Sarah Judd Welch heads Loyal, a community agency that helps brands develop and leverage their communities online. But that doesn’t mean that every company she talks to gets pushed off the community cliff. Plus:
- Why the ROI of community doesn’t actually matter
- Metrics to measure community quality
- The viability of Slack as a community platform
“Imagine Etsy as a platform. Etsy has a very robust community of sellers, but the more and more that community develops, the more that community is not really dependent on Etsy and embodies it’s own self. It’s almost its own entity. In that capacity, it’s not Etsy’s community … the community is using Etsy. The more that these communities develop online, the more powerful they are going to be. The brands become smaller players in them.” -@sjw
“Brands need to play nice with community, and invest in it, because they’re going to have to play in that space in the next five years, in the future and going forward, whether they like it or not. If they are not a community-oriented company, if they are not empowering people, they’re not going to win.” -@sjw
“If you are building a community from scratch, it’s kind of pointless to benchmark yourself against other communities, because every community is so different.” -@sjw
“We worked with a brand last year that hired Loyal to write the brief on what it would be like for them to create a community to increase sales leads. They wanted that kind of plan, like, ‘What do we do when? How much should we invest? What should we expect?’ And it was such a challenging project because using community to increase your sales leads, as a goal in and of itself, is not a great reason. The metrics associated with that are just so nebulous. It’s like asking an existential question. And I think, through that project, we successfully convinced them that they were not ready to undertake that investment. I considered that to be a huge win.” -@sjw
“What value is your community to you, if you’re not leveraging them to learn and to better yourself?” -@sjw
“Slack is literally a large chat room with thousands of people in it. That is super, super hard for cultivating real relationships. I think it will be much more interesting to see ways to slow down that communication. Maybe Slack will end up doing that themselves. Just in its current form, I can’t imagine that communities larger than a couple hundred people will thrive on Slack long-term.” -@sjw
“[When I was growing up,] I remember chat rooms being a lot more intimate [than Slack]. At least if you’re hanging out in that chat room during that hour or even five hours, because what else were we doing when we were 10 years old, those same people are hanging out in the chat room for that period of time. That creates a condensed, segmented experience where you’re actually able to have real conversations with people. But the thing is, with Slack, the inherent nature of Slack is that you are at your desk working, so you’re not paying attention.” -@sjw
About Sarah Judd Welch
Sarah Judd Welch is the CEO and head of community design of Loyal, a community agency, and has worked with the likes of General Electric, National Geographic, NYU, AARP and more. Prior to Loyal, Sarah worked on community with TaskRabbit, Contently, Kik and Catchafire, and in former lives, for Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs. She believes that community is the future of society and economy on the internet.
In order of appearance:
- The Big Short
- Why the ROI of Community Doesn’t Actually Matter by Sarah
- Branding in the Age of Social Media by Douglas Holt
- Hollywood is Getting Stealthier at Advertising With Mobile Messaging Apps by Lauren Johnson, covering Whisper’s use of community insights in ads
- March 30, 2016 issue of Community.is, Sarah’s newsletter
- Is Group Chat Making You Sweat? by Jason Fried
- How I Hacked Slack Into a Community Platform with Typeform
- Loyal, Sarah’s company
- Community.is, Sarah’s newsletter for anyone who puts people at the center of their work
- Sarah on Twitter
00:04: Welcome to Community Signal the pod cast for online community professionals. Here’s your host Patrick O’Keefe.
00:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. Our guest today is Sarah Judd Welch, who is the CEO and head of community design of Loyal, a community agency, and has worked with the likes of General Electric, National Geographic, NYU, AARP and more. Prior to Loyal, Sarah worked on community with TaskRabbit, Contently, Kik and Catchafire, and in former lives for Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs. She believes that community is the future of society and economy on the internet. Sarah, welcome to the program.
00:45 Sarah Judd Welch: Thank you for having me Patrick. I’m excited to be here.
00:49 Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you. It’s good to have you on. I’ve been following your work for couple of years now and I’m definitely a fan of it.
00:53 Sarah Judd Welch: Likewise.
