How do you recruit volunteer moderators?

by Venessa Paech September 23, 2019

Every community needs moderation and not everyone can afford a large team of professional moderators.

You’ll always need some professional oversight to keep you safe, legal and on the right track, but you can build a thriving community with the help of volunteer moderators.

There are some important things to think about when recruiting volunteer moderators. It’s not an easy job you’re asking people to take on and, depending on the topic and tone of your community, it can be demanding.

Here are some simple tips to help you identify the right people and bring them on board.

Do your groundwork

Before you appoint volunteer moderators, you’ll need a clear moderation framework in place. That means understanding any legal and regulatory obligations impacting your community, and identifying the kind of behaviour you will and won’t accept.

You’ll need guidelines, a process for warning people when they step outside the rules and for removing people from the community. For some communities, you’ll also need escalation processes. Volunteers may play a part in these, or may only be the front line.

Understand motivations

Volunteers want to get involved for similar reasons that people participate online overall. Studies show these motivations are primarily:

  • Influence
  • Reputation
  • Sense of belonging
  • Altruism
  • Anticipated reciprocity (If I help others, someone might help me)

Getting your volunteer mods up and running, and keeping them engaged, means knowing which of these apply and rewarding them accordingly. For example, those volunteers wanting recognition should enjoy being mentioned in a thread, or newsletter.

Reputation is a common driver for volunteer moderators. They’ve been in the community and want to contribute on a ‘higher level’ where there is some status involved.

Find your role models

Look for people who role model the ideal behaviour you’re fostering throughout the community. It’s important they both understand and have successfully internalised the culture you’re working to build, if they’re going to help you scale that culture to others.

You want those people actively contributing in a “fitting” way to the community. Don’t only look for the most active, nor highest post count, nor the loudest. In fact, the most prolific and ‘loud’ contributors can make problematic moderators.

Use a personal touch

When you’re ready to tap your chosen few, don’t do a blanket process. That could send the signal to the community that ‘anyone’ will do, or make some people worry that you or your organisation is under-resourced.

Instead, once you know the type of member you need, make a short-list and approach them individually. You might also get people to nominate someone, or post a call for those looking to get more involved, without explaining exactly what for until you have a personal conversation. You’re less likely to attract members with ego or power issues, and more likely to get members interested in helping the community as a whole.

Set them up to succeed

Remember that you’re working with volunteers who don’t have professional training in this work. You’ll need to give them some tips and advice before they start, and along the way. As you refresh your moderation policies or processes – perhaps with their input – make sure everyone is clear about priorities and requirements.

Be sure to have a private space for your moderators so they can build a sense of community within their own group. This will help them reinforce what they’re learning and doing and give them a place to discuss moderation issues both as they happen and in reflection.

One size won’t fit all

Even if they have a lot in common, your volunteer mods will be good at different things and have different interests within the community.

Experiment with varying their tasks. Some ideas include regular check-ins on threads, groups or members, pointing people to community guidelines when they seem at risk of overstepping them, starting new threads and conversations, helping keep existing ones focused, interviewing community members or helping organise information around the community in useful ways.

Moderate your moderators

Everyone makes mistakes, and anyone can go rogue. Sometimes extra responsibility can make people feel more important than others and produce unhelpful behaviour. Some moderators might feel uncomfortable if they have to pull friends into line. You’ll need to moderate your moderators and watch out for cliques.

Moderation is hard work and can be quite stressful. Moderating your mods also means looking after them, making sure they’re not working too hard or dealing with matters out of their depth. They need self-care, just as you and the rest of your team do.

If you’d like help creating moderation and governance frameworks, building moderation programs or with out-of-hours moderation support, let’s have a conversation.

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