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I don’t know if I’d call it “traditional wisdom.” But, I encounter people who feel that, in order to be a moderator on a community, you must actually be an expert in the subject matter of the community. I find that, in general, the people who hold this belief tend to be people who participate in communities as a member, rather than as an administrator. Two good examples:

To moderate at KarateForums.com, you must be a seasoned martial artist.

To moderate at phpBBHacks.com, you must be a phpBB programming or styling expert.

These types of statements are more often untrue than they are true. The main area where it is true is if you run a support community of some kind and you have a support team that is also your moderation team. Part of the requirements of supporting people is having knowledge that can help – but, at the same time, that doesn’t mean being an expert.

When it comes to moderating a community, the greatest assets are personality and character based. Who they are as a person. Communication is key, patience is key, team skills are key, attention to detail is key. Being an expert? Not key. Generally speaking, my moderators are picked out of the community. They are already there. They already have some level of knowledge or interest in the subject.

I don’t want know-it-alls. I don’t want people who feel their knowledge is supreme and infallible. I don’t want someone who is incapable of admitting they don’t know something and asking for help when that happens. That person is worthless to me.

I remember banning someone from phpBBHacks.com (this has happened more than once) who knew phpBB pretty well. But, they were banned because they were, more or less, jerks. Knowledge is worthless in someone unable to kindly communicate it. Knowledge used to make people feel bad or as a matter of ego isn’t actual knowledge that can be benefited from.

Anyway, in one of these cases, I remember the person saying, something like “Patrick has such and such on his staff and the guy actually had to ask for help for this! See: .” As if asking for help is a weakness and invalidates you from joining my team. The person he was referring to was actually a phpBB expert and a friend of mine who could run circles around that guy and who helped a countless number of people in the phpBB community. A genius. In knowledge and in character. True genius is knowing you don’t know it all and asking for help when it happens.

Asking for help represents willingness to learn, not weakness. And that is a concept that this banned user couldn’t grasp. As such, he was not someone who would ever be able to join my staff.

Just recently, I had someone at KarateForums.com tell me that such and such was not fit to be a staff member because they didn’t know about some seminal martial arts book. He even remarked publicly about it, sarcastically. “Shouldn’t a staff member know about this?” I wasn’t having that. Forget that the staff member in question is a good person who talks to people with respect, contributes to the community and helps to maintain it. He didn’t know about this book, so obviously, it makes no sense for him to be a staff member.

I’ve seen, a number of times, where there is a community where all of the moderators are supposedly experts. But, there is one problem: they don’t know how to be moderators. Moderators need to be kind, helpful people who can work within a team and take direction. They don’t need to be experts. It’s about good people. If they are an expert, cool. If they are not, fine. But, surround yourself with good people.


I’ll be doing a book signing at Blog World Expo on September 21 at 10:00 AM. I don’t know the specific location, but I’m sure it’ll be at wherever they have their book store. I know 2 people will be there. We’ll see if any others show up! It is very conveniently scheduled as the morning keynote ends at 10:00 AM and no panels start until 11:00 AM. So, if you’re free, please drop by. I’d love to meet you.

Also, I wanted to mention that I have a live interview, this Friday, August 29 at 8:00 PM, on New Media Pro.TV. I’m not sure if I will be on video or not, but either way, my voice will be live and, if you’re around, I’d love to have you listen in.

Finally, the deadline for voting in the SXSW 2009 Panel Picker is Friday, as well. If you have voted for my panels, thanks so much! If you haven’t, I’d definitely appreciate it if you gave it a look. The two panels are: “Content Theft and Copyright Infringement on Your Online Community” and “Are You Ready to Manage an Online Community?

I really appreciate all the support.


It’s been quite a while since I did a book coverage summary post, so I have a lot to highlight. First and foremost, there are a number of new reviews.