00:54 Patrick O’Keefe: So thanks for coming on.
00:55 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah, thank you.
00:55 Patrick O’Keefe: I appreciate that. Let’s talk about your former lives. One of them is politics. You volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and won a local party seat in Manhattan when you were 21. It sounds like you were on the Leslie Knope track, but then also the other former life is with Goldman Sachs and finance. So talk about that Genesis how, why you got into politics and then what led you to go into finance and how that influences your community perspective.
01:18 Sarah Judd Welch: Sure. Well I actually interned on Hillary Clinton’s Senate ’06 campaign and ran one of their phone banking offices, which is an office of volunteers that literally calls people up on the phone and talks about Hillary Clinton and convinces them to go to the polls and vote for her, which is a very interesting experience when your talking about managing a community of volunteers. I became really interested in politics because growing up in San Jose, which is an incredibly liberal community in the Bay Area, politics was something that was always at top of minds particularly at my family’s dinner table, where we always talked about like labor unions ’cause I actually have two family members who work for labor unions, and teachers unions, and social issues which was just like a normal topic of conversation in the Bay Area at the time and that’s like where my passion for politics and economic development came from.
02:07 Sarah Judd Welch: Growing up, my dream job when I was 16, I thought I was gonna run a non-profit that offered local community services; that was like my dream job. And I got into politics ’cause I realized that many non-profits that offer services don’t actually solve problems, they just simply address the problems and I wanted to solve problems. So when I went into politics I really thought I was gonna focus on economic and social issues, but I found that it was just really hard to get things done. So I actually really loved working on Hillary’s campaign. It was super inspiring and obviously she’s running for president right now which is super exciting. I think where I started to get really burnt out on politics, was one, actually running for that local city seat and winning it and realizing that I had zero power in it and that it was really a fluff seat that had a name on it, but actually no leverage. No one was interested in talking to me. It was a pointless seat, and actually running for it was really silly. Honestly the hardest thing for running for a local seat in Manhattan, is just getting on the ballot and staying on the ballot. Getting elected is actually not that hard because no one actually participates in those elections.
03:15 Sarah Judd Welch: But it was just a very dis-empowering experience and it made me realize that, one it was very hard to get things done in politics and everything is very slow, but two I also started to find out how much my peers were making as they were graduating college and getting into these… For example, my best friend worked as a congressional aide in Congresswoman Maloney’s office in Manhattan and I found out how much money people were making and I was like, “Oh my God, there’s no way I can possibly afford to work in this job ’cause I’m graduating from NYU with a lot of debt.”
03:42 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
03:42 Sarah Judd Welch: So it just seems like an impossible opportunity, something that just was not viable for me but also was very quickly losing my interest and I wondered if there’s way that I could be more impactful and still have that same outcome of making people’s lives better and happier, but through the private sector in the market. And that’s what brought me to Goldman actually. So when I first went to NYU’s career center, when I was a senior in college, and I was like, “Hey, I worked at Hillary Clinton’s senate ’06 campaign, I hold this local seat in Manhattan, I’ve had all these really amazing internship opportunities, but I don’t want to work in politics anymore, I have no idea what to do” and they’re like, “Oh well, Goldman Sachs is on campus next week, you should go chat with them” and I was like, “What’s Goldman Sachs?” I had no idea what Goldman was or what an investment bank was or anything even though I had taken a lot of econ classes in school. So I went to Gallatin at NYU, which is the school of interdisciplinary study, and I studied capitalism and inequality which is the complete opposite thing of Goldman Sachs.
04:42 Patrick O’Keefe: But if you need a job to pay back that student debt…
04:45 Sarah Judd Welch: Right.
04:46 Patrick O’Keefe: Not a bad opportunity to go work in bank debt, at Goldman Sachs.
04:49 Sarah Judd Welch: Totally. That’s right. I actually did work with bank debt, which is pretty funny.
