When was the last time you mandated that your community, moderation, trust, and safety colleagues schedule time for out of queue activities? When was the last time you led by example and took a break or participated in other wellness activities before you felt burnout? What was the last tool your product team built to help foster resiliency for your moderators?
While we can’t mitigate all burnout, in this episode, Patrick and our guest, Adelin Cai, discuss how employee resiliency programs and policies can help you create an all-around safer environment for your colleagues and teams. Tools like well-defined queues and changing the presentation of harmful content are also potential product solutions that can foster resiliency from a workflow perspective.
With experience in policy, trust, and safety leadership for Pinterest, Twitter, and Google, Adelin also shares her approach for thinking about the metrics that matter. Spoiler: Metrics that revolve around quantity, like number of cases closed, or even quality, like CSAT, may not always equate to success or reflect the health of your community. Adelin also discusses working collaboratively with product and engineering teams to ensure that there’s transparency about what is being built and launched and what community behaviors or metrics should be monitored to indicate performance and to influence the further direction of the product.
Among our other topics:
- The baseline for an employee resilience program
- What an ideal work relationship with product and engineering looks like
- How to reallocate resources and budget to prioritize essential moderation, trust, and safety work
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community.
All content moderation can contribute to stress (02:54): “[For the] folks reviewing content, are there little interventions that could take place to eliminate the strain or the stress that people are going through as they’re looking at content? We think about this usually in the context of the worst of the worst content, the most violent content, but there are many little things in the course of doing trust and safety work that could accumulate, and stress is cumulative.” –@adelin
Product improvements that can foster resiliency for moderation teams (10:55): “It could be as simple as having different queues for different types of content that people are going to look at and then rotating people through the different queues. … If you have someone looking at really, really horrible child sexual exploitation content all day, that’s not a healthy place for them to be in. They should be able to rotate out to a different queue.” –@adelin
Building relationships could lead to building better tools (38:01): “Make friends with your product team; make friends with the engineers because that just opens the door to having a conversation about how difficult it is when X, Y, and Z doesn’t work right. I’ve also [asked engineers to] shadow this team for ten minutes and [then they] see how inefficient the product tooling is.” –@adelin
About Adelin Cai
Adelin Cai is an online content policy and tech operations expert who’s spent the last decade working with and leading teams responsible for product policies and their enforcement.
As Pinterest’s former head of policy, Adelin led the team that developed the company’s principles and core values around content moderation, covering a range of issues from hateful speech to medical (mis)information to dank memes. Prior to Pinterest, she ran Twitter’s Legal Ads Policy team, guiding policy and operations for Twitter’s self-serve and international advertising products.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Adelin Cai on LinkedIn
- Adelin Cai on Twitter
- Trust & Safety Professional Association
- Trust & Safety Foundation
- Patrick and Adelin discuss the following Sidequest guides:
- Wikimedia health metrics
- Sin Eaters
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for listening to Community Signal. We’re back from a quick summer break, and we’re talking with Adelin Cai, who has spent time in policy, trust, and safety at Pinterest, Twitter, and Google. We’re discussing employee resilience programs, reallocating budget to moderation, trust, and safety, and how to build productive relationships with dev and product teams to get the right tools made.
Thank you to Serena Snoad, Carol Benovic-Bradley, and Maggie McGary for supporting our show via Patreon. If you’d like to join them, visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for more info.
Adelin Cai is an online content policy and tech operations expert who spent the last decade working with and leading teams responsible for product policies and their enforcement. She has deep experience in both operational work and people management.
As Pinterest’s former head of policy, Adelin led the team that developed the company’s principles and core values around content moderation, covering a range of issues from hateful speech, to medical misinformation, to dank memes. Prior to Pinterest, she ran Twitter’s legal ads policy team guiding policy and operations for Twitter self-serve and international advertising products.
Adelin, welcome to the show.
[00:03:28] Adelin Cai: Hi, thanks for having me.
[00:03:30] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. I’ve been reading through some of the great resources that you have available on Sidequest, and one of the things that I wanted to talk about is employee resilience programs for community moderation, trust, and safety pros. They’re out there. I know they are. It’s not a thing that I hear about a lot. It’s not a thing that I see existing in a lot of organizations right now. I’m sure they’re out there. I’m sure as the companies get bigger, they’re more likely to have them, but I love the idea and I think it should happen more. How does this program work?
