After 10 years in community, with stints at Cisco and Intuit, Rachel Medanic is “passionate about awe.” What does that mean? And how do you encourage awe in your community? Plus:
- Building a community vs. building an audience
- Enterprise social networks and how small efforts by a community manager can lead to big gains
- Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Jigsaw’s introduction of Perspective, a tool aimed at improving online conversation
“Are your people, that are engaged and following you, talking to and having relationships and building trust with each other? Are they doing that? If they’re not doing that, it’s probably an audience, not a community.” -@vampituity
“I think that the community manager’s role is not to be the star of the show, but to find and nurture the upcoming stars of the show.” -@vampituity
About Rachel Medanic
Rachel Medanic is a seasoned community professional and content marketing enthusiast. In her consulting business, Communituity, Rachel works with companies who want to embrace the community. She has spent the last 10 years building community, developing content and growing social media audiences for technology startups and Fortune 500 companies. Before that, Rachel was a marketer for startup companies and non-profits. She has always worked closely with customers to amplify their voices.
Currently, Rachel is working with Talk Social to Me as a consultant, spreading the gospel of employee communities. She has always loved the arts, animals and nature. Rachel has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 21 years, 17 of which have been in Oakland, California.
- Community Signal on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices
- Rachel on Twitter
- Communituity, Rachel’s consultancy
- Talk Social to Me, where Rachel works as a consultant
- Trump, Clinton and Online Communities by Jena McCormick at The Huffington Post, which Rachel described as “post-election insight on impassioned audiences, not community”
- Workplace by Facebook, an internal version of Facebook for companies, introduced last October
- Greater Good Science Center, which studies the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being
- The Science of Happiness, a free online course offered by the Greater Good Science Center
- Joe Anzalone, Patrick’s Facebook friend that loves the “wow” reaction
- Now Anyone Can Deploy Google’s Troll-Fighting AI by Andy Greenberg at Wired
- Perspective, an API from Alphabet Inc.’s Jigsaw “that makes it easier to host better conversations”
- Plume, the “world’s first adaptive WiFi”
- Communituity on Facebook
- Communituity on Twitter
- The Playlist: Songs of Community Managers by Rachel
- Sounds of the Women’s March on Washington D.C. by Rachel, a playlist of songs inspired by the Women’s March on Washington D.C.
00:03: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:19 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for joining me for this episode of Community Signal. You can now listen to the show on your Amazon Alexa-enabled device. Simply say, “Alexa, play Community Signal on TuneIn.”
00:33 Alexa: Heading to latest episode of Community Signal. Here it is from TuneIn.
00:42: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using…
00:50 Patrick O’Keefe: And that’s how it works. So, if you do that, you’ll get the latest episode on any Amazon Alexa-enabled device. This week, we’re talking with Rachel Medanic about enterprise social networks, being passionate about awe, and a new tool from Google aimed at raising the bar of conversation on the internet. Rachel is a seasoned community professional and content marking enthusiast in her consulting business, Communituity. She works with companies who want to embrace the community. Rachel has spent the last ten years building community, developing content, and growing social media audiences for technology startups and Fortune 500 companies. Previously, she was a marketer for startups and nonprofits. Rachel has always worked closely with customers to amplify their voices. Currently, she is working with Talk Social To Me as a consultant, spreading the gospel of employee communities. Rachel has always loved the arts, animals, and nature. She has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 21 years, 17 of which have been in Oakland, California. Rachel, welcome.
01:49 Rachel Medanic: Thank you, Patrick. Great to be here.
01:52 Patrick O’Keefe: That Bay Area, you’ve been there 20 years—and I was thinking about this before the show—a lot of community jobs are obviously out there. I like to say half. [Laughs] I like to say half of all community jobs are out there. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe not! You know, the area has changed so much in 20 years because of the injection of technology companies and startups and a whole lot of companies that rely on community in one way or another. Has it improved? Do you like the area more or less than you did 20 years ago?
