Managing a large community around the clock. Is community management a 24/7 job?

by Alison Michalk December 16, 2008

Community Management is a job that’s easy to take home with you. I’m often jumping on the check an issue was resolved, see how a thread is running, touching base with the Mods. Especially on Sunday night so my Mon morning is no more hectic than usual.

So is the role of Community Management a 24/7 job?

For me personally, no.

But there definitely are community managers out there burning the candle at both ends so I wanted to contribute some tips on we manage a large scale community around the clock.

It is true that Community Managers need to be approachable and accessible. So you need to strike a balance between being available – and not spreading yourself too thin. This isn’t always easy as inevitably you will be contacted with a range of problems that are on sliding scales for priority so here are my personal tips:

#1 Define your team
If your community is small and you are a one-person show, these points still apply. If your community is getting to a size where you could do with the help of a volunteer, now might be the time to get help. If you do, try to plan for growth (of your members and your Mod Team) and define roles as early as possible. They will need to be reviewed and developed but you need to start somewhere.

When you are dealing with remote workers you need to be especially clear.

We have two documents, ‘The Role of Mod’ and ‘Mod Expectations’. Although Mods are wonderful volunteers, it is ok to tell them what you expect of them. It is very time consuming to manage people who potentially aren’t contributing much to the community and clearly defining these expectation will assist if you need to politely ask if they are too busy to keep up with the demands of Modding.

#2 Define your rules and responses. Communicate effectively.
Will you PM members who misbehave, will you edit part of their post, will you note it was edited by Mods, will you remove it in total? Will you put them on post approval, or ban them. Will you tell other members what happened?

Moderator consistency is key to good community management. Notifying members of rules being broken might be great in the early stages, but is it sustainable? Decide how breaches will be dealt with and this will save everyone a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing.

We have trialled periods where we did not notify anyone, and where we have. Both throw up a lot of response and questions. In summary I think it is most effective to notify the OP but not engage in open discussion with other members. If the member wants, they can answer others.

This point does seem obvious but as a community manager – you manage relationship – and ineffective communication especially over rule enforcement will waste your time. And the 24hr clock is ticking!

#3 Help your team, so they can help you
Ultimately your team are there to support the members and you, but it is a two way street. Enable Mods to get help and support from one another.

This can be as easy as establishing a private forum, a wiki, an IRL meet-up or getting on MSN. Private forums can be the best way if you need to document/track progess of issues. We have private boards (divided into work & social) and a Wiki. The team most of the time resolves issues with minimal input from me.

#4 Establish a realistic timeframe in which you will reply to queries
As honourable as it is to get back to everyone in haste, you only serve to create an expectation of always doing so (beware the slippery slope!). With the community I work with, we say 24-48hrs.

If there is some way that you can delegate ‘urgent’ queries to a different person/email address etc consider doing so, even if they all go to you it will help prioritise them, which leads me onto point

#5 Establish an escalation system
Clearly define what issues need to be raised to you from your Mod Team, or even above you is this is how your company is structured. For me the Mod Team escalates minor issues to two Paid Mods/Admin staff, and in turn they escalate potential legal issues and posts of a nature that allude to member self-harm, or child at risk circumstances. I notify the Gen Manager of anything that needs to be referred to legal, or could blow up into a major drama. (I don’t bog her down with detail, but it much easier to say “you know that issues I emailed you about 3 weeks ago…”)

#6 Call for backup. And pretzels.
No matter what size your community is, volunteers, Mods and you will need a break. Our community has a Buddy System. If a Mod needs to take a break, anything from a day to weeks, she belongs to a buddy group of 2-3 Mods.

With 180 forums it is problematic to throw a new cat amongst the pigeons, and much easier for all if the Mods have an understanding of that forum and it’s issues.

We also have a sticky with a clear breakdown of each forum, likely problems, things to watch out for.

#7 Appreciate time zones.
A minor point but if your community spans time zones, work it to your advantage. In Australia the West Coast is 3hrs behind us, which means on average our forums are covered for close to 20hr per day. And our un(wo)manned hours reflect the site’s quiet downtimes. Perfect.

How does the structure/organisational process of your community work? What tips can you share?