Joi Podgorny argues that not only should companies offer this support, they have an ethical responsibility to do so. This episode is all about how these professionals should be treated by their employers, which will allow those employers to get the greatest work out of them. Topics include:
- How to ensure remote workers aren’t viewed by the office as outsiders
- The ways that companies can emotionally support the moderators of sensitive content
- Why taking care of other people’s kids online is so impactful
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“The best way to make sure that a remote team feels like part of the team is to embody that. If you’re managing a remote team, some of your time should be remote, from the larger team as well, so that you can have a better chance of feeling what they’re feeling, even if you are more embedded into the day-to-day activities as a manager, or a director or whatever level you’re at.” -@joipod
“If you have the office people talking amongst themselves, or even the hint of something like, ‘Okay, those remote workers aren’t carrying their weight.’ Or even the seeds of any kind of derision, you have to step up immediately and fix it, crush it, get rid of it. Address it as soon as possible because the moment that you allow that attitude to persist and that conversation to continue, that isolated conversation that really creates a divide, a kind of them versus us mentality, you have to step up and do something. Otherwise, it’s just going to get worse.” -@patrickokeefe
“My job is to click the links no one wants to click.” -@patrickokeefe
“I have to know the darkness to keep the children in the light.” -@joipod
“For the most part, the larger the brand is, and the more visible and vocal the community messaging is about [highly inappropriate content and behaviors] not being allowed inside of the community, the less of a chance that any child predators, or those fringe society members, will go into your community. It’s those free chat rooms, the ones that aren’t really governed, that those people show up in.” -@joipod
“When I train my community teams – definitely the ones that are dealing with children and family audiences – I do trigger warnings not only in the training, but I explain that there are potential triggers inside of the content that we’re going through, that may trigger something that is conscious or subconscious within them. And that, at any time, during training or working, they can just give us a heads up that they are uncomfortable, and they have an instant out if they would like.” -@joipod
“There is some responsibility [for community pros] to help themselves, but I don’t think that we talk enough about what the responsibility of the employer is, and how we as employers should also bear some of that responsibility. It shouldn’t just be on the employee, or the contractor, or whoever that front line person is. There’s responsibility on the part of the employer to help take care of them, because it’s our content that could possibly be hurting.” -@joipod
“I want my budget to stretch as far as it possibly can go, but I also want to be able to look my employees in the face. If I run into them at the grocery store or I go on a trip to one of the cities that they live in, I want to call them up and say, ‘Hey, I want to take you out for coffee,’ and look at you in the eye, and I want to be able to do that with respect. I want that person to be able to look at me and not want to flip me off, for whatever reason.” -@joipod
“I’d like to know that whatever offshore [moderation] company you use, you’re thinking about them the same way you are about your local employees. [If so,] you would be giving them the counseling resources and the training, self-care prompts, wellness and thoughtfulness to make sure that they’re doing as well as your staff here. But I haven’t seen that.” -@joipod
“Taking care of other people’s kids online is a good thing, and we should keep doing it. Those of us who are managing these kids online communities are serving a purpose. You remember your day care people, you remember your babysitter, you remember your teachers, but I don’t think anyone really thinks about the people who are making sure the kids are safe online. But we’re doing it, and thankfully the kids realize and, a little bit later, [they] find us and thank us.” -@joipod
“Because we spend so much time cleaning bad things away, I always give people shifts to go find nice, happy things that are happening [in the community]. We always have binders or walls inside of our physical offices that are just quotes from kids thanking the team or talking about how happy they are. … I think it really is important, especially for moderators who only look at bad things, usually.” -@joipod
About Joi Podgorny
Joi Podgorny has spent the last 15 years working in all facets of the digital world, from development and production to more recently, leading international support, moderation, community and social teams. Her initiatives have included work for Showtime, NFL, PBS Kids, the Wharton School, National Geographic’s Animal Jam, Moshi Monsters, Chuggington, Highlights for Children and many others.
Previously, Joi was the head of ModSquad’s professional services department, providing blue chip brands with managed teams of mods to engage online audiences via moderation, customer service and social media. As an expert in digital engagement and a long-time champion for online privacy and safety, she also led the company’s consulting efforts around online chat and help desk toolset implementations.
Joi left to start consulting full-time again in 2015, and has worked with a variety of kids brands, nonprofits and startups. Recently, she incorporated and formed Good People Collective, to further these efforts.