02:23 Rachel Medanic: Oh my gosh. That’s a question. So, one thing I have to say about 20 years ago is, when I moved here, I moved here because I fell in love with San Francisco and didn’t know anybody, didn’t have anybody here on this coast. I’m originally from Boston. And I just started working as a temp. So, I actually did the blue lines for RR Donnelly & Sons when E*TRADE was going public. Holy maloley. And was here through the rise and fall in the late ‘90s, and then what I call the dot chasm. There’s something just really magical to me about the area, and it doesn’t really matter the density. Certainly the density and the desirability of where we are is pretty tremendous at this point, but you know, whenever I travel and I come home, I’m like, yeah, need to stay here. So, yeah, I still love it, but it’s a hassle. You have to evolve lifestyles and remote working, which I’ve been doing for ten years, as well, to kind of cope with what we’ve got density-wise and the concentration of technology companies in Silicon Valley and that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I still love it, but it’s definitely challenging.
03:32 Patrick O’Keefe: In looking through a lot of the content that you have been sharing online recently, you have been consistently commenting on the difference between community and social and audience engagement. You told me that, quote, “communities built on social media platforms, in my opinion, aren’t communities; they are audience engagement platforms. One exception to this might be a Facebook group.” On Twitter, you recently linked one article titled Trump, Clinton, and Online Communities and said that it was, quote, “post-election insight on impassioned audience, not community.” What does that mean to you?
04:05 Rachel Medanic: So, to me… Here we are in politics, because politics is a community issue. We’ve gone through really different approaches to engaging audiences with this election cycle. We’ve created an “us versus them” and we’re perpetuating it in various ways. I’m trying to preach the gospel of unite, because I think the people who didn’t vote are disenfranchised, and I do think that what has happened politically is engaged audiences. Yes, people get together. So, to me, community is one thing. It’s if we’re all looking in one direction for a person and following them and supporting them, that’s a unidirectional thing. There’s no relationship back. Community is when I voted for x person, you voted for x person, and we’re having a relationship together, which really goes back to the fabric of our own bubbles and the people that we know anyway. But I think it’s unrealistic to say that I came together because I met someone via hashtag. I mean, it happens, right? It happens. I’ve made friends myself on Twitter. But Twitter in particular is not a community; it’s a platform, and it’s definitely in use. [Laughs]
05:12 Rachel Medanic: So, I think that’s the difference, is are your people that are engaged and following you talking to and having relationships and building trust with each other? Are they doing that? If they’re not doing that, it’s probably an audience, not a community. You can nurture an audience member from social into your community, but chances are very good that if you have, for example, an externally-facing customer community, there’s going to be another route that you have, a.k.a. their email and their contact information, by which you nurture them into your community. And I think that’s the difference. I’ve actually been sort of a champion and an influencer and I was not a customer, and I was very active in a company’s social things that they were doing for a while. And I’ll always follow them, because I like what they do, but I’m not their customer, and so I’m never going to be part of their community in a way one of their own customers is. And I know that, but I still like them.
06:09 Patrick O’Keefe: You’re never going to be a direct dollar, right?
06:11 Rachel Medanic: Correct. Correct.
06:12 Patrick O’Keefe: But it sounds like you very well could be an indirect dollar.
06:15 Rachel Medanic: Yep. Maybe. [Laughs]
06:17 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, and as an aside, audience engagement, like community, is a term that takes on different meanings. And you know, in the media, audience engagement pros often do work that I would call actual community, where they are responsible for facilitating community between their readers, not just between the publication and the readers. And if you’re listening and would like to learn more about those efforts, please check out past episodes with Bassey Etim of The New York Times, Greg Barber of the Washington Post, Mary Hamilton of The Guardian, and, very recently, Mick Côté of the Montreal Gazette.
06:50 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you say that social networks, communications platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etcetera, aren’t often community, sometimes are. But you’re doing a lot of work with enterprise social networks right now, especially through Talk Social To Me, and on their website, Talk Social To Me kind of interchangeably uses those terms “enterprise social network” and “community”. And you’re working a lot with Workplace by Facebook, which the company introduced in October, and it’s basically an internal version of Facebook that companies can use as their intranet, their product management and collaboration tool, their ESN, their own social network for their employees. Is community being built?
