That’s not the case at Health Union, an owner and operator of communities targeted at health conditions. They encourage their community team to build strong personal brands – during work hours – that they can take with them when they leave. Jenn Lebowitz, senior director of community development, is my guest this episode, during which we also discuss:
- Why we don’t want people to become addicted to our communities
- How Health Union uses a mix of in-office and distributed team members to ensure full coverage of their communities
- Looking for the best in troublesome members
“Addiction is a disease. I don’t think it’s something we want to emulate in our communities – or take lightly.” -@JennLebowitz
“If you were driving on a road trip, you wouldn’t just be like, ‘oh, I’m going to go wherever.’ You’ll be like, ‘oh, I’m going to California, and so this is how I get there.’ You want to think about where you are headed before you jump in and start using tactics.” -@JennLebowitz
“Our site-specific moderators are people who have the condition, are professionals in the field working with the condition or are caregivers for people with the condition. What they bring is just this amazing ability to relate to the community, because they either have the condition or are very, very familiar with it. When a community member says, ‘I just got diagnosed, I don’t even know where to start,’ we have that first person experience that can go in and say, ‘yeah, when I was diagnosed, this is what it was like for me.’ Being able to relate in that way is just unbelievable, and it makes such a difference in our community members’ lives.” -@JennLebowitz
“One of my favorite things to talk about with moderation is the idea of unconditional positive regard. Which is just basically seeing the best in people, even when they’re kind of showing their worst, and just believing that they can get there – get back to their best.” -@JennLebowitz
About Jenn Lebowitz
Jenn Lebowitz got her start in community management somewhat by accident, when she started RipLB in Long Beach, NY, as a response to the heroin epidemic her hometown was experiencing. At the time, she was a dean at a university, but once she realized she could do community management full-time, she went after it and snagged a position at fast-growing startup Health Union in Philadelphia, where she now serves as senior director of community management.
Jenn holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from St. John’s University in Queens, NY, where her concentration was on critical race theory and education. What gets her psyched to wake up in the morning is Dunkin’ Donuts decaf coffee (yes, decaf), managing other community managers and hip hop (her master’s thesis was about Nas and Talib Kweli).
Jenn will be teaching a workshop, Results-Oriented Moderation, at CMX Summit East on May 18 in New York City.
- I Don’t Build Addictive, Habit-Forming Online Communities by Patrick
- Hooked by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover
- RheumatoidArthritis.net, one of Health Union’s communities
- Migraine.com, another one of Health Union’s communities
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- CMX Summit East 2016
- Results-Oriented Moderation, the workshop Jenn is presenting at CMX Summit East 2016
- Community Signal episode with Jay Baer
- Community Signal episode with Sherrie Rohde
- Infographic for the Community Signal episode with Sherrie Rohde, created by Jenn
- Health Union
- Jenn on Twitter
00:04: Welcome to Community Signal, the podcast 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 Jenn Lebowitz. Jenn got her start in community management somewhat by accident, when she started RipLB in Long Beach, New York, as a response to the heroin epidemic her hometown was experiencing. At the time, she was a dean at a university, but once she realized she could do community management full time, she went after it and snagged a position at fast-growing startup, Health Union in Philadelphia, where she now serves as senior director of community management.
00:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Jenn holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where her concentration was on critical race theory and education. What gets her psyched to wake up in the morning is Dunkin’ Donuts decaf coffee, yes, decaf, managing other community managers, and hip hop. Her master’s thesis was about Nas and Talib Kweli. Jenn will be teaching a workshop, Results-Oriented Moderation, at CMX Summit East on May 18th in New York City. Jenn, welcome to the program.
01:13 Jenn Lebowitz: Thanks so much for having me. I love this show, so I’m really thrilled to be here.
01:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, thank you for supporting this show, from reviewing it on iTunes to our enthusiastic tweets. To have someone who supports this show like you do is the most rewarding part of hosting Community Signal, so I really appreciate it.
