So you’ve decided to jump into the world of running online tech conferences! It may not be what you’re used to, but there are tons of resources available to learn from. Most of my participation in online events up to this point has involved training and leading moderation teams, so I’d like to do my part and share what I know.
Online event safety
The first thing you need to understand is that your community’s safety is as important now as it’s ever been. Just because you’re not meeting in meat space doesn’t mean your attendees are now magically safe from harm. You need to take steps to reduce harm before it happens. That means having a comprehensive, enforceable code of conduct and a well-trained, properly supported moderation team.
Writing a code of conduct
A code of conduct lays out the expectations for anyone involved in your event, clarifying the kinds of behavior that are or are not acceptable. The more detailed and thoughtful you are in crafting this document, the less confusion your attendees will need to deal with. Everyone who attends your event needs to agree to the code of conduct, which should include clear instructions for reporting violations.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Start with the Conference Code of Conduct template and build from there. Get as specific as you can. If you have policies you want people to adhere to, spell them out. Now is not the time to rely on vague phrases like “Be kind.” Feel free to check out Women of React’s code of conduct for an example in the wild.
In addition to outlining proper conduct, a code of conduct should do the following:
- Explain exactly how participants should report violations (including an option to do so anonymously)
- Tell participants how they’ll be able to recognize event team members
- Hold team members to at least the same level of accountability as everyone else
Choosing your moderators
Your mods are your enforcers. The organizer(s) of an event can’t be everywhere at once. Delegate! Find trustworthy community members willing to pitch in. You may be accustomed to providing tickets and/or hotel rooms in exchange for “volunteer” work at in-person conferences. Especially if you’re making money, consider paying your moderators.
Want to hire me to train/lead your moderation team? Reach out via Twitter!
Reach out to your community for volunteers but try to go beyond your own social circles and recruit a diverse team to minimize bias. You need to be able to trust your moderation team to uphold the safety of your online event. Ask for recommendations from other organizers. If you open an application process, ask for references.
Recruit more mods than you think you need. Especially since this is an online event, some percentage of your volunteers will probably drop out at the last minute. Don’t take it personally if that happens, just prepare for the possibility. The number you actually need depends on the number of people chatting, the number of separate channels you set up, and the amount of time your event will be live.
I love a good onboarding process! You could have 20 enthusiastic mods ready and rarin’ to go on the day of your online conference but… they won’t be very effective if they don’t know what tools they have available to them or how you’d like them to respond when issues arise.
Prep your moderators and let them ask questions ahead of time. You may find that doing this exposes holes in your carefully laid plans. That’s great! Now you’ve got more time to fill them in.
Writing a mod manual
Writing a moderator manual for your mod team not only gives them a reliable point of reference but it also forces you to articulate how you want them to take care of your community.
This can be a living document! Just make sure you’re proactive in communicating with your mods as you make changes.
Live moderator training
Sharing your plans is important but getting the moderators together to talk and ask questions and even to practice exercising their mod powers..? Next level. Hop on a video call and give a brief demo showing how to use the platform. Walk through everything the mods might have to do, let them practice muting, locking down channels, whatever you’ve given them access to.
Walk your mods through a few different scenarios. What should they do if you get a report about someone who’s threatened a community member in the past? What’s the procedure if someone drops the n-word in chat? Figure that stuff out now while everyone is relatively calm.
Provide your mods with some canned replies that they can use if a community member confronts them about an action they’ve taken. (You can also include this in your moderator manual!)
Selecting a community forum
You’ll need to weigh your own priorities and skills against the various offerings out there. Each has its own set of baked in (and sometimes third-party, supplemental) moderation tools. No matter what you choose, you always have the option of incorporating Discord as a space for rich, ongoing communication while relying on a separate platform for broadcasting.
Women of React used YouTube to stream the entire conference. However, the organizers disabled comments in YouTube and focused all the discussion in Discord. Since invitation to the Discord server was restricted, this kept the content widely accessible while increasing attendees’ safety. You can also stream directly to your Discord server.
You can also opt to keep both the stream and the conversation in one place using YouTube’s live chat feature, assigning moderators at the channel level. This means that moderators have permission to moderate all of your live streams, not just a particular event, so make sure you remove mod permissions as needed when your event is finished! Moderators can remove comments as well as flag, hide, and mute participants.
For more information, see Google’s docs on moderating live chat.
The team behind the BlackGirlGamers Summit relied on Twitch to broadcast the even, which made sense given the organization’s focus on gaming and large existing audience on that platform. Moderators are an essential part of Twitch culture and they have some basic capabilities at their disposal out of the box. (Twitch has more info on managing roles for your channel.) By default, your moderator(s) can change the chat mode as well as ban or timeout participants.
That said, regular streamers tends to use bots to augment the basic moderation tools. (Nightbot is one very popular example.) You can apply more nuanced permissions to different members of your community, set up custom commands, even set messages to post at specific intervals. This kind of setup makes more sense if you’re building a community over time versus planning for a one-time event.
Twitch has a number of articles on channel moderation to help you consider all your options.
Vito is a brand new broadcasting tool developed by the folks behind the ticketing service Tito. I was first introduced to the platform while leading the moderation team for Kim Crayton’s Introduction to Being an Antiracist workshop. The team has been super responsive to feedback so far, even adding moderation features in the week leading up the event.
JuneteenthConf and several other events have hosted their live streams on their own sites. You have complete control in this case. Mix and match whatever tools you’d like. Include a chat option or not. You can watch the recordings on YouTube.