- Reddit’s Actuary subreddit
- Community Signal episode with Alex Embry, training sergeant and SWAT team commander
- NPR’s announcement about closing comments on their website
- Good People Collective, Joi’s company
- Joi’s website
- Joi on Twitter
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals, sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for joining me for Community Signal. On this episode we’re talking with Joi Podgorny. Joi has spent the last 15 years working in all facets of the digital world, from development and productions to more recently leading international support, moderation, community and social teams. Her initiatives have included work for Showtime, the NFL, PBS Kids, the Wharton School, National Geographic’s Animal Jam, Moshi Monsters, Chuggington, Highlights for Children and many others.
00:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Previously Joi was the head of ModSquad’s professional services department, providing blue chip brands with managed teams of moderators to engage online audiences via moderation, customer service and social media. As an expert in digital engagement and a long-term champion for online privacy and safety, she also led the companies consulting efforts around online chat and helpdesk toolset implementations. Joi left to start consulting full-time again in 2015, and has worked with a variety of kids brands, non-profits and start-ups. Recently, she formed and incorporated Good People Collective to further these efforts. Joi, welcome to the program.
01:17 Joi Podgorny: Hi, nice to be here.
01:19 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure to have you on. You were training as an actuary when you happened to see a part-time job as a chat monitor for FreeZone, which provided free kid-safe chat rooms. That was in 2000, and after 16 plus years in community, do you ever wonder what your life as an actuary, [chuckle] would have been like?
01:38 Joi Podgorny: A lot, yeah. [chuckle] I definitely do. I definitely know that it would have made for a more comfortable living in the 2000s, for sure. Starting in kid’s communities and just the internet world, and very end of the first dot com burst was not the best choice, as far as hindsight goes. But it’s provided a very interesting career, for sure, and definitely more interesting… No offense, actuaries listening, which would be hilarious if they were actually were, but they weren’t the most exciting coworkers to have. It was much more fun going over to FreeZone and hanging out with improv actors, and elementary school teachers, and camp counselors and just people from different walks of life who just had a really refreshing view about the way they approach things.
02:25 Patrick O’Keefe: Oddly enough, when I searched for actuary on google, on the first page of results is the Actuary subreddit on reddit, proving once again, that yes, there is literally an online community for everything.
02:37 Joi Podgorny: Nice, nice.
02:39 Patrick O’Keefe: Professional moderation has existed for a long time, certainly since the ’90s. But as internet adoption has grown and popular social media sites have emerged, there is more and more UGC, or user generated content, being created every single day. With that comes the need for responsible platforms, or at least platforms that want to appear [chuckle] responsible because those aren’t always the same thing. They wanna provide a means of reporting inappropriate, harmful or dangerous content, and they need a group of people to sift through those reports. Today we’re gonna talk about these frontline people, how they are treated by companies and how they should be treated. No matter what the job title, it could be moderator, community manager, audience engagement, they go by different names. But if you were handling reports, if you were interacting with contributors of the community directly, especially in spaces prone to abuse, this is really about you. So let’s start with this, you told me that frontline community staff are often, “Highly marginalized team members.” How are they marginalized?
03:37 Joi Podgorny: Well, they’re usually an afterthought, and I usually am brought into crisis manage, or fill a need that needs to be filled immediately, because it wasn’t thought of. Or it wasn’t prioritized in the planning of a project. So if something bad happens, and you call in for reinforcements, as opposed to having trained people there already to risk manage, those people are usually dicey. Customer service is usually thought of, but I think the moderation and engagement is usually not thought of until either there’s a problem, or you’re seeing a lack of activity in your community, and you’re like, “Wait a minute, maybe I should have people there making the community feel like a more welcoming place.” So because they’re an afterthought, and they’re usually a last minute sort of add, there wasn’t usually a lot of budget for them. So, you have to make sure that the staff that you put onto them fit within the budget constraints and work as efficiently as possible.
04:35 Joi Podgorny: And unfortunately, I’ve been in that situation a lot of times, so I have some methodologies for coming in on those last minute afterthought situations. But that task is usually given to some middle manager, or lower person to fix, or some existing person who is possibly not trained in audience management to pop in there and take care of things. And so because of that, it’s just like a situation that just, snowballs until you you get someone who knows what they’re doing. So because of that, because of the genesis of those departments, those genesis and those teams, they end up being marginalized ongoing because usually have not so graceful beginnings, they’re usually lower paid staff, they’re traditionally seen as people that you can be replaceable, or they’re part-time. So it’s just, I don’t know, the history and then usually the genesis of the team creates that marginalized status for them.