01:27 Jenn Lebowitz: Yay, thanks. [chuckle]
01:29 Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s go back a couple of years ago. You’re an assistant dean at Hofstra University. Your hometown of Long Beach, New York is in your words, “experiencing a heroin epidemic,” It was so bad that every month or so, you would hear that another person you went to high school with had died as a result of an overdose or suicide. So you decided to do something about it. This led you to Facebook and to starting a Facebook page that overnight had 1,800 likes. And this really was your start in community.
01:56 Jenn Lebowitz: Yes, it was. I didn’t know it at the time but that wound up to be what I was doing. Yeah, it was in person and online, ’cause it was something I was really, really passionate about and still am. And one of my friends said, “Why don’t you look at community management jobs?” and I was like, “Whoa, that’s a thing?” So…
02:12 Jenn Lebowitz: And yeah, here I am.
02:13 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it’s funny, ’cause it has been around for a long time but a lot of people are just learning that it exists and it’s continuing to grow and that’s a wonderful thing.
02:21 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, amazing.
02:22 Patrick O’Keefe: I published an article last week, where I said that I don’t build addictive, habit-forming online communities. Over the last few years, I have noticed an increase in people saying that, “You should build communities, social apps and spaces in a way that is addictive or habit-forming.” People who are revered in community circles play with this terminology, and act as if these are respectable goals. And I realized just last week how much it bothers me, to the point where I felt compelled to take a stand on it. And I’m not going to go away.
02:53 Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve been fortunate in my life that I have not seen much addiction first hand. At the very least, no serious illegal addiction. My biggest example is my grandfather who smoked, literally, from age 8 to 68 and he could never quit. He couldn’t quit for his grandchildren, he couldn’t quit for himself, he just couldn’t quit. He formed a habit and it’s the type of habit that some community folks talk about trying to create, so deeply ingrained that he could never shake it. I’ve had numerous community professionals tell me that that article resonated with them and you were one of them. That’s especially meaningful because, again, through your efforts at RipLB, you have seen addiction. So what’s your take on this?
03:32 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, I was really happy when I saw you come out with that article because it was something that was kind of brewing in my mind as well. As a former English major, of course, I don’t take words lightly and I think language is very powerful. So to use terms like ‘addiction’ or ‘habit-forming’, are really strong terms and it’s nothing to play with. Like you mentioned in your article, addiction being a disease which some people might think is an opinion but is actually fact. But the fact that addiction is a disease, I don’t think it’s something we wanna emulate in our communities or take lightly.
04:01 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough because those terms to me, and even, it goes beyond just, if you change the terms, it’s okay. It’s like the underlying strategies and philosophies, at least some of them, the motivations, the intent of what people are trying to accomplish is that, they are trying to get people to be addicted [chuckle] to their communities or their apps. They want people to constantly check the app. And I don’t wanna quote some cliched Uncle Ben, Spider-man stuff here and say that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But if we’re gonna talk about social science and we’re gonna talk about emotional triggers, and especially about tapping into fears and insecurities, which I have heard people do in this space. I feel like there is a need to be responsible on how we approach that and to take that seriously. Because I think when I say this, people might think, “Oh, it’s just a website, it’s just an app. It’s not drugs. It’s not alcohol. It’s not this or it’s not that”. But if you look up addiction, and various types of addiction, internet addiction is a thing, right? And I mentioned porn addiction in the article, which is really a subset of internet addiction.
05:06 Patrick O’Keefe: And if you’re addicted to something, it’s impacting your life in a negative way. And it can be mundane things that you can become addicted to, because it’s really about the behavior and the pattern of behavior. And just the whole thing, just the whole vernacular using that expression, talking about these things, talking about people’s emotions in this way, it’s really just bothers me. I just don’t like it.