[00:02:05] Adelin Cai: I think you’re absolutely right. First of all, I don’t think that at a smaller scale, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to prioritize an employee resilience programs to the leadership team, just because the team is small. I do think it’s really, really important to get the bones and the structure of that set up right at the beginning. I think you would first try to start looking at the different entry points or intervention points where you could actually implement wellness practices into the team.
I think there are different ways to set that up. Healthcare professionals and wellness professionals say that therapy is really at the endpoint of what you should be doing as part of responding to someone who is dealing with a very, very difficult time. I think one of the first things for the team to look at is if folks are reviewing content, are there little interventions that could take place to eliminate the strain or the stress that people are going through as they’re looking at content?
We think about this usually in the context of the worst of the worst content, the most violent content, but there are many little things in the course of doing trust and safety work that could accumulate, and stress is cumulative. One of the things could be making sure that you’re creating schedules that allow people to take a break from having done three hours at a time of reviewing content that could be really challenging.
Really understanding your team so that which sorts of content might be more difficult for some and not others because it’s going to vary depending on the team. Those are some of the things that I’ve seen. Then, of course, you have the more scale professional services where you have group therapy programs, or one-on-one therapy that you have your team go to that is funded by the company. Those are various tactics that people use that I’ve seen.
[00:03:50] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s start at the smaller end. Let’s say you don’t have much budget, but you see the importance of this. I think you talked about one thing that you can do that it’s not free. It’s free to give people breaks. You’re paying people for time so whoever is monitoring that might not think of it as free. You already are spending that money on the person so it’s really about them allocating their time differently, or you force them to do so almost in a sense to say, “Hey, you need to stop. Take a break. Take a breather and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
In the guide, you mentioned a baseline read where people could start having access to counseling services in the case of emergency, having training programs in place that can help the management team identify the signs of trauma. Have you framed out, I’m just curious, for like the smallest team, which I think is most people, let’s say three to 10 people, right? Three to 10 people that are monitoring content on a regular basis, and so it’s part of their job. Let’s just say there’s a department lead, could be community, could be trust and safety. There’s some moderators beneath them, small team growing. They want to do something about this.
The question I’m looking for is the budget. How should they start to factor that into their budget on a small sample size? Is it a percentage of the staffing resources, a percentage of the payroll they have? What’s the first ask where you say, we want to spend $10,000 a year, $10,000 a month. Where do you think you start with that budget conversation?
[00:05:07] Adelin Cai: I think that’s a really interesting question because I personally haven’t been involved in setting up or setting aside a budget for these programs. Not to sound super in the bureaucracy of a company, but I think it really is is your management team really bought into the fact that this is a priority? Then you, have to shop around. There are different services. You can look at like BetterHelp. They have a corporate program. There are various kinds of telemedicine type applications that could be the right service for you. Not constructing your employee resilience program by yourself, there are some packages that you can buy and then you can tier it appropriately. I actually don’t know in terms of budgeting, what that exactly looks like.
[00:05:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Then, at the higher end, when you’ve seen the world-class programs that really take care of people, what are some of the tenants of those programs.
[00:06:02] Adelin Cai: In terms of values or in terms of like, what exactly they build into the plan?
[00:06:07] Patrick O’Keefe: I would say what they build into the program, what they offer the employees doing this work.
[00:06:10] Adelin Cai: I would say I’ve seen people go for one-on-one therapy sessions. That could be as frequently as once a week, or on demand, which is also really important because sometimes when you’re in crisis, you really need to access someone really quickly. I’ve seen some companies, open up group therapy to the entire team. That doesn’t always work for everyone, but that is an option if your team is inclined to do that.
I think that is really important as well and really important for part of the team building. I think emergency services is really important, alluded to that in the one-on-one. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of doing this work and you suddenly have mental health crisis moment, it’s really important that you can rely on someone immediately to respond and help you work through that. That’s really important.
I’ve also seen teams do things like dedicating a certain part of the month to something that is completely outside of work. I think that that’s also another way to allocate budget. There are some, like the Aspen Institute has been thinking a lot about wellness and looking at practices from other parallel professions that require better wellness programming and looking at how those can be applied to content moderation.
