By Victoria Tran, Communications Director at Kitfox Games, an indie studio in Montreal. Currently working on Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us and publishing Mondo Museum and Dwarf Fortress. This was originally written on their Medium blog.
Sometimes, your community grows to a size where you can no longer reasonably keep track of it by yourself — you need to sleep, go to conventions, do other work, etc. At this point, you’ll probably need a mod or two.
A community is only as good as their mods.
When Do I Need a Moderator?
You don’t ALWAYS need a moderator — for instance, if your community is quite small, relatively calm, and you have enough bandwidth, you may get away with not having a moderator for awhile.
At Kitfox, we have 6k+ Discord members, 6 mods, and a bot for general moderation. However, the activity of the mods varies drastically on their own work schedules and/or life business. Our Discord is pretty well behaved (I love them), the mod role is pinged infrequently, and we have steady streams of conversations everyday. I got our first mod in 2018, sometime after the Kickstarter of Boyfriend Dungeon.
I can’t say for certain when you’ll need a mod (I don’t know if there is a standard community size to mod ratio), but variables for how many you need include: the time zones you need covered, how active your mods are, how active — and not just how big — your game community is, strictness of the server, etc.
So maybe my best advice is: when you feel overwhelmed or know an announcement is coming up that will overwhelm you (e.g. a launch/new game announcement), look for mods! Preferably you will find mods before you are overwhelmed, but sometimes these things creep up.
Alright, so you’re ready for moderators but… how do you find them? There are a number of ways to do so:
- Seeing who is active, but respectful in your servers — that is, respectful of you/your time, other devs, the other players, and each other (there is always usually one, when your community grows large enough to need them)
- Friends or fellow developers you trust (many caveats with this, but there are instances of servers being successful with them)
- Discord has some volunteer moderators for verified servers
- Recommendations from current mods
- Setting up a Google Form for people to volunteer to be mods
Choosing moderators requires a good sense of judgement. Personalities are, of course, extremely varied so I can’t give you some easy “choose only ISFJ people” or something. (Lol, can you imagine though.) Keep in mind being a pleasant person to chat with online is not the same thing as being a good moderator.
Overall, you can keep these things in mind:
- Personality traits: Humble (or at least, no grandiose sense of ego that would probably go mad with power), friendly, empathetic, gets along with other members
- Has at least a vague sense of the emotional toll moderating can take (they can discover this later and decide it’s not right for them, which is ok!)
- If they have previous moderating experience (in other Discords, Reddit, etc.)
- If needed, in a different timezone than you (or maybe they have a very bad sleep schedule but… they really should get some sleep…)
- Have they shown that they understand the rules and appropriate behaviour on a personal level?
- Are they already bringing value? Do they make people laugh, help people out and make people feel welcome?
- Beware of backseat moderators. While it may look like a user with a willingness to contribute would be a great mod,you need to be careful they aren’t SO keen that they become some overzealous moderator. Not saying you need to avoid them, just keep it in mind.
When it comes to approaching potential mods, I’ve always asked them via private messages listing out why I’m asking them, why I appreciate their presence, mod expectations, and a clear statement that it is not at all mandatory for them to accept. No pressuring/guilting anyone into becoming a mod! I also tend to reitierate that mod work can be quite draining, so if they try it out and decide it isn’t for them, no hard feelings ever.
Knowing Your Mods
As the defacto leader for your mods, you’re essentially in charge of your own team. And so, all the responsibilities and leadership skills of a manager will be on you. That includes knowing the dynamics and personalities of your mods, taking ultimate responsibility for anything that happens, and ensuring their wellbeing as much as you can. Mods are not volunteers you get to ignore.
- Every mod has a different personality and moderation type — know how they interact with you, each other, and the community
- Some may have different ideas/styles of moderation than you — this is okay, as long as both of you understand and respect this
- For numerous reasons, they will often have different levels of activity and presence within the community
- Some mods do not have the personality type to be a mod!! It’s hard!! Don’t force them to stay as one, or make them feel guilty if they ever want to stop.
Mods are still people with opinions, and often the times that call for mods will be instances that can be a bit divisive. Maybe one mod thinks the person should get a warning, while the other mod wants a straight ban. Either way, you need to be ready for things like this to crop up. Time to brush up on those leadership skills.
I highly recommend you have an internal moderator guideline outlining:
- Behaviour expectations
- Your expectations for how the community will be handled
- Internal rules and regulations
- More specific guidelines on what warrants an instant ban, a warning, and what to do if they’re unsure
- How to report an offense
And while you’re at it, you should keep these questions in mind for yourself:
- How will you handle inter-mod disputes?
- What will you do if your mods are targeted?
- How will you balance suggestions from a mod VS what you think you should do?
Keep in mind managing moderators isn’t just about handling arguments though, or telling them what to do. You need to respect their time and concerns. After all, they’re the ones helping you out! For example:
- Warn them in advance if you’re announcing something big/expect an influx of new members. Don’t leave them in the dark about these things.
- Check in on them proactively. Don’t just wait for them to come to you.
- They have lives!! There will be times they can’t be as active, and that’s okay, so long as you set the expectations for it!
- BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK. This means if they have a criticism, do not immediately respond being defensive, angry, or most of all, hurt. They need to feel safe telling you things.
These are specific situations, and you may find you need different rules for your own moderators. And that’s good — every community is so different, you shouldn’t be purely copying/pasting rules. Morph them to fit your situation.
By the way — don’t forget that in the end, you’re the one responsible for your mods. No throwing them under the bus. And if one of them majorly messes up? That’s their bad as much as yours.
In a perfect world, we would be paying our moderators. But with indies, it’s not viable sometimes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t actively be showing your mods that you’re grateful for their help because uh, let’s face it, we’d perish without them.
I can’t say exactly what you can do — part of the whole thankfulness part is to give non-generic thanks, in my opinion — but here are things I have done:
- Given mods free keys (and maybe tried to force them to take them) (let me give you things for free pleaseee)
- Cards for New Years + gifts
- Any merch we make is offered to the mods
- Tried to show thankfulness with small continual actions. Recorded birthday messages, random messages in our mod channels, etc.
Mods are precious cinnamon rolls that must be protected, yet somehow they protect us. Once your community grows large enough, they’re imperative to not only maintaining the rules of your community, but also greatly contribute the overall positive atmosphere of it, if done right!
As community devs, we are in our own managerial positions, in a sense. Hint hint to people who undervalue or misjudge how difficult soft skills are: you try doing this and try not to get demolished.
We need to be conscious of the the people we welcome into our communities and the ones that we choose to help us. And together, you basically become the Voltron of a good community structure.
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