05:27 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, I also get it. But when you really break it down like that, you’re right. It’s not something that we can or that I can ethically or just personally get behind. At the same time I wonder if there’s a healthier way to approach it or not reframe it, because you’re right, it’s not just about the language. ‘Cause like for me, just thinking about it myself, there are certain websites I love to go to in the morning to get psyched up for work, or I’ll read the latest article on them or whatever, and I feel like that’s probably a relatively healthy routine. It gets your brain in a good place and I believe in all that positive psychology and getting psyched helps you do better work, that kinda stuff. So I feel like that’s a healthy routine. I wonder if there’s some way we can kind of shift the focus, [chuckle] in our industry to something like that, if that even would be a better way, or a better solution. But yeah, the whole addiction-heavy analogy, or metaphor, whatever it is, is dangerous, I think.
06:18 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I wanna say it starts with us, I wanna say it starts with our intent and that we should take responsibility for it. Because there’s a difference between an aesthetically-pleasing design, and, [chuckle] trying to get people to be addicted to your community. Making things look nice and writing good articles that have great content, yeah, people might say they’re, “Addicted to them.” [chuckle] But they’re not, I mean they just really like them, and they come back because they want to. I like Frappuccinos, okay? I personally don’t drink alcohol, I don’t really drink coffee, I get myself a Frappuccino once a week. I’m not addicted to it, but I love it and I look forward to that.
06:52 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah.
06:53 Patrick O’Keefe: So I mean, I get it, and I think it can be a hard line to draw, but I really think it starts with, for me two things, intent and respecting the language, I guess, as you kind of hinted at. I think if we start with those two things, if we come from a good place and we use good words to describe that place, then I think we’ll have done a pretty good job, at least I hope so.
07:11 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, I mean it’s also interesting, because when you think about it, the book, Hooked, I think it’s called, it’s brilliant, and the habit loop is a real thing. So I don’t know, the way that the VP of Health Union for our community, Amrita Bhowmick, she talks about it as people have these external triggers that bring them to our sites, for us, it’s health-related. So when a symptom flares up or something like that, they’ll be like, “Oh, I wanna check out what’s going on on RheumatoidArthritis.net, or Migraine.com.” And then coming to us, we try to see it as we’re meeting them where they’re at, they have this need and we’re meeting that need. Not in an addicted, habit-forming way, but at the same time, I guess it’s important to acknowledge that the habit loop is real. And well, like the Spider-man quote like you said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” if I’m saying it right. So yeah, I guess just acknowledging that. And like you said, intention is huge.
08:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned that book, because that really is one of things that kind of set me off down this thought process, I was like “habit-forming.” And I looked at other things, “Habit-forming, habit-forming.” I’m like, “Hold on a second!”
08:09 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah.
08:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Anyway, let’s get off this, let’s get off addiction and habit-forming. One year, to the month actually, according to your LinkedIn profile, after forming RipLB, you left Hofstra for Health Union. You did something before the show that no one has ever done, you asked if you could shout out your community team, and I love that. [chuckle] And I want you to do so. So as you do that, why don’t you walk us through how your team is structured? Because you have a really well-formed team that is fleshed out in a way that many would love to call their own.
08:38 Jenn Lebowitz: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, because I really love our team and I’m just thrilled to be able to do this. So Amrita Bhowmick is our fearless leader, [chuckle] she’s our VP. Then we have, I’ll just name the rest of the team, Kristine Zerkowski, Stephanie Huston, Kelly McNamara, Ketki Gupte, Joanna Bodner, Dana Lortie and Lauren Tucker. And we have three new people joining next week, so we’re really thrilled about it. Thanks for letting me shout them out. But basically the way our company is structured, we have a VP, we have a few Senior Directors as well as Directors and Community Managers. So Amrita kind of structured it in this really brilliant way, that each of us have multiple sites, but we work together on the site. So it’ll be a half of a full-time person, and a half of another full-time person work on one site together.
09:25 Patrick O’Keefe: So Health Union has seven communities right now, right? From what I’m seeing on the site.
09:28 Jenn Lebowitz: Yes.
