Hiring for Social Media Part 3: Community Moderator

This is part three in a series on hiring a social media person or company.

Part 1:  Strategist

Part 2:  Faceman

Part 3:  Moderator

Part 4:  Technologist

Part 5:  Vendor/Company

This is the entry level position within the social media team.  This person is the first interaction that most of your community will have, so this is a critical hire.  First, what kind of community do you have?  A support community?  If so, this moderator needs to be technical enough to answer basic questions and to triage the rest of the questions.  Another example, if your community is based on an interest group of say fly fisherman that buy your custom flies, you would want to hire someone with passion for fishing.  If at all possible find someone that your demographic will click with.  Maybe you just have to be close, like someone who fishes, but not specifically fly fishing.  This person does not need to have previous social media experience, but needs a set of specific other skills.

Start with personality, specifically on-line personality.  This is an interesting distinction and one that is hard to identify.  People that often have much personality in real-life, can struggle with the on-line space.   Likewise one of the best online personalities I have ever seen was so shy she couldn’t even sit in a staff meeting.  So define online personality…  First and most important, it has to be your real personality.  Second, you have to actually show it.  Many of us have spent years learning to write professionally… this is a departure from that training.  The “voice” while still professional, should be much less formal.  Remember the goal is to connect with the people in your community.  It is hard to connect with someone that sounds like the robotic voice from the National Weather Service.

Warning:  I know I have said this before… but let me say it again… don’t create a personality that either does not exist or is not you.  What if the community is an overwhelming success and your characters are invited to go to a speaking engagement?  Your community will be crushed to know this person does not exist.

Other skills that I think are needed for this position: Organizational skills, follow through, good crisis management thought processes, ability to interact with people at a variety of levels, company and product knowledge.

Interviewing for this position:

Screening a candidate for the skills I mention above is fairly routine.  The places that become more challenging are around their interest in the subject area, their writing skills and on-line personality.  There are several resources to help in this process.  Picking the right screening criteria before you even interview is a big help.  Start by requiring writing samples with the resumes.  People that are actually fearful of writing will drop out here.  Next consider creating a couple of scenarios for your candidate to demonstrate their abilities.  I recommend that you use this for both the writing screening as well as the personality (although you don’t have to tell them about the personality part).

Writing Sample:

Let’s break this down to the simplest components.  You want to see how someone writes as well as how they interact with the world.  Create a couple of scenarios.  The first is a “how to” scenario.  If the role is technical, consider making this a technical topic.  If not, select something generic.  For example you might ask someone to submit how to instructions for determining what kind of sandwich someone wants and making it for them.  By giving them a simple topic you can see how detailed they are and match that to what you need for the role.

The next step for me would be creating a scenario to see how our candidate does under pressure.  Create a fictitious angry person on the community and through email send the first post as that person.  The candidate then responds to the email as they would as the moderator.  You continue the back and forth until there is a resolution.  The beauty of this kind of screening is that you get to see them under pressure and feel from a customer’s perspective how they interact.

Interviewing the candidates

So you found a candidate that meets the skills list and even passes the writing portion (sounds like the events in a beauty pageant).  How do you ask the right questions in an interview?  Start with the questions that you would always ask a prospect to gauge company and position fit.  Here are some additional questions specifically for the social media components.

Interview topics and questions:

Comfort with social media technologies:

What social media platforms do you use?  (Personal or professional)  You are looking for someone that uses forums, blogs, makes comments, uses myspace or facebook, etc.  This gives them a base understanding of the space.  Someone that has none should be a red flag.

Comfort interacting with customers in all venues:

I liked the way you handled the scenario of the angry customer.  When and why would you consider actually calling the customer?  In this instance I am looking for comfort in talking with customers as a method for diffusion of the anger.

I would also include a question about travel.  Often very successful moderators become mini celebrities that you might want to bring to events.  Good to gauge their comfort in public and public speaking along with their willingness to travel.  This is also a consideration if you are planning to globalize the community and might have training needs.

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To Register or not to Register?

There is a lot to be said for having your users register for the site, however, this can decrease participation.  By registering, you have some way to know who is doing what and to directly deal with the challenging people.  Without that you might not know that the three actions all came from one troublesome person.  Legally there is some merit to having someone physically check a box that agrees to play by the rules.  Registration can be as simple as a name and email address or as complicated as a long questionnaire.  Studies have shown that if you go too long, then the dropout rate climbs rapidly.

Building a well designed registration can ensure that the maximum number of people make it through the process to contribute to the community.  There are several theories of when and how to position registration.  Generally you would prefer to position the registration or joining after you have the chance to show the value proposition of the community.  This helps the user balance the value they get for giving you the information.  If you can show some content and then ask for registration for more detailed content, that works as well.  Having a distinct additional value for the act of registering is critical in the “sell” of joining a community.

In the process of registration… take the time to let them know why you want the information and what you will and will not use it for.  For example, in a registration someone ask for your address.  If there is no context people will assume the worst.  But let’s say that you send members that get to 100 posts a t-shirt.  If you share the why, then they will be much more likely to give you the information.

You should also consider the concept of graduated registration.  Start by asking for only the basic information like say email; username; password.  This makes it simple to get someone in the door and closer to that first all critical interaction.  After you have engaged them further, perhaps you go back and ask them for more of the detailed information you need?  (be sure to tell them why)

There are very few instances where I recommend open participation.  One example recently was when I was working with a brand where the audience was an elderly crowd who would not be comfortable within the internet space.  I felt like the potential loss of participation within the registration process would be enough to consider open participation for this particular community.  When I do recommend it, I always pair it with pre-moderation of the content.  This allows you to catch bots and people that are just being ugly before the content goes live.  In addition, this pre-moderation, should be considered as an additional time commitment for the moderators.