07:28 Rachel Medanic: I would think so, yes. I think the difference is that, with Workplace by Facebook, it’s a secure environment. It’s not a wiki. It’s not a Facebook group that the employees have kicked up because they want to collaborate and work together on something. It’s very, very different. I think what’s nice about it, what I find kind of shockingly wonderful, is the usability of it, for anyone that uses Facebook, is very, very high. And I think that’s where other platforms struggle, is, you know, do people know how to do this already. And that simplicity, that habit that’s already there for billions of people around the globe, that’s your hook. There you are. So, yeah, it’s very exciting to see and to watch, and people just get it.
08:13 Patrick O’Keefe: In the pre-show questionnaire, you said that you, quote, “help employee community managers learn how to identify and capitalize on critical points of an inflection where a small effort from the community manager from behind the scenes can really push the community to a positive growth and engagement tipping point”. Give me some examples of small efforts behind the scenes that push positive growth.
08:35 Rachel Medanic: Sure. So, like, a team will be working together on something. Maybe there’s an external event happening in their industry, and they’re all very engaged about it. Maybe it’s a good event, maybe it’s a bad event, and they’re talking together. I think that opportunity, seeing that buzz and that energy in the employee social network, the community manager is empowered. Well, we have an expert in this other business unit and the company that could come in and talk to them and educate them about the top of mind concerns the company for the industry issue. And so, it’s an opportunity to go behind the scenes, source that expert, and really bring that person in to help guide and educate and inspire them. If they’re already revved up about a topic, what better thing to do than to bring in an expert, especially from their own company, to really help guide how they deal with that issue and their work together in the climate.
09:31 Rachel Medanic: I would say the other thing is just really looking for the ways to recognize who a super contributor is. If someone is doing more than lurking, they’re doing more than a mid-level, which is commenting occasionally or up-voting or liking a post, if someone is actually sharing a lot of content, a community manager can be the person to come in and say, “Wow. This person is really, really engaged,” and do a behind-the-scenes kind of reach out and say, “Hey, would you like to lead an online session around this topic of the materials that you’re sharing?” I think that’s the thing about the work of the community manager, is it’s not always seen, but it’s felt. It’s definitely a person behind the curtain kind of working things, and I think a lot of companies, they lose that sense of …well, “What are you doing?” Well, you can’t necessarily always see what a community manager is doing in the community – in fact, a community where the community manager is bright and out there and social and sharing and expouting, I think that’s a turn-off. Community managers work to find other people who like to share and really build that small group of high value engagers and really spread that enthusiasm and that excitement. And I think that’s the community manager’s role, is not to be the star of the show, but to find and nurture the upcoming stars of the show, and make sure that it’s open, that it’s not a clique, and really foster that sense of, “Wow. I can come here and participate and share things and I’m listened to and my ideas are valued,” regardless of whether someone does that a week at a time or every other month.
11:09 Patrick O’Keefe: And as communities grow—because, you know, we’re talking about some large employee communities out there—it’s even more important to have some sort of analytics to at least help identify that crop of people that you can then investigate and look, “Okay, yes, this is someone that is really doing great work,” because numbers can tell a lot of the story but not the whole story, whether that be metrics relying on number of contributions, the reactions to those contributions, likes, comments, replies, helpfulness in the community, if you have questions and answers, being marked as an answer—things like that—quality sort of metrics that’ll tie you into individual people, because when you get to 10,000 employees or 1,000 employees, 5,000 employees, 10,000 employees, 50,000 employees, it becomes, I would think, that much more difficult to identify the individuals who are up-and-comers without at least some sort of filtering in place to point you in the right direction.
12:01 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. Agreed. I mean, I think one of the features that Workplace offers is the ability to have multiple groups, and it’s really a group-type platform. That’s how it’s structured. And I think that that’s natural. People are already in groups. They’re already in teams and departments and business units. So, it definitely plays on that strength, and it plays on our familiarity as Facebook users that, you know, I’d say maybe two years ago, a lot of my primary activity on Facebook on my personal site became more use of groups, rather than the main feed and interacting with friends and family.
12:34 Patrick O’Keefe: Do you think that employee community managers have a harder time proving their value than the community manager at, I don’t know, a B2B that’s very support-driven, or the community manager for a more public-facing consumer brand?
