Death of the Moderator
When I moved to Crisp one of the first comments I received came from an old moderator of mine who exclaimed “You’ve gone over to the dark side!”
In a way I understand the sentiment; as someone who’s spent the last 15 years training, managing and extolling the virtues of moderation staff, it may seem like a slightly perverse choice to move to a company whose technology has a reputation for slashing moderation headcount and costs. So why did I do it?
Well here’s the thing; I believe that what Crisp’s technology signals is not the death of the moderator, but the evolution of the moderator. When I hired and trained my first moderation crew for a content provider called LineOne in the mid-90s, I had a very clear vision for them. I didn’t want them simply policing the service, I wanted them to be my eyes and ears on the ground helping me gauge the health of the community by winging me customer feedback on new features, raising the cream of ideas they spotted and acting as friendly, yet dispassionate hosts. These moderators were highly valued and skilled and I relied on them for everything from spotting the early signs of predatory behaviour to providing a customer voice in feature development. They were also well paid and had some nice little perks of the job.
With the explosion of social media and online gaming I believe there’s been a shift in how moderation is viewed and moderators are valued. Whether it be a popular Facebook page or a happening MMO, once your community reaches critical mass moderation becomes a high-volume business. The traditional way to deal with that situation (I’ve been guilty of this myself!), is to batten down the hatches, tweak moderation tools for speed and efficiency, create policies which focus moderation efforts on high turnover and throw more people at the problem. When your user base continues to mushroom but your moderation budget doesn’t keep abreast, the obvious solution is to lower personnel costs in order to increase moderator headcount. That inevitably involves looking offshore and making the decision to trade-off some quality for cost savings. This is a process which is becoming more commonplace if the sudden interest shown by some of the offshore call centre giants in offering moderation services is anything to go by.
Where is the traditional moderator in all of this? Well they’re sitting on a production line, making straight yes/no judgments on content within a strict framework of community guidelines. They’re treading water, under-utilising their skills, seeing their wages at best stagnate and at worst tumble and they’re quietly quaking in their boots that their jobs are going to disappear to far-flung shores where cheap labour is rife.
Where Crisp excels is quietly and efficiently dealing with the production line side of moderation whilst facilitating a higher-level, more in-depth investigation into the very worst of your community issues. Where once you may have needed 100 moderators to keep up with the volume of issues, Crisp requires only a couple. This is the stuff which gets financial eyes glinting, community managers edgy and moderators terrified. However there’s no need to fear because this lowering of headcount brings some wondrous benefits. For the community manager whose time was previously sapped leading large teams of moderators, Crisp allows you time to do what you’re bred to do, engage. And if you’re a moderator then you can look forward to your value increasing as moderation becomes a profession again, not simply a low-skill, high volume job. You’re no longer a production line keyboard jockey making ‘yes/no’ judgments on issues which are often trivial; your skills at interpreting situations and making recommendations come to the fore again. Once again you have the time and space to be the thermometer of community health and that vital feedback link between user base and community manager.
So have I moved to the ‘dark side’? No. As someone who still extolls the virtues of highly skilled moderation staff, I’d say I’ve moved to the smart side.
Emma Monks – Head of Community