Creating a Moderator Manual

Staff Management:

Troubleshooting issues before the fact:

In the world of online communities, what is happening behind the scenes can be the making or breaking of the website you taken time, energy and dollars to build.

You create a community. You grow it. The visitors register and become participating members of your online community.

When you discover you can’t handle the community all alone (short of caffeine IVs and no sleep) you find moderators to help. The moderators are doing their jobs, moving threads, greeting newcomers and enhancing your community with their online presence. You pat yourself on the back because things are going well.

And then all at once you might find two mods arguing behind the scenes over something frivolous. You might find one moderator un-doing the job of others. You might find moderators discussing members in embarrassing, unprofessional ways behind the scenes. What you do not allow and try to avoid in your public forums is happening in your private mod forum. You might even find moderators that don’t retire or officially leave but are gone for weeks or months at a time without explanation and when they do return, they post only in the private mod forum.

At this point you might be wondering how to handle them. Each situation may seem small, but with moderators representing you and your website, you may realize that these kinds of issues could have (and should have) been handled before they even got started.

You may even wonder what kind of expectations you can place on volunteer helpers in your cyber community. If you took the time and money to create your website, you should treat it as a professional environment, expecting continued success. Staff guidelines are a must to build on the success you have established.

Create a Moderator Manual!

Before you can create a moderator manual, create a website mission statement. Spend enough time on this, over a few days or even weeks, to hone down your reason for being online. Keep it simple. Keep is short and within a sentence or two. Your website mission statement is foundational. It helps you to see your website work from a profesional vantage place. It sets the tone for your community, both members and staff.

Creating a moderator manual with four key components will save you some hard decisions later. With expectations communicated fully, you as the administrator can rely on the foundation of your website’s mission statement and the moderator’s manual to help manage staff effectively behind the scenes.

1. Duties of the Moderator:

Map out an overview of the moderators duties.
Do you want them to greet the newcomers?
Do you want them to be friendly?
Do you want them to be familiar with the entire website for helping the members with resources beyond the discussion forums?
Do you want them to remove threads to your private forum for review or delete posts? (I suggest moving to private forum in case you might need those threads at a later date).
Do you want them to censor/edit posts?
Do you have a staff monthly meeting online?
Do you expect your mods to visit their forums daily?
How do you want them to handle suicide threats? (Be careful with this one. We only suggest the member call 911 or go to their local ER. Moderators getting involved in this kind of personal drama can have far-reaching legal ramifications.)

List the duties in a list for easy readability instead of paragraph form. Be clear what you expect of your moderators.

2. Technical HOW TO

Explain in detail how to use the bulletin board software’s moderator tools in technical terms. How to split a thread. How to move a thread. How to(including template emails for them to use to notify members of split threads, moved threads, etc)

3. Time Commitment and Absenteeism

Map out your expectations of the time commitment for your moderators.

Do you hire your moderators unconditionally or for an limited period of time? Making use of a 3 month time period can be helpful initially. At the end of the 3 months you can determine if they are doing a good job. Many will stay beyond the three months. Others may be ready to head back to non-staff status.

If you expect your moderators to visit daily, spell it out. If you expect them to visit regularly (every few days on less busy forums) say so. Create policy for absenteeism including how they are to let you or the other administrators know they will be out. (Example: use the private forum for them to post a thread titled: Out: on Vacation June 6-12 with their expected return date within their post. These can be stickied or included in one “out” thread for all “in and out” moderators messages. Or with VBulletin3, you could make use of the private aspects of the calendar features to list vacations and expected long-term absences.

Explain in this section that you reserve the right to turn off their moderator status if their absence is lengthy without contact or for whatever reason you find appropriate based on what is best for the community and staff. (And you’ll send them a thank you email, thanking them for their volunteer service at your forums). The key is that your forums do not slow down in the absence of a moderator and moderating is still required. If their absence places a strain on the rest of the moderator team, turn off their moderator tools, email them a “thank you” and find a replacement.

4. Moderator Code of Conduct

Each offline employee’s handbook contains reminders of the way an employee should behave within the realm of ethics. There is no difference for the volunteers on your website. If you have built your website on integrity, maintain it by expecting the same from your moderators. (Example below)

The moderator agrees:

1. To be respectful of all members, each other, and the administration of and to represent the website of with professionalism, even though we are all volunteers;

2. To understand that not all decisions are open for group discussion because input arrives from many sources, some of which require privacy and confidentiality;

3. To be discreet and to maintain confidentiality regarding moderator forum activities and member information. Privacy laws require strict adherence and the site requires a sense of trust amongst all to fulfill its purpose;

4. To agree to use private emails and private messaging to communicate with the administrative team when questioning administration policy or guidelines or decisions on specific issues;

5. To remember that all moderators are equal in "rank" and all insight is welcome and to be treated with respect and courtesy, no matter how long a moderator has been involved in the site;

6. To consider other's feelings before hitting the submit button, both on the public boards and in private forums.

7. To resign from moderator duties if there is a breech of confidentiality, if the code of conduct is not followed, or if the guidelines of the website or the authority of the administration are not recognized.

Although an online presence with volunteers in staff positions, expectations of duties, conduct and availability are key to managing your staff as they continue to help build the website. Be specific.

By creating a moderator manual, you are handling a basic foundational need for your staff management. With a manual in place, your time can be spent handling growth of members and website development instead of settling arguments with staff. Planning ahead and writing out specifics for your team will be the guide for the future of your online community as an administrator.

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