04:51 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
04:52 Sarah Judd Welch: So when you’re studying capitalism and inequality at Gallatin it’s a lot of systems that gain. So, why does this system exist? How does this system interact in the world? How do people behave within this system? That was actually a really interesting preparation for working at Goldman because Goldman is a major market player and they create and move entire markets almost independently. And so it was a fascinating experience being inside Goldman, particularly during, from 2008 to 2010 during the financial crisis it was a very stressful time to work on Wall Street, but definitely fascinating. And you could really see how these systems impacted the market. Like if you go see the movie…
05:34 Patrick O’Keefe: The Big Short?
05:35 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah. Big Short. Big Short does a really great job of explaining how the financial crisis and the mortgage crisis is all systemic and how is all interrelated and those are where the things that just really, I don’t want to say the word inspired, ’cause inspired is like saying it’s a really weird thing like, “Oh, I was inspired by the financial crisis”, ’cause that just sounds really awful and evil.
05:54 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
05:55 Sarah Judd Welch: But it was just truly a fascinating experience, that philosophically was very interesting to me. And it was very aligned with my studies in capitalism and inequality at Gallatin, and just really understanding how systems and economies and societies are created and what are the difference incentives for behavior within that, which is also very relevant for communities. So, when I left Goldman I knew that I wanted to work for myself but I didn’t really know how. So, I went to my one friend from Gallatin who had started companies and I basically shadowed him for six months and he was working on a marketplace platform which never took off but it helped me integrate and find my way to the tech community in New York City and that’s how I ended up working for Catchafire and then TaskRabbit, both of which were community platforms.
06:41 Sarah Judd Welch: And community was something that is so integral and relevant for politics. It was such a natural fit for me and it was a dynamic and a role that just naturally aligned with the things that I was interested in and good at. So, actually both at TaskRabbit and Catchafire, I was in biz dev in sales roles which is I would say most companies like those are not really relevant to community but for the stages at which Catchafire and TaskRabbit are both at when I joined was incredibly relevant. So at Catchafire, I was hired at the point in time when we were changing our revenue model and actually starting to sell things for the first time. So, Catchafire, if you’re not familiar with, it’s a platform that connects professionals who wanna give their skills to non-profits who need their help and it was a membership based model at the time which meant that we are selling in a membership to non-profits and in exchange they’re receiving access to our community of talents who are working on pro-bono projects for them.
07:30 Sarah Judd Welch: So for example, if you needed a website design we can connect you with the designer who would do a pro-bono project. When I joined we didn’t really know what we were selling, we had a very underdeveloped, very small product team at the time, and pretty much whatever we sold was what Catchafire was, like it was the product, and it was what’s the community manager would have to manage on an ongoing basis and manage expectations around. Every time we messed up on the sales team, I had to see that very intimately play out, because I sat right next to our community manager and I heard many of those conversations, like the awful phone calls of people yelling at us because we didn’t exactly manage expectations properly or we didn’t do something well. So, that really gave me an intimate desire to provide products and services that are extremely high quality and that meet people’s needs, and that provide them with an incredible experience.
08:24 Patrick O’Keefe: You wrote one of my favorite community articles of 2014. Why the ROI of Community Doesn’t Actually Matter, for The Next web. Even in 2016, that headline would likely make a few brains explode in the community space. Briefly walk us through the argument you made and why you chose to make it?
08:40 Sarah Judd Welch: Sure. So back in 2014, the community space was certainly less developed than it is today. Every year it’s like it progresses a little bit more, and even back then I felt like we were grappling with really, really basic questions. Like I was constantly being asked by people, “Why would brands or startups invest in this at all. It doesn’t drive revenue. It’s wasteful. We could hire an engineer, we could do advertising.” And it was just like, “Stop asking this question, it’s been answered so many times. There are so many case studies that show that ROI of community.” And ask bigger questions like, “What is the impact you could have in the world?” “Why wouldn’t you want more connected people who can advocate on your behalf, who can solve humongous problems together?” And honestly I just got tired of answering the question and that’s why I wrote the article. I actually do believe in the ROI of Community, is incredibly important and it’s super, super important when you are investing in community that you are tracking that. It can take a really long time for the ROI of community to even be apparent or to pay off at all, though it does move revenue. There are so many stats and figures that I’m not gonna even bother to reiterate here, that show the ROI of community. And that article was really about thinking bigger beyond community, beyond community within a company.
