Retaining Talented Community Pros and What Makes a Great Boss? (3 Years of Community Signal)

This week, Community Signal proudly celebrates three years of conversations with community professionals. We’re taking this opportunity to talk to Patrick about his experience running the show and giving him a chance to reflect on the state of online community management and how he’s seen it develop over these past few years. We’re also grateful to be joined by past guest, Scott Moore, for this conversation.

Combined, Patrick and Scott have over four decades of experience in community and a recurring topic in this conversation is how we can learn from industry veterans and those who came before us, as well as recognizing that the community problems of today likely have past occurrences that we can learn from. As Patrick mentions towards the end of this episode, hosting this show has been a way for him to stay up to date on the themes, tools, struggles, and triumphs that the community landscape is seeing and we hope that these conversations are useful for you, too.

I know that I can confidently speak for Karn, Patrick, and myself in saying that we’re all looking forward to continuing to ask the tough questions when it comes to community. It’s our duty to push the profession forward.

We’re breaking this conversation up into two episodes. In part one, Patrick and Scott talk about:

  • Choosing metrics that matter
  • The career trajectory for community professionals and how he approaches managing his team
  • His go-to resources for staying current on all things community

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How The New York Times is Building Thoughtful Comment Sections in the Trump Era

Over the past few months, Patrick has spoken to several leaders in the world of journalism and for this episode, we’re welcoming back Bassey Etim, community editor at the New York Times. Bassey was originally on Community Signal in December of 2015 and it’s overwhelming to think about how public perception of the media and the Times, in particular, has changed since then. To give you some context, Barack Obama was still in office at the time of that interview and Donald Trump had yet to win a primary.

Patrick brings up an important question during this conversation: How are moderators at the New York Times doing? And perhaps that question can largely be answered by how Bassey manages his 14-person team. He shares how the team blows off steam, what he does to advance people within his team, and how he views AI as a human-powered tool to moderation, not a human-replacing one. Is it Bassey’s emphasis on people and objectivist journalism that powers a positive environment amongst his team and the comment sections at the Times? I think so! Bassey also shares:

  • The impact of the midterm elections and politics in general on moderators at the Times
  • His own career path at the Times and how he elevates others for growth opportunities
  • Getting AI machines to ask humans for help

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News Membership as a Community Model

Local newsrooms are tasked with representing their local communities and the issues and topics that matter to them. For that reason, it seems especially important for there to be reader advisory boards and feedback loops in place to ensure that the local community can share feedback with the newsroom. But if your newsroom or publication is in a pre-community state, Rebecca Quarl has suggestions on scalable measures that you can take to let your audience know that you value their readership.

Rebecca has the unique vantage of having worked across 28 for and non-profit news organizations with the News Revenue Hub, originally starting her career as a journalist. Her firsthand experience with news membership as a community model raises an interesting approach for scaling community tactics across the newsroom.

Patrick and Rebecca also discuss:

  • Why Rebecca left the agency world to rejoin newsrooms
  • The readership survey that Rebecca conducted with those 28 news organizations
  • Membership as a shared responsibility across the newsroom

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The Community Manager You Think You Can’t Afford

As community professionals, we have more tools than ever to help us do our jobs. That said, the qualities that make an online community and an online community professional successful are likely largely the same today as they were 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. This episode of Community Signal focuses on those exact qualities and opportunities to delight.

If you’re applying for a job in community, Patrick and our guest, Angela Connor, have some tips on standing out [00:30:13]:

  • Point to specific communities that you’ve worked in
  • If you don’t have direct experience in community, start one!
  • Skills from other fields translate, but you should still be eager to learn and grow

And if you’ve been working in community for a while, but are looking to refresh (or rewind) your approach, Patrick and Angela suggest [00:37:48 and throughout]:

  • Revisiting how you talk to your community
  • Leaving room in macros and canned responses for customization
  • Approaching each conversation as an opportunity to invite in new community members
  • Visiting outside communities where your members might be talking about you

In addition to these qualities and skills, Angela also surfaces the topic of knowing her worth and the value of the communications skills that she brings to the table. This worth translates to a certain salary, but as with all roles, it also requires internal buy-in and the right resources to make sure you can get the job done. There are many companies that think they can’t afford someone at this skill level, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need someone at this skill level.

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A New York City Dive Bar in Online Community Form

What if the intro song to Cheers wasn’t about a bar, but instead about an online community where everyone knows your name? That’s what Stacy Horn created when she launched Echo, an online community that sought to connect New Yorkers.

But Echo wasn’t Stacy’s first go at creating a community. While studying at NYU’s ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program), she was working in the telecommunications department at Mobil and had an idea to connect employees and improve processes by way of an internal community. The community failed but throughout this conversation, Stacy’s learnings from this first experience come up over and over again: the importance of actively seeking out a diversity of voices and experiences to be represented in your community, having a clear intention and set of community guidelines, and creating a space for the best in people.

Today, Echo is nearly 30 years old. Its archives are on record with the New York Historical Society and the historians that look back on its conversations will be in for treat. In fact, it’ll be like they stumbled into a neighborhood bar full of people that have been chatting with each other for years.