12:50 Rachel Medanic: I think it depends on the culture of the company and sort of how rooted to the bottom line they are. I think in some cases, it may be actually easier, because the employee community manager is…commonly, that comes out of HR, and I think because that’s related to employee health and wellness and engagement and tackling these monstrous statistics that you read out that 70% of people are disengaged from their primary job, I think that’s where the opportunity comes in. And a lot of these initiatives are spearheaded by HR.
13:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. And on some level, it could also be compared to past efforts, right? The idea of an intranet has existed for a long time, and what we’re seeing is that this is the replacement for that. I mean, it’s pretty straightforward. Like, with files, collaboration, sharing with conversation, with interaction, is the sort of replacement. That’s where it’s going and it’s where it’s gone. It’s already there. However people were thinking about intranets as a tool, it makes sense—because business environments can be slow to change—that how they viewed that tool and the success of that tool may be, at least somewhat, be how they view the success of an enterprise social network.
14:03 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. You know, it’s funny. In my dotcom years, ‘96 to ‘99…well, actually, ‘96 to 2001, but ‘96 to ‘99, I did a couple of projects, intranet-y type things. They were called portals back then. [Laughs] And one of the least likely types of people to see in a community and doing collaboration and sharing information, salespeople – our salespeople were super turned onto it, because it was a competitive thing for them. I closed a bigger deal, you know. They were excited to work with me, because I was talking to their customers and really capturing that hard value ROI of the business intelligence tool that was being sold by the company. And they saw the value. They absolutely were into sharing. And for the extranet project, it was all about having good tools. You know, we’re in Asia-Pac and you guys are in the U.S. and you guys forget about us all the time. So, extranet and having tools straight from corporate was exciting to them. So, I think what’s so lovely about community intranet, extranet, whatever you’re calling it, is you’ll be surprised who gets excited about it and why. So, always be open to those possibilities.
15:16 Patrick O’Keefe: So, speaking about excitement, you told me before the show that you are, quote, “passionate about awe”. And I’ve never seen those three words together, but that’s awe spelled A-W-E. You continue, quote, “For about three years now, I’ve been following the work of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and they work with Facebook on the little emotional reactions you see on their platform where it used to be like. Now, it’s like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry. I had taken their online course, The Science of Happiness, and they did a mini-conference last year on awe. I should mention that, of all those emotional reactions on Facebook, I would say awe is the least-used one. I think that’s a huge area of opportunity. As a culture, we’ve become cynical and lost connections with things that cause us to be in awe. If we could get more of that going and building community around such things, I think we’d be on a path to healing.” And when you say awe is the least-used, I’m guessing you mean the “wow” option, right?
16:09 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. The wow, the little face with the circular mouth going “Wow!”
16:13 Patrick O’Keefe: I have a Facebook friend, Joe Anzalone, and the wow option has sort of become his trademark, in my mind, because he uses it darn-near exclusively. He doesn’t like anything I post. He always “wow”s it. And so, you want people to be more like Joe, apparently. You want more awe. Practically and tactically speaking, what do you think that means?
16:37 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. Like I said, we’re cynical. I think that wherever we are as a culture and a nation and a global entity, I’m not sure that technology’s responsible for this, but it’s a contributor, we don’t surround ourselves with enough experiences where we feel like we’re in the midst of something that’s truly beyond us. And I think if we could have more of that sense of awe, that we are a really small—not to start to quote Monty Python—we are a really small speck on a planet, I think that we would do better, because we’d be more humbled, and I think there’s an arrogance in the culture that’s really working against us right now, politically. And I think if we could have more experiences of awe, and perhaps that starts in community and online, that we could just be more humbled and more aware that we’re just a piece of the puzzle, and we do have to fit in with other pieces of the puzzle. I think it would bring people together. That’s just my passion and vision for it.
17:36 Rachel Medanic: I really admire the scientific work on physiology and the research on psychology behind what Greater Good is doing, because I think if we look at the science of emotion and what’s happening in our body—it’s not something we do as technology people or online community people—we’re going to start to see we’re all humans here. It’s just a reminder, but I think that we lose sight of that, and I think awe would help bring that about more quickly. Big proponent of awe.