09:57 Sarah Judd Welch: So, imagine Etsy as a platform. Etsy has a very robust community of sellers, but the more and more that community develops, the more that that community is one and not really dependent on Etsy but two, embodies it’s own self, it’s almost its own entity. And in that capacity it’s not Etsy’s community, it’s like community’s Etsy, the community is using Etsy. And the more that these communities develop online the more powerful that they are gonna be and the brands become smaller players in them. Many brands right now are going about to invest in community. We saw South by that community was one of the major buzzwords, which is a conversation all into its own.
10:40 Patrick O’Keefe: I was talking about community at South by in ’08, so, it’s a buzzword in 2015, awesome! Continue.
10:47 Sarah Judd Welch: Well, I just think these brands that are just thinking about community for the first time. In a couple of years this is gonna be a speck in the dust, it’s gonna be such a small thing, it’s gonna be like, “Oh, mobile strategy or digital strategy.” And community is gonna be one of those things and brands are just playing in that ecosystem. So, at the end of the day, brands need to play nice with community and invest in it because they’re going to have to play in that space in the next five years, in the future, and going forward whether they like it or not. And if they are not a community oriented company, if they are not empowering people, they’re not gonna win.
11:18 Patrick O’Keefe: And we’ve seen the idea of the community using Etsy versus Etsy being the community. We’ve seen that happen in the case of many niche focused communities over the years where many communities start based upon the ashes of another community, of another space. For any number of reasons, they could’ve closed, they could’ve ended, there could’ve been management changes or changes in policy that either a small group or a substantial group of people in that community no longer want or appreciate so they start their own thing or find a new thing. I think people who manage communities with any sort of standards and obviously have to block certain people or ban people. They create new communities that way.
11:57 Sarah Judd Welch: They do.
11:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Because I’ve created 10 communities just from banning people from KarateForums.com. Like they went and they’ve started these communities of, they don’t wanna be me. And that’s the diversity of the internet is that, we have different flavours of community, different kind of codes of conduct, different guidelines and each community is its own society, its own culture. So the tone, the policies, the way it works, it will attract different people. So if Etsy does something that a substantial portion of that community doesn’t like, doesn’t appreciate, doesn’t want, then those people will go find a new space to sell their wares. And I’m sure that’s already happened, just in more smaller, iterative cases. Small things happen, someone gets mad, maybe someone doesn’t like something, so there’s other people, probably when you get to that scale, when you get to that size, there’s other people who have bad experiences and those people get together and they go somewhere else. So we see that.
12:48 Sarah Judd Welch: Right. Also you if you are a new brand in a pre-existing space where there’s already a strong ecosystem whether it’s particularly well organized or not, you need to operate within that ecosystem, and the stronger these communities come, the more independent they are, and the more the brands have to cater to the community rather than vice versa.
13:05 Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s go back to metrics, before the show you told me that at Loyal, metrics are always something that is discussed at the beginning of every project and defined according to business goals. How do you approach that conversation?
13:17 Sarah Judd Welch: That’s an interesting one. The conversations definitively are very different from client to client. For example, if you are building a community from scratch, it’s kind of pointless to benchmark yourself against other communities ’cause every community is so different. So often times you’re starting out in a exploratory mode where you’re like, “This is what we expect to see, but we may or may not hit it.” So it’s a lot of expectation management around metrics. And then again with other projects sometimes the metrics are almost irrelevant. For example, we worked on a project last fall, in which we were building out an ambassador and beta tester program for an iOS app that was launching. In that project, the metrics didn’t really matter at that specific point in time around launch, or prior to launch, I should say. It was more about the volume of people who are beta testing and creating and seeding content on the app, and then of course the quality in that, because just putting spammers into an app is not helpful for anybody.