Chris Brogan, Jake McKee (Community Guy) and Jim Kukral all reviewed the book. Jim’s review was a video review and you can watch it on his blog. Chris Brogan’s review was mentioned by Heidi Miller on Talk It Up!

Dr. Jeffrey Barlow, of the Berglund Center for Internet Studies at Pacific University, reviewed the book for their electronic journal, Interface. There were also reviews posted by Brandon Eley, Book News and Rico Mossesgeld of Contract Worker.

I have new text interviews with Community Spark, as well as Josh Klein, in addition to a podcast interview with Startup Spark. I also participated in a private, live text based chat event with 30 plus assorted bloggers of the b5media blog network, providing advice on how to promote your blog via forums and how to create communities around your blog.

The book was mentioned on phpBB Guru, a Russian phpBB support community, Slashdot and ivanpino.COM. It was also mentioned by Lee LeFever of Common Craft and Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer and included in AMACOM’s Book Blast newsletter.

Finally, Alejandro Reyes of Successfool.com, mentioned in book in a short video on his Twitter and at the beginning of an episode of his Successfool.TV web show.

Thank you to everyone who has shown an interest in the book!


Already available in physical and Kindle form, “Managing Online Forums” has been released as an eBook. It is available from various eBook sellers, including Powell’s Books. I had been asked about it being an eBook multiple times, so that is a good part of the reason why it is coming out now. Thanks to everyone who expressed interest in it.


For anyone who was monitoring it, Darren has confirmed that he will be attending Blog World Expo and speaking on our panel, “Avoiding Disaster: How Not to Use Social Media.” Excellent news.

Also, I just wanted to post a reminder that SXSW Interactive panel voting ends on August 29. If you are so inclined, I would definitely appreciate your vote on my two panels, “Content Theft and Copyright Infringement on Your Online Community” and “Are You Ready to Manage an Online Community?”


There are a number of gems and plenty of good thoughts in Kanye West’s inspirational book, “Thank You and You’re Welcome.” I’m going to highlight one of them today, from page 43. “Never Justify Your Behavior With the Wrongs of Others.”

Kanye says, on the next page, that you should never begin any points with “But you.” He also says, “You must learn to fight the impulse of believing: It’s not fair that you can do it and I can’t.”

As community administrators, this is something that we must express to our members, sometimes. When some people are cited for a violation of our user guidelines, they will respond by saying that they saw someone else do it or that someone else was allowed to get away with it. If they can do it, why can’t I?

This logic is broken. But, in communicating this, we have to be delicate, so as to not make the situation worse. Let me give you an example conversation. Here is a message I might receive from a member:

Patrick,

I’ve seen this happening everywhere on this site. I don’t know why I am being treated different from everyone else. Why can they do it and I can’t?! I think I’m being unfairly targeted!

Joe

Despite what I might actually like to tell this person, as far as how much I care for the claim that we are operating with bias and where they could deposit said claim, I must maintain my professionalism and do what I can to keep this moving in a productive direction because that is my responsibility, as the administrator. I might say:

Hello Joe,

Thank you for your message.

Here at SportsForums.net, we have guidelines that outline what types of behavior are allowed and not allowed in our community. These guidelines are fairly and evenly enforced and all members are expected to comply with them. You are not being treated any differently than any other member.

While we are able to read a majority of contributions, we are not able to read all of them. For this reason, we ask for and encourage all members to help us by reporting any potential violations to a member of staff so that they can receive the appropriate attention and can be handled as soon as possible. If you could please direct me to the specific posts where you saw members violating our guidelines in this fashion, that would be great. After reporting a violation, you should forget about it – please don’t respond to it. We appreciate your help.

Regardless of what another member does, each member here is responsible for their own actions and will be held accountable for them. Something isn’t acceptable just because you saw another member do it. It’s important to consider what you post, before you post it, independently of what others have done. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me.

I appreciate your time and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Patrick

My aim here is to make sure the member understands that “they did it, so I can!” isn’t going to be happening in my community. They’ll be held responsible for their own actions and won’t be allowed to justify them by pointing to others. We want (really want) members to report violations to us so we can get to them right away, so I wanted to be sure to express that, as well.