18:06 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, I think when you say that, I’m not sure where to go with it. Is the internet helpful or harmful? You know, you say it’s a contributor. Does the fact that we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips contribute to a lack of awe, right? I mean, it’s not like books didn’t exist. The Seven Wonders of the World, right? These amazing things in books you could see pictures of, just like you can online. It’s not the same as being there, right, but you can still pull them up, you can reference them, you can look at them, you can watch videos. I guess they’re more real, like the whole world is more real and accessible to us than ever before. So, I don’t know… How do you reinstill awe?
18:44 Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, I think it’s interesting. You mentioned the current climate. Obviously, politically, we have a highly charged style of rhetoric that is winning, to borrow a term, right now. We have a President of the United States who won based upon rhetoric that I’ve never seen in my lifetime, through six, seven presidents. There’s a changing in the level of discourse that, you know, on one side, you could argue, maybe it’s pomp and circumstance, right, substance versus style. But I’ve always viewed that there is value in how you say something, as opposed to what you’re saying. There’s value in both those things. It’s not just the content; it’s how you express it. And it’s an existential topic, awe. How do you encourage more awe? And more humility, I think, is part of what you said there. After the election, my thing was that community professionals—and this might not be related to awe, but it seems like it’s related in some sort of at least minor way—is just that the role we can play is to reinforce good standards of…
19:45 Rachel Medanic: Absolutely.
19:46 Patrick O’Keefe: …participation, discussion, debate. That’s the role we can play in bringing people together, because that’s what we have done for a long time, online for 30-plus years, throughout civilization, beyond that.
19:59 Rachel Medanic: Yeah.
20:00 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, we have those skills. That’s a skill set that we have. I think at times it feels like a hopeless task.
20:05 Rachel Medanic: Digital janitors. Absolutely.
20:07 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It feels like a helpless task at times. But I’m just thinking, when have I been awed in community? Like, I manage a martial arts community, which, again, to most people, when you look at it, you think it’s just like any other form. It’s like any other community. It doesn’t look remarkable. But how old is it now? It’s 15 years old, 16 in May. And you know, it took ten-plus years, let’s say, but we have a community where, honestly, moderation is less than people would think, because of all the years of foundational building and signaling to people, and just reinforcement of standards, where, even within the community, people know, like, “Okay, this isn’t really up to what we would normally do.”
20:50 Patrick O’Keefe: And one of the moments I’ve been in awe is when we had a person join, and I think it was a girl who was a teenager, and she talked about how her instructor, an older man, was being creepy toward her, more or less. She was a little more well-spoken than I am. But, you know, the idea that he was doing these things, he was leaning on her, whatever it was – sensitive topic. Some communities, a disaster. Some spaces, there’s a way to respond about that that is not only harmful, but just damaging, unsupportive. I looked at that thread. I didn’t see it until there was, like, 20 replies to it, and we didn’t have to do anything. We didn’t have to remove one post. We didn’t have to speak to one person. It was all excellent. People were responding. They were supportive. They had ideas, they had thoughts, and it was all good. And I read that thread and I said, “You know what? We’ve done it. [Laughs] We can’t stop. We have to keep going!” Like, you have to reinforce it every day. But that moment, that conversation where I didn’t know what to expect after that first post, I wasn’t sure what would follow because I am cynical, to an extent, thanks to my work and the larger internet, that was an awe-inspiring moment for me.
22:04 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. And I think people who would have abused that situation, people who behave that way, they know where to go. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I actually mean it in…
22:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Straight to hell? I’m just kidding. [Laughs]
22:18 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. Well, it’s… You know, people go where they’re getting the audience and the reception that they want. Especially trolls. You have a million shows… Not a million. You’ve got a couple of really good shows on trolls. You know, I’ve only had a year and a quarter experience dealing with really sophisticated trolls, ones who knew how to provide value and be difficult at the same time, but eventually, they get tired. My behavior here just isn’t working, and so that’s why that community was clean. It was fine. That is awe-inspiring. That’s really cool. It’s a great story.
22:56 Patrick O’Keefe: When things work out, it’s awe-inspiring. That’s how low our standards are. No, I’m just kidding.
