I don’t know if I’d call it “traditional wisdom.” But, I encounter people who feel that, in order to be a moderator on a community, you must actually be an expert in the subject matter of the community. I find that, in general, the people who hold this belief tend to be people who participate in communities as a member, rather than as an administrator. Two good examples:

To moderate at KarateForums.com, you must be a seasoned martial artist.

To moderate at phpBBHacks.com, you must be a phpBB programming or styling expert.

These types of statements are more often untrue than they are true. The main area where it is true is if you run a support community of some kind and you have a support team that is also your moderation team. Part of the requirements of supporting people is having knowledge that can help – but, at the same time, that doesn’t mean being an expert.

When it comes to moderating a community, the greatest assets are personality and character based. Who they are as a person. Communication is key, patience is key, team skills are key, attention to detail is key. Being an expert? Not key. Generally speaking, my moderators are picked out of the community. They are already there. They already have some level of knowledge or interest in the subject.

I don’t want know-it-alls. I don’t want people who feel their knowledge is supreme and infallible. I don’t want someone who is incapable of admitting they don’t know something and asking for help when that happens. That person is worthless to me.

I remember banning someone from phpBBHacks.com (this has happened more than once) who knew phpBB pretty well. But, they were banned because they were, more or less, jerks. Knowledge is worthless in someone unable to kindly communicate it. Knowledge used to make people feel bad or as a matter of ego isn’t actual knowledge that can be benefited from.

Anyway, in one of these cases, I remember the person saying, something like “Patrick has such and such on his staff and the guy actually had to ask for help for this! See: .” As if asking for help is a weakness and invalidates you from joining my team. The person he was referring to was actually a phpBB expert and a friend of mine who could run circles around that guy and who helped a countless number of people in the phpBB community. A genius. In knowledge and in character. True genius is knowing you don’t know it all and asking for help when it happens.

Asking for help represents willingness to learn, not weakness. And that is a concept that this banned user couldn’t grasp. As such, he was not someone who would ever be able to join my staff.

Just recently, I had someone at KarateForums.com tell me that such and such was not fit to be a staff member because they didn’t know about some seminal martial arts book. He even remarked publicly about it, sarcastically. “Shouldn’t a staff member know about this?” I wasn’t having that. Forget that the staff member in question is a good person who talks to people with respect, contributes to the community and helps to maintain it. He didn’t know about this book, so obviously, it makes no sense for him to be a staff member.

I’ve seen, a number of times, where there is a community where all of the moderators are supposedly experts. But, there is one problem: they don’t know how to be moderators. Moderators need to be kind, helpful people who can work within a team and take direction. They don’t need to be experts. It’s about good people. If they are an expert, cool. If they are not, fine. But, surround yourself with good people.