Stacy also shares:

  • Why she failed when it came to starting an internal community for Mobil’s employees
  • The costs and infrastructure behind Echo, including an NYC street excavation
  • How she made Echo an inclusive space for women
  • Echo as an archive to pivotal moments in NYC’s history, including 9/11

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The State of Online Community as a Career

Consider this episode of Community Signal your community career advisor on speed dial. If you’re looking for a new job, growing your team, or thinking about your career advancement options, Patrick, Daniel Marotta, Jenn Chen, and Marjorie Anderson share great advice and observations from their own career journeys.

What skills and experiences created the foundation for your career in community management? [2:04]

“If you marry customer service with website release management and content management… those [skills] are the basis for a great community manager.” –@massmarotta

“[Don’t] just cut and paste a response from some template that your company printed out. Put a little bit of yourself in your responses. Build up a personality that really shines through with how you correspond with your member base.” –@massmarotta

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The Struggle to Ban Alex Jones + Membership Models for News Organizations

There’s so much to unpack in this extremely timely chat with Jay Rosen. Jay teaches journalism at New York University and on this episode of Community Signal, he discusses an era of journalism where readers hold the power. The power of choice, the power to talk back to journalists and media organizations, and the power to rally with their fellow readers. And with this shift in power comes a (positive) shift in responsibilities for journalists.

Interestingly enough, technology platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and YouTube, are being met with similar calls to action and Jay cites their inability to listen to their users as a clear absence of business culture and principles. But is the recent removal of Alex Jones and Infowars from a few of these sites a sign of an internal crisis of conscience? This journalism student and community pro sure hopes so.

Patrick and Jay also talk about:

  • Why audience engagement managers are in such high demand
  • The role that media organizations and journalists play in protecting journalism and the democracy
  • The benefits that a membership model could bring to journalism

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No Room for Holocaust Deniers

As community professionals, it’s our duty to create inclusive spaces for our community members. This means setting the stage for them and making sure that they have everything they need to be successful within the community, and in some cases, protecting them from hate-driven vitriol.

And while many of us have created clear guidelines explaining that hate speech and violence are not permitted in our communities, platforms like Facebook and Reddit have had a harder time defending their users from hate speech. After hearing Mark Zuckerberg’s explanation for allowing Holocaust deniers on Facebook, AskHistorians moderator Andrés Pertierra explained in a now viral tweet that Holocaust deniers post decontextualized information or flat-out lies with the goal of undermining people’s belief in the Holocaust with the hope of ultimately radicalize them.

In his discussion with Patrick, Andrés brings up an ultimate truth – that when we moderate against Holocaust deniers or others posting hate speech, we’re showing our communities that we care about protecting them and that we care about the integrity of the space that we have created with them.

Patrick and Andrés also discuss:

  • How Andrés and other moderators can tell if someone is posing questions in good faith
  • The community guidelines that AskHistorians uses to keep hateful posts at bay
  • Why moderation makes sense from a business perspective

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The Value of Developer Relations

Every community professional has had the challenge of explaining their role and job duties to others within their organization. For many of us, that means always being prepared with qualitative and quantitative anecdotes that ladder up to our company’s mission and goals. In this episode of Community Signal, Mary Thengvall explains the importance of tailoring the message of what we do to the person we’re speaking with, whether it’s our boss, the CEO, or CFO.

If you’re in need of tips or new inspiration on how to prove the value of your work to your organization (and yourself!), Patrick and Mary provide an important reminder that you are your own best advocate and that means taking initiative to know and explain your team’s contributions.

Mary shares the story of her job path through community, and how a one-year experiment at O’Reilly Media led to a career in developer relations.

Patrick and Mary also discuss:

  • Mary’s thinking around “time-to-value”
  • The worst public firing in community history
  • The different causes of burnout for community professionals

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Higher Education’s Troll Hunter

Great teachers always seem to have command over their classroom, but what happens if your classroom meets online and has thousands of students? Even the greatest teachers in these situations might need the help of a troll hunter like Tanja de Bie.

While Tanja dubs herself a troll hunter, she’s also a mediator and a teacher in her own right. She recognizes that in higher education communities, it’s often the responsibility of the moderator to teach students how to put their emotions aside and have civil, fact-based discourse. Easier said than done, right? As Tanja would say, grab a cup of tea and hear out her moderation techniques.

At this point, you might be wondering how Tanja became such a prolific master of trolls. If you’re a gamer or writer, you’ll find yourself nodding along as she discusses the friendships and moderation skills that she forged in RPG communities. I personally love how she discusses RPG forum guidelines as a rubric to encourage positive behavior, not as rules that dissuade negative behavior. Later in the episode, she discusses how negativity can silently destroy communities, which is a great reminder for those of us writing community guidelines and doing the moderation, as well.

Patrick and Tanja also discuss:

  • The storytelling, meaningful conversations, and friendships found in RPG communities
  • Demanding higher quality participation from your community
  • The science behind fight or flight reactions

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