We’re getting toward the end of of the latest round of new staff members on KarateForums.com, which is an established online community that I have run for over 10 years.
Many communities, mine included, feature a staff of volunteers, who complement the person or team that is primarily responsible for the community. Volunteer staff members have low requirements placed upon them and they join the team for differing reasons.
The biggest, and perhaps most important, reason is that they themselves have derived benefit and enjoyment from the community and now they want to give back and help maintain the thing that they enjoy. There are other positive benefits, as well.
Your staff can be a vital part of your community, can help you to cover more and do a better job of maintaining the standards that you set for your community. The members of your staff will change, just like your friends in high school, your coworkers at an office or the neighbors on your block. From time to time, you will look to bring new members on board.
Your Current Staff is a Resource
Whenever I want to bring someone new onto the staff, and I have existing staff members, I always ask them for their thoughts before promoting anyone. They may unearth something I missed and it is important that they know and feel that their thoughts are considered.
If your community is big enough that you are not able to read all or most contributions, a great way to properly build out your team is to ask your staff for suggestions. This is especially true if you have built your staff carefully, like I have.
When I invite people to my staff, it is because they are exemplary individuals, who have contributed within the guidelines of our community. They are a great example for other members to follow and they are kind and helpful. It’s invite only and you don’t apply. And once they are on the team, they are held to a high standard and I make sure that attention is paid to detail.
So, if you build your staff like I do, then your staff knows what you are looking for and will be able to help you to find it, amongst all of your members. Some of which, if your community is big enough, you would have otherwise missed.
For me, the whole process starts with a quick review of the current staff members, just to make sure that they are still active and accounted for. I check things like when they last visited and how much they have posted recently, both in the public forums and in the private staff forums.
When staff members have a planned absence, they will usually let me know, as I ask them to do so. If someone has disappeared without any notice, I will contact them to check in and make sure that everything is alright. Usually, most will reply with an explanation. If they don’t reply right away, I give them time. But, if too much time passes, I will send a follow up and then, if no response still, I will usually go ahead and remove them from the team.
With those that reply, if it seems possible that they may no longer be interested in being a member of staff, I’ll ask them if they are or if it is too much of a burden right now. Basically, I just want to confirm that they still want to be a part of the team and when they plan to be back. This is a fairly loose thing. I am just looking to make sure it is something they still want to do.
If they don’t or no longer have time, then they can be removed from the staff. Before doing so, I thank them for everything that they have done and say whatever I feel given their contributions to the community. For example, if a staff member who has been with me for 3 years leaves, I feel a bit more than if it was something who has been with me for 4 months.
But, no matter what, I ask them to post a farewell in the staff section, just to say good bye to their fellow staff members, so that they don’t wonder what happened. I then allow the person leaving to maintain staff access for a time, so that they can view the replies to their farewell and respond.
Asking the Staff for Suggestions
Once the staff review process is over, or as it is drawing to a close, I will then post a thread in our private forums asking all current staff members to suggest members who would be worth considering for a staff slot.
I remind them of the standards that we put a premium on and ask them to consider each person they suggest very carefully. I also say that if they don’t know of anyone, at this time, that is totally fine. Suggestions are not required. I only want qualified people suggested, whether that is no one or it is 10 people.
I try to stay out of this initial process. If someone suggests a member that is really inappropriate, I might jump in and say so, but for any reasonable candidates, or even borderline ones, I stay out of the thread and just allow the staff to talk, thanking them for the replies and encouraging more, for a period of at least a week.
Following that period, I will then give the question some thought myself and see if there is anyone that I think might be worthy of consideration, that has not already been mentioned in the thread by someone else. If there is, I will mention them and ask for thoughts or feedback on those people. Upon further, deeper review (see the next step, below), I often don’t invite people I suggest.
After another 3-5 days or so, at least, I close the thread to further suggestions and we move on to the selection phase.
Selecting the Invitees
At the conclusion of the suggestion phase, I make a list of names – this is every candidate that has been mentioned on the thread. I then look at each of these people closely.
When I am looking at them, I look for the reason not to promote them. I look at their profile, when they last visited, how recent their most recent contributions were. I look at how long ago they registered and how many posts they have (it’s not important that it is a big number, but it is important that they have been around for a while).