23:01 Rachel Medanic: Well, I think, you know, even when bad things happen, it’s awe-inspiring, like, “What has happened?” Right? It’s not the same flavor of awe. It’s not a positive awe. It’s possible I just contradicted their definition of awe, or the definition of awe, that it has to be a positive experience. But I think what crossed my mind briefly was, you know, what someone on a planet in the world of Star Wars would be feeling when they saw the Death Star rising over the horizon. That would have been a sense of awe. Like, “Oh, no. We’re in trouble.” Yeah. No, it’s a problem I’m fascinated with. I’ve not had any experiences on how to crack this nut, but I think community is a fertile ground for doing so.
23:45 Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s true, and I think just when you were speaking, one thing that came to mind is just the small thing that we can do is to not let those moments pass as if they are normal. So, if something is truly great, call it out, and reinforce the idea of appreciating and acknowledging that, and yeah, that is an eclipse. You know, I know you’ve seen pictures of it, but it’s right in front of us right now, you know. And so, we just saw this amazing thing, like, yeah, we can all watch the Snapchat replay of it, sure, but this thing is literally happening right now. And so, when you have those community-based moments, whatever they are, whether it’s some amazing story about helping someone in need, or community members getting married, or just whatever it may be. And those are kind of tame examples, but that’s how my brain works, apparently. Whatever it is, take the time to recognize it and call it out, and reinforce the idea that it is special and it’s not just one more post on the internet.
24:44 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. There was a story I did a while ago with a big enterprise company that was Cisco. It was a great story. One of their highest technical credentials, the CCIE—that’s Cisco-Certified Internet Expert—somehow, I managed to find a husband and wife team that both held this highest credential, and they had emigrated from…I think it was Vietnam, and they met each other and they got married. I mean, that is awe-inspiring, because it’s, like, of the billions of people in the world and the millions that hold these credentials, how they found each other was pretty awesome. [Laughs] Awe is the first part of awesome. So, yeah, it happens, and I think those are the stories that we need to hear more of.
25:29 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you took mediation training to learn how people handle and resolve conflicts between parties in real life, and you apply that to your work. It seems evident that it’s a very useful skill set to have, to be able to work between two parties who are almost certainly disagreeing over something, and they need someone to mediate that exchange. What stood out from it that you could then apply to community work?
25:55 Rachel Medanic: Empathy. [Laughs] Really learning how to listen to people. So, I think one of my favorite techniques from mediation training was getting each party to speak, and the other party is quiet. And then you make them tell their story back to the other one. And that just flushes out all sorts of misunderstandings, misuse of language, ways in which people are… Say it’s a husband and wife and they’re fighting over divorce or something, that they’re already applying frames or filters on how or what motivations and intents are. So, I think what’s useful there is… And it’s tough with online community because it’s all in 2D and typically text, though I guess there are communities out there where people perhaps talk back and forth over video or something like that. But I think my biggest benefit from that was empathy, and really listening to what people say, or type—that’s the online version of say!—what they don’t say, what they do, what they don’t do. Actions speak louder than words has always been a big principle for me throughout my career. Listen to what’s being said or done, but then read between the lines to what isn’t. It’s important.
27:09 Patrick O’Keefe: How were you listening wrong before the training? What was the thing that stood out to you, that “my approach was wrong” or that “I need to listen”, “this is what I need to change to listen better”?
27:16 Rachel Medanic: Well, one of the things that I’m pretty sure we all do is that, as someone is speaking, they say something that sparks another idea in your head, and you’re busy rehearsing that narrative as they continue talking, and/or maybe you interrupt them.
27:29 Patrick O’Keefe: I.e., hosting a podcast! [Laughs] There it is. Okay.
27:34 Rachel Medanic: [Laughs] So, really taking the time. Yeah, that thought might go by, but just hold it. Put it in a holding pen. Don’t let it rage and take over your brain of, “Oh, I want to say this next.” Really let people finish their complete thought before you go there. And it’s tough because you’re like, “Oh, it’s so important. I really want to add this to the discussion.” Just hold. Listen.