This idea of responsibility is even more important for staff members, of course. Staff members must always hold themselves to a higher standard than members. When a member attacks them, they can’t respond to that with an attack. Spider-Man 2 has some worthwhile wisdom here:

Harry Osborn: Peter… you killed my father!
Spider-Man: There are bigger things happening here than me and you.

There are bigger things happening here than you and the person you are speaking with. This is something I always try to impress upon my moderators. It’s about you and what you say – not them.

This applies to the administrator, as well. I carefully consider everything that I do and say. I make mistakes, but they are rare because I am careful. Don’t fall into the danger of overthinking – but, don’t let the avoidance of that danger drive you to not think at all. As the administrator, everything you say can have an impact. Make sure your words have the right impact.

Should I Get Into Consulting?

Posted by Patrick on August 12th, 2008 in Off Topic, Thinking

I’ve been thinking about this for a little while, so I wanted to kick it out there and see what people think.

I didn’t really write the book to become a consultant. Some people find this funny or, at least, interesting, but I didn’t. I know that’s what a lot of people do (either to enhance a consulting business or become one) and that’s not a bad idea. I didn’t really want to do it with my first book. I wanted the message to speak for itself, not for it to feel as though I was holding something back, something that you would have to pay me to learn. In the book, I talked about everything. EVERYTHING I’ve had to deal with. I held nothing back.

My firm belief is that if you offer something of true value and you work hard to get it out there, that stuff can come later. I wrote the book because I wanted to, because I’m passionate about managing online communities and I felt that I had experience to share. Some people think this is crazy and that’s fine.

But, I’ve had multiple people suggest I get into consulting, that I start helping people, organizations, corporations and others to develop and improve their community strategy. As I have thought about it, it has started to appeal to me, for a few reasons:

I can help people. I like talking about managing online communities and social spaces and I know I can help people to develop their strategies. I can’t program, I can’t provide technical solutions like that. But, that’s not what it is about. It’s about strategy, policies, ideas and solutions. And that’s what I can provide.

I can keep running my network. Please don’t mistake me thinking about consulting as wanting to stop running websites. That’s not true. I love running communities and websites and working in consulting will allow me to continue to do this (see below, re: money). I don’t know, quite honestly, that I want a full time business that depends on clients. I would consult on a very part time basis. A few hours over the phone, a couple days on site – that sort of thing.

I don’t really have time to do much in the way of cold calling or client acquisition. I can make myself available, put myself out there and see if people contact me. If they don’t, fine. If they do, fine.

I could use the money. I could definitely use the extra income.

So, it seems like a win, win, win: I can help people, I can keep running my websites and I can make some more money, allowing me to do more. My focal point, as I said, would be strategy, really in the management of the community itself and the infrastructure. That’s what I enjoy most and where I feel I can help most.

Due to my level of experience, due to the book, due to the conferences I am attending and the speaking I am doing, I am getting myself out there and giving myself an opportunity to do this. It seems to make sense and it seems like a good idea.

Anyway, enough of me talking. With all of this said, what do you think? Does this sound like a good idea? Would you hire me? Any other thoughts?


The panel that I will be on at Blog World Expo, “Avoiding Disaster: How Not to Use Social Media,” has been moved from September 20 from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM to September 21 from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

Also, I’m happy to say that I’ll be on a second panel at the conference, earlier that day. From 12:15 PM to 1:15 PM, I will be on a panel called “How to Deal with Trolls, Spammers and Sock Puppets,” with Blog World Expo founder Rick Calvert and John Chow of John Chow dot Com, The Tech Zone and TTZ Media. The panel description:

Is your community out of control? Do you have cyber stalkers insulting you every time you post?

This session will help you deal with these cyber bullies.

So, I’m really looking forward to all of that and hoping to meet some of you out there!