09:29 Patrick O’Keefe: And so what you’re saying is you have maybe three Directors, I think you said, or something like that. So you’ll divide your time between two sites, and between the sites, they get one full person, but they’re getting two people that can kind of collaborate and work on that site together, right?
09:41 Jenn Lebowitz: Correct.
09:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Good.
09:42 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, and that’s really helpful because… I mean as anybody knows who works in community management, there’s so many nuances to each community, and because our communities are condition specific, like we work with chronic conditions, and so there are different nuances within the migraine community that definitely don’t translate to the COPD community, and so being able to get two different people’s perspectives on them, and also to share in the emotional toll that it takes is really, really helpful. So that team aspect is just invaluable.
10:10 Patrick O’Keefe: So in addition too, you said you have the VP, and you have… Let’s see, three Senior Directors, according to your staff page I’m looking at right now. [chuckle] Two Directors, one Associate Director and two Managers, that’s what I see here. And then you also have moderators, though, you also have cross-site moderators and site-specific moderators. You don’t have to name them all, but why don’t you talk about that a little bit?
10:29 Jenn Lebowitz: We do, and they’re amazing, I wish I could name them all. But they are incredible. So our site-specific moderators are people who either have the condition, or are professionals in the field working with the condition, or are care givers for people with the condition. Those are our site-specific moderators, and what they bring is just this amazing ability to relate to the community, because they either have the condition or are very, very familiar with it. So they can say when a community member says, “I just got diagnosed, I don’t even know where to start.” We have that first person experience who can go in and say, “Yeah, when I was diagnosed, this is what it was like for me.” And so being able to relate in that way is just unbelievable, and it makes such a difference in our community members’ lives.
11:08 Jenn Lebowitz: Our cross-site moderators are people who have more of a community background, and/or one of our moderators is a psychologist, one of our moderators is a nurse. So medical backgrounds as well as community backgrounds. And we kind of did that overlapping… Because obviously, they overlap a lot in what they respond to and all that stuff, but because we don’t want to lose the rich answers given by people who’ve experienced first hand, and at the same time, we wanna still be timely. And our site-specific moderators, they don’t have a minimum amount of hours that they have to complete each week, it’s not like they’re doing that. So things that might not get responded to by them will then get picked up by our cross-site moderators who work across multiple sites, don’t necessarily have the condition, and also work a minimum of 10 hours a week, a maximum of 20 hours a week kind of a thing. So that way, they’re on it kind of more timely. So that’s how we kind of solved a problem of people would expect not only a response within 24 hours anymore, but mostly within an hour on social media, I think, like one of the latest stats was showing us. So that expectation and trying to meet the needs of the community, but also not lose the valuable support given by our site-specific moderators. So our teams and moderators are just incredible. As you can hear, they are very multi-faceted.
12:21 Patrick O’Keefe: And I take it that, since there’s a 10-hour minimum there, that the cross-site moderators are paid. Are the site-specific moderators volunteers or are they paid?
12:28 Jenn Lebowitz: They’re also paid.
12:29 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, great. I was just curious. Either way is fine. I was just kind of wondering how you structured that out. Because that’s quite a large community team, I would say. And that’s why I say, a lot of people would like to have a team of this size. Even for a company that is focused at community, which is Health Union’s business is managing these online communities, and then connecting those audience to the companies that want to reach them. But even companies that are community-focused like that sometimes don’t have a community department that is this well fleshed out. So I don’t know. You might be surprised to know that or not, but it’s nice to see.
12:58 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah. I mean, I feel extremely fortunate, and I was gonna say lucky. But it’s not luck. It’s very strategic. And Rita, Olivier, and Tim… Olivier and Tim are the founders, really put community first and I know that I’m lucky that they do that, you know?
13:10 Patrick O’Keefe: So let’s stick with the team. Health Union’s community team has a personal branding initiative, which you lead. Tell me about it.
