By Rachel Happe, Co-Founder The Community Roundtable
If you work in the community or digital space, it’s been impossible not to follow the turmoil at Reddit during the last week. It is cause for a lot of anxiety in the community space because until this turmoil hit, Reddit was viewed as community success story – growing geometrically over the years. If Reddit can’t make community work, than who can?
If you haven’t been following, this is my understanding of what happened:
- Victoria Taylor, who was the primary interface between Reddit and an army of volunteer moderators, was fired.
- It was not communicated well.
- The moderators of the popular ‘Ask Me Anything’ forum shut the forum down
- Many other moderators also shut down their sub-Reddits (communities)
- A PR disaster ensued
A lot of the commentary that I’ve seen around this is that you can’t control a community, you stop listening to the community at your peril, it demonstrates poor community management and that it’s the result of poor community governance – summed up in this piece in TechCrunch titled Reddit’s Community: Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Win Without ‘Em.
If I were someone unfamiliar with communities and community management (i.e. most executive stakeholders) it would give me great pause when considering my support of a community initiative – and that concerns me because I don’t think this type of crisis is inevitable.
I think most of the commentary is missing the point. The moderator community did not revolt because of poor community management – they revolted because good community management was taken away. They revolted because Reddit was building a lucrative business on the backs of volunteer moderators and simultaneously reducing the staff it had in place to provide tools and support for those moderators. They revolted because management, in their eyes, didn’t value and invest in supporting the moderators – the very people who generated business value – by building relationships with their communities. Management seems to have valued the communities as content, but to have taken the moderators for granted and seen them as largely interchangeable – even though their participation was at the heart of the business model.
The community revolted because the business management of Reddit didn’t understand how communities generate value and the investments they need to make in order to for that value generation to continue.
If Reddit management had a better grasp of community-centric business models they would not have been trying to extract more and more margin from their community – they would have been investing in it and sharing the value it generated back to the community in a substantive way (not necessarily by paying moderators but by providing the consistent support they needed to be successful and get what they valued in return for their time). If they had been doing so, there would have been no revolt because it would not have been in the best interests of the moderator community.
The business model is what’s failing.
Not the community.
Not the community management.