Thoughts On The Reddit Moderator Revolt?

(Jessica Malnik) #1

Reddit has never been known to take particularly great care of the thousands of volunteer mods who run the site. However, watching the backlash between moderators and the Reddit admin team is very interesting. 

ICYMI, you can read more about the Reddit revolt here.  

The one stand-out question and takeaway that I take away from all of this is: 

How much power and authority should volunteer moderators have in the community and with the owner/team that manage it? In Reddit's case, the moderators essentially power the entire site. And, Reddit has a track record of not actively reaching out to mods and disregarding their feedback. 

I'm curious to hear everyone else's thoughts around this. 


(Sarah Hawk) #2

Not commenting specifically on Reddit, but to your question about the balance of power and authority, I think it's a very tricky balance. I think that moderation staff need a degree of ownership in order to pour their heart and soul into something. I've seen this go wrong though, and turn into a power struggle between the brand and the moderators.

An interesting question would be "how do you turn that back around"?

(Ben) #3

I'm surprised this topic isn't getting more commentary here. I would have chimed in earlier myself, but was on vacation for the USA Independence Day holiday weekend.

I fear that much of the progress community managers have made over the past few years to gain authority stands to be rolled back by senior executives. After reading about this, I imagined myself as a CEO at an organization with a community initiative. Here's what went through my mind during this thought experiment:

"Wow, how embarrassing for Ellen Pao! 150,000 people have signed a petition to get her fired. How can I prevent this from happening to me? I may need to let people go at any time if the economy turns south, or if they violate company policy, or for any of a bunch of other reasons. And it will always be their word against mine on why they were let go -- I'm sure to lose that debate with a wildly popular community manager. If I give our community manager too much influence, exposure, and power, they could become more liked by our customers, members, users, etc. More than me, more than even the organization itself. Maybe I need to rein in the community manager's prominence and autonomy so that this doesn't happen to us. Maybe I need to get more hands-on with our community initiative. Maybe I should distribute community authority among a larger team so that no single community manager becomes so popular as to create this kind of headache for me. Maybe all staff posts need to come from a generic company account."

I'm curious to know if any community geeks are proactively addressing this issue head-on with their superiors?

(Sarah Hawk) #4

I'm curious to know if any community geeks are proactively addressing this issue head-on with their superiors?

Rich is. He's making sure I don't get popular. 

In all seriousness though, here is his take on it.

It is a very real issue. A few years back when I was managing another community, they were making decisions that I didn't agree with. I felt so strongly about it that I handed in my notice. They suddenly got very worried that there would be a backlash and that they'd lose everything. It worked out well for me in that they rethought the decisions (and we ended up migrating to Discourse which was very successful) but it was a wake up call for the company. I think Rich's approach is right. A community can't just be about one person.

(Richard Millington) #5

My blog post dodged the question really. It doesn't help Reddit now.

Let's tackle this from a practical standpoint, you need to immediate fire a popular community manager for cause. What do you do?

I don't have a good answer to this. 

(Ben) #6

I don't have a good answer either, but here are some thoughts, informed -- in part -- by the time that I had to let go of an IT manager for poor performance in a highly-orchestrated series of events:

  • Contact your most influential moderators and tell them you have some information to share that must remain confidential until you say otherwise. 
  • Hold a conference call with the mods to explain the situation at the same time that the community manager's account credentials are being deactivated and is being escorted from the building.
  • On the conference call, say as much as you are permitted to about the firing, given your country's employment laws.
  • Hopefully you have an apprentice or stand-in waiting in the wings to take over. Give them control of the old community manager's account, but change its username, password and profile photo.
  • Allow the apprentice/stand-in to post from that account for a period of time until the transition is widely known by users. 

(Sarah Hawk) #7

That sounds like a smart approach Ben. In my experience, the more transparent and honest can possibly be about this kind of thing, the better.

It is happening at one of my old communities right now and I am on both sides of the fence. The business fired the CM and had her clear her desk out overnight with nothing more than a “things weren’t working out” email to the mods. They are outraged and think that it’s part of some plot to sabotage the community. In actual fact, it was for non-performance across a range of things and was quite legit, just badly handled. Better communication would have made a huge difference.

(Robert Strick) #8

I think in the case of Reddit you have to look at the other factors in play. Was it the fact that this particular community manager had high influence, or a result of Reddit (management) ignoring an under-current of complaints from the community. The firing of that Reddit representative was essentially the spark for a whole host of other issues.

This very easily could have been avoided if they didn’t let other issues compound over time. That’s not to say there isn’t going to be issues with getting rid of a employee with high influence, but there are ways to message around that.

(Sarah Hawk) #9

That’s essentially what it comes down to. How much transparency do you think is appropriate in a case like this though @Robert_Strick – taking into account the high profile nature of the situation.

(Robert Strick) #10

You can’t build trust without transparency; which is something that was lacking on a lot of levels with Reddit, just not in relation to the firing of that representative. You essentially work from the stuff you know you can’t do, which in this case is talking about how that person is no longer there. They pivoted I think the best they could, but haven’t backed up their words with actions.

Also, I think this brings up a bigger discussion about transparency in general. Coming from the games industry there’s a general reluctance to be transparent about anything. This trend is haunting a lot of companies right now in this sector. It has also been a challenge for me as the company I work for wants to embrace this, but isn’t really willing to take the steps necessary to action off of this.

Anyway, a bit of a rant there at the end, but I do think all of this stuff is connected.

(Sarah Hawk) #11

I agree with you.

I think that transparency is a tricky issue for CMs – and not just in the gaming industry. Everyone acknowledges that it’s key for community health and as such, CMs are all for it, but brands draw the line in a very different place.

My MO is to be very (perhaps too) transparent and it gets me in trouble more than anything else that I do. The thing that I find difficult is that the nature of our work (whether it be due to timezones, the need for a quick response, whatever…) means that I don’t have time to ‘check in’ on everything before I say it, but the internet is forever.

(Robert Strick) #12

I like to think of transparency as a risk mitigation technique; at least that’s my approach when trying to “sell” plans to management. It’s much easier to back yourself out of a corner when there’s been consistent messaging with an open dialogue to the community. You’re also more apt to have backers in your corner within the community.

I can only really speak more toward the gaming side, but I think you’re starting to see an emergence with this type of behavior. Independent developers are taking a more-open ended approach without as many boundaries and are having success. That’s not to say it hasn’t blown up in some of their faces as well, but the majority of the time you can salvage the wreckage.