Mar 25 2009

How to Select Successful Moderators

Published by at 10:18 pm under Technical Advice

Here are some tips for webmasters that want to add moderators.

1.  Select moderators that have the personal skills to represent your site well. Have they been mature, respectful and friendly?  I recommend against hiring moderators based on intelligence and topical knowledge.  Those can be useful, particularly if your website is highly technical, but an unfriendly moderator will probably cause more damage than an unknowledgeable one will.

2. Pick moderators that have a history of being welcoming and helpful to new users. These individuals will help you grow your website.  Petty and insular moderators will make new users feel unwelcome.

3.  Make sure that your moderators can handle disagreement well, particularly if your website deals with controversial issues.  Someone that says “I disagree with you for reasons X and Y” rather than “you’re wrong!” or “that’s stupid!” is far more likely to serve as a mature and professional moderator.

4.  Before selecting a moderator, make sure he can take criticism well. If you need to pull him aside later and explain that you’d like him to moderate in a different way, will he go nuts?  We did our selection process based on a proofreading contest graded by Cadet Davis.  One of the main factors we considered was how people responded to Davis’ exhaustive feedback.  The applicants that thanked him for his time and feedback helped establish that they could take the heat.  The applicant that challenged his proofreading competence was quickly removed from consideration.

5.  Stay away from very competitive people. Competitive instincts are helpful for many careers, but definitely not moderating. Someone that is heavily competitive is more likely to pick arguments with you, your guests and other moderators.

6.  Avoid egotistical moderators. An egotistical moderator is far more likely to let his position go to his head.  Don’t let his power issues get in the way of your business and community-building.

7.  Ragged Boy makes a good point that it may be helpful to select moderators from a wide range of time-zones. That will help ensure that you provide prompt service to users around the world.  Even on this website, which is explicitly American, 30% of our traffic is international.

8.  I mistakenly thought that it was a good idea to make the hiring process transparent, so I did a proofreading tryout.  Bad move!   That forced us to actively reject people that had declared their interest.  I think a few people felt snubbed that we didn’t choose them.

9.  Make sure that your moderators have a healthy respect for what you’re trying to achieve. It’s impossible to offer guidance for every situation that might arise.  Moderators that share your goals will make the right call in 9 out of 10 situations.

10.  Ideally, your moderators will be brave enough to advise you but deferential enough to respect your business decisions. For example, earlier today we received a request for a review forum from someone who wanted to write about a homosexual character.   I decided that the story didn’t sound pornographic, so I approved the request.  (We don’t accept pornographic and/or fetish stories).  But hopefully at least one moderator would be brave enough to privately tell me something like “accepting this story would put us on a slippery slope into DeviantArt-esque levels of creepiness”.   I share those concerns.  However, as soon as I’ve made my decision, I need moderators that will enforce my decision even if they don’t agree with it.

11.  Do not even consider making a moderator out of someone that has a history of drama.  If someone is prone to whining, overreacting, complaining, snottiness, griping and/or petty grudges, they are obviously not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being a moderator.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “How to Select Successful Moderators”

  1. Marissaon 26 Mar 2009 at 3:12 am

    …Now I feel bad. I’m a little bit guilty of number eight. No hard feelings, I swear? =/

  2. B. Macon 26 Mar 2009 at 3:39 am

    Don’t feel bad. This was a situation that I handled badly. It should have been obvious to me that rejecting people could lead to hurt feelings.

  3. Marissaon 26 Mar 2009 at 3:51 am

    Nah, it was at least partly me. I have a tendency to get my hopes up too far. Bad habit of mine.

  4. scribblaron 26 Mar 2009 at 6:06 am

    If number 4 was me, I apologise, and am totally cool with not being in the consideration. The comment I made was not an attack, it was an attempt at humour. I tend to veer towards sarcasm a lot.

    It can be hard to know if someone is being serious when all you see of them is a few lines of text. I have been taken the wrong way before and no doubt will be again.

    If number 4 wasn’t me, feel free to disregard my post.

  5. scribblaron 26 Mar 2009 at 11:16 am

    Ah, cool, I really didn’t think it was me, but I’ve had things be taken completely the wrong way before. And then a friend suggested I use smileys to let people know how I feel.

  6. B. Macon 26 Mar 2009 at 11:25 am

    I firmly agree that a well-placed “I think” or emoticon can really soften a comment that might otherwise feel borderline nasty.

  7. Ragged Boyon 27 Mar 2009 at 5:49 am

    Regarding #11: I hope my old problems don’t hinder my chance. For those that don’t know, when I first found this I was a petty, stubborn, whiny brat. I disagreed with almost eveything anyone said. I’ve since learned from my mistakes.

    Regarding #6: I probably seem like the type of person that would do that. However, I assure that wouldn’t be the case if I were selected.

    I’ve come a long way since my first arrival here.

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