A new model for moderator-translator teams

When you boil it all down to essentials, community is about communication. The reason that teams of people exist to take care of your online presence is so that the customers who use your product (and the potential customers you’d like to gain) are given the chance to hear and be heard.

In order to feel that connection to your brand, there must be give and take. But what happens when your community speaks and isn’t heard? Do you simply assume that since the voice isn’t in English that you can’t hear it? What happens when you speak to your community, but they don’t understand you? Do you shout louder in your own language? If this is your strategy, you are not only doing a disservice to non-English-speaking members of your community, but you are also grossly underestimating the potential of your international community to grow and affect revenue.

Community teams are the people in charge of moderating conversations and engaging with customers in online forums and social media settings. They go about this in several ways. There is public engagement, whereby a public conversation takes place via public posts in the form of topics and comments, and there is also private messaging, which goes on via direct messages within social media and forums. Duties fall into three main categories. The first category is moderation, which is making sure that text or visual content isn’t offensive. This includes reporting and actioning inappropriate content that has been reported by users. The second category is engagement, which is about encouraging and facilitating an active, lively discussion. This is done by engaging individual users in discussion, praising and calling out top users and acting as officially sanctioned thought leaders and subject matter experts. The third category is information exchange. This is about useful information going out from the company to your users and about information coming back in from the community that will help improve the product and/or experience.

Traditional community team structure

A traditional community team is made up of several members with distinct yet collaborative duties. The community director sits at the helm and is responsible for the overall program health. The person in this role sets strategy and makes sure the budget is adhered to. Directors also create benchmarks to measure achievement by setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs), as well as monitoring adherence to those benchmarks. They are also heavily involved in the creation of the editorial calendar, which is a plan containing content to be published via community channels.

Next we have the community managers. Community managers are generally designated by product type. Each community manager should have input into the creation of the editorial calendar, acting as a representative of their portion of the community. They’re also responsible for executing the editorial calendar. That is, ensuring that all the content is published according to plan. Another major role of the community manager is to manage the community coordinator and the moderators. This means day-to-day awareness of the quality of their work, accommodating schedule requests and helping to work out any payment/human resources issues. Finally, the community managers are responsible for meeting the KPIs and SLAs set by the director. They need to make sure that goals are being met and, if not, actively work on meeting them.

The community coordinator role is very closely associated with that of a community manager. They assist with content creation, executing web content as well as planning and executing community events. They have an additional focus on reporting direct input from the community. The community coordinator role focuses on monitoring, listening and engaging player communities and escalating issues to your development team, as necessary.

And last but not least, we come to the moderators. Moderators are on the front lines when it comes to communication with your community. These are the folks who, one by one, deal with interactions with everyone out there on your official channels talking about your product (or talking about anything else for that matter). The moderators’ main duties are to keep all the online forums and social media channels safe and the discussions constructive. They also report on external community activity such as private fan groups, subject-related interest groups and even in some cases real-life meetup groups and live industry events. These people are in the trenches and are often the first to escalate issues and report on major trends going on in the community.

In this type of standard community team structure, translations are taken care of through a standard localization process. In very simplified terms, this means handoffs to an external localization team, clarification between the community team and that external team, and then delivery in time for the content to be published. If we lived in a world where editorial calendars were finalized months in advance and nothing unexpected ever happened on social media then this would work perfectly. But the reality is that, especially as the product becomes more and more successful and particular foreign markets begin to really take off, reaction time needs to be much quicker and the process much more agile.

You’ve made a commitment to serve your community — your entire community. This means that as your community grows to include more and more people for whom English isn’t their first language, the need for quick turnaround translation comes up more often. As companies grow and become more successful, products and services are released into new territories and official community channels are founded. The expectation remains the same for the user as it always should be. They expect that they deserve, individually, your thoughtful and quick attention. But as those individual community members start to spread further and further around the globe, the harder it becomes to handle the necessary communication required to meet those expectations.

These needs come in many forms. There are press releases put together by your marketing department and finished just in the nick of time — just in the nick of time in English, that is. So when the community team gets the press release dropped in their lap, a mad scramble begins to get it translated for the major foreign language markets being served. Also, as website and server traffic increases, things get overloaded. Quick response to downtime and errors is essential to keeping your community happy and keeping your retention numbers high. Depending on your industry, there may be live events associated with your product or services and as your community expands, so will the location of the events. Appropriate live social coverage requires people to actually be awake as well as that they be fluent in both English and the local language of the event. Another unfortunate reality is that natural and man-made tragedies occur at a frequent enough rate that not having people on hand to react in a timely and appropriate manner can be perceived as, at best, insensitive. At worst that delayed reaction can come across as intentional and extremely offensive.

