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  Part Two: How Do I Deal with Moderation Team Issues?
How should a manager deal with a supervisor who is seemingly unsympathetic to community needs?

(This is second in a two part series of answers. To view Part One, click here.)

We were recently sent a detailed scenario where a community manager inherited a staff of untrained paid moderators who were once community participants on the site. The manager, upon introducing themselves to the team and wanting to gain a sense of the moderators’ roles within the community, was told that each moderator had their own “style” of moderation. The subtext was that the manager should not interfere with how they perform their responsibilities. Whilst trying to establish a team environment with consistent methods of moderation from a group seemingly with their own “rules”, the manager has also faced lack of support from a supervisor whose remit is editorial rather than community. An allied issue arose out of public ridicule from a moderator who posted information from a private listserv (rate of pay, discipline procedures, etc.) on the community boards to incite anger from the members.

Your supervisor’s unsympathetic nature towards community may stem from a lack of information about and/or experience of community. It may be that they simply do not know what it is, and how it benefits the site you are both working on. However, try not to look at this as an obstacle, but rather as an avenue to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for your community and what it can and has to offer. This will also provide an excellent opportunity for you to share with your supervisor the ways in which the community can be improved. You’re the specialist, and you can show it.

Our recommendation would be to develop a document that provides an overview of what community is and the benefits. In the document you should define some of the community’s roles (including your own and the people who report to you), community responsibilities, and perhaps most importantly, the community guidelines or Terms of Service. In any instances where you have to act in relation to a moderator or member’s behavior then your supervisor should have the same point of reference as you, and be able to identify the relevant guidelines or Terms of Service.

In addition, list all the community components you have on the site and where they fit into the community and how they fit into the site.

From this base document, you can then begin to open dialog with your supervisor. Approach the discussions from the point of view of keeping the supervisor in the loop and inviting contributions from their perspective. Think of the base document as a skeleton “plan” upon which to build your ideas and issues as they arise, and as a means of helping the supervisor to apprehend what you do and how you are doing it. Sometimes what seems like lack of sympathy is actually lack of time due to other job responsibilities. Your document should help him/her to quickly and easily gain the information they need to feel in touch with you and your team, as well as the community.

Focus your discussions around the document. If you are able, set up a time to go to lunch with your supervisor where you can discuss what you have created. If lunch is not an option, ask your supervisor to schedule time for a call and walk them through each community component or issue. Try to make your “meetings” a regular occurrence.

After each discussion, if necessary, modify or add to the document so that you have on-going materials that can be referred to. In between meetings add to the document any pertinent community happenings, relating to content, your staff, technical or other community issues. Draw the supervisor’s attention to these items during meetings as points of discussion.

Keep an avenue for dialog open by letting your supervisor know that you are always available for questions regarding the community and/or the document. By doing so, you are not only inviting your supervisor to continue to ask questions, but through your enthusiasm you are also encouraging them to get involved. The document itself will be a valuable element in your community management toolkit and assist you in the day-to-day running of the community.

Dealing with your supervisor in a constructive and positive way will help to foster more support for you, and the community, as well as educate.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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