13:17 Jenn Lebowitz: Oh, so that’s actually pretty cool. It kind of makes me nervous because it’s funny, like, I used to be extremely shy when I was little. And my mom used to always be like, “You have to put yourself out there.” So now, it’s just extremely funny to me that I would lead a team branding initiative. But I love that quote. It’s in that book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. But it talks about how weakness can become a strength.
13:35 Jenn Lebowitz: And it’s like, if you’re not born with something that you’re great at, but then you work on it, you can develop these skills in it. So I feel like that’s what happened with me in personal branding. Not that I’m saying I’m the best at it right now. But basically, and Rita had asked me if I could look into like, “What would be the best things for putting ourselves out there?” so to speak. Because it is, it’s very true. It’s like, you’re online whether you are doing it purposely or not. You’re out there, so you might as well take the reins up in that. And so the things that we decided to focus on… Because I think that anybody would benefit from doing some kind of personal branding. And it doesn’t have to feel slimy or sleazy. It could be like reaching people and helping people. Because a lot of us… Or I would say most of us, if not all, in community management are probably… I mean, I’m making a huge generalization here, but probably enjoy people, and probably enjoy helping people.
14:20 Jenn Lebowitz: And so when we shifted that paradigm, I’m thinking of it from boasting and putting ourselves out there. Instead, we thought about it more as like, talking about stuff we love, and being able to share that with others. That really helped us, so from a philosophical standpoint. And then tactically, we got into trying to optimize the best ways to put ourselves out there. So for example for us, it made the most sense to be on Twitter, to be on LinkedIn with updated profiles, and then also to post on Medium. So I put a lot of research into drilling down to what our best locations online, so to speak, would be. And that was it for us. And so we just try to have a pretty regular presence there because doing things consistently, I think, is another really important part of personal branding that people may take for granted.
15:03 Patrick O’Keefe: I find this really fascinating. So I wanna dive into it a little bit more. So you’re talking about individual profiles, right, for the people who work at the company?
15:10 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah.
15:11 Patrick O’Keefe: Like your profile @JennLebowitz. That’s an example of personal branding initiatives, the things that you post, your presence on Twitter.
15:17 Jenn Lebowitz: Correct.
15:18 Patrick O’Keefe: And so your company is encouraging you to go out and brand yourself as an individual. A lot of companies don’t do that. But I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad, but there is obviously tremendous value in having professionals who are known and respected work at your company. It lends credibility to your company. And one of the ways that you do get known and respected is through personal branding. So how does that work? So everyone has personal profiles. Are those their profiles like if they leave the company?
15:42 Jenn Lebowitz: Oh, interesting. So I guess if somebody were to leave, which hopefully nobody ever does… We all love each other.
15:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Everything comes to an end, okay? Yeah.
15:51 Jenn Lebowitz: But I guess they would just take out the “at Health Union,” because I think we all have in our profiles that we’re a community manager at Health Union. So I assumed that we would just take that out, and continue on with our Twitter lives or whatever. But I’m trying to think of how that would work with the other things. On Medium, we do have a channel for our team, so it’s the Health Union community team on Medium. And that’s our channel there. So I mean obviously, if somebody were to leave, they wouldn’t keep writing there. But I think it’s really interesting because it’s a very mutually beneficial thing. It’s good for Health Union for us to be known like you said. And then it’s also good for ourselves, for obvious reasons.
16:24 Patrick O’Keefe: So are you encouraged to post your personal profiles during work time?
16:27 Jenn Lebowitz: Definitely. I mean, it’s an interesting question especially for us because we don’t have the typical nine to five. And I think probably a lot of community managers are in that kind of space where it’s not typical nine to five. So I might be posting on Twitter during the workday, “like your typical workday.” Or writing my Medium article. But I could also be working any time. But yeah, it’s totally acceptable for us to do that during a work day.
16:52 Patrick O’Keefe: And is there any sort of, I don’t know, specific ROI that you have to measure to justify this? Or is it simply an understanding and a commitment to the value of personal branding that if you are out there, since you have good people, if you showcase those good people in public, then other people will be more drawn to you, and that will include patients and people interested in the community, or is there a specific kind of calculation in mind?