14:18 Sarah Judd Welch: But then is like how do you measure quality? That’s a very difficult thing to put into numbers. But then eventually as you start to see how the metrics play out, you can look back and see patterns in the data about what quality means. So with this specific app, in which people were creating pieces of video content in an app, we decided that quality was the measure of ‘likes per views’. So it was more an engagement metric. Are people engaging with this content? If yes, then it doesn’t really matter how much is promoted or not promoted, or if it was organically found, if the number of people who liked the piece of content over views, if we’re relatively high then it must be of quality. Quality is definitely in the eye of the beholder but there are ways you can measure it. And then certainly in other projects there are extremely tangible metrics. For example they want to see an increase in sales or they want to see a percentage increase in retention and so on. And those are things that we really like to know upfront. So oftentimes our clients have much broader goals that are a little bit softer, I would say.
15:20 Patrick O’Keefe: I really like the topic of the quality measurement and just the idea of measuring quality, because I think like you said, there’s different ways to go at it, engaging with that content in a way that isn’t necessarily spoken like a reply, you mentioned likes, there’s micro actions, there’s things like time on the page, and the amount of time people spend. What they maybe… What they do after they see that content, like what’s the next path on your site. And there’s all these different kind of interesting metrics that come into play when you think about quality.
15:48 Sarah Judd Welch: Right, and it’s so different from every community, and I think it’s a lot easier to do when it’s something that’s a little bit more content oriented. For example, if you’re looking at content contributions or engagement with content, you can look at time spent, or the bounce rate, or anything along those lines. But when you’re talking about something that’s an action taken, like if you were Postmates, like the number of requests made, that’s a very challenging thing to measure when it comes to community. And that’s something that we discuss with our clients upfront, both so that they can understand their expectations, manage their expectations around it, but also make sure they we’re paying attention to the right things. I remember one time in a job, way back before Loyal, I was told that we wanna see X number of actions on the platform. And we would hit that metric and the CEO would never be happy with it, and it took a really long time to understand why, that it wasn’t really about the number of actions, but the number of a specific type of actions, not like it wasn’t being revealed to us. Oftentimes you have to dig in deeper and ask questions about what is the actual goal here and what moves the needle business wise.
16:54 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah I once spoke to someone who was like, “We want people that read.” Okay, so what if we don’t read like long content? How are we going to make sure they read that content? I guess make sure it actually flashed across the screen, if they scrolled down. Can you measure where they’re looking, those sorts of things, the time? What’s the minimum amount of time it takes to read this number of words? And are they matching that time spent on the page. ROI is a topic that I know about, probably not as much as you, but I know a little bit about it and I like that topic and it’s fun and it’s essential as you said, but I don’t know, I just find it so much more engaging to think about the quality of the community, and what that means. So it’s fun to hear metrics that… Speak to that.
17:33 Sarah Judd Welch: Quality is such an interesting thing.
17:36 Patrick O’Keefe: One of the things you said that I really liked was that, when you are launching a community it doesn’t make sense to benchmark it against other communities. And it’s funny because that’s one of the questions that I think pops up a lot, is, what should we expect in six months or how long will it take to get critical mass? Or how long will it take to get to 500,000 contributions or 10,000 members, or whatever it may be? And it’s always… How long should we wait? How long do we need to put into this before people stick around. I mean, those questions, understandable, not a question that really you can give a super-great precise answer to. I always like to tell people, if you’re not willing to invest at least six, 12, 18 months into this, do something else. Go do something else a little more marketing related or something. Don’t worry so much about community.
18:20 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah. We worked with a brand last year that hired Loyal to write the brief on what it would be like for them to create a community to increase sales leads. They wanted that kind of plan, like, “What do we do when? How much should we invest? What should we expect?” And it was such a challenging project because: One, using community to increase your sales leads, as a goal in and of itself, is not a great reason. But two, the metrics associated with that are just so nebulous. It’s like asking an existential question. And I think, through that project we successfully convinced them that they were not ready to undertake that investment. And actually I considered that to be a huge win.
19:00 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s good, because, you know, consultancies take money all the time and give people nonsense. I mean, that happens, that’s a reality of business.
