As your community grows, eventually it will get to the point where you can’t do it all by yourself. You’ll have to find people to help out when you can’t be there, whether that’s when you’re on a well-deserved vacation, when you’re working on other things, when you’re sleeping, to help lighten the load, or to give you other perspectives and ideas because one person can’t be amazing at everything. Finding someone who shares your vision and ideas for how your community should grow is sometimes a daunting task. Here are the things that I’ve learned to look for over the years when searching for people to help me in moderating and growing communities.
Look at the people that are already doing the job
Chances are that when you’ve gotten to this point, there are already people that are helping out, if you give them half a chance. These are the people that are just excited to be there and share their excitement with others. The ones that want to pay it forward by helping other people the way they were helped when they first joined the community. The people that write documentation because it needs to be done. People that share their ideas with you on how things can be made better. Giving them an official title or job description may not seem like much but it can often help people who are new to your community by showing them who they can go to first and who has the “official” answers.
Beware those who seek out power, position, or adulation
A few times when I’ve created communities, I’ve been asked, “What do I have to do to become a [leader title]?” This is a huge warning sign . This is somewhat the inverse of the previous suggestion. The people that just want to help others find ways to do it and don’t ask for a title or to be granted special powers. Conversely, the people that seek out the title or special powers, in my experience, do not want them in order to help others but to help themselves. If you do select one of these types as a “helper”, you’ll end up spending more time managing them than they will save you in the work they do end up doing for the community.
I can give you an example of the perfect kind of candidate you’re looking for. Once, when I invited someone to be an official Atom maintainer, they talked, at length, about how excited and honored they were, and how it was one of the best days of their life. It was obvious from what they said and how they said it that they were excited about being given more responsibility, not about being given more power or standing in the community. They appreciated that we were thanking them for a job well done, encouraging them to continue doing it, and asking them to be more involved in things, which ultimately meant more work. Yes, people like this do exist and there are probably a few of them in your community doing things behind the scenes, not seeking out credit for it.
100% classy over a significant amount of time
Community management is sometimes, perhaps even often, a thankless job. People complain to you about things you don’t control. Community members assume that you’re some power-mad dictator that revels in inflicting pain and confusion within the populace of your little corner of the Internet. The community manager is often the personification of people’s experiences within the community because, as they say, the buck stops with you. It can be very, very stressful. So when looking for people to help you manage your community, you definitely want to keep an eye out for warning signs that a person can’t handle the pressure even before they are given more responsibility and, potentially, power.
I tend to describe this succinctly as “100% classy”. Basically, this means that they demonstrate grace under pressure. They don’t rise to flame bait. They show the ability to de-escalate arguments. They practice constructive criticism when giving feedback to others. They treat others how we all wish we would be treated by people we respect.
Additionally, I tend to expect people to have been an active participant in the community for a minimum of six months before I would consider them for a greater role. The reason for this is that anyone can “put on a happy face” or be buoyed by the excitement of something new for a couple weeks. And many can keep it up for a couple months. But someone who can keep it up for half a year, while continuing to be an active participant, has demonstrated skills at managing themselves, their demeanor, and their dedication to the community, all of which is highly desirable in someone that you’re considering for more responsibility.
These are the general rules that I have collected for finding people to help out with the communities that I’ve run or been involved in. They have served me well and helped me identify some people that I’m very proud to have worked with, continue to work with, and feel privileged to know and learn from. What rules or guidelines do you have for finding people to help in your communities? Let us know in the comments