There are some things like that, where again, coming back to scheduling, making sure that when you’re setting up the schedule, you have allocated a certain point of the day at which you tell your folks, “Do not look at any content after, say, 4:00 PM. Then the last hour or so, go do something different. Go wind down by getting a coffee with your team, do a coloring book.” This sounds pretty trivial, but it’s a way of switching gears so that by the time someone is able to go home, that they have internally deescalated a lot of the stress that they’ve experienced during the day. I think that is a good practice and it actually, again, doesn’t really cost you anything.
[00:08:04] Patrick O’Keefe: You used the word mandatory. Some of these things, which I think is interesting, because it’s always the type of thing that has the potential to be either something that is the first thing to go when we personally feel a crush on our productivity, or it’s the first thing to go when we just feel like we need to do something else or it’s not necessary right now. Or I’m tough, those sorts of things. Making it mandatory, I think to some, when they think of that might seem forceful or like taking away someone’s freedom to cope in their own way.
I think the intention is just for people to look at it as a part of their job. It’s as equal as checking Slack. It’s as equal as checking your email. It is yet another responsibility that you have in that role. I don’t know if that’s a way that we need to rephrase it or look at it. It’s just when you look at that list of responsibilities, it’s not like good PR, which is the cynical way to look at it, but it’s actually a good practice to have it in the responsibilities of your job that you participate in these sessions. Because, selfishly, you can look at it as being for yourself, but that’s not really exactly what it’s for only, it’s for your team and how you function together.
[00:09:23] Adelin Cai: I think that that’s a really good point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen participation in a wellness program as part of the roles and responsibilities. I think that that actually might change a lot of the way people look at their jobs. I’ve actually never considered that. Actually, that might be a practice that I recommend to people moving forward, because it isn’t just about you. I’m pretty [chuckles] draconian when it comes to like telling people on my team in the past, you have to take a break, take Friday off.
My team, wasn’t always in the thick of doing content review, but I’m a big believer in taking the time that you need in order to…There’s this very cliche line that people say, you can’t really help others if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first. I think about that one all the time. This is absolutely the case here. You can’t support your team if you’re in crisis. People have varying tolerances, and group therapy is really kumbaya.
That’s not my thing which is why I think the more we look at a menu of options for people to look at in order to support themselves, the better because that’s not going to work for everyone. Sometimes by the time someone gets to one-on-one therapy, they’re already in such a bad place. It’s about the interventions that you can do beforehand. We can talk about different product things that you can do to minimize risks to people. That’s all part of like a broader philosophical framework around what employee wellness means.
[00:10:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about that. What are some of the product things that you can do at a base level to help people from getting to that point?
[00:10:55] Adelin Cai: It could be as simple as having different queues for different types of content that people are going to look at and then rotating people through the different queues. Because, again, viewing that content, that stress is cumulative. If you have someone looking at really, really horrible, child sexual exploitation content all day, that’s not a healthy place for them to be in and they should be able to rotate out to a different queue. Having clearly marked queues so you have a set of expectations going into your review work, I think that’s really important.
Doing video review, there have been some studies on how simply taking a video, taking it from color to black and white might be really, really helpful. Then doing snapshots of the video instead of having the whole video play could really help people dissociate a little bit from the content, if that’s violent or just really traumatizing content. That’s another product thing that could be implemented way in advance. There are probably things that people are doing for audio these days that I’m not up to date on, but there is so much audio content right now. It’s like super hot topic. I’m sure that there are some interventions there that could take place.
[00:12:01] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, Clubhouse.
[00:12:03] Adelin Cai: [laughs] Everyone’s coming up with their audio product.
[00:12:06] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m advising a startup or two that’s working in that space. It’s one of the primary concerns that they have and one of the things that I complain the loudest about, so that’s why we got connected. There are interesting ancillary things there like transcription which we don’t necessarily think of as a moderation tool. We think of it as an accessibility tool, and it is. We think of it as a way for people to discover content, and it is, like the podcast is transcribed. This podcast is transcribed. It’s something I pay for this episode, it’s part of the budget. It helps people find us. It helps us create good content around the show. It also helps make the show more accessible. We have people who tell me they don’t listen. They only read the show. That’s great. As a moderation tool, sifting through that pile of audio just as a very beginner thing is painful.
Being able to read that audio and maybe keyboard source that audio to go to the right part is incredibly helpful in a lot of cases. Audio is a handful.