17:14 Jenn Lebowitz: Interesting. So calculations are really Kelly’s things. She’s amazing with calculations, and data and hard core stuff like that. To me, I’m more about the qualitative. But I do think that there’s a bunch of community wins that we’ve kind of reaped from it. Being active on Twitter it’s like, if that wasn’t a focus for me at work, I don’t know if I would have necessarily met you and heard about this show, which has brought me so much value. You know what I mean? So there’s definite anecdotal wins that we’ve gotten from it. But so far, I don’t think we’ve necessarily tried to measure it in specific numbers. Although now that you’re saying that Amrita and Kelly are probably going to do that. [chuckle]
17:49 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. And I don’t necessarily want them to… Just because, I think… So for me, community ROI is you can measure a lot of things and what you can measure is the minimum value. [chuckle] And the value goes beyond the minimum value, and we have to kinda understand that, so that’s my perspective. So I don’t necessarily want you to run for the calculator or anything, I’m just curious because a lot companies discourage that. Me personally, I love it. I gave a talk at CNN a few years ago and it was staff members, social media people, there might have being a couple of on-air talent type people there. My thing to them was, you should be out there building up your personal brand. You should be posting on Twitter as yourself because right now when you work at CNN you can include CNN in your Twitter handle. They allow that, they encourage it, and that’s your account. And so what you’re doing is beneficial for CNN certainly because you’re driving people to CNN’s website, but what you’re also doing is insulating yourself because you’re building a community around yourself. So when you want to make that next step or when you leave CNN, that community of people who like you will follow you.
18:45 Patrick O’Keefe: So it’s very mutually beneficial and it is a good reason that you should be doing it right now where you are, versus waiting until let’s say you want to move on or you get fired or something happens and then you want people to care about you. Well, it’s too late. You need to have that community before you need anything. You have to be out there meeting people and networking and delivering value to people and building strong relationships before you need them in any sort of way. Whether that be personally just have a chat or professional way down the line, so I really like it.
19:22 Jenn Lebowitz: I’m glad. I really like it too and I do realize how lucky I am to get that ’cause it’s interesting coming from higher ed, that wasn’t even… This isn’t a knock to higher ed, it’s just I think it definitely could be an area of growth. But that wasn’t even on the radar, developing our own personal branding kind of initiatives was not a thing. So I do realize I’m really super-lucky to be able to do that.
19:42 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It’s cool. In higher ed it may even be more beneficial. People think about like, “I wanna go to that school to learn from that person.” Or, “Wow, that amazing professor or dean or assistant dean or whatever, they have this great presence on Twitter and Facebook and I’ve already talked with them. I wanna go there.” Yeah, so it’s one of those areas where I think people are catching up and will continue to catch up. At CMX Summit East, you’ll be leading a workshop on results-oriented moderation. I believe moderation is a core competency of the community profession and is often the most important work that we do. Tell me about results-oriented moderation. What does that mean to you?
20:21 Jenn Lebowitz: So basically, Amrita and I were discussing it and we were talking about how moderation really differs depending on what your organizational objectives are. And so for us, if we were just trying to… And I don’t mean just, but if we were solely trying to get rid of spam and kind of that’s it on our website, we would be moderating very differently than the way we are now, which is because our goal is to make people feel good, make them feel connected, make them feel heard, and so generating conversation, showing empathy. Those kinds of things are all part of our moderation whereas depending on another organization’s goals they might moderate very differently.
20:54 Jenn Lebowitz: So I think it’s really important to keep in mind. I always think of that kind of analogy, if you were driving on a road trip you wouldn’t just be like, “Oh, I’m just gonna go wherever.” You’ll be like, “Oh, I’m going to California and so this is how I get there.” You want to think about where you are headed before you jump in and start using tactics, so that’s why it’s results-driven or results- oriented.
