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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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#CMGRHangout: Loving Your CommunityLast Friday, I had the pleasure of appearing on My Community Manager’s #CMGRHangout, a weekly Google+ Hangout covering online community management. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the episode was titled “Loving Your Community,” and we focused on how you can show your community members that you appreciate them.

The program is hosted by Jonathan Brewer and Sherrie Rohde, who do a really great job. When they invited me, they asked if there were any other community professionals that I’d like to have on with me. That led to us being joined by David Williams, Sarah Hawk and Sue John. Tim McDonald and Abhishek Rai completed the panel. In all, we had a really solid, veteran group with approximately 50 years of community management experience between us.

To give you an idea of what we talked about, here are the questions that drove the discussion:

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Locking Up the Rubbish
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

I’m in the process of trying to slightly improve the security of the logins I use online. Yes, this has to do with the story I told the other day. One of the things that I am doing is strengthening the passwords on some of my crucial logins. This includes the logins for the online communities that I manage.

I thought I would encourage you to do the same.

Use as many different characters as your software will allow you to use. If possible, not just letters and numbers, but also symbols. Passwords like :!kT!vuDl%3qFFKt~|dnYt’xU=KB@v. But don’t stop with your account. Encourage your staff members to do the same for their accounts.

But don’t stop there. Think about how else people can access your account. Likely, the only other means is through the email address listed on your account, through a forgot password form. They hack the email, request a password and they are in. Ensure your email password is similarly strong and that, if your email service offers it, you have two-factor authentication enabled. Suggest that your staff to do the same.

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Restricted Area
Creative Commons License photo credit: lungstruck

It can be highly beneficial to have a tier of staff below your main moderators. It allows these members to become acclimated to various aspects of being a member of staff without being thrown into the fire as a moderator. For communities that do this, like mine, all moderators are first members of this lower tier, which I’ll refer to as as guides.

They participate in staff discussions, welcome new members, report posts that they feel may violate our guidelines and participate in random things that come up for the staff. Traditionally, they do not have any “power” as far as the community software is concerned.

I was thinking about this the other day and I had a thought: why not let this tier move threads around the public forums? Not remove them from the public forums, not take on the role of a moderator in removing violations, documenting them and contacting members. But just move threads from one public forum to another.

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GoodiesOn December 24, I headed to the post office near closing time to see if a package had arrived. I was waiting on a box with a couple of gifts I had purchased for my brothers. I noticed that, when I checked my mail box, I had a key in it, which meant that I had a package in an even larger mail box waiting for me.

I opened it, but it wasn’t the box I was expecting. It was a different box and it was from one of my moderators on KarateForums.com, named Danielle. I wasn’t expecting anything, so it came as a total surprise.

After I made it home, I opened the box to find a card and an assortment of goodies from the United Kingdom, where Danielle lives. Along with a kind note, there were Jaffa Cakes, a Galaxy bar, Tesco Jam Roly Poly Toffees, Sprinty Kinder Surprise, a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar and more. All of which I have never had.

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Over the many years that I have managed online communities, I have had a lot of moderators. But, even with the wide variety of people on my staff, I have had the support of my moderators with pretty much every decision I have made. Of course, there are rare exceptions, but they are so rare that it’s hard to recall specific examples.

Most decisions are fairly simple. This person is a spammer, ban them. But then there are more challenging ones, with veteran members. No matter what, though, my staff tends to be supportive of the moves that I make, especially when it comes to banning people.

This is not something I take for granted. It is something I deeply appreciate and work hard to earn and justify.

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