[00:14:08] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s pause for a moment and talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
Vanilla provides a one-stop-shop solution that gives community leaders all the tools they need to create a thriving community. Engagement tools like ideation and gamification promote vibrant discussion and powerful moderation tools allow admins to stay on top of conversations and keep things on track. All of these features are available out of the box, and come with best-in-class technical and community support from Vanilla’s Success Team. Vanilla is trusted by King, Acer, Qualtrics, and many more leading brands. Visit vanillaforums.com.
Well, for the show you highlighted talent retention within trust and safety work as an important issue. On the high end of jobs, retention is often there because the money is often there. That’s my opinion. You were head of policy at Pinterest. I’ve interviewed for a job like that before, the money’s good up there. Those jobs are few and far between, they’re hard to get to and there’s beneath them, these larger organizations. As you know, the starting point is where we lose a lot of people. That’s where we lose a lot of people who burn out, who move on to something else, who don’t find it rewarding, who view it as a temp job. It’s not something that they view as a career. I have to imagine that things like employee resilience programs and the offerings that fit within them and the things we’ve discussed so far are really a huge part of the puzzle when it comes to retaining newer people entering this field, right?
[00:14:15] Adelin Cai: I think that’s absolutely the case. You don’t want people to burn out. We have had the conversation around tech companies and their support for their employees is super fraught and people don’t owe their employers anything at the end of the day, and we can get super philosophical about that. I do think that an employer has a responsibility or a company and the team has a responsibility to every single individual on that team to make sure that they feel, A, really valued, that they aren’t churning out.
Because just from a practical point of view, the upfront cost of training someone to do that work is high. I think there’s a statistic, something like, every time someone leaves your team and you bring someone new on, you’re losing nine months of productivity, which is a lot. Then, for me, from the very human angle, it’s really important that we care for people, but maybe I grew up in the super kumbaya times, that the teams that I’ve been on have been much warm to that.
Employee resilience programs definitely make a difference. Even if people don’t take you up on every single aspect of that program, knowing that it’s there and making the time and making the budget to create employee resilience program is absolutely essential to the long-term well-being of anyone on your team. Yes, I think you talked about the roles that exist for head of policy or head of trust and safety type roles, like there aren’t that many out there.
I do think that that’s changing for the past five years or so. [chuckles] The conversation companies are making are like, “Oh, no, we really need to do something and have a head of trust and safety.” I think that that’s changing as well and I think as a community, we really have a responsibility to help support the people who want to get into those roles because they genuinely care about the work.
Obviously, you should be compensated because the work is– I think everyone should be compensated even more, for the work that they do in trust and safety. I have seen the trend in salaries and I do think there actually is a gap between what we’re providing people and the value that they’re providing the companies. Also, it’s the work that as you know you really have to believe in it in order to feel that you can keep going at that job.
[00:16:20] Patrick O’Keefe: The prevalence of roles is definitely increasing, head, director, VP, whatever you might call it. Policy, trust and safety, moderation, trust, and safety, community moderation, trust and safety, online community moderation, trust and safety, whatever. There are more roles there. I think that’s good. There was something in what you said, I can’t cite the line.
It was a hint to me about the fact that before even you talk about retaining people, there are some organizations where many organizations, in fact, more it’s a struggle to get the higher-ups to look at the entry-level trust and safety pros as an employee to have onboard and not just an outsourced person in another country who you don’t have to be responsible for their wellness or the things that they have to see in the role and you handed out to them to deal with the awful content, and then have an executive who oversees that outsourcing, so to speak.
Just to have them be brought on board as an employee and have full-time people with benefits is a fight on its own before you even get to employee resilience programs.
[00:17:19] Adelin Cai: Yes, I think that’s also a product of how in the customer support world, we’re accustomed to these large BPOs handling customer support, and you outsource that and you don’t really have to think very much about wellness in those roles. Even though there’s an argument to be made that people who do customer support need a lot of wellness support, because of the daily abuse that they’re probably handling. I think with the prevalence of content moderation just being the bigger topic, there were a few BPOs that started to move into content moderation space. I don’t think they were all prepared to deal with some of the unique issues.
To me, I feel like there is a place for scaled support for trust and safety, and for content review. I do think, though, that there is a lot more that we need to do to be more thoughtful about, are we thinking about the way in which people grow in those roles. I think that’s also important for any outsource at scale, like customer support role. Are people growing in their roles? Is this really more intentional, thoughtful work than just saying yes, or saying no, that’s not fulfilling meaningful work. You should be thinking about people’s growth.
