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At KarateForums.com, my moderation team includes not one but two veteran law enforcement officers. They each have spent several years as moderators with me, but their day job didn’t become apparent to me until after I had already brought them on. I found the connection – between what they do within the community I manage and what they do as a profession – to be so interesting, that I asked if they’d be open to a conversation to talk about it. I was grateful when they agreed.

Alex Embry is a sergeant in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department in Illinois, where he is also a member of the SWAT team. Brian Walker works as a patrol deputy in the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office in Kansas. Together, they have approximately 19 years experience in law enforcement and have spent 15 years as moderators on KarateForums.com.

In part one of the conversation, we discussed their backgrounds, the similarities between the two roles, how to be seen by the community as more than just an enforcer and the proper use of discretion. In part two, we shift to the darker side of these responsibilities.

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Online Community Moderator Metrics

Posted by Patrick on March 9th, 2015 in Managing Staff

When it comes to managing a team of moderators at a high level, there is an inescapable human element to it. Moderators aren’t people you select and let loose without any guidance or support. Communication should be a constant.

I want to know what’s going on. If they handled a delicate situation well, I want to praise them. If a member is unhappy with a moderator, I want to take that burden off of them. If a mistake is made, I work to correct it.

Being truly in tune with your staff means that you are constantly talking. You can’t cheat that with data.

However, I was recently asked to think about moderator metrics. Specifically, metrics designed to get a picture of moderator activity and effectiveness for the purposes of identifying moderators who may have gone inactive. If I was building a dashboard for that reason, what would I want to see on it?

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I have a wonderful staff over at KarateForums.com. My team is comprised of 9 people, including 5 moderators. Those 5 moderators have been with me for a combined 35 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days (these are real numbers and those 3s are purely coincidental). This group of 9 is the strongest team that I have ever had the fortune of working with. They are excellent people with strong character.

Of the 5 moderators, two work in law enforcement. Brian Walker, who has been on staff since July 31, 2006, is a patrol deputy in Kansas. Alex Embry joined our team on December 2, 2008. He is a sergeant in Illinois and a member of his department’s SWAT team. As long as they have been with me at KarateForums.com, they have been working in law enforcement even longer.

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I received an email the other day, from someone who asked for advice in dealing with inactive volunteer moderators on their community. I thought that might be a good topic to discuss here today.

Managing a team of volunteer moderators can be a wonderful, worthwhile and rewarding experience for everyone involved. I have managed volunteer moderators for many years, working with around 150-200 different individuals.

Where you can get in trouble is when communication breaks down. If you are responsible for managing volunteers, one of your primarily objectives is to ensure that never happens. You need to take ownership of communication and make sure everyone is always on the same page.

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Over-Communicate

Posted by Patrick on November 10th, 2014 in Interacting with Members, Managing Staff

You should tell your members and your staff. You should tell them what you expect of them. You should tell them what to expect of you. You should tell them what challenges you are facing and share the details. You should ask the same of them.

Over-communicate. Don’t assume. Over-communication is one of the secrets to building trust. When you don’t, that leads to surprise (the bad kind). Bad surprises destroy trust.

That’s why I over-communicate. Under-communication is miscommunication.

When you are making a big change, like changing a 10 year old design, you need to communicate that change like crazy. You can’t just flip a switch. You can’t just say, a week before, “we’re doing this.” You have to really talk through it.

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Recently, I received an email from a community manager that was dealing with a lot of abuse, harassment and insults, including threats of death and violence. As unfortunate as it is, that stuff happens to many professionals in this space. That doesn’t mean it’s OK or that it should happen. But we have to acknowledge that it does if we are to deal with it.

From this point forward, I will refer to the community manager who emailed me as CM.

The worst part of the story was how the community manager’s boss reacted. The boss forbid CM from taking any action against the members. If they did any of those things to a fellow user, CM is allowed to take action. But if it is directed at CM, nothing can be done. Members can’t be warned, and CM cannot ban them. CM can’t even remove the post they made. The boss has decided to do this under the guise of wanting people to feel comfortable criticizing their site.

This policy is atrocious.

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KickstarterKickstarter is looking for a VP of community and it looks like a wonderful opportunity. Real community work in a challenging, but rewarding atmosphere.

What really caught my eye was this: “The VP of community is responsible for three key areas of our operations: Community Support, Community Engagement, and Integrity.”

An Integrity team that reports to the VP of community. I’ve never seen that before, but I love it, and it works. Especially for Kickstarter.

This is how they describe the Integrity team:

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Credit: THORCC BY 2.0

In “Closing Comments Alters Your Purpose,” I discussed how the existence of comments on your website informs the purpose of your website. This was inspired by Evan Hamilton, who was in turn commenting on an article by Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post.

While Petri’s article was interesting and raises some good points, I really feel like Petri’s representation both ignores community as a profession and undervalues the relationship that a writer can have with the people who consume their work. That doesn’t mean I think comments should be everywhere or that everyone needs them. I don’t.

But the article begins with this aggressive condemnation of comments as a whole (emphasis mine):

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Longwood Gardens - Manicured Garden
Creative Commons License photo credit: likeaduck

I was on Quora the other day and I happened across this question: “Do forum moderators often become less effective the longer they hold power?” I look over the 4 answers that had been posted – all of which were pretty short – and found that 3 of the 4 said yes, moderators do.

But that hasn’t been my experience. I would argue the opposite – that forum moderators often become more effective the longer they are moderators.

I can’t speak for the communities you visit and the people who run them. I can only speak for myself, the communities I have managed and the forums I have been a member of. The question, as it is asked and answered, really applies mostly to volunteer forum moderators. I have managed more than 100 different volunteer moderators during my time with online forums.

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Split Down the Middle
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

In my last piece, I discussed Comic Book Resources and their decision to delete their 7+ year old, 12.9 million post forum. It’s a complex story and one that responsible minds will disagree on, as far as the handling of the situation.

I don’t want to rehash the story too deeply, but the crux of the issue was that the community had been allowed to go in a direction that the founder was not proud of. From what he said, it sounded like it was a very vocal, loud minority that was saying terrible things that were racist,¬†misogynist or otherwise intolerant or hateful. Awful stuff. So they opted for a clean slate, which is a reasonable option.

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