05:33 Patrick O’Keefe: So it’s not something people plan for, it’s like a Band-Aid? [chuckle] Like, “I have a gaping wound now, well I need a Band-Aid fast!”
05:40 Joi Podgorny: Exactly. And so throughout talking to you, I’m going to use customer service and moderation as the same sort of team. A lot of times they are separated, but I’ve found that there’s strength in numbers, and since both moderators and engagement, like social media engagement as well as customer service teams, all engage with the audience on the frontline. I’ll interchange those different roles in that same area, because I think that they all have similar qualities as far as team members go.
06:11 Patrick O’Keefe: One of the ways that they’re marginalized, and you kind of hinted at this, is that they are often remote workers. And when you do have an actual office, and you also employ remote workers, the remote workers can sometimes be treated as second class citizens, they can feel that way. And also when it comes to, I’ve found in many [chuckle] different walks of life, not just community or social media, I have a friend who is a remote employee for a pretty well-known brand. I’ve heard stories about how basically if you’re not in the room, you get blamed. [chuckle] So he doesn’t have to be in the room when the discussion’s taking place about something that happened that didn’t go right, and because he’s not there, the person would say, “Well, it’s his fault.” So there’s this whole culture of having a mixed office, some remote and most in person. How do you make those remote people feel like they are in the office?
07:03 Joi Podgorny: I’ve had the luxury of having the, let’s say, personality, that I’m a bit of a force. [chuckle] And I usually diva my way into contracts because of the reputation that I’ve had and the career that I’ve had, I’ve been able to articulate my demand for remote working, not only for myself but for my employees, for them to be treated on the same level. But without my advocacy, I’ve usually not seen those remote workers treated like that. So places that I’ve left, I hear from teams that the marginalization increases as I leave because I’m not in the office, or I’m not on the phone calls in the different middle management and executive management meetings, reminding people of the scores of people that we have working remotely. So, I don’t know.
07:51 Joi Podgorny: The best way that I see to make sure that the remote team feels like part of a team is to really embody that. I think that if you’re managing a remote team, some of your time should be remote from the larger team as well, so that you can have a better chance of feeling what they’re feeling, even if you are more embedded into the day-to-day activities as a manager, or a director or whatever level you’re at. Whoever the one is that’s kind of the liaison between the in-house team and the remote team should spend some of their time remote, so they can feel some of it. And then I think another really great factor is just constantly thinking on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour, if you need to, basis of, “Do they feel connected? How can I make them feel more connected? How can I do positive reinforcement?” You don’t have the running into someone at the coffee spot in the office, you don’t have the standing in line at a bathroom in the office. Or just things that you don’t even like think about when you’re in an office, you don’t have any of those very casual interactions with people. So you have to go a step further and create that.
08:54 Joi Podgorny: I’ve created water cooler rooms, whether it’s a Slack or Skype or whatever chat channel that we’re using. I’ve created those water cooler rooms where we can have casual conversations, and then created different other rooms in the different chat programs so that we can have conversations as a group, and add them to those different groups. I’ve discouraged professional work-related private conversations and asked them, especially if I’m included in them, but when I’ve heard that so-and-so is talking to so-and-so in a private chat about them, “Great, can you bring the conversation over? Just cut and paste the conversation and put it over into the main chat room, because I think it would benefit everybody else.” And just kind of led by example in that way and encourage the overt communication, encourage the culture of overt communication and inclusiveness, whenever possible. I’m being obnoxious, almost, about it. And the more that the management can have that culture and that directive and that priority, I think that it goes down to the team and the team really feels it. I’ve been told that my teams really feel that I’m working really hard for it. And even if they’re not feeling it, they recognize that I’m making it a priority, even if the rest of the organization as a whole is starting to falter, they at least respect the fact that the management is trying everything that they can to make the remote employees feel better.
10:14 Patrick O’Keefe: I would like to take a moment to recognize our excellent sponsor, Higher Logic.
Higher Logic is the community platform for community managers. With over 25 million engaged users in more than 200,000 communities, organizations worldwide use Higher Logic to bring like-minded people together, by giving their community a home where they can meet, share ideas and stay connected. The platform’s granular permissions and powerful tools, including automated workflows and consolidated email digests, empower users to create their own interest-based communities, schedule and manage events, and participate in volunteer and mentoring programs. Tap into the power your community can generate for you. Higher Logic – all together.
