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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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Is everything
Creative Commons License photo credit: tompagenet

Moderators moderate in the way that the community manager guides them to. Typically this is through policies (community guidelines), staff manuals (moderator guidelines) and documentation of member violations. Even when a well-meaning moderator makes a mistake, they make that mistake because they believe it is what the community manager wanted. It’s all part of being a team. Great moderators move as a unit.

In the course of handling these duties, they will encounter criticism and be a first point of contact for it because they are in direct contact with members. They are the ones telling a member why they can’t do something.

I believe that one of the really good functions that a community manager can serve, in relation to their moderators, is being the recipient of any serious criticism that a member has for how a moderator is operating. I mean, moderators can answer questions and moderators can explain some things, but when it comes to serious criticism of a decision (or worse), I want to deal with that.

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Cluster Computing Research
Creative Commons License photo credit: stwn

Once in a while, someone will pop into my community and ask members to fill out some survey. If the first time I hear of you and your survey is from reading a public post that you made in the community, that is not a good look for you.

I’m fairly protective of the community when it comes to people taking advantage of them. While our members are a great resource, the community doesn’t exist to fill out surveys for people. If you wish to utilize the community in this way, you really should ask the manager first and receive permission for doing so.

It’s a courteous, respectful thing to do. You don’t want to assume that your request is acceptable and if you post it and it is not, it’ll be removed. If your request is appropriate, having the stamp of approval from the manager can help you to get more responses as members know that it is alright.

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KarateForums.com Award for HeidiKarateForums.com is currently celebrating due to the community reaching the 500,000 posts milestone. Yesterday, as part of that celebration, I presented a long term member with a physical award.

The idea for it was planted back in June, when Heidi (ninjanurse on the community) marked 10 years as a member of my staff. I have been managing forums for more than 13 years and I have never had a staff member that experienced that type of longevity. It is very impressive. As such, I decided that we would honor her again when we hit 500,000 posts.

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