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Individuality, on a personal level, is a good thing. We’re all different. We like different things. That’s great. That’s what life is all about and a big part of what makes it interesting and worthwhile.

However, when it comes to being a community staff member and enforcing the guidelines of a community, individuality is a bad thing. Your community staff should move as a unit. The guidelines should be enforced as consistently as possible.

In short, this is why things like contact templates and staff member guidelines exist. They exist to ensure consistency and to keep everything running smoothly.

This is why moderator individuality is a bad thing. I’m not talking stuff like one staff member signing messages “Regards,” and another signing them “Thanks,”. I’m talking about things like moderators deciding not to follow the staff guidelines or not practicing them in the right way.

I have seen a staff member, at a community that was not my own, operate in direct opposition to the staff member guidelines because he decided he wanted to do so. He decided that his way was better. This is completely unacceptable.

I’ve had a staff member who went behind my back to get “between” a member and me before I saw his post, which had violated our User Guidelines. The staff member acted as if there were sides and he was on the member’s side – not mine. Suffice to say, I unleashed upon this staff member and he resigned shortly thereafter. That’s a post for another day.

But, most mistakes aren’t that serious. The point is, when you see an error in judgment or something that is not in line with your expectations, step in and correct it, no matter how small. Do not allow incorrect practices to fester. Be polite, be productive and nice about it – but make sure that it is understood.

Your staff guidelines or manual shouldn’t be a suggestion – they should be a requirement. Moderators can be themselves, but it is also important for them to realize that they are a part of a team and that their moderators duties should be as consistent as possible from person to person.

If you’re like me, you want your staff members to like each other. If at all possible, you want them to be friends. You want them to be a tight unit, working together to accomplish the goals that you have set for the community and helping you to manage it as a whole.

What you don’t want is derision. I’ve written about staff members reporting posts to other staff members, but I’d like to take it a little further. You don’t want backbiting, sniping or infighting. You don’t want them following each other around, waiting for the moment when one of them makes some sort of mistake. That’s not a team.

When you leave it to equals to police equals, it’s a mistake because, no matter how it works out, it’ll usually work out poorly. There are three likely outcomes.

They Are Diligent and Confront One Another

Let’s say that the staff is diligent in watching each other and they notice mistakes and point them out every single time they happen. This casually ignores a rather large issue, which is the fact that there should be someone in charge who can speak 100% definitively on the guidelines of the community and how they are to be enforced, when a moderator is unsure. You don’t want too many cooks trying to interpret the guidelines, you want someone who can speak definitively. Otherwise, you can suffer from groupthink and a lack of action.

But, let’s ignore that roadblock for the sake of discussion. If they are deligent, sometimes the staff member they are telling will take it in stride, realize the mistake and adjust. They may privately not care for it to be pointed out in this fashion, but they don’t say it.

However, they may also disagree with the charge because, after all, it is coming from an equal and someone who is at their same standing and has the same level of understanding, presumably, about the guidelines for the community and the staff. So, this leads to arguments and disagreements between staff members that can last for quite a while and take time away from important matters, for no good reason.

They Think Their Fellow Moderators Should Be Backed Up at All Costs

In this scenario, a moderator believes that their fellow moderators should back one another up at all costs and should never be corrected, less they appear weak or give members reason to question them. While staff members shouldn’t correct one another in public, that doesn’t mean they never commit any mistakes. The attitude that staff decisions should never be corrected or changed is dangerous and just isn’t practical.

They Are Afraid of Ruffling Feathers

When I was on a staff that encouraged this sort of activity, in one way or another, I wouldn’t correct my fellow staffers on things because I didn’t have administrative backing and because I didn’t have time to argue with them about it, even though they had done something wrong.

You could argue that it was my responsibility, but I felt it was the administrator’s responsibility and not mine, as far as correcting my equals or superiors. I wasn’t afraid so much as I just didn’t want to ruffle them as it was a waste of my time. They’d just beat me down, verbally, with their “logic.”

How to Fix This

You never want your staff members to turn a blind eye to any incorrect activity or inappropriate behavior that’s practiced by a member of your staff. I don’t want my staffers to follow their fellow moderators around, but I want them to tell me if they see anything. This is clearly stated in my staff member guidelines:

If, at any time, you have an issue with another staff member or feel that they may have made a serious mistake, please contact me privately and I will handle it. Do not confront your fellow staff members on any serious issues. If you have a post removed, a decision that you made is reversed or you are otherwise corrected, please do not take it personally. Please make a note of it to prevent it from happening again and ask questions to further understand, if necessary.