21:15 Patrick O’Keefe: For me, moderation creates a narrative for the community, in many cases. If you’re moderating just for spam you’re not really doing all that much, right? Spam is a fairly easy thing, but if you aspire to have a higher level of discourse or respectful discussions or, in your case, a positive atmosphere, moderation is what creates that narrative. And I really believe that moderation is sort of the last hope we have of quality discourse on the internet. It’s all we’ve got. When you want quality discourse with random people, good luck on Twitter. What you really need to do is go to an online community that has great moderation and jump in there. So if you aspire to be anything at all, from a conversational standpoint, it’s just essential.
22:00 Jenn Lebowitz: Absolutely. And I think a lot of that stems from, obviously from moderators, but also from the training that they get. One of my favorite things to talk about with moderation actually is the idea… And I got this from education from a friend who is in an accounting program, but the idea of unconditional positive regard. Which is just basically seeing the best in people even when they’re kind of showing their worst and just believing that they can get there, get back to their best. And so, I love that idea, especially when you’re talking about highly-charged situations or really emotional situations, because obviously we know people can get really intense really quickly online. Yeah, so that’s one of my favorite things when it comes to moderation and I feel like it helps with the positive atmosphere.
22:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it is easy to get down on someone, right? Or to just wanna cut ’em loose, so to speak. It goes both ways. Because when you invest in someone like that, when you give them opportunities and you look for the best in them, sometimes they let you down. Sometimes they let you down and you need to get rid of them. They never get better or they harm the community. But sometimes they turn it around and they become these amazing members.
23:00 Jenn Lebowitz: Absolutely.
23:01 Patrick O’Keefe: And some of the best contributors you have. And every time it works out in that direction, not only is it rewarding but it justifies the other efforts and it validates the fact that you actually put the time in to care about people to such an extent that you’re willing to work with them.
23:16 Jenn Lebowitz: Absolutely. It also reminds me… It’s almost like the moderation version of what you were talking about with Jay Baer of Hug Your Haters. Because a lot of times those people then turn around and become, like you said, kind of your most loyal or your best contributors to the community.
23:30 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. I have a story I’ve told on here before where it’s just, there was a member and he violated our guidelines so many times, so many times. But my thing is always if I think you’re trying then I’m gonna give you the opportunity. The moment I feel like you are no longer putting in an effort, that you no longer care about the community, the staff, the guidelines, anything, then it’s probably time to go. But if there’s a hint of something in there, then I wanna give you the opportunity. And this of course puts aside obviously awful things like racism or hate speech or someone who’s posting nudity, or something like that. [chuckle] Let’s just cut out all the obvious stuff. But someone who is just kind of… They’re rude, they don’t get it, they’re not fitting in, they’re kind of being disruptive. And we have, I don’t know, 30 violations? I mean it’s a lot. A lot of people would’ve probably banned him a while ago but he got to a point where he was almost banned. It was so close. I was almost gonna ban him, finally. ‘Cause I’ll be really honest with my members and really direct with them, not rude, just honest and direct and respectful. And just say, “Here’s where we are. And here’s where we want to get to.”
24:31 Patrick O’Keefe: And he turned it around and slowly over a period of years, he rebuilt his reputation in the community and with the staff, and with everyone involved, to the point where he’s really now the most beloved member in the community. You know, people love him. And he’s got like 10,000 posts. We love him too. He’s a great guy and he turned it around. And to this day, he’ll still apologize to me randomly, for what happened in his first year or two of being at the community, and express how grateful he is. And at this point, I said, “Stop.” I told him, “Just stop. It’s all over. It’s over with. You don’t need to apologize anymore.” But he still feels bad and I think that case to me is always the quintessential example of, “You know, if someone has some potential, if they’re trying, I want to give them the case.” And I realize that’s not always scalable. We might have employers who are less understanding to that use of time. But if you can do it, I always suggest that you do.
25:24 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah. That’s such a great story. I love that.