10:51 Patrick O’Keefe: On a recent episode, I had a moderator of mine who also happened to be a SWAT team commander and training sergeant at a police department, or sheriff’s office outside of Chicago. And it makes me think a little bit about what he said about how you curb abuse of power or corruption. And you have to always be vigilant about any culture that encourages that, and immediately stamp it out. And it’s not as serious, but I think it’s almost the same when you think about a culture in an office, or even around remote workers, right? Because if you have two remote workers talking privately about business things, that isolates them from everyone else. And if you have the office people talking amongst themselves, or even the hint of something being, “Okay, those remote workers aren’t the ones carrying their weight.” Or even the seeds of any kind of derision, you have to step up immediately and fix it, crush it, [chuckle] get rid of it, address it as soon as possible because the moment that you allow that attitude to persist and that conversation to continue, that isolated conversation that really creates a divide, a kind of them versus us mentality, you have to step up and do something, otherwise it’s just going to get worse.
12:00 Joi Podgorny: I completely agree. In communities that I’ve run, when talking from a conceptual level, and what our goals are for the community, I’ve always said that we need to identify issues or identify good things, acknowledge them and then amplify them and celebrate them within the community. And it’s the same exact thing with teams. If you see something bad, you have to do those things, but if you see something good you have to do it too. When I would see someone in the in-house team call out something that one of the remote staff did, I would be like, “Wow, thanks so much. That’s really great. I’m gonna go let them know that you brought that up in this meeting. That’s so great that you did that.” And that’s positive reinforcement and you do it with children. But it works with people, too. [chuckle] It works with your coworkers as well. And if people hear that you appreciate them acknowledging something like that, they’ll do it again, or they’ll at least recognize that, “Oh, that is something that I probably should say.” Even if it seems obvious, assuming is never good to do in any kind of relationship of community, or work environment. It’s always better to reaffirm and make sure that whoever you’re talking to understands completely.
13:08 Joi Podgorny: And the best way to do that is just talking, and talking, and talking. As my community would grow, as my team would grow, I would tape 15 minute, 30 minute updates. So instead of sending an email out that just did a weekly update of what was going on from a macro level as far as the team or the project went, I would just go in front of a webcam and just read my notes and go over it and off the cuff talk to the camera, and release that to the remote team. Especially because the team was a 24/7 team, and I knew that I couldn’t get one meeting to get everybody in there, and as opposed to me holding five, six meetings, I would just put it up in the chatroom and say, “Hey, anybody wants to come in on this, I can talk to you asynchronously, because unfortunately, I shouldn’t be working at 11:00 AM and 11:00 PM and on a weekend and all these times.”
13:55 Joi Podgorny: And that works really well too, and a lot of people, especially the ones who didn’t work at the same times as me, or who maybe I was separated by a couple different levels of management, they really appreciated the fact that I was taking the time to do that and put it out there, ’cause they may never actually get to interface with me real-time, or have any kind of reason to interface with me, but they actually felt more connected because I was taking the time to do that. So, I think it’s important. And they’re tiny things, and they’re not difficult, and they mean so much to people who have either been marginalized before, or understand that it’s a marginalized team position, and it’s just such a simple little thing to do.
14:34 Joi Podgorny: And then there’s all the normal things that you do with larger teams. And it might be because my mother actually is a retail store sales manager, so she’s been running part-time hourly transient teams for years and so I grew up basically being mentored by a manager of these sorts of teams but not remote. So the incentivizing, bringing in a cheap lunch, or a cookie cake or something like that, or giving $5 gift cards for coffees and things like that. They seem like little things, but I would put into my budget, “I need incentives, I need gratitude rewards.” And that sort of things. And the budget doesn’t even have to be that high, but as long as you think about and plan to recognize and thank people, whether it’s just verbally, ’cause you can do that for free, or for nominal rewards, they go so far in recognizing people.
15:30 Patrick O’Keefe: I really believe that thoughtfulness done well is often planned, personally and professionally. In my personal life, I have a text document on the computer called “Gift Ideas” and as I [chuckle] think of gifts for people, I make a note of those ideas. So when it comes time to get them something, I’ll pull something they said from nine months ago and say “Oh, okay. I’ll get something for that.” And it’s thoughtful, but also, being thoughtful is just a process, I think, a lot of the times. I know it is with me, where it’s like, “Okay, I want to show this person I appreciate them,” or, “I wanna do something for them.” So, I have this list of ideas or thoughts and I do that. And it may seem spur of the moment, and to be fair, thoughtfulness can be spur of the moment, it can be something you think of today. But just planning for that, I think, is really a great idea.