Sorry, I’m meandering a little bit. I think that there are ways to also build in wellness programs at scale for these outsourced roles. I don’t know if we’re fully there yet. I think there are some companies that are doing a better job than others. We’re evolving to that, I think, right now.
[00:18:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I think, that’s another area where we as senior pros have a responsibility. I like to believe, as you hinted at a second ago, career-wise, those of us who- I can never fault someone who needs to take a job, just to put food on the table and support their family. I’m in a privileged position. I’m okay. For me, when I talk about jobs, I push up on title, I push up on salary, I push up on responsibility, because I can because they want me and because I feel like those of us who can have responsibility to push that up, raise the bar for everyone and open the door.
I think an area that probably isn’t talked about a lot that we also can have a responsibility for is in choosing vendors when we choose the outsourced vendors that actually make an attempt to treat people well and ask about those programs. I’d be curious how many people out there, hiring outsourced moderation agencies, actually asked a question like, “What programs do you have in place to support the wellness of your workers?” Is that a question that’s being asked in every interview, every RFP, is that coming up? If not, why? Looking at it that way, I think go a long way because they can push their way through with nonsense. They can lie to us. They can make up things.
Also, a lot of us are really well connected and we might know someone who worked for them in the past and we can always ask those people as part of our research and see, do they really do these things, do they really treat people well? Of course, that’s an investment of our time. Everyone’s busy, but that is investment of time, if we can do it, if we’re able to do it I think that’s an area where we can make a difference. Even if we can’t bring it in-house full time and treat people the way that we want to be treated, we can at least try to push toward vendors who more ethically treat people and make those cases internally. If we get shut down because they want to go with the cheapest vendor, then that’s a fight we lost. It’s still a fight worth fighting in a lot of cases, I think.
[00:20:31] Adelin Cai: Yes, and companies are going to have to figure out what they value and what they trade-off. I think it’s people like you and me who have worked in this world for a while who will ask those questions because getting answers to those questions is really important to us. You alluded to how small the community is and how people talk. There are going to be some companies that have a slightly better reputation than others. Those are the ones that are going to continue to do well with the professional community that cares about these issues.
[00:21:04] Patrick O’Keefe: For sure. Let’s shift gears a little bit. In your Building a Trust and Safety Mindset guide, you talk about the importance of baking in good trust and safety work at the start. Preaching to the choir, obviously, here. One line that caught my attention was you also say that, “If you’re already past the product service development phase, it’s still not too late to be mainstreaming trust and safety principles in your organization’s work. Go through the exercise of re-allocating your organization’s finite resources to ensure that you’re taking into account the need to build a responsible and long-term trust and safety infrastructure.”
Have you ever tackled that relocation for a company that you worked at or as a client for you where they think their money is sorted? They had this pile of money they looked at. They said, “We had this, and so everyone gets a piece of this. We’ve already given their percentages out to everybody.” Where you would then come in and say, “Well, actually you need to shift the pile.”
[00:21:53] Adelin Cai: I have done that before and that was actually hiring a third party to take a look at some of our content. Not the contractor review model, but having a third party that looked at specific pieces of content that could help us with a very specific area of content policy. It had to do with pharmaceuticals which is highly regulated and complicated. Yes, I’ve had to do that and help build a review pipeline so that some of the content that they were looking at would be easily sent over to us so that we could cross-check and then make the right decisions. That was expensive.
Negotiation of that package aside, we had to reallocate resources. I think we ended up begging for budget from the sales team to support that and we got it, so that’s definitely happened. It’s not impossible, but I think building the case you need someone and your team to be able to build the case for like, “Look, we have a glaring risk here and we need to fill that risk. One way to fill that risk is to throw money at this problem by hiring this third party that is highly qualified to do this work.” That’s what we did.
[00:22:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, so you answered a little bit there. I wanted to ask you how you approached it. Am I reading into a right that you thought about which team stands to lose the most by us failing to cover pharmaceutical content? You determined, actually, sales has the biggest risk here or maybe they are asked about it already and it came up in a past conversation where they were trying to sell and someone was like, “Well, how do you handle pharmaceuticals?” That led you to be, “Oh, okay. Actually, if we’re going to get money, they’re the best lead for that money.”
