How to Build a Good Staff
There comes that fateful day for every forum webmaster to realize they can no longer handle running their forums alone. Be it 100 members or 1000, activity in your community becomes to frequent for any one person to handle. Thus comes the true test of your admin skills - choosing staff members that are good for your site! The biggest mistake any admin can make is picking the first people to ask, or the first few members at their forum. In the end, its worth the time of consideration compared to the troubles that come along with bad choices. Hopefully this article will give you handy tools in developing a strong staff for your community!
Keep in mind the goal of your forum.
Where you want to take your forum in the future makes a huge difference on what kind of people you need on staff. A company website might need more professional, business minded people compared to a site dedicated to a favorite TV show where a more relaxed staff would be appropriate. If it helps, write out a list of expectations you have for the site. You can always use this list to refer staff-hopefuls to so everyone will know what they are working towards!
Have a list of expectations handy.
Its always good to be prepared ahead of time. Writing a staff manual, expectations, or general list of rules is the perfect way to guide behavior or prepare staff members for future decisions they may have to make. Your expectations can be a simple code of conduct or a more detailed manual for all things related to the forum and community. This is also the opportunity to explain the jobs available on staff, and what you expect out of them. Explain whether or not staff is required to participate regularly on the forums, or perhaps contribute to articles or forum events. With a clear decisive list of what they need to do, staff members are much more likely to get the job done!
Be familiar with your members!
You must be able to trust your staff, be it to do their job or to use moderator controls. With this, you need to be aware of your members, their personalities, their likes, how active they are, and just their general behavior around the forums. When a forum is new, its tempting to kidnap the first few members or willing volunteers, but this can be risky. Unless you’ve known the new member prior to your forum’s opening, you have no idea whether or not they are qualified! Don’t be afraid of waiting until you know the members better. If you are in urgent need of a moderator or staff for special sections, try a resume or apprentice system first as explain below.
Have potenials write an application or resume.
A great way to see who is serious and who has at least the required knowledge for the job is to have an application done. It would need the basics, their forum activity, the job they are interested in, if they’ve done the job elsewhere, and why they think they are qualified. Other good things to add are survey questions. A small survey can test the knowledge of an applicant and draw out their personality - especially useful when you have a larger forum and its not as easy to get to know members personally. Make sure the questions are relevant to the kind of job of they wish to do. For a graphics forum, questions about graphic programs and design will show you if they know what they are doing. With a review site, an applicant would need a talent for writing so you would ask questions that would display their typing skills and how well they present themselves.
Make use of an apprenticeship or training.
Even with a resume you can never be 100% sure a person is going to do the job right. An apprenticeship or trial run on staff will show you how they work under pressure and with others. Training also lets the applicant know that it may only be temporary if they don’t meet expectations. This avoids any later problems you might have with appointing a new staff member then later having to fire them because they were doing a terrible job. For someone using admin or moderator controls, this can be a difficult job as they must not only please you but keep a host of members happy as well. Like the resume, training has to be relevant to the job. Someone that is only there to write articles doesn’t need to know how to work with mod controls. A moderator might not need to know all there is about HTML & Design if all they are meant to do is deal with problematic members. While training, test their skills. Give a task that must be completed by a deadline. If you are training mods, send them to deal with a problem member - real or fake - and see how well they handle it. Be observant to see if your trainee is actually making an effort to do their job right away, or if they are wasting time. Everyone has important commitments, but a dedicated staff member will not commit themselves to you unless they are willing to do the job.
Staff must work well together, including with you!
Once you have your new staff members, its very important that they work well with all staff involved. Staff Issues behind the scenes can often kill a forum when a disgruntled person disagrees with someone and the issue is not worked out. This is where you get forum politics, nasty gossip, and in the worse cases - the whole forum crumbles from the inside out. First, make sure all are aware that you are the one in charge. When it comes to final decisions and those big issues - you get the last word. As webmaster, it is your site therefor your rules. Try not to be domineering, after all, you want everyone to be comfortable working with you and coming to you if there is a problem. Mingle with your staff members and get involved yourself, this sets an example for the others. Make staff members aware that its imperative that they come to you if they have an issue with other staff. Allowing them to argue on the forums, in private, or in the staff area breaks down that bond of trust you need between staff. It IS your responsibility to make sure staff is happy, so in turn they can keep your forums running smoothly. Sometimes you can’t avoid a disgruntled staff member or someone simply not pulling their own weight. Either they just can’t handle working with others, or they are unable to accomplish their job. Talk to them in private about what’s going on and why they aren’t working. If the problem can’t be worked out, they have to go! In this case, be polite and professional. Thank them for trying their best and helping your forums, but at this time you no longer need them. Give details about why if its appropriate. Be respectful of their pride or feelings - you would want the same courtesy!
Be wary of the good friend turned staff.
Many webmasters will talk their real life or internet friends in to joining their forums and becoming staff. Be wary! Just because they’ve been your trusted friend for so many years doesn’t mean they’ll be reliable staff! Often, you’ll find they might cross the lines or pull the “friend card” when dealing with problems. Because you are good buddies, they think they can do things or get away with stuff other people can’t. When you get on to them, it could be a disaster and a ruin to a good friendship. If you do invite a friend to be staff, make it very clear that they are responsible for the same expectations as the others.
What ever system you use for choosing new staff members, always pay attention to the details. Those little quirks each member has gives a clue on whether they will be reliable staff, lazy staff, or that scary mod no one wants to deal with. Have a good relationship with your staff members but make sure they know who is the boss and what is acceptable. In the end you will build a stable and lasting administration team that becomes the backbone of your community!