16:15 Patrick O’Keefe: And you talked about your mom, I definitely relate to that. My dad works in the hospitality/resort industry, and I’ve grown up around that business and the golf business my entire life. And I’ve learned a lot from him about how to treat people, how to treat employees. He’s managed probably, I don’t know, 1,000 people over my lifetime. And it’s funny. I like to say my dad taught me attention to detail and my mom taught me empathy. And those are the two skills that I value most in community.
16:40 Joi Podgorny: That’s great.
16:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Many of us are very fortunate, and I count myself in this group, because we operate in industries, subject areas and communities where you usually aren’t subjected to highly toxic content, content that has the potential to change you, depress you and frankly haunt you. But if you are working in moderation on a massive social media platform, or a mainstream consumer brand, there’s a really good chance that you’re gonna see that type of thing. I’ve told so many people that part of my job is to click the links no one wants to click, [chuckle] because I have to see what’s there. If I don’t see it, what am I gonna let a member see it? Even a moderator see it? If I see it, I need to click that link, because I have to properly handle it.
17:21 Patrick O’Keefe: And sometimes that might be self-evident or how they set it up. If they set it up like a bad thing, then I don’t even want the setup to be bad. But most of the time it’s ambiguous, so I have to click it. And that’s really where we position ourselves as community professionals, as moderators, we are the person in the middle between an unsuspecting member, a visitor and potentially awful, harmful, dangerous content. And with this comes a certain burden, not just a burden of time, or a burden of resources, but a mental burden, a stressful burden. And when we think about this problem, a topic that we haven’t really talked about here on the show that I’d love to discuss, is how should moderators of sensitive content be supported emotionally?
18:04 Joi Podgorny: I think it’s paramount. The majority of the community management that I’ve done has been for the children’s entertainment world, so under 13 year olds, and family content. So, we’ve had a higher bar that we’ve had to clear for content appropriateness, and ethics from not only a compliance standpoint, because there’s more laws around content that is directed toward children, but there’s also some ethical and brand thresholds that you need to make sure that you clear, that aren’t governed by laws. A lot of people think that COPPA and similar privacy laws have anything to do with content, and that’s more about the collection of data. The burden of the appropriateness of the content is on the people managing the brand, and making sure that the brand is sticking to whatever brand standards that the brand management team decided to do.
18:58 Joi Podgorny: So, obviously when you’re working with kids, you don’t want any untoward and inappropriate, whether it’s highly sexualized, highly violent, vulgar, anything like that, we need to make sure that the kids don’t see it, the parents don’t see it, nobody sees it. It’s not associated with the brand, and if it is, we take whatever appropriate measures to get rid of it. But, like you said, in doing so, we have to see it. [chuckle] And those are the sorts of things that we have to see. You have your little phrase. My phrase is, “I have to know the darkness to keep the children in the light.”
19:28 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s far more poetic.
19:31 Joi Podgorny: And I’d say that during trainings with my staff whenever working on these kind of things. For the most part, the larger the brand it is, and the more visible and vocal the community messaging is about that not being allowed inside of the community, the less of a chance that any child predators, or those fringe society members will go into your community. It’s those free chatrooms and the ones that aren’t really governed that those people show up in. That doesn’t mean that a nine-year-old who just watched a bad movie, or a 15-year-old who decides they wanna try out all their swear words in a kids community aren’t gonna come in and do so. But if there is a bad situation, you need to protect the community and make sure that those people aren’t gonna get in there, even if it is a fraction of a percent of a chance of it coming in. So, when I train my community teams, definitely the ones that are dealing with children and family audiences, we go through, I do trigger warnings not only in the training, but I explain that there are potential triggers inside of the content that we’re going through, that may trigger something that is conscious or subconscious within them. And that at any time, during training or working, they can just give us a heads up that they are uncomfortable, and they have an instant out if they would like to. I won’t ask anything about that.
20:58 Joi Podgorny: I have many friends who are licensed clinical social workers, who have worked in different areas of child protective services, and just therapy to children who have been in abusive situations, and I’ve had them come onto our team and work as moderators on the team, and then work with me to develop what we call kind of a security training, but it’s more of a wellness training that we give to my community staff, so that they can understand what some of the potential stuff that they’re gonna see is, what they should do if they see it, and they do start to feel a trigger, their self-care organized in there. But there’s also how to get help, how to ask for help, that we won’t have judgment if any of that help is asked for. And sometimes people are like, “Do you really think that those things are gonna happen in your community?” And at first, no, I don’t think they’re gonna happen. Do I hope they happen? Absolutely not. But if they do happen, I wanna make sure that we’re prepared for it, that the team knows that this is a possibility that I wanna make sure that they’re prepared for.
