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.

My Personal Approach to Criticism

The way this happens is with our member documentation. This is where we take note of anything that happens regarding a member that is worth documenting. Often it is negative stuff, but sometimes it is just a conversation that we need to save for reference or a concern that a member has. My moderators know to document it there for my attention and then I immediately follow up with that member.

Because my moderators are simply doing what they think I want, a critique of my moderator is really a critique of me. As such, it is for me to address. There is legitimate criticism, which I can accept and correct, if appropriate. Mistakes are made. My job is to make them right. There is criticism that is off-base. My job there is to acknowledge it and, if necessary, explain why it isn’t applicable.

But, regardless, I am the one in the position to make changes. Moderators can certainly bring up issues and I usually bring in my team for feedback when I make changes, but I still have to be the one to officially make the change. So if the member has an issue, then I’m the one they need to speak to.

Taking the Heat Off of My Staff

If the comment from the member moves beyond criticism and into condescending, I want that even more. If you are a moderator and you are under a community manager that lets members personally attack you without stepping in, how loyal are you going to feel to that manager? In my situation, I have volunteers, so this is even more important. But even for paid moderation staffs, it is tremendously valuable to have a manager who steps up and takes that these sort of comments on directly. It means something to have someone willing to deal with the stressful stuff and to alleviate that burden from you.

That could mean that I tell the member their comments were inappropriate. It could mean they are banned. It all depends on what was said. But, no matter what, I am the one to do it.

I try to make a point of telling members that if they have any concerns, those concerns are with me and not with the moderators, who are just doing what I ask. So I always re-frame the criticism to be criticism of me. In short, if you want to hate someone, hate me. I can take it. Great community managers are willing to be the bad guy to take the heat off of those who work under them. That’s what being a leader is all about.

It’s Good for Everyone

It’s good for members, as well, because if they have a real, legitimate, well-meaning criticism, they reach the person who can give them the definitive answer and, if needed, most quickly enact change. In summary, here is why it is good to have your moderators refer any serious, persistent criticism (or worse, condescending remarks) to you:

  • It allows your moderators to focus on moderating.
  • It reenforces to your moderators that you have their back and will not simply let them be lambasted by members while you sit back and do nothing. This helps create a loyal, team-based atmosphere.
  • It puts legitimate criticism in your hands as soon as possible, so that you can take action.
  • It allows you to more quickly remove abusive members out of your community.
  • It provides you with the opportunity to ensure your moderators are being treated with respect, which is directly tied into how happy they are and how well they function.

These reasons, among others, are why I believe in taking a personal, direct approach to dealing with criticism (or worse) directed at my moderators.