The new moderator-translator model

Thus evolves the need for community team members who can cover more than English channels. Even adding moderators to cover specific regional markets, while helpful, isn’t meeting the full needs of your growing community. By staffing globally-based, bilingual moderator-translators with solid translation skills, you are meeting your three main needs: coverage of English community channels, coverage of additional language community channels and quick turnaround translations. These moderator-translator teams provide triple duty in one person. This new model means having on-call translation services available for community content, provided by a staff of people who are adding value regardless of whether or not they have a call to pick up for translation. If no translation needs arise, then those team members are still hard at work moderating English channels as well as channels in their additional language of expertise. If the translation request comes in during a shift, then there is a team of community subject matter experts ready to pick up that request. This eliminates the extra administrative layer of the traditional localization process, which requires going outside your community team.

Because moderator-translator teams are a new development, finding the right people involves creative thinking in your recruiting. Most of the people who have the skills and aptitude necessary to do this job have not yet performed the role. Nor would they necessarily be looking for a job called “moderator-translator.” In order to find the right people there are two main groups to approach — professional translators and bilingual moderators.

When it comes to professional translators, you will be looking for people with middle-range experience. This is partly because the pay range for this type of position is lower than a very experienced translator would be used to commanding. The level of translation experience necessary for this position tends to be lower because the material being translated is for consumption primarily via social media. The texts are shorter and require less technical jargon. The style is casual. Most important when hiring someone who has worked primarily as a translator is assessing whether they actually care about the product this community is built around, are social-media savvy, and, very importantly, can thrive in this very social work environment. Working from home doesn’t mean being “alone” when you work on a community team. In community there is a high level of collaboration and teamwork that isn’t necessary for the typical lone wolf translator. This might be very appealing to a translator who is craving more human contact!

When it comes to bilingual moderators, you will be looking for people who are able to write well! Community work in other contexts is more about quick responses; grammar is often an afterthought. But when the responsibility involves translating a press release or frequently asked questions for the forums, it must be clearly written and not riddled with mistakes. It’s important to perform a translation test for anyone applying for this position, but most especially for those applicants coming from a community background.

How it works

The entire moderator-translator model is founded on the assumption that teams change and grow, team members come and go, but any knowledge gained by your team should be collected and accessible at all times. Any time a new member joins the team, they should have the benefit of all prior work that’s been done. At the same time, any work performed by a moderator should be shared across the current team. By using tools that show communication history, ensure version control, and build and organize translation memories, you will be setting yourself up to achieve this.

In this agile model, communication must be swift and clear, which is why using a tool such as Slack to relay information is essential. On a team of ten-plus moderators, three community managers and one or two coordinators, it’s impossible to work within the construct of email communication alone. Moderation dashboard tools such as Hootsuite are also essential. When team members are managing multiple channels with multiple logins (and ever-changing security features in channels such as Facebook and Twitter) having a single login dashboard to perform duties is necessary. Also, using a computer-aided translation (CAT) tool, not to mention staffing your team with people acquainted with how to optimize the use of those tools, will help to ensure ongoing translation consistency across team members.

The team is scheduled to work specific shifts. 24/7 coverage of all your social channels is of course ideal. However, budgets don’t always allow for this, so decisions must be made about which hours are to be prioritized based on channel traffic and top markets. The very nature of a flexible team spread across time-zones lends itself to a global, home-based workforce and for that reason when a moderator-translator “shows up for duty,” the showing up is done online in the chosen team communication tool. At that time the moderator has instant messaging conversations with others on the team in order to find out the current state of the community. They read the shift report from the previous moderator, log in to all the appropriate tools and get to work. A complete shift might go by where no translation requests come in, but if one does, the moderation duties are dropped and priority is shifted to completing and publishing the translation.

A major challenge for any team working in this kind of agile environment is that bits of information can get lost or reside solely in one person’s head and not be spread out among the entire team. The key component of the successful moderator-translator team is integrating the use of a CAT tool to execute the translation work. Terminology glossaries are passed along to community teams from localization teams but version control and file storage quickly becomes an issue. Having the moderator-translator team use a cloud-based CAT tool to perform the work has several advantages. First, the aforementioned organization and storage of known glossaries is absolutely key. Tracking down the jumble of Excel spreadsheets containing terms can be a bear.

The new and evolving moderator-translator team is a welcome development for those of us who have spent years running community teams. While there’s still a place for the standard localization process, that place is not in community. From its inception, the internet pushed us further away from a “Speak English or else” mentality and forced us to recognize that in order to serve our customers we need to speak their language. Now we know that not only do we need to speak their language but we need to speak it now — not tomorrow, when what we are saying is already yesterday’s news.