19:04 Sarah Judd Welch: I’m a fan of telling people not to do things they shouldn’t do. Even if that’s not necessarily a good financial outcome for Loyal’s pockets. I would rather have a company be successful in whatever they do decide to pursue than for me to sell them in on things that they don’t need or don’t believe in, or that are not gonna perform. Like how terrible would it be for me to sell a company on, like, a mobile strategy, having never built a mobile app, and then it totally fails and they’re like, “Oh my God, mobile sucks. We’re never gonna build anything on mobile again.” That’s such a terrible line of thinking, but that probably happens with community. And I would hate for a brand to not believe in community as an effective tactic for them, if it’s not something that is well suited for them, or that they’re not able to execute on well.
19:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, see, that’s the problem with being a decent person, right?
19:51 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s so much harder. Yeah.
19:53 Sarah Judd Welch: No, this is just basic client service ethics. I don’t think all agencies operate this way, but it’s something that I really try to do with all of our clients.
20:02 Patrick O’Keefe: I read an article you shared on Twitter by Douglas Holt, titled Branding in the Age of Social Media. He talks about how social media had this great promise of customer interaction where, “If you told them great stories and connected with them in real-time, your brand would become a hub for a community of customers.” And yet he continues, “Few brands have generated meaningful consumer interest online.” Celebrities and internet first personalities, like PewDiePie, have a much easier time than generic household brands. Holt talks about crowdculture, the way that digital crowds innovate on culture, and how brands can tap into this. He points to how Chipotle spoke to the rising tide of processed food criticism, and how Dove embraced the body positive movement.
20:43 Patrick O’Keefe: When I read this and think about it in a community context, what comes to mind is how powerful it is to observe, if not participate, in communities that you have no control over. I love programs that put people in third-party communities, not just on general social media platforms, because it gets them out of their heads, so to speak. It gets them out of their own spaces, their mentions, helps them identify the trends that the people they want to reach actually care about. What’s your take on that?
21:09 Sarah Judd Welch: I think it’s very important for all brands to pay attention to communities that are beyond their specific scope of customers, and their existing fans or followers online. Certainly it’s important to pay attention to the insights that are happening within your own community, so for example, what Whisper has done in creating advertisements out of their user insights. Or what I worked on with AARP last year, where we took their insights and used that to create community driven ads, materials that highlighted the benefits of marketing to baby-boomers, which is actually apparently an incredibly profitable thing to do. But beyond that, you should be looking to what’s going on outside of your community. One, to interact and play with people outside of your space, but to be also a little bit more human. You know, if you are, for example, a party thrower, you don’t just go to your own parties, you should be going to other people’s parties too. You should be supporting generally the ecosystem.
22:04 Patrick O’Keefe: Hopefully get invited.
22:05 Sarah Judd Welch: And that shows you where you fit into your space. How do you define yourself except for in relation to others.
22:13 Patrick O’Keefe: So talk about what Whisper is doing, because you just highlighted this in today’s Community.is newsletter. So how are they using community insights with their advertisements?
22:22 Sarah Judd Welch: From my understanding what they’re doing is checking out what the current trends and memes are in their community, and then using those sentiments to create advertisements. So for example, I believe the example used in the article I shared was for a Disney movie. And they used common language that was frequent within their community, basically crafted an “advertisement,” an advertisement in like what can appear in a UGC app, that was natural language to their users and that built upon themes that were interesting to them. So the movie was something to do with dinosaurs, I think. The advertisement had to do with going on an adventure, and asking users what their upcoming adventures are. So doing something like that, where you’re using your community to draw out insights, either using qualitative information of actual data and analytics, is a really powerful way to leverage your platform for revenue.
23:22 Patrick O’Keefe: When you talk about using the data and talking in the natural language of the community, I just thought of this episode of 30 Rock, with Steve Buscemi, who goes dressed to a high school as a high school kid student. And of course he looks… I don’t know his age, but obviously he has an older look anyway. And he says, “How do you do, fellow kids?”
23:40 Sarah Judd Welch: How do you do, fellow kids?
23:42 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, he’s trying to fit in, like…
23:44 Sarah Judd Welch: But he really doesn’t.
