A recent incident in a large community where a small number of moderators went rogue led me to believe that more needs to be said about the difference between a community manager and a moderator. There’s still confusion in some areas about the difference between the two, and this confusion, in the right circumstances, can lead to bedlam.
I can't be the only community manager who hears “oh right, so you delete comments and stuff?” whenever I tell people what I do for a living. Obviously this can be personally frustrating, but it can also cause professional difficulties for people in both roles. Some businesses expect a moderator to do the work of a CM, without giving them the pay, resources or support to do so.
Others are pretty sure that all a CM does is “delete comments and stuff”, and dismiss the need for one based on that. Given the pressing need for both roles in modern marketing, businesses that take this stance are likely to be left in the dust. So what's the difference?
The Role of a Community Manager
A community manager is an oversight position. They should know everything there is to know about the community, its problems and how to solve them. For product communities, they should have metrics to hit, whether that’s to improve customer support, generate sales or any number of things.
For a social community, they should have a clear vision of where they want the community to head, and know how to get there. A community manager is responsible for setting policy, for figuring out how to move the community to a desired outcome and keep it there. There are a number of tools that a CM has at their disposal, but they should primarily be good communicators and strategists.
The Role of a Moderator
Moderators are in the trenches. They’re reading posts, answering reports and solving problems day-in and day-out. The importance and difficulty of this shouldn’t be understated. There is absolutely such a thing as a good or bad moderator. Anyone can clean up spam, but a great moderator needs to know when to have a light touch and when to wade into the breach.
They need to know how and when to use moderation tools, but more importantly how and when to not use them. A great mod sees problem situations before they arise, and brooks the stream to move problematic conversations to a healthier place. When trouble does arise, a moderator is the one to enforce the rules, protect the user base and occasionally seem like the bad guy.
What's The Difference?
While both of these positions require a certain amount of responsibility, the buck stops with the CM. Any CM who puts excessive burden onto their moderators is doing both staff and community a disservice. The CM is the lightning rod; they’ll be held responsible if things go wrong. After all, it’s usually the CM that chose the moderators.
A lot of CMs make the mistake of bringing on excessive amount of moderators, in the hope that a large team with little oversight will essentially do their job for them. The results can be disastrous, I've seen communities collapse when irresponsible CMs rest the entire community on the shoulders of the moderators without providing them the guidance to do their job.
My Own Experience
At Penny Arcade, I’m blessed with a great moderation team who know their jobs well and work hard to make the community what it is. I trust them completely, but people often mistake a laissez faire attitude to community management for trust in moderators.
My job is to make decisions and take responsibility, if I delegate that to the moderators it doesn't show that I have faith in them. It shows that I’m lazy, and I’m willing to let others take the heat for me.
When we make policy decisions, we discuss it as a team but it’s accepted that the final decision will be mine. My name and professional reputation are attached to the community, whether that means taking credit or blame.
Community managers and moderators are both vital to a great community. Indeed, the quality of both is often the deciding factor in whether a community reaches critical mass or fades away like so many others.
Any business in the modern market needs to be aware of the attributes and skills required of both in order to hire the best people for the job. If not, their competitors will get there first.