I look over their recent contributions and read through them. I look at their thread in Problem Users, our private forum where we document all guideline violations and related activity, if they have one. In that thread, I consider the severity of any violations and the time that has passed without recurrence.
As I work through the list, I am not looking to fill any moderator:user ratio. I don’t believe in that. If they are qualified and I am excited about inviting them, then I will. If I am not, I won’t. If that’s 0 people, fine. If that’s 7, fine.
I will then post a reply on the aforementioned thread to explain my thought process on each person. Why this person is qualified or this person is not. Whether or not this person has a long ways to go or this person might be worthy of consideration next time. Things of that nature.
Sending the Invitation
This leaves me with the list of people that I want to invite to join the team.
When I invite someone, I am looking to accomplish a few things. I am looking to be honest with them about the expectations of the position, to express my appreciation to them for what they have contributed (whether or not they accept the invite) and for it to be a completely no pressure sort of deal. I don’t want anyone who doesn’t want the role.
So, a typical invitation might look something like this:
Thank you for visiting KarateForums.com.
During your time here, you have demonstrated that you really understand the community and that you care about it, through your kind, helpful and thoughtful contributions. Because of this, we would like to invite you to join the staff of KarateForums.com as a Sempai.
If you are interested in considering this invitation, please read the guidelines included below.
<A copy of the KarateForums.com Sempai guidelines would be included here.>
Please let me know what you think. If you would like to join us, I would need your real name for display on our staff page. I’d also like to have your birthday (just month and day is fine), as I like to keep track of staff member birthdays (this is optional, though).
Regardless of what you decide, I would like to thank you for all of the great contributions that you have made here at KarateForums.com and I look forward to continuing to get to know you through the forums.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Note: this is a generic example. I will include things relating to the member, and their individual journey on our site, as appropriate.
And then I wait for the reply. If they accept, awesome. If they decline, I understand and appreciate that, as well. If they have questions or need more info, we talk, and then they decide. At the end of the day, I’d love to have them as a member of the team, but more so, I would hate to lose them as a member. So, again, it’s no pressure, all positive.
Adding Them to the Team
If they accept, I add them to the appropriate usergroup, which gives them the right permissions, enabling them to see the private forums they now have access to and, if appropriate, gives them the proper community-based controls so that they can exercise moderator abilities.
I post a welcome thread in the proper staff forum and encourage other staff members to welcome them. I tell the new staff member to be sure to read through all of the new forums they have access to and to read the sticky threads in them, as there is additional documentation included. If they have any questions, now or in the future, they are encouraged to ask them.
They aren’t expected to jump in right away, but to take their time and become acclimated.
Multiple Levels of Staff
On KarateForums.com, we have three levels of staff. We have our Sempais, which don’t have any actual moderator powers, but are instead tasked with welcoming members to our community and looking out for violations to report, among other things.
The next level is the Senseis, which are the moderators. All Senseis were first Sempais. So, on KarateForums.com, the process I described above would be applied to Sempais. With Senseis, there is a smaller pool to pull from. After we go through the process and bring on any new Sempais, I will take a look at the list of Sempais and see if there is anyone I would like to promote.
If there is, I will then start a thread in the Sensei forum where I’ll ask for thoughts from the other Senseis on that person. If all goes well, and it really always does because the staff is like a family, then I’ll send them an invitation with the Sensei guidelines and, if they accept, they are promoted.
If someone doesn’t want to be a Sensei, that is totally fine with me. Both levels of staff play an important role and we need people doing both. So, if someone is more comfortable as a Sempai and they are helping the community in that role, that is excellent.
Develop a Process and Keep a General Schedule
This is my process. It might not work for everyone, but hopefully it will help you as you form or adjust your own. I don’t do it on a schedule, but I know that we do it every 4-6 months, on average, which seems to work pretty well for us. Doing it every 2 months would be overkill. But, 4-6 months seems like a good sweet spot where people can develop and we can have new candidates to discuss.
Find what works best for you and then follow it to maintain your staff and to enrich it with new, great individuals.