When I started this site in 1998, it was pretty easy to maintain just a handful of forums, and only 50 members - lol. Now that the site is growing by 400-600 members a month, and harvesting over 20,000 new posts each month, it isn't always easy for me to be in every thread, in every forum, all the time. I knew this day would come, so about a year ago, we implemented the beginnings of the "moderator" program.
The role of the moderator is simple. Here is an excerpt from a whitepaper that I wrote for a client a year or so ago. I've shared this same doctrine with our moderators, and we all agree that this is a good baseline for how our community here should be governed.
Communities are emotionally demanding. You want a community moderator who is able to deal with anyone who enters the community without creating flare-up and problems. This requires a calm, firm, gentle hand and a mixture of warmth and resiliency. Imagine you have to leave this person alone with your children and you'll have a pretty good handle on the set of characteristics you're looking for. This is probably the most important trait, and one at which people are notoriously bad at self-assessing.
A successful community will require lots of personal attention at the start and then eventually become too big to manage. The community moderator has to have both a strong nurturing ability, and the wisdom to know when to stop nurturing and hand control over to the leaders who will naturally arise within the community. What you want to avoid is someone who likes to manage every detail of a project - these people will not give over control gracefully, and will eventually crush the life out of the community. Instead, you want someone who can oversee lots of different things, without feeling the need to directly control any of it. When talking to references, you might probe how they managed projects in the past.
Communities grow in ideas. A good community moderator is interested in new ideas, receptive to different opinions, and can help organize information in a way that promotes new learning.
Flexibility in thinking, and active-seeking of new ideas and knowledge, is imperative. Also, an ability to organize materials is helpful.
The community moderator should have a good handle on the subject area. Someone who has gone through the same experiences as their members is liable to have a better ability to guide a discussion. In [client-named remove]'s case, this may be more than one individual, given the breadth of the industry.
A community moderator should be able to think out loud in writing. You're looking for a kind of openness with information and knowledge, and a lack of fear about looking foolish when thinking out loud.
Now, let's chat for a second about the more pragmatic, realistic side of being a moderator. Moderators here are mostly traffic cops, and ocassionally, part riot control cops. Their primary duties include:
- Moving off-topic threads to the proper forum. No, we don't live in a world where every thread has to be "sanitized" and placed in its own little "bucket". That's silly. We try to do it to (A) afford the poster with a better chance of sparking a discussion and/or getting the help they need from the folks who are best suited to participate in the thread, and (B) to make it easier for new members down the road to locate threads that will be useful/helpful to them.
- Keep threads focused, and on-topic. This is important, for obvious reasons.
- Settle the ocassional debate which invariably will arise between community members
On a final note, I'd like to expand a bit on the last point above. Over the past few years we've had a few incidents involving community members who, for one reason or another, got upset about something, and subsequently left the site. Often (most of the time), the moderators of the forum in question weren't afforded the opportunity to even step in and do their job. If the moderators need my help in making a decision, or you disagree with their decision, I am of course, ready to jump in and help sort things out. However, please give them a chance to resolve conflicts before doing something silly, like leaving the community. Most of the time, conflicts here are a simple matter of miscommunication. Electronic text does a poor job of conveying intent.
Remember, our moderators are volunteers. They do what they do simply out of their passion for their respective areas of expertise, and this community.