often than not, someone who makes that type of commitment to a product has a much higher level of interest in what it stands for than someone who does not.

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As online comment sections propagated throughout the web and faced people-related scaling issues, mainstream media sites become a popular example of low quality discourse. Some chose to invest meaningful resources into their comments, but many did not.

In recent years, an assortment of news publishers and noted publications have closed their comment sections. I don’t necessarily see that as a big deal or even a bad thing. There’s an ebb and flow here. Many people rush into tools without enough thought, then wonder why they don’t work. There is an eventual correction as they find its not for them or something shinier attracts their attention.

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Let’s say you have previously accepted content from community members requiring only an email address. This could be forum posts, photos, reviews, comments, whatever.

Now, you’ve decided it’s time to go deeper and create an account system so that you can offer additional features and connect more directly with the community. And you want to convert those old members (and their content) into this new system.

How should you do this?

You could automatically create the accounts and then email people, allowing them to confirm their address and create a password. No matter how you word it, this is tricky because in most circumstances, people don’t like having an account created for them without having been asked first, even though it might make total sense from a technical/software evolution standpoint.

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The greats of tomorrow are in the online communities of today. They might even be in yours.

Even though online communities have been around since the 1980s, we are only a generation or two deep into mainstream usage of online communities. Where when someone is really into a subject, they seek out others online who are similarly motivated and driven.

I’ve seen this over and over again. My time at SitePoint is an easy example. In a setting like this, people who are self-motivated and driven often gravitate toward one another. I met so many people who have gone on to do great things and be recognized as leaders. They’ve climbed the corporate ranks at high-profile companies, founded successful ones, written books and done amazing work. That community was about programming, web design and business, so those are the pursuits they excelled in.

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