23:46 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s like 21 Jump Street pretending to be a cop at a high school, like “Where’s the weed?” type of thing. I dunno.
23:55 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah. Well I guess the point is that you should always be learning from your community. Like what value is your community to you if you’re not leveraging them to learn and to better yourself?
24:05 Patrick O’Keefe: Right, well said. Last month on Twitter you shared an article by Jason Fried about group chat.
24:10 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
24:11 Patrick O’Keefe: And how it is being over used by businesses to the detriment of their people. In doing so, you remarked that you were “not optimistic about Slack as a platform for communities of size.” We have seen a lot of people really excited about Slack, really excited about Slack. Maybe not so much recently, but certainly it was a very much buzzed about kind of platform for engagement and people have been pushing it as a community platform. Why would you caution against that?
24:38 Sarah Judd Welch: Slack is very noisy, let’s be honest. It definitely does increase the number of emails but as far as an ongoing communication tool, even among teams can be challenging. I can hardly even keep up with Loyal Slack channel which is relatively tiny compared to many other companies. As far as how it operates it’s mass communities, it’s basically a super large chat room that moves at lightning speed and most people are not even “hanging out” in that chat room. They’re checking in for a specific purpose, it becomes a little bit transactional, and it’s very challenging to digest the actual conversations. There’s no threads in Slack. As how there are on a forum or even in a Facebook group, Slack is literally a large chat room with thousands of people in it. That is super, super hard for cultivating real relationships. I think it will be much more interesting to see ways to slow down that communication. Maybe Slack will end up doing that themselves, I’ve no idea. Just in its current form I can’t imagine that communities larger then a couple hundred people will thrive on Slack long term.
25:46 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, there’s lots of different issues that come up with when you are choosing a community platform.
25:50 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
25:50 Patrick O’Keefe: When you look at something like Slack, if we get outside sort of the group chat use, business communication use, which some people have been really against which is kind of the point of Fried’s article is that it’s a tool that’s supposed to be making people more productive. It’s actually making them less productive.
26:04 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
26:05 Patrick O’Keefe: But when you think about community building, to me it seems, I don’t know, at best as a short term thing or a very small thing. Like you said, communities of size because when I think community, I think about things like data portability. I think about how can I get these this member data…
26:20 Sarah Judd Welch: Right.
26:20 Patrick O’Keefe: From point A to point B. That’s the thing I always, I don’t know, it’s one of the first things I think about and maybe to my own detriment. But anytime I get pitched on a platform from a vendor, which happens I don’t know, four, five, six, seven times a year.
26:32 Patrick O’Keefe: The first question I always ask them is how can I leave you? What do you give me as far as tools to export the data? What’s the format? Because that kind informs the whole process. If you’re on the high end enterprise scale sure, you have to have dev resources, you can pay people to take data, even scrape data I guess is the worst case scenario, and make that into whatever format database you need. But a lot of people, small to mid-size communities it’s not something that they really should be doing. It’s nothing that they should be spending their money on.
27:01 Sarah Judd Welch: Right.
27:02 Patrick O’Keefe: So it’s more of a concern for them. But even any kind of community building always… How do you get your data from here to there?
27:07 Sarah Judd Welch: That’s a good point.
27:09 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s just not there with Slack right now, not to say they can’t provide it.
27:11 Sarah Judd Welch: Well they do send me the weekly emails with metrics but…
27:15 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah.
27:15 Sarah Judd Welch: I don’t believe there’s a way to export that information and it’s also rather vague.
27:19 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. I mean user accounts, email addresses, messages associated with their accounts, things like that. I don’t know… you don’t really leave Slack. And that’s a deal breaker for some I think, and it’s a deal breaker for communities of size.
27:31 Sarah Judd Welch: Right. I think the other challenge is also that it doesn’t fit within many people’s natural user experience in their day-to-day work. Slack is highly optimized for people like us who work in tech and are on online all day. We worked with a venture capital firm last year to overhaul their community platform. And initially they tried out their community on Slack though they’ve a very non typical user demographic for most VC portfolios. It’s a little bit older, they’re less tech savvy believe it or not. Many of the people in their portfolio were using PC’s and Blackberries. They’re using PC’s and Blackberries and many of them that we spoke to had never even heard of Slack. So when this VC portfolio platform, they invited their portfolio to Slack, no one joined.
28:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, so that’s not very good community then.
28:19 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
28:21 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I mean that’s a problem. And I mean it’s, I want to say even for me, and you can give me credit for being tech savvy.
28:27 Patrick O’Keefe: Which I appreciate. But even in my case I’ve only been a part of one Slack group and the group was for an event. It was a two-day event at a cabin in the woods, 20 people, small event. They said, “Let’s create a Slack channel to kind of talk about what we’re bringing and what’s going on with that.” And it was active for a month, the month before the event people and then it’s over.
28:48 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
28:48 Patrick O’Keefe: And it seemed it was really good use case for that because no one cares about that data necessarily.
28:53 Sarah Judd Welch: Right.
28:53 Patrick O’Keefe: And then we had it, we chatted, it was good, and it’s over.
28:56 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah.
28:57 Patrick O’Keefe: And that’s how I kind of… It’s tough to see something being long-term like that.
29:01 Sarah Judd Welch: Right, I have been in some Slack communities that are temporary like that, that have been really awesome. Like courts use Slack for their conference which is really interesting because people could live chat during the presentations, which was totally awesome and a very different experience than live tweeting in events. I’ve also seen some companies host Slackoffs which are literally like AMA style type of Slack hangouts. I think that’s a really interesting use case. But again it, one, depends on the user demographic but two, the organization around it needs some tightening. Like maybe it does make sense for these time bound, short term things, where you’re not as concerned about transferring data or maintaining long term relationships. Though for long term, ongoing communities, I cannot even join them, they’re just way too noisy, they’re not valuable, they’re transactional.
29:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and it’s funny because when people were talking about community on Slack, and it being a platform, they would say how they needed to use Typeform to get people to join in, to register, like a register flow to join a specific group isn’t there.
30:11 Sarah Judd Welch: The user experience to go from group to group can be very hard.
30:15 Patrick O’Keefe: So I mean that’s sort of a non-starter right?
30:16 Sarah Judd Welch: I think that’s something that Slack is working on but it really is something that I think is detrimental to Slack’s growth and I’m sure it’s something that they’ll fix soon.
30:25 Patrick O’Keefe: It feels like we’ve seen this picture before. Chat rooms have existed for a long time and Slack, is like you said, essentially a richer chat room but it still has the same downsides of a chat room versus some sort of thread of conversation, like a forum. How quickly information disappears, the pressure to be there all the time, the lack of context. I participated in Yahoo! chat rooms, I think you’re a little younger than me, I’m not that much older than you, but I participated in Yaho! chat rooms and that feels like familiar territory.
30:54 Sarah Judd Welch: Using chat rooms all the time growing up.
31:00 Patrick O’Keefe: It just feels like a place we’ve been before.
31:01 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah, I think you’re right. I remember the chat rooms being a lot more intimate, though. At least like if you’re hanging out in that chat room during that hour or even five hours ’cause what else were we doing when we were 10 years old. Those same people are hanging out in the chat room for that period of time and that creates a condensed segmented experience where you’re actually able to have real conversations with people. But the thing is, with Slack, the inherent nature of Slack is that you are at your desk working, so you’re not paying attention.
31:32 Patrick O’Keefe: Attention is a valuable thing for community.
31:32 Sarah Judd Welch: Yeah, definitely. That’s an understatement.
31:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Sarah, thank you for coming on the show.
31:37 Sarah Judd Welch: Thank you so much for having me, Patrick. This was a lot of fun.
31:39 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Sarah Judd Welch, CEO and head of community design at Loyal, at loyal.is. Sarah publishes a weekly newsletter for anyone who puts people at the center of their work. You can subscribe to it at Community.is. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sjw. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. You can contact me via the website and find me on Twitter @patrickokeefe. Community signal is produced by Karn Broad and we’ll be back next week.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.