Heidi Skinner of Critical Mass dishes the dirt.

If corporations are people, as the U.S. Supreme Court deemed, what sort of people are they? That’s up to community moderators, the employees responsible for determining each business’s personality, motivation, and just how well they gets along with other people.

In online social networks, the moderator’s personality can set the tone of the entire community. That’s why Tumblr’s community manager Christopher Price is far more likely to post dinosaurs, rainbows, or funny animated GIFs than an official press release, and Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin can create a lively AMA (ask me anything) thread to compete with the best of them.

At South by Southwest Interactive, “Confessions of a Community Moderator” panel will assess the trials and tribulations of this critical role. The vice president of social media for Critical Mass, Skinner has worked with brands from Moen to Pampers and built communities up from one fan to thousands. She’s amazed at the way people can band together around a brand they love.

“Initially, when we launched the Nissan Leaf community—that’s the first mass market all-electric vehicle—we started from scratch with one fan,” said Heidi Skinner, who helped assemble the panel. “Soon, it became less about the product and information, and instead a cultural movement, a whole new way of thinking about the environment. Watching people bring that to life was amazing.”

But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, Skinner said, people’s passion for a brand can go off the deep end. When she moderated for the faucet manufacturer Moen, she had overzealous people mail in “interesting and provocative photos of themselves.” She’s also had community members show up outside the office unannounced.

For the panel, Skinner invited a handful of other community moderators that she’d met through #cmgrchat (community manager chat) on Twitter to spill their stories:

“We’ve seen it all. Brand haters, PR nightmares, moderating mistakes, members oversharing: We have a laundry list of funny and anecdotal things that we’ve seen happen in communities that ultimately made us better.”

The panel will also give attendees an opportunity to share their own stories. Her team has launched a Tumblr blog to preserve the funny, strange, and scary stories of community managers. Here’s hoping the panel inspires a few new additions.

What’s your confession?

SXSW Panel: Confessions of a Community Moderator
Tuesday, March 13, 11 am
Omni Downtown, Longhorn room

Photo by Heidi Skinner

Play is all in a day’s work for this Tumblr manager
Christopher Price—aka Topherchris—plays for work and works for play. 
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