When Forum Staff Loses the Vision

Discussion in 'Managing an Online Community' started by shinyfirefly, Jul 23, 2018.

  1. shinyfirefly

    shinyfirefly Neophyte

    I'm facing an issue where I've had several forum staff members (unpaid volunteers) for a long time. Some are reaching 4 years. It's a pretty close knit group. While we have had some communication issues here and there and have had to weed out some problem staff members over time, we all work pretty well together. We have a FB ongoing staff chat where burning platform issues are discussed, plus some general goofing off as a staff.

    What I'm seeing is a shift toward some kind of "elite" mentality where they no longer recognize that members are the ones who keep us afloat. It doesn't matter if we like them personally or not. We do have problem members, but I do not see any value with rehashing old drama again and again and stirring the pot. When one mod has a personality conflict with a member, they can tend to drag the whole staff to their "side." I've had to step in a few times and remind them that ****-talking members is not only unprofessional and tacky, but that they are also forgetting that just because they don't like someone doesn't mean they don't add value to the forum.

    As the forum owner, they look to me for strategic vision for the forum, but at this point, it seems like although my vision is growing and changing, they are stagnant and seem to be going through the motions. I often tell them that if they aren't interested in the subject matter anymore, don't have time, or otherwise just cannot perform effectively, then they need to step down. A few have done so and I felt like they made the right decision. Others seem like they are just hanging on to being a staff member like some kind of crutch.

    Anyone experience this kind of staff slump before?
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
  2. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

    This isn't just a problem for forums. Every organization suffers from people who get too comfortable in their roles and forget what their real purpose is. One solution is to replace those mods with new people, but that isn't always easy and can bring its own problems. Another idea is to sit your staff down and remind them just why they exist. Take some time to revisit your forum's vision and values and the staff's role in those. Everyone needs a bit of a shaking once in a while. You'll have to be direct and firm so they hear both the message and the subtext (that they need to shape up or ship out).
  3. Apple

    Apple Enthusiast

    The age of the people on your staff actually makes a hell of a lot of difference. I'd say after all these years, our staff have matured so much, many of them have been with us for over a decade. It's only natural that a moderator might lose it with a user at some point, but if it's becoming an issue where the staff are actually taking their frustrations out on the fourm, something's gotta give. I have seen it happen, but it was years ago.

    As it stands, most of the people on our staff are between 26 and 35, including admins. There are a couple exceptions. The community is 16 years old, so as you can imagine, some of us kinda grew up together in a way. We have maybe one or two users that all the staff talk about in the mod forum. They don't like them because they only bring trouble. But that's it, it's more or less talking about incidents together and deciding if the person needs to be punished.

    Some years back when we did have a big board, there were a lot more idiots I guess. The bigger the site, the more idiots you get. While they're an absolute minority, even one problem user can cause a lot of issues and if they get under staff members skin, those issues become worse. Back on the old site, one of our admins started a thread in the mod forum called "The Dumbass Collection." Here, staff could quote ridiculous posts, iron out their rage and then laugh at the idiocy together/make fun of it. This thread, mean as it might be, allowed the staff to air their frustrations in private so that they didn't take it out on the forum. That thread existed for maybe 10 years lol. Maybe something similiar could work for you if they are an otherwise good staff. I dunno, but you'd want to make it clear that anything said in mod forum stays in mod forum and that's where their frustrations need to stay as well.

    You could suggest to mods who are jaded to take a back seat by offering them an advisory role where they still have access to mod forum, but no mod powers. This allows them to take a step back, recharge and decide if they really want to be a mod. We still do this. Many of them don't want to return, but stick around in an advisory position, helping out with decisions as they had always done, but in a more relaxed way.

    We don't need something like the dumbass thread these days. Sakuga City is only an tiny fraction of the membership of the old site, but I really do put it down to the staff's maturity.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
  4. mysiteguy

    mysiteguy Devotee

    I'd get some fresh staff members who are highly enthusiastic about the topic. My experience is they tend to raise the bar, and staff who don't rise to the occasion to meet the new bar either tend to fall off the map, resign or give you and the rest of the staff enough "ammo" to ask them to either step up or step out.
  5. Joel R

    Joel R Fan

    There's a reason why they're moderators and you're the admin. You have the vision and the leadership.

    It's time to exert your leadership and make it clear what your expectations are. This can involve calling them out in a group meeting when they bring up the same complaining, having a private chat, or replacing them.

    There are some people who are perennial complainers. Their entire existence is to complain and rehash problems. You've identified these personnel issues, now you need to stop them.
  6. Lala

    Lala Participant

    I would immediately fire and ban a mod who even dreamed of trash-talking a member behind their back. A "Dumbass Collection" thread in mods forum would be unthinkable on my site. Team bonding is important - but not at the expense of our members. In my experience, giving mods a special place to goof off or vent interpersonal grievances, separate from the rest of the community - is what creates the clique mentality, disrespect towards members, and eventual bias/bullying/havoc on site. We have a Goofing Off forum, accessible to both members and mods, that's where we all goof off. We have a protocol for handling interpersonal issues, that both members and mods use. Mods forum is strictly for mod issues. That's what keeps us functional.
  7. JulieVA

    JulieVA Habitué

    Yup. FIRED.
  8. Debi

    Debi Neophyte

    I have seen that happen with moderators in the past. I try to nip it in the bud, especially if it is spilling out into the forum and/or impacting their decisions with member issues.