[00:23:24] Adelin Cai: Yes. In that particular instance, it was a little bit mixed because I actually ran through the same exercise at a previous company. I believe we got budget out of the legal budget because of the glaring legal risk issues. I think building a business case for why you need budget to cover a certain area is a very important skill, and that’s what we did. My team sat down with different teams and tried to figure out, is sales actually missing out on revenue because we don’t have a very robust system for looking at these things, from a legal point of view what’s the legal risk?
Actually, someone on my team was really wonderful, built a whole scoring system for how we would assess risk based on these different vectors. There was legal risk, reputational risk, sales, and revenue risk. We looked at that package and then built a business case around, okay, here are the options that we have, and here’s the recommendation. Leadership team, you can opt to go for the recommendation or not, but if you don’t here are all the trade-offs that we’ve outlined for you but ultimately it’s a decision for exact to make.
[00:24:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, you could not support it but then the community would be full of drugs.
[00:24:32] Adelin Cai: Yes. It’s a good choice.
[00:24:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of the business case, I’m going to ask you a very general question purposefully just to see what comes to mind first for you and that is, what are your go-to trusts and safety metrics?
[00:24:48] Adelin Cai: I’m laughing because I’ve told a lot of people this and even my clients. I’m terrible at coming up with the right metrics for trust and safety because so many metrics, I feel, are just proxy and not accurate.
[00:25:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, let’s talk about that then.
[00:25:06] Adelin Cai: If you look at the number of tickets that people are responding to, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a crisis on your platform. It just could mean that there is a problem with the product where people are being shown irrelevant content. That comes up all the time with some of the products that I’ve used, particularly in ads. People complaining about ads that show up in their feed, and it’s purely a relevance issue.
I feel like for things like that, they are more quality, it’s not really a trust and safety issue. You could look at CSAT, which classic customer support metric, but that’s not really going to tell you anything, because when you take down someone’s content, they’re going to be mad and if you leave it up, they’re going to be happy. That’s not an indication of whether or not you have a content issue.
What I usually tell my clients is, what are the pieces of information that you have already that you’re logging, and start looking at those as initial baseline metrics, because it’s the change in metrics that’s going to tell you or indicate to you that something is going on. I think Wikimedia is actually working on a very interesting way of looking at metrics. If you’re interested, we can have a follow up conversation about that and the person who’s leading that.
Basically, the idea is to what metrics are mutually interesting and acceptable to the rest of the company. Then, how can you use that in a toolkit to build out things that may not be directly trust and safety related, but at least give you an indication that like, “Oh, there was a spike here or a dip here. Something happened that we need to look at.” That might be retroactive, so maybe it’s not the most super helpful thing, but at least you have some data to fall back on.
[00:26:51] Patrick O’Keefe: The struggle is always to measure something that when done well people don’t notice.
[00:26:55] Adelin Cai: Yes.
[00:26:57] Patrick O’Keefe: I think that’s what the great challenge is, so people fall back on things like the number of things reviewed, right?
[00:27:04] Adelin Cai: Yes.
[00:27:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Or the number of, I don’t know, successful reviews, or successful closed reports, responses. Those are really quantity metrics. I watched a play, like a Broadway type play during the pandemic that was virtual called Sin Eaters. Have you heard of it?
[00:27:21] Adelin Cai: No, I have not.
[00:27:22] Patrick O’Keefe: It was about a content moderator, and he worked at a company that was basically a combination of big tech companies. As someone who does the work, it was interesting to watch it. It wasn’t like it was disconnected from reality, it was grounded. Her thing was, of course, the most reports, more, more. There’s a competition, you get a $50 gift card if you are the one who closed the most reports.
That’s bad, but it’s also not unfathomable. For those of us who have done it, that’s not unheard of. It’s not like we have never heard of productivity competitions, or closing the most reports or seeing who can get the most done. That fall back on metrics of quantity, as you said, it’s quality thing is often just a bad idea.
[00:28:04] Adelin Cai: Yes. Right, and the impact of that on your team, because they’re struggling so hard to just close out tickets, and deal with quantity of closure and not quality of the users experience. I just feel like that has a really negative impact on the motivations of the team. Oh, I did think of one metric that I have never been able to get even though I’ve thought about it for years. I think it’s actually because it’s not an easy thing to calculate. That’s replacement revenue for advertising, because a lot of my background is in advertising policy. That’s why I have been thinking about this for a while.