21:58 Joi Podgorny: I want them to know that I’ve proactively thought about this, and that I want to protect them should it happen, and I want them to not be the only ones there, I want them to realize that there’s a responsibility on the part of me as a producer of the content and as the manager of the content, to help them. Obviously, they’re their own people. They have agency, they’re adults. They’re willingly choosing to do these positions. So there is some responsibility on their part to help themselves, but I don’t think that we talk enough about what the responsibility of the employer is, and how we as employers should also bear some of that responsibility. It shouldn’t just be on the employee, or the contractor, or whoever that front line person is. There’s responsibility on the part of the employer to help take care of them, because it’s our content that could possibly be hurting.
22:50 Patrick O’Keefe: Right, and it’s a tough discussion when viewed through the lens of cost. I assume, as you said earlier, a lot of times moderation is an afterthought, and it’s what scraps can we put together from the budget to pay people to do this? And so they’re often low-paid, right, they should probably be paid more. We should have programs to emotionally support them. Those programs might do add to the budget, might add a fair amount to the budget, moderation fights for money as it is, and people try to maybe push automation as a solution, which [chuckle] isn’t a solution totally. But is that the biggest barrier that you see when addressing this issue? Is just getting companies to be more comfortable with the cost of educating, allowing people to opt out, providing them with resources that they can call on if they are feeling depressed or affected by the job?
23:42 Joi Podgorny: Well, I think the recent election has showed us that there is this silent group of people who are like, “Hey, we’re people, and you need to treat us, think a lot more about us, worker people.” And I think that there is a movement happening to give voice to the worker people. I think the way that I’ve been most successful in doing this, because I’m in charge of my budget for the most of the projects I work on. So it’s my decision, and I want my budget to stretch as far as it possibly can go, but I also wanna be able to look my employees in the face. If I run into them at the grocery store or I go on a trip to one of the cities that they live in, I wanna call them up and say “Hey, I wanna take you out for coffee,” and look at you in the eye, and I wanna be able to do that with respect. I want that person to be able to look at me and not wanna flip me off, for whatever reason.
24:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. I hate you. You’ve ruined my life.
24:34 Joi Podgorny: Exactly. So one of the ways that I juggle that, where I walk that tight rope of budget and ethics in managing my team, is by running the most efficient team possible. [chuckle] And efficiency comes with automation. I love tool sets, I’m a huge geek for different automation tools, different task management tools, team management tools. I’m actually putting together a bit of a tech plan myself right now with this in mind of helping people manage teams and projects using the existing resources that are out there because that task is usually given to a very lower level person, and they’re saying, “Figure out how to do this for the cheapest way possible in the quickest amount of time.” And people are just supposed to know how to do that.
25:23 Joi Podgorny: So, I’ve figured out over the years with my limited budget, how to do things as efficiently as possible. You use those automated tools, you use the AI, you use the filtering methodologies, and then you use the people for peoples’ sake. You don’t use the people to do things that a computer can do, you use the computer to do the things a computer can do and use the people for the things that computers can’t do yet. So computers can’t tell gray area as well as people can. So, I know that there’s a list of… The list keeps getting bigger and bigger, but there’s thousands of words that are on a blacklist that I know that I don’t want in my community no matter what. But, I work in kids community, so children aren’t very good typers. And so I know that there’s times when they accidentally ‘fat finger type’ a swear word within another swear word that they have. And so I don’t want that child to be banned forever.
26:18 Joi Podgorny: So those situations need to be reviewed by staff. And those are the things that staff needs to review. But if I can clear out 75% of the situations and not have staff look at it, well then I don’t have to pay the staff for that. I can pay them for what they’re valued for. And then they don’t feel like automatrons, just looking at things that a computer could be doing and devaluing their work and being afraid at any moment that they’re gonna be replaced by a computer. They know that the stuff that they’re doing is things that they need to be a human for, and that they’re valued for, and that their experience and their opinion on whatever they’re looking at is.