27:56 Patrick O’Keefe: I will work on that now. [Laughs] For a slightly different approach to conflict in community spaces, Google and Jigsaw have just unveiled their Perspective API, perspectiveapi.com, which is an effort to use machine learning to help improve conversation online. A lot of the coverage around this is focusing on how it might help with trolling, but I think when you read their documentation, the reality is that it’s really about helping raise the bar for conversation. Interested communities, developers, and publications can apply for API access now and start playing with it. It’s early stage, but what excites me about this is that, while machine learning and algorithms have been an option within community moderation for a long time, they have, for the most part, been financially out of reach for most communities. If this proves to be cheap, or even free, and relatively easy to implement, just in that way, it could really move the needle for a lot of overwhelmed community pros.
28:58 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. I like that possibility. You know, it’s tough, because there’s a part of me, too, that feels that over-sanitizing may, well, deny us our dark side. But, you know, the dark side is really, really strong in certain forums, communities, social media platforms. So, I think it’s very hopeful, but I think where it’s nice is that it’s just a feeder. It’s just a filter to help the humans better find those incidents more quickly, so then they can make a human more fully contextual, look for irony, look for stuff hidden in the wings, or someone saying something positive that they really, from the context and the tone, really mean it very negatively. I think humans can be more sensitive to that. So, it’s nice to see that pairing of machine learning with a human evaluator who can look at the situation and decide, “Does this need sanitizing? Should this go away? Is it not of value?”
29:52 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s true. And I think that’s a good point. Yeah, most of the people that I’ve talked to about this sort of issue tend to agree that it is definitely, no matter if it’s this or some other tool, it’s definitely a tool in the tool belt of the community team or the community professional. So, I think what could happen on the bad side of things—and this is being expressed in some of the coverage—is that people would use it to just automate moderation. Now, they already do that, in some cases. Some places pay filtering tech companies, even if the filtering tech company doesn’t recommend it, and just turn it all the way up, let the algorithm moderate the community, which is not good, which is inefficient, which isn’t the best way to have community, and you know, often leads to less-than-satisfactory results. But just as a tool, you know, just because it exists, we don’t have to use it. So, if we have those communities where they want, as you say, more of the darker side, then they can either turn it on a really low setting, or they can not use it.
30:44 Rachel Medanic: Yeah.
30:45 Patrick O’Keefe: But I think that it’s good to have the option, good to have the tool. And people are worried about censorship and freedom of speech and how this impacts that sort of thing. I mean, the reality is that communities already moderate the standards they want to moderate to, anyway. So, we have communities that might allow x, and this community doesn’t, and there’s a lot of diversity in the world of online communities and of the internet, on extremes and in the middle. So, having a tool like this will allow people who do want to have that community that meets whatever this standard is…will hopefully allow them to more effectively accomplish that goal. But customization is so important, the ability to kind of tweak it and make it fit how the community needs it to work, how it needs to meet those different standards, because every community is effectively its own country. And you’ll continue to have to need people to be involved to your point for it to be as efficient as it possibly can be. But I think it’s good to see a company with resources creating something like this and then making it available on a wider scale.
31:43 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. No, it’s exciting, and I think machine learning has so many different areas that it’s impacting right now. I mean, we have something that we added to our home network that uses machine learning to optimize, because I work at home, primarily, and that thing that’s plugged into a bunch of different outlets all over the house is optimizing the network based on where I am and what I’m doing. And we have found it makes a huge difference. For the editor, I don’t know if you want me to name that thing, but it’s incredibly awesome.
32:14 Patrick O’Keefe: What is it?
32:14 Rachel Medanic: It’s called Plume, P-L-U-M-E.
32:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. I think I’ve heard of that.
32:18 Rachel Medanic: Yeah. It’s pretty awesome.
32:21 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s cool. Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the program.
32:23 Rachel Medanic: You’re welcome. It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you.
32:26 Patrick O’Keefe: Well, we’ve been talking with Rachel Medanic, principal at Communituity and consultant at Talk Social To Me. Find Communituity on Facebook at facebook.com/communituity and on Twitter @communituity. That’s C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-U-I-T-Y. You can Rachel @vampituity, V-A-M-P-I-T-U-I-T-Y. You really like the “tuities”. [Laughs]
32:50 Rachel Medanic: Yes, I do. [Laughs]
32:52 Patrick O’Keefe: And finally, Rachel has put together both a playlist of songs from community managers and a playlist representative of the Women’s March on Washington D.C. We’ll include links to those in the show notes. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. See you in March.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.