As a community manager, looking at a busy community can be daunting. With so many categories, discussions and users, it can seem like far too much information to take in. In extreme cases, this can even lead to Analysis Paralysis, where the amount of different options makes it impossible to pick an appropriate path.
Similarly, smaller communities that are growing fast can start to suffer due to their user-base outgrowing their management infrastructure. In an ideal world you’d be able to increase your staff levels to cope, but the chances of getting that kind of budget increase are slim. So what’s to be done? Should you simply start working weekends and evenings, making sure you’re always on top of things? Should you start trying to slow down your growth levels, to keep your traffic manageable? Or should you just accept that as a community grows, the quality inevitably declines?
None of the above, of course. It’s a cliche, but a community manager under pressure needs to work smarter, not harder. Successful communities grow, often unpredictably. A community I worked on once saw a spike of 3 million to its monthly pageviews effectively overnight. Situations like that have given me cause to find the best strategies for managing a community with limited time and effort.
Figure out the tools you need
Report systems, for example, are hugely efficient. Rather than having to read every thread and hunt down trolls, CMs and moderators can give users a way to bring troublesome threads to their attention. Not only is this a labour-saver for your staff, it also allows your members to feel like they have a say in how the community is run. This outlet helps to avoid “metamodding”, flame wars and other problems associated with users who feel like they have no ability to exert control over their environment.
A community manager is key to getting a report system to work effectively. They should ensure that your users are properly onboarded, with well-written and clear guidelines on what does and does not constitute an acceptable report. Once this is in place, they’ll be rewarded with an environment that is much simpler to moderate and a more engaged populace who will help them to solve problems quickly and efficiently.
Better moderators, rather than more moderators
Having the right staff on board is hands-down the most crucial aspect of an efficiently run board. Moderating a community can be a stressful and thankless job. The workload should be spread across an effective, competent team who have enough manpower to avoid any one person feeling overburdened or burned out.
A community manager’s role in this is crucial. Not only are they responsible for bringing the right staff on board in the first place, they also provide the guidelines that moderators will use to carry out day to day operations on the board. As mentioned above, the rules and guidelines of your community should be clear for both users and staff. Moderators shouldn't have to constantly ask the community manager to clarify the rules on the forum, nor should they need CM input for the majority of users issues. For an efficient community, micromanagement is death. If moderators are given effective tools and oversight, the CM should be able to take their hands off the wheel and focus on other things.
Picking the right number of mods is almost as fraught as picking the right ones. Simply giving the button to everyone who asks is horrible, but so is overburdening the mods you have by expecting them to each do the work of 3 people. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Try and have at least one specialist mod for each major category, someone who knows all the ins and outs and troublemakers
- If you have a multinational community, keep time zones in mind. Try and have at least some coverage in off-peak hours
- Keep in mind the activity levels of your categories. You don’t need to assign as many moderators to sleepy, well-behaved categories as to the more rambunctious ones.
Moderate with your personality, not your mod tools.
This may sound like a contradiction to my first point, but bear with me. That strategy is about finding the right tools. That doesn’t have to mean a lot of them. It’s common for inexperienced community managers to crave more tools. Word filters, different types of banning, ignore functions; the list is seemingly endless. These tools all have their place, but a reliance on them is a symptom of a problem in management. If our goal is to reduce the staff bandwidth of a forum community, the real watchword is personality. It’s not enough for a CM to be around to hit users with a cartoon hammer when they step out of line. They should be creating an environment where users don’t misbehave in the first place.
When I was young, a teacher once gave me a working definition of respect versus fear. He didn’t believe there was any benefit in students fearing him. All that ensured was that students would behave themselves while he was watching. As soon as they were out of his presence, whatever mischief they were itching to perpetrate would manifest. The real value, in his view, was to be respected. Students who respected him would avoid misbehaving even if he wasn't present. This is an important lesson for community managers, whose role mimics that of a teacher in many ways.
A skilled community manager will cultivate an atmosphere where users behave of their own accord. A user who is respectful and appreciative of the community will want to look after it, to make it a better place in the same way that people in a beautiful garden will avoid littering. When people think of your community, your community manager is going to be the first thing in their mind. If that figure is worthy of respect, half of the job is done already.