    I like the idea of using mods as "consultants" without mod powers and have done that a few times. They seem to eventually go away though once they don't have powers anymore. It can work as a way to weed out the ones who are not truly invested in being moderators.
  9. Apple

    Apple Enthusiast

    I beg to differ. It PREVENTED clique mentality. It was a massive forum and things happened daily. Our demographic was 13-30, so members could be quite immature. I was a supermod at the time myself when they did it, not admin yet. The very fact that it worked to prevent and improve mod vs users mentality proves that it wasn't the worst idea. If it had been I'd have kicked it when I became admin. I just left it alone. The admin who made it did it to stop mods from getting into public arguments with idiot trolls. They weren't trash talking, they were airing frustrations, then finding a reason to laugh the whole situation and make the other person feel better. There's a huge difference. What you're talking about are personal stuff. If a mod and member have personal issues with each other, that's a different kettle o' fish and something that you stamp out. Generally, the best thing to do (and we did) there is tell the mod to leave that person to someone else to deal with. The things we allowed in that thread, those things aren't personal and it's healthy to be able to air things out.

    Larger forums tended to attract a lot more trolls and especially anime forums. Forums are just not that active anymore, so you'll never see the same level again. Sometimes it's hard to tell at first if someone truly believes something or if they're trolling. Usually, they're trolling, but until you're sure, they've got plausible deniability. It can be really frustrating dealing with that level of idiot. They're not there for the good of your site. I think judging by the terrible comments, most of them have turned to Twitter and Youtube these days though, thankfully. That's what I meant by "idiots."

    Heck, even in the office, you meet some of the most horrendous, abusive clients. It's just how they are and you don't have to have done anything wrong. You can't be mean or sharp with them. The only thing you can do is act professional and try to handle them as best you can and smile even if you're on the phone because annoyance shows in your voice. That doesn't mean that the designers don't have a giggle between themselves at the ridiculousness of it all from time to time with the aim of cheering the victim up. It's a coping mechanism. It'd be a very dull, depressing office if we were forced to take everything a client said to us seriously. Boss told me once that he only put up with one particular client's asshattery because they paid a large portion of our bills.

    I get that you can't understand how something like that can still be controlled, but that's okay. We have an older staff from like 26-35 (as mentioned) a couple of them are older (40s, 50s). They can be trusted not to go and act like children just because one of them has gone "OMG, I'm going to kill x. Look what he did." That's not trash talking. More often than not, these things they are annoyed about are not enough to reprimand someone, so I would rather they talked about it in mod forum, than take it out on the user in public in the thread. We don't have a thread like that on Sakuga City. Although, staffers still do air frustrations in the staff room when they need to, both about the forum, and their personal life. Whatever they need cheering up about. It's not a military camp. :)
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2018
  10. BGObsession

    BGObsession Participant

    I've learned over the past decade that you'd better put a lot of thought into who you elevate to a moderator role because it is very traumatic if you have to remove them. Whether deserved or obviously necessary, staff generally don't react well to being 'demoted' and it can be pretty painful. I have not had the issue of staff being unprofessional with members. Honestly - if that's the case, you've just made a very poor decision in elevating that individual. At a bare minimum, you shouldn't be putting anyone into that kind of role that you wouldn't want to be involved with on a daily basis or who doesn't understand how to treat people. I've seen a lot of forums where moderators are 'great members' but upon being elevated seem to develop an overly-aggressive ego where it's about them and not 'the customer' (the forum members visiting the site). I'll admit that I don't know if it's always possible to identify the folks who gravitate towards this prior to elevating them.

    What I've actually experienced far more often is moderators who either disappear or just don't significantly contribute in the role. Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising. As the site creator/owner, I'm obviously the most passionate and energetic person driving the evolution and growth of the site. I've sent a lot of 'staff emails' over the course of my site's 10 year existence. Those are too often met with a lack of response by some mods, or tacit responses. It's actually pretty demoralizing when you elevate folks and they don't engage at a significant level. I suppose the flip side of that view is that people have real lives with all kinds of things going on, and it's probably not realistic to expect them to care about a website forum to the degree a site owner does. In some ways, I guess having super high expectations of people is generally going to lead to disappointment. I know that sounds pretty negative, but there are only a couple of staff on my site I know I can rely on.

    I will give myself some credit. When I've seen staff over time who clearly aren't contributing, I've demoted them. It would be easy to just let it go and accept that they are staff in name only. It's never comfortable to 'go there' because these folks are great people and by definition, friends. But fairness and honesty requires it be addressed. I try to make it clear that it's nothing personal, and that I'm sure they have valid understandable reasons for their contribution level, but that we can't have staff who are less involved and energetic than many members.
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