If there was a way to calculate for every bad ad that you take off the platform, a new ad slot opens up and you could put a really good ad in there. What is that replacement revenue? I feel like that would be a really meaningful metric, because then you’re looking at, we took out X dollars of advertising that made our sales team really sad, because they weren’t able to hit their quota, but, if you think about it this way, we actually opened up Y dollars worth of really good, long lasting revenue that isn’t risky. I feel like that would be a really good metric to figure out, but I don’t think anyone’s really been able to do the math on that.
[00:29:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s almost like a sabermetric in sports. Like in baseball, there’s this metric like value above replacement and value above the replacement player is how you see, who’s the most valuable baseball player. Value over replacement ad or however you would term that is interesting.
In our pre-show questionnaire, when asked for challenges you’re thinking about right now, you offered these questions, “How do we support folks who are new to trust and safety, which we’ve talked about here, and how do we support the teams that would like to hire them?”
Again, we’ve spoken about the first and maybe we’ve spoken about the second, but I’d like to just focus on that for a second. Is there a difference there? How do we support the teams that would like to hire them? Because that implies to me they’re not there yet, or maybe they’re outsourcing it or maybe they decided it wasn’t a priority early on, and now that team would like to move forward. I’m making misreading the whole thing. Tell me if I am, but how do we support those teams and those people who want to make those hires?
[00:30:17] Adelin Cai: That’s exactly what I meant, so spot on. I hear from people who might be at smaller companies who might be on the legal team or the ops team. They’re like, “Oh no, I really need to like have a full-time hire, but I don’t know what I’m looking for.” Because I think we’ve reached the stage in trust and safety where there are different areas of specialization, it actually is a task to figure out what exactly is your product or service? What are the values of your company? Are you looking for someone who is more operational? Are you looking for someone who’s more philosophical?
Because depending on what you’re looking for, you’re going to find a different type of candidate and you shouldn’t just be blasting out to every single person who has worked in trust and safety. Certainly, there are people who want to grow into a different role, moving from more operational to more policy roles and vice versa. I think that there’s specializations that make sense to hire for, and that would make it much more efficient. Those are the conversations that I’m having with people and also, “Oh, what level should I be hiring for? Who should this person report to? How should I even start drafting my job rec? I don’t even know how to do that for trust and safety.” That’s what I was alluding to.
[00:31:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Can part of the answer be then identifying the problem they’re having and saying, you could hire someone that can fix that and own that problem and that can be the start of maybe a blossoming organization. Is that maybe one way to look at it?
[00:31:44] Adelin Cai: Yes. I think that could be one of the ways to look at it. Even asking yourself, like, “Do I want this person to eventually take on a people management role?” A year from now, we’ll really help you figure out whether you want someone who has two years of experience versus five years of experience or more figuring out how much runway you have as an organization to really support the growth of someone. Versus, no, I need someone who who has been at like a really big company to come in and build everything from scratch.
I do think that not everyone needs that. I have not been dating for a while, but I feel there’s this weird analogy to dating where you want all these things on paper, but you actually don’t need that. What you need is someone who can grow with you. That you really enjoy working with because they understand your product or service. You don’t need someone who’s “super pedigree”. I just disagree with that notion.
[00:32:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, when you’re dating someone, you need someone who can understand your product or service. Got it.
[00:32:40] Adelin Cai: Exactly.
[00:32:42] Patrick O’Keefe: That makes a lot of sense. I want to shift, before we say goodbye, to product and tooling a little bit. Because in your policy development and launch checklist, you note correctly, I think how important it is to have product and tooling work done within an appropriate timeline. Where have challenges. Here’s the challenges. Here’s what we need. Let’s fix it. I’ve also worked in organizations where I didn’t. [laughs] It didn’t happen, but I had, which I think was a common story as well, here’s the problems. For example, I’ve helped guide product on a proprietary community platform that was used by tens of thousands of people.
It was private, people paid to access it, moderation tools, trust and safety tools built-in behind the scenes, not a priority despite how much I would comment or make the case. We got tools that were substandard and it impacts so many things. It impacts productivity, it impacts your ability to cover things, it impacts all sorts of things. Anyway, but I don’t want to talk about my bad relationships. I want to talk about getting things done in an appropriate timeline, because as you noted, it’s important. When those relationships work well between the people who have to set and enforce the policy and the people who make the tools and empower us to do so, when those relationships look great, what do they look like?
[00:33:54] Adelin Cai: What does a successful relationship look like?
