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.

Read More

Marcus LemonisI’m a big fan of Marcus Lemonis, who helps struggling small businesses on CNBC’s The Profit. I even tweeted recently that I’d love to work for him. I really identify with how he goes about his business, and it reminds of my Dad and the lessons he’s taught me.

One of his mantras is that successful businesses need the three P’s: people, process and product. This is a great, simple way of expressing how to build an enduring company. It’s just as applicable to building a successful online community.


Community professionals are not a dime a dozen. There are great ones, bad ones and plenty in between. Some are just starting out, others have been in the field for more than 20 years. Your budget often dictates who you can hire and how long you can keep them.

Read More

I guess my first community role was probably when I moderated a community that related to my personal interests. It was back in the 1990s and I was a moderator for years. I made thousands of posts and was even promoted to senior moderator.

I’m sure I learned numerous things during my time there. But there is only one thing that stands out to me, years later. There is only one story I still tell regularly, even 17+ years later.

During my years there, I estimate the administrator I worked under thanked me approximately twice.

Read More

Credit: yoppy (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: yoppy (CC BY 2.0)

Friday marked an incredible milestone for one of my moderators: Heidi Wilmott, known on as ninjanurse, has been a moderator with me for 10 years. 10 years! It’s amazing.

It’s rare to manage the same community for 10 years, let alone to have a moderator with you, at the same community, for 10 consecutive years. I have managed from the start, and the community will hit 14 years online on Thursday. Heidi has been a member for more than 12 years and 3 months and will have been a staff member for 12 years come June.

I think that Heidi’s accomplishment says some interesting things – about her, the community and me.

Read More

Earlier this year, a member of reached 25,000 posts on the community. The member, Brian Walker, is also a member of my staff, and I recently interviewed him for a feature on law enforcement officers who are also moderators. When he hit the mark, we posted an announcement and various members congratulated him and talked about how much he’s added to the community.

But I decided that I wanted to do more, to recognize Brian’s outstanding contribution to our community. I started a private forum thread that all staff members, except Brian, had access to. I used this thread to ask for ideas as to how we could honor Brian.

Read More

Brian Walker is a patrol deputy in Kansas, who has been working in law enforcement since 2006. Alex Embry is a sergeant in Illinois and a member of his department’s SWAT team, having been involved with law enforcement since 2004.

Both Alex and Brian also happen to be longtime moderators for me on

I found the connection very interesting and so we sat down to discuss their work, on the community that I manage, and off of it. In part one of the conversation, we discussed the similarities between both positions, being seen as more than just an enforcer, and judgement calls and officer discretion. For part two, we touched on the dark side of authority: abuse of power and corruption.

Read More

At, 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

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.

Read More

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?

Read More

I have a wonderful staff over at 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, they have been working in law enforcement even longer.

Read More

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.

Read More