It is also referenced in my situations guide:

Staff Member Violates Our Guidelines

If you feel that one of your fellow staff members has violated our guidelines, please send me a private message or e-mail at patrick@ifroggy.com. Do not remove it or do anything else. I will take care of it.

Current staff members do not get documented in Problem Users and should not be contacted by other staff members in regard to violations.

Because these things are passed to me privately, they don’t have to worry about appearing unsupportive or of ruffling feathers that they’ll have to put back into place. They know that I will consider what they say and I will contact the staff member if I have an issue with it. They pass the issue to me and that is where their issue with the staff member ends. No stress, no confrontation, no argument.

This allows me to make the determination and move forward. There is no wasting of time or debate between staff members as to whether or not something is appropriate. A decision is made, the person is informed, adjustments are made and we continue making progress and my staff members maintain their great relationships with one another, as well as with myself. This is the ideal that I believe you should strive for.

Discussion Question: Have you ever witnessed a terrible case of moderator fighting, in public or in private?

I’m happy to say that I was voted “Community Builder of the Year” in the SitePoint Community Awards 2008. Dave Maxwell announced the results today. I really appreciate the recognition. Thank you to everyone who nominated me and everyone who voted for me, as well. Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees.

We’ve talked about what contact templates are, but now I’d like to talk about a tip for those hardcore users of them, like myself. Consider using a text expander. This is a program that allows you to type a string of text and have it replaced by another string of text, most commonly a longer one. These applications have all sorts of uses, but one thing they can be great for is in making your contact templates readily and quickly accessible.

I have contact templates for each of my forums, with links to that forums’ guidelines and the name of the site, etc. So, I have developed an easy to remember system that allows me to quickly enter any contact template into a text box where I am working on a message to a member.

How It Works

I have an abbreviation for all of my sites. KarateForums.com is KF. SportsForums.net is SFN. And so on. And then each template is associated with something. Like inflammatory or vulgar. Put them together and what do I get?

Well, when I type “kfinflammatory” without the quotation marks, my inflammatory comments template for KarateForums.com automatically fills itself into the text box. Poof. Just like that. When I type “sfninflammatory” without the quotes, the same happens, but with the SportsForums.net version of the template. Yeah, I could do a shorter string, but it’s just easy for me, so I roll with it.

After testing this out for a while, I can’t live without it. I recommended it to all of my staff members, so that they could make more efficient use of their time, as well.

Alternatives

As an alternative, you could have something like a drop down menu for staff members above your new private message text box that allowed them to easily select the template they needed and have it inserted. This has some benefits, as well, such as them always having the most up to date version of every template. But, this likely isn’t possible without some sort of hack to your forum software. Anyone can install a text expander.

Text Expander Options

Speaking of installing a text expander, I am on Windows and I use Texter, a free piece of software from Lifehacker. I did some research looking for a Mac one, for my staff members that had a Mac, but I could not find a good free one. The one that seems to be widely recommended is TextExpander, which is $29.95. I can’t expect my staff members to lay out that kind of cash for something like that, though, that they might only use on my site.

But, if you are a power computer user, a text expander is a great app to have in your productivity arsenal. You’ll find more uses for it than just this one. I definitely recommend checking them out.

As a moderator, one of your jobs is likely to enforce the guidelines, standards, rules, whatever of the community. As such, it makes sense that you wouldn’t push them yourself. And yet, it happens. People get lazy, people forget or – worse – people think they are entitled to push them because they are moderators. This is completely backwards.

I’ve known people who have become a moderator (on sites I didn’t manage) who had the attitude that it was their actions as a member that earned them a moderator role and, as such, they were going to keep doing what they have always done. The fun line is something like “I’m not going to change who I am.”

Problem is, who you are has nothing to do with it. For example, you probably act and dress different at your home than you do at your job. Are either of those people “not you”? No, they are both you, just different flavors.

When you step to the moderator level, your existence on a community is changed. You are no longer just another member. What is required of you is higher than normal members. You are a staff member and you must show everyone how an exemplary member in the community participates. You can no longer think of yourself as a normal member. You have to understand and be comfortable with your responsibilities.