26:52 Joi Podgorny: A lot of teams right now are for cost and efficiency reasons, off-shoring their staffing over to Southeast Asia, or Central America because it is more cost effective. And I’ve worked with teams in different locations and they’re not bad. There’s nothing wrong with going to those countries. And honestly I usually fight to pay the people in those areas more than their going rate in their area, so that we’re at least continuing on with that respect for the person’s work even if their cost rate is $4 an hour and we’re paying them $6 an hour, I’d fight to pay them $8 an hour and ask that that extra overage goes to the actual employees and not to the margin and the overhead. And those are things that you can ask of those places, but you gotta make sure that the reason that you’re off-shoring the staff, it’s an ethical question. If I’m off-shoring something I gotta make sure that they are native speakers and understand nuance and understand what’s going on and can look at those gray areas and know what those gray areas are. If they can’t, which a lot of those teams can’t, a lot of those teams that you offshore to are usually for first tier or first looking at things.
28:05 Joi Podgorny: There are a lot of image control so that they don’t have to know nuance they can look and say, “Is that an explicit or a sexual image? No.” They’ve said “Yes it is”. So I’m gonna take that out. And they don’t really need and have the English proficiency exactly where it is. But as technology gets better I feel like that’s the sort of thing that you could have a computer doing as efficiently and maybe not sending over there. But then it gets complicated on top of that because, again, I’m not completely against offshore, I think that it’s an okay idea. You have to treat those people with the same level or respect that you would treat your staff here in the states. So they’re gonna see explicit images or read things that are possibly troubling.
28:44 Joi Podgorny: So, I’d like to know that whatever offshore company that you use, you’re thinking about them the same way you are about your local employees and you would be giving them the counseling resources and you’re giving them the training, self-care prompts and the wellness, thoughtfulness to make sure that they’re doing as well as your staff here. I haven’t seen that. And I think that some of the offshore companies have started saying that they are doing those things and I don’t know how to check up and make sure they are. Sometimes, I’ve talked to a couple of companies that have said that they’re doing that and the way that that works out is that they’re being treated better than their local peers are. But it’s not at the same level that we would be giving in the states as far as self-care and wellness care. So it’s this kind of… I don’t know.
29:34 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s really a business-ethical thing. I haven’t heard anybody doing that. I haven’t heard of anybody offshoring or outsourcing community anything. And then treating them as well as they treat their own employees, it’s seen as, “Okay, I’m handing this off to someone else. Their company will deal with it.” So it’s kind of going above and beyond, I guess, what it’s currently thought of as the right practice and I think that’s a good thing. You talked about COPPA, there’s the law and then there’s the ethical standards that you wanna hold yourselves to.
30:02 Joi Podgorny: Yeah, exactly. And it’s a tough conversation but NPR just turned off it’s comment functionality on its blogs because it was just getting too much for them to handle as far as the blogs. They still have the commenting functions on the social media channels, but they turned it off in the blogs. It’s unfortunate that that’s the decision that needs to happen, and they’re not the first ones to do it. There have been tons of different larger brands have done that, where I’ve talked to large media outlets, I’ve gone in and done pitches for business for large media outlets and they’re just like, “We can’t keep up with it.” Or they’ll give it to interns because they’re like, “Oh, they’re young social media savvy people, let’s give it to them.” And they don’t train these interns, these poor interns are doe-eyed and excited to start their career especially in a large brand and then they’re giving these like trolls of the internet to have to read their comments and things like that. I think just people hopefully, the longer we’ve been doing this, the brands start to realize that not only is community not going away, we need to respect it at the level that it needs to be. You wouldn’t allow trolls to be walking through your streets just being awful to people. [chuckle] Randomly being awful to people, you’d do something about it.
31:17 Joi Podgorny: Maybe it would last for a little while, where you turned a blind eye, but then after a while you’ll be like, “Dude, stop talking like that, there’s kids around there. These are all my neighbors, stop talking like that.” And I feel like we’re hopefully getting to a place in our understanding and adoption of this digital world that we start treating it with the respect that the community demands and deserves. And then on top of it, it’s the whole how we treat our police officers, like all the stuff that’s happening in the offline world is reflected in the online world as well, but in different roles. We need to take care of the people who are taking care of us just as much as we’re taking of just the audience in general.
32:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Managing communities for as long as you have and managing kid-friendly communities, you have had some of your members come back to you long after you had moved on from that community to tell you stories about what the communities meant for them, can you share some of those?
32:11 Joi Podgorny: That’s probably one of the most rewarding and unexpected benefits of doing kid communities, is that the kids grow up and [chuckle] you spend all this time protecting your team in the early days. In 2000, 2001 when we were at FreeZone and we actually had an office back then, we weren’t doing anything remote initially. When I started another company from the ashes of that company, and that’s when I started the remote stuff. But at FreeZone, we had an actual office in downtown Chicago and on the bottom of newsletters and on the site and stuff we had the address of FreeZone there, and we would have kids show up at the office. [chuckle] And we were very new to this and we were like, “Oh no, you’re not supposed to be here, we’re supposed to be the invisible people behind the screen.” And we actually engaged with the kids, so they actually knew our personalities and we were in there like a camp council presence talking in the chat rooms back then. They would also call the office ’cause our office number was on the site and they would just call the office just to talk to. We were called “chat jockeys”, and we shortened that to CJs, so it was like CJ Joi, CJ Tanya and CJ Trudi.