[00:33:57] Patrick O’Keefe: There are many ways to get there. A couple of examples of when those groups are talking, when we’re really prioritized, that is trust and safety pros, when our needs and challenges are really prioritized within an organization that has a product team or a dev team or tool, however you’d like to phrase it, what does that healthy relationship look like?
[00:34:12] Adelin Cai: Well, first of all, I just want to acknowledge that the substandard tooling and that inability to prioritize that tooling is more common in my experience than not. This checklist is very theoretical [laughs] and, hopefully, will help people to–
[00:34:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Write a checklist for the relationships you want, not the ones you have.
[00:34:38] Adelin Cai: [laughs] Exactly. They’re really great relationships I’ve had with the product people, usually result in a shared launch calendar where I know where everything is happening. I have constant meetings with the people to understand like, “Are you going to launch with this version on this date? Is there going to be a delay in launch? If you’re going to launch with this, then we’ve got to build that.” Having an understanding of shared timeline and shared values around what we will be delivering to people at launch or a feature change, that always helps.
Because in those situations, my team could only say like, “Look, it’s not ideal that you’re launching this version at this time but here’s a metric that you’re tracking if that changes and there’s an uptick, we know that something weird is happening. Then we actually need to start building a different tool.” Or ask the product manager themselves like, “If you see a change in this metric, or what metric would have to change in order for you to take this concern around content review more seriously so that we don’t have to work out of a spreadsheet. We actually work out of a tool.”
So then putting it back on them. I think also another aspect is just having a very close relationship with other teams that can advocate for you, too. I’ve always had really good relationships with my legal team. Usually, they’re the ones who might say like, “Look, I can’t stop you from doing this but I will say you need to talk to the policy team or the trust and safety team before you proceed. Just so you know what you’re trading off.” Those relationships really help as well.
This is the kind of people say soft skills, but soft skills are hard. Just having a very collegial relationship with your product managers or your dev team so that they actually know what you’re going through. Also, being able to have conversations that aren’t purely about outcome but emotional impact on the team, and the additional labor that’s being put on the team as a result of some of the business decisions that they’re making. I think those always help.
[00:36:36] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s really interesting. One of the things you said was basically like, “Give us a spot. [chuckles] Just make us part of the program.” I once worked in an org that had sprints. It was agile product development. We have sprints. So, “Okay, how do I get in the sprint? How can I be one of the runners? You just sub me in there. It doesn’t have to be every sprint. Give us every other one. Please give me a slot in there were a certain number of hours I get.”
It’s like, “How do I get on there?” It’s like, “We’re going through a tunnel, sorry. I can’t.” Like, “Oh, okay.” So I never really got into those sprints. It’s frustrating because you know your team is going through something in a less-than-ideal way. Often much less than ideal way. You mentioned spreadsheets. I’ve been places where the answer was hire another VA. Hire a virtual assistant. I’m like, “No.”
[00:37:23] Adelin Cai: That’s not it. [laughs]
[00:37:24] Patrick O’Keefe: That just isn’t efficient and yet the desire to get that solution was not a priority. So that product relationship it can make or break. In a lot of cases, I think your overall success as a trust and safety pro and how you’re able to accomplish your initiatives and make the most of your people based upon the tool that’s handed to you.
[00:37:44] Adelin Cai: I’m not above baking brownies or cake or purchasing beverages in order to ask for additional support from a product team or an engineer. I hope that people don’t have to do that in the future. It’s definitely in the past something that I’ve tried to do which is make friends with your product team, make friends with the engineers because that just opens the door to you having a conversation about how difficult it is when x, y, and z doesn’t work right.
I’ve also had instances where asking an engineer like, “Just shadow this team for 10 minutes and you will see how inefficient the sort of product tooling is.” That also changes the dynamic. Then there is a difference between internal tools versus an outside feature or a new feature that you have to show.
[00:38:31] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a great idea. Try these shoes on. Try my shoes on. Walk a mile. See how it looks. Adelin, this has been a fun chat about a tough subject. Thank you so much for making time for us and for sharing your expertise. I really appreciate it.
[00:38:45] Adelin Cai: Thanks so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. This was truly a pleasure.
[00:38:50] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Adelin Cai, founder, and principal consultant at Sidequest. Find Adelin’s great free resources for trust and safety work at sidequest.cc/resources. She is also on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/adelincai. That’s A-D-E-L-I-N-C-A-I.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Thanks for listening.
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