As you spend your time, energy and money building your forums, adding content, contacting search engines and working on building your traffic, at some point you will need to consider hiring help with your community. In most cases, unless your site is a commercial site funded from within an existing corporation, your staff will be volunteers/unpaid moderators.
Considering the time, energy, money you have spent on your forum project, its important to understand that the moderators/staff that you select will represent you and your website to visitors and ultimately your members. Selecting your staff without consideration could lead your site down the wrong path instead of enhancing what you have taken the time and passion to build.
When do you need moderators?
When building a website around a forum, its important to hesitate slightly and not "hire" right away. Unless you are so busy with traffic from the very moment you open up your forums that you can't moderate it yourself, you should sit back and nuture your community.
For most forum software you can set up your forum to notify you when new members join and post new messages. Use it to stay on top of the activity of your community. Nip off-topic discussions and keep your newly opened forums on-topic. Your forum is in its infancy and needs careful attention to the tone and the organization of the forums.
You should provide this for your forum as you keep a tight handle on the growing community. When you find that the membership is growing at a rate you can't monitor yourself and the members are posting at a rate that doesn't allow you to moderate consistency, its time to consider finding some help.
Where do you find moderators?
Watch as you monitor your forum's growth, paying attention to its regular members. Watch for passion on the topic. Watch for appropriate grammar and language usage. Watch for others who are helpful to your members. These are probably your future moderators. They aren't necessarily your favorite members with the cleverist remarks. They aren't the ones that stir up trouble. They aren't your best friends.
They visit the forums regularly and post messages that are worded well and friendly to the community. You view their participation as an asset to your community and their presence in your forums as a help to you and your members. In short, they are already doing the job of "moderating" without the software tools nor the title of moderator.
How do you select moderators?
Start slow. Select one. Find out as much about this member as you can from their posts, from their homepage and any other resources. Why? They will be representing you to your community in some form or fashion.
Don't invite them onto your staff if you can't live with their side hobby of webmastering porn sites if this doesn't represent what you want for your site's affiliations. If your site is slanted towards one political party or another, be aware of their background and views. Google them. If they have experience on other forums, how are they viewed in other communities?
How do you hire moderators?
Before you hire a moderator, have in place some documentation about your website. Have a philosophy/mission statement developed. Have a moderator manual with "how to" and "when to" moderate within the documentation.
Many forum administrators suggest adding new staff on a short-term basis of three months initially. There are good managing reasons for a probation period for your new staff. One reason is that the member might not be able to commit to a long term staff position but they can commit to helping out for three months or so. The other reason is simple. If the new moderator doesn't show up as often as you expected, doesn't represent the forum well, doesn't fit into the staff needs of your forum, you can easily thank them for the time they served the community and turn off their moderator tools.
Once you've established your forums moderator guidelines, send a short email to the selected member inviting them to join your staff. If you have chosen to hire new staff with an initial three month time frame, tell them in this email invitation.
If they say "yes", thank them, explain the forums they have been assigned, provide them with the moderator manual documentation and help them get settled into their new status.
Many administrators don't announce new staff in their public forums but rather choose to celebrate in the private forums of the staff. The reasoning can be simple: Moderators are to facilitate the existing discussions of the community and keep posts on topic. They aren't the discussions themselves.
Other admins announce the staff hirings within announcements. Either way works as you keep in mind your particular forum community. If you want your staff to faciliate your discussions with helpfulness and not be the moderating police, this is where the admin can set the tone.
How do you pay moderators?
Large communities might be able to pay their staff but most can't. There are other ways to reward your staff without money. Words of thankfulness and kindess go a long way. Encourage your staff in public and private. Correct them when needed in private. Moderators are people with limitations and will make mistakes on occasion. Be forgiving. Demonstrate value to any input your staff members have for an idea about the community.
Some administrators send gifts to their staff for special occasions or snail mail birthday cards to help celebrate their day. A "thank you" note in an email or snail mail goes a long way of showing your gratefulness with your volunteer staff.
When do you fire moderators?
The staff for any company or any website should enhance and build up the company. If you have a moderator that is damaging your site, your company or your reputation its important to be objective. Make decisions based on what it best for your community as a whole. Its difficult to fire a moderator and handle the possible repercussions when taking this kind of action but it must be done. Be brave and remember the big picture.
The big picture is the status of your community's health and welfare. You have spent your time, money and passion creating a site. The long term effects of allowing a moderator to remain on your staff that is doing damage is more far reaching than you might imagine. Protect your property and real estate on the internet by managing personnel carefully and decisively. There are times to cut the relationship off, thanking the staffer for their previous help and tell them their services are no longer required.
Managing Community Needs
Addiing moderators to your community is more about management of traffic than power. Hiring staff when you need help is important if handled with caution, with specific steps in place to insure the best staff for your community's needs. Your investment of time, energy and money should grow with the addition of the most appropriate staff for your community.
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