33:17 Joi Podgorny: The kids were calling us to speak to one of the CJs or they would call and prank call because they’re kids, and that’s an exciting milestone that all kids go through. [chuckle] Or they’d call and just sit in awe that they had us on the phone. So we spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from the kids. And we got a P.O. box and changed the number on the site and had to go just to voicemail so they couldn’t get to us. So there was all these kind of things that we did reactively to get them there. And then years went by and the kids were 18, the kids were 20, and the kids were 27 [chuckle] and they’re allowed to talk to us. If they reach out it’s fine, and they’ve had some reasons like, “You saved me from an isolated- and we had just moved, I didn’t have any friends, I found your site and I found this chatroom that I could be in wherever I was and I always felt like I belonged. And you guys really, really changed the way that I saw the world and was able to interact with people.” Or the biggest one was like all this internet safety and netizen and digital citizenship that we’ve been preaching on high for years and years, the kids would be reacting like, “No, I remembered those lessons when I started to get bullied and I’d reenact some of the things that you taught me and I came across some bad things and I remembered all the things that you guys told me about being careful about myself and so I was able to be protected.”
34:33 Joi Podgorny: And that stuff was just like, I don’t know if everybody in other professions has those moments where people are like, “You know what you’ve been saying for years? Hey, I did it and everything was okay.” It’s just a really… [chuckle] It feels so good to know that it had some sort of impact on them, and I have kids who have found me from communities that I’ve run in 2000, and 2005, and 2010 come and find me on different social media networks. My name is very unique, so it’s not very difficult to find me on the internet. And I speak at a lot of events and so they can find me. But I’ve had them comment on my blog, I’ve had them friend me on Facebook and find me on LinkedIn or shoot me emails that are on public email addresses they I have and just write these testimonials and thank you letters over the years. And it’s just been really, really amazing.
35:18 Joi Podgorny: I’ve never obviously thought that any of that would happen but it’s happened time and time again and it really drives the point home that taking care of other people’s kids online is a good thing and we should keep doing it. ‘Cause we serve a purpose, those of us who are managing these kids online communities are serving a purpose, we are helping them out. And you remember your daycare people, you remember your babysitter, you remember your teachers but I don’t think anyone really thinks about the people who are making sure the kids are safe online. But we’re doing it and thankfully the kids realize and a little bit later and find us and thank us.
35:54 Patrick O’Keefe: And that’s really nice, it’s easy to focus on… Especially I would assume a kid-friendly communities, any kind of minor thing. Something shows up, gets blown out of proportion, or mainstream media picks it up and otherwise they might not talk about the community at all. But it’s so easy to focus on those negative aspects of the work and lose sight of the fact that online communities can change people’s lives.
36:15 Joi Podgorny: Yeah, and to that point, we’ve been talking about teams the whole time. When I would get those messages, I would share them with whatever team. I still have to keep in contact with tons of people that I’ve worked with over the years, and so I’ll share like, “Hey, look who I’ve been talking to,” and that sort of thing. But it’s actually one of the pieces that I factor into our team management as well. [chuckle] Because we spend so much time cleaning bad things away, I always give people shifts to go find nice, happy things that are happening and call our communities for positive things. And we always have binders or walls inside of our physical offices that are just quotes from kids thanking the team or talking about how happy they are. And I share those with the non-remote team as well as the remote team. And then sometimes marketing will pick it up and pop it in some sort of PR announcement that they’re doing. But I think it really is important, especially for moderators who only look at bad things, usually. Customer service reps usually get a better share of happy things happening, but they get yelled at a lot too. So it’s nice to factor into the team management tasks that are positive in nature, as opposed to just negative one.
37:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Joi, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the program.
37:36 Joi Podgorny: Oh, it’s been my pleasure.
37:38 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Joi Podgorny, founder of Good People Collective at goodpeople.solutions. Visit her website at joipodgorny.com and follow her on Twitter at @joipod. If you have any questions that you’d like me to answer on the air, please submit them at communitysignal.com/qa. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karen Broad. We’ll be back next week.
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