If you aren’t comfortable with changing or adjusting, you aren’t ready for any new role, not just in forums, but in life. No matter what it is, when you do something new, you must adjust that the demands of that endeavor. And those adjustments become a part of who you are, if they aren’t already.

About a month ago, Gary Vaynerchuk blogged about finding advertisers, specifically how you can do direct ad sale deals with people, with them buying place on your community. Well, OK, he said “blog/vlog,” but those are communities and what he said is just as applicable to other types of communities, as well. His advice was really solid and I liked the way that he presented it, so I wanted to share.

This is something that I really, really need to get into and this video certainly helped to motivate me. I’ve never really done it (all that much), but I am working on getting myself in a position where I can.

If you are hype into making a business out of this and hype into selling ads, set yourself up with an ad server and rates, identify some potential advertisers by looking at your competitors, and then go in. Go after them. It’s about the hustle. Not hustling in the sense of ripping people off, but hustling in the sense of busting your butt more than the next person. Good luck.

Happy Holidays!

Posted by Patrick on December 12th, 2008 in ManagingCommunities.com, Off Topic

With the holiday season upon us, it may be a little quiet around here toward the end of this month, but I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy holiday and a happy, healthy and successful 2009!

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, linked and contributed to ManagingCommunities.com in 2008. I appreciate all of the support that I receive from readers!

Thank you for visiting ManagingCommunities.com.

Live Interview on PerfCast Tonight

Posted by Patrick on December 11th, 2008 in Press

Tonight at 7 PM ET, I’ll be appearing live on PerfCast, the Performancing podcast. It’s hosted by Jeff Chandler and David Peralty. If you have some spare time, please stop by and participate in the live chat! The show will be broadcast on TalkShoe.

When removing a post or some content from your forums because it violated your guidelines, it is a good idea to let the creator of the post know why, so that they won’t wonder where their post went and so that they will be less likely to commit the same violation in the future.

But, with yourself and however many staff members you may have, how can you ensure that the messages that are going out are consistent and are worded in a fashion that you approve of? How can you save both you and your staff members the time and tedium of having to type up these messages? The answer is contact templates.

Contact templates are pre-written form messages with blank fields that are completed before the message is sent. Let me give you an example of what a contact template might look like, if the violation was cross posting and it was done on KarateForums.com.

Hello <USERNAME>,

Thank you for visiting KarateForums.com.

Unfortunately, I have had to remove your post quoted below as it violated our [url=http://www.karateforums.com/userguidelines.php]User Guidelines[/url] as cross posting.

[quote]<PASTE THE POST THAT WAS REMOVED>[/quote]

Cross posting is posting the same content in two or more locations.

Please keep this in mind to prevent further violations in the future.

Thank you for your time and cooperation.

Sincerely,

<YOUR NAME>
KarateForums.com Sensei

This is how the message would appear in our staff section. Note the BBCode in place, to automatically create a link to our User Guidelines.

Contact templates are created for some of the most common violations of our guidelines, such as inflammatory comments, vulgarities, cross posting and more. We also have a general template that can be used in many circumstances, such as advertising.

I’m not a fan of automation for the sake of automation. I am a fan of automation that improves the quality of your community and helps you to do your job in a more efficient manner. This is such a case.

Contact templates are great because they allow you to maintain a consistent, quality level of communication when it comes to interacting with members and explaining why this or that post may have been inappropriate for your community. They think of most things you need so that you and your moderators do not have to think about them every single time you need to contact a member. They include the proper greetings and they convey the ideas in a respectful manner.

As you can imagine, this also can save you a lot of time because you do not have to type those messages. This allows you, and your staff, to get more done.

As your manage your site, you are sure to notice trends and violations that happen with frequency. These are the types of violations that you will want to create a template for.

How to get started? I would start with the general template and then get more specific from there. You can always take the general one and then create branch templates with specific language for things like inflammatory comments, advertising, etc. The book website has a downloadable archive featuring some contact templates that I use on my sites. You are welcome to use them as a basis for your own.

I have been nominated in the “Community Builder of the Year” category in the 2008 SitePoint Forums Community Awards, the annual awards program over at the SitePoint Forums. Thank you to everyone who nominated me. Voting has begun. I won the equivalent award last year. It’s be cool to win again, but just being nominated is awesome.