The SXSW Interactive Panel Picker is now online. This system allows you to rate the panels that people have proposed. I proposed two panels myself. They encouraged us to ask people to vote for our panels, so I wanted to mention it. If you have any interest, please feel free to give them a look.

The first panel is “Content Theft and Copyright Infringement on Your Online Community,” which I proposed with Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday.

On this panel, we’ll talk about what you should do when someone uses your online community to infringe upon the rights of another. This includes prevention and the management of plagiarism and copyright infringement on forums, communities and social spaces. How to discourage, minimize and deal with it, including being proactive and handling reports.

The second panel is called “Are You Ready to Manage an Online Community?,” which also includes Martin Reed of Community Spark and April Burba, the Associate Producer of Dungeon Runners, an MMORPG from NCsoft and the former Community Manager for Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes, also MMORPGs from NCsoft.

For this panel, we’ll talk about what you should be prepared for before you manage an online community. What do you, as administrator, need to be equipped with? We’re not talking technology, we’re talking you as a person. What do you need to know, be ready for and what common pitfalls can you avoid?

I’m hoping the response to these is possible as I’d love to do a panel at SXSW. Fingers crossed!


In managing online communities for the past eight years or so, one of the many, many things I’ve come to realize, accept and understand is the fact that people will hate me. Not all people, not most people – not even a noteworthy number of people. But, assorted people will hate me. That’s the burden of leading a community and being the person “in charge.” You make decisions, you accept blame and you take criticism.

One of the primary responsibilities of community leadership is, essentially, telling people what they cannot do on your community. People don’t like to be told they can’t do something. But, you have to defend your community, you have to deal with violations and manage the atmosphere. You have goals and everything that you do needs to be in pursuit of those goals.

So, you have members who you have to contact regarding a violation. You send them a polite, respectful message making them aware of the violation and asking them to keep it in mind for the future, to prevent further violations. And they don’t like it. Some people deal with this respectfully and some people are literally out of their mind crazy. I’ve been called all sorts of names. It’s fairly normal to have your sexual preference questioned, too. There was even one fellow who described all of my many character flaws and then decided it must be because my parents had sexually abused me. You get used to it. And, of course, the old stand by: I’ve been called Hitler, Stalin and/or Gestapo on any number of occasions. One was just recently.

We had a fellow come in our forums and start a post with the F word in it, with an asterisk (our word censor will not allow it to be posted without an asterisk). As this word is not permitted on my forums, in line with our user guidelines, the post was removed and the member was politely contacted and made aware as to why, to prevent it from happening again.

His response was to go on rant that, personally, was hilarious because of what he said, which was just nuts. I won’t get into that, beyond saying that he compared me to Stalin.

The thing about these Hitler, Stalin, and Gestapo type comments is they are so disrespectful. Those people and/or groups did awful, unspeakable things. Let’s be real: I removed a single post you made from an Internet forum, from my family and work friendly community, that had the F word in it. That’s what I did. As I joked to a friend, “Stalin must not have been such a bad guy if all he did was stop you from saying the F word.” In other words, to invoke the images of those people or groups in such a manner is to show an extreme lack of respect for the people and the families affected by the things that they actually did.

Here is what I’ve found to be true, though. If no one was saying these things to me or about me, if no one was making these comments and attacking me, I must not be doing my job to the best of my ability. Either that or my communities are private and for a select group of people, not large enough yet or not moderated in any meaningful way (i.e., anything that isn’t blatant spam is allowed). Real, hands on community management requires the ruffling of feathers. Not on purpose, not intentionally – but naturally. It’s just a fact of life. With the exceptions above (and probably a few others), if no one hates you, you aren’t doing everything you can.

(Note, I’m not saying that this is the only way I know I’m doing my job, that I want people to say these things or that it makes me happy. None of these things is true. It’s awful that these things are said. But, it’s a natural by product, unfortunately. So, we have to embrace it for what it is).