25:26 Patrick O’Keefe: You told me that one of your all-time favorite things to do at work is your monthly training call with your moderators. What are those calls like?
25:33 Jenn Lebowitz: So, it’s actually relatively new. It’s something we started recently to just keep our moderators engaged and also because we love talking to them. But basically, the monthly training calls started when we first hired our cross-site moderators because we wanted to continue to give them more and more training on the community level. And we opened it up so that our site-specific moderators could attend, as well. We got a really great turnout for it. And basically, what we do is, I’ll collect things throughout the month that I talked about one-on-one with each of them, a tip that would be helpful for everyone to hear or a case… Not a case study but a specific example of something that happened and the way a moderator handles it, that was great. Or if they have questions themselves. So we add that to a Google doc and so those are shareables from the one-on-ones or the one-offs. And then they also come up with a theme of the month, which actually last month, the theme of the month, was self-care. So I used the episode that you did with Sherrie Rohde.
26:26 Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you. I appreciate that.
26:27 Jenn Lebowitz: No, it was really cool and I love making infographics. I made an infographic out of it and I just thought that was… Obviously, such an important topic for community professionals. So we typically have shareables from the one-offs or the one-on-ones, then a theme of the month, and then anything that comes up that they wanna speak to, or how the communities are changing, or if there’s new data that came out from our communities that I want to share with them about how’s it going. So it’s really fun and just a really great way to stay in touch with them. And to keep everybody kind of interested and into it.
27:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. The first infographic in the history of Community Signal was created by Jenn Lebowitz.
27:06 Patrick O’Keefe: So you’ll always have that and one day, maybe, they’ll send you a plaque or something.
27:09 Jenn Lebowitz: Put it right in my Twitter bio.
27:11 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. No, but I think that’s an awesome way to catch up, knowledge share, make it a little more interactive. Because you can share some of that stuff internally and it sounds like you do. But just getting on the phone, listening to people’s voices.
27:22 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah. It makes a difference.
27:25 Patrick O’Keefe: The personality, the camaraderie.
27:26 Jenn Lebowitz: Absolutely.
27:27 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m sure it factors in, in a big way.
27:28 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, definitely. Definitely.
27:30 Patrick O’Keefe: I guess it’s obvious, at this point that, those moderators, are they mostly remote in different parts of the country or the world? Or how does that work?
27:36 Jenn Lebowitz: They are. They’re in different parts of the country. Some of our contributors are actually from the UK. But I think most, if not all, of our moderators… No, there’s a couple that are, I think in Canada and the UK.
27:47 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a distributed team.
27:48 Jenn Lebowitz: Yes.
27:48 Patrick O’Keefe: And so these calls are sort of their office hours, in a way you could say, right? It’s kinda like getting together, talking to people. Now, some people work great remote. Some people miss that face-to-face interaction, so I’m sure it adds some value there too, as well.
28:00 Jenn Lebowitz: Absolutely.
28:01 Patrick O’Keefe: Health Union generates revenue by connecting companies with patient audiences, patient in the healthcare sense, not in the temperament sense. They do this through advertising and sponsored content, market research and clinical services. This has the obvious potential of being problematic. Many people don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry, as it is. And when money like this is thrown into the equation, there can be a pressure to manage a community in a different way, in a way that’s more favorable to an organization that’s paying the bills. The Health Union website and philosophy says all the right things but what do you do at Health Union to separate the community side of the business from the partnerships in biz dev side?
28:39 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, great question. We have a really strong, and pretty strict separation of church and state. I would say very strict. Basically, when our writers are writing articles for the sites, they’re never in any way influenced by the companies that advertise with us. It just doesn’t happen. So the writers are really just talking about their lives and what’s going on. It’s not influenced by the people who advertise with us. And really it’s so separate that the community team… We’re moving into a new office here and we’re literally gonna be separated [chuckle] from the rest of the people who are in our office. But it’s just the really strict separation of church and state is what we go by. I don’t really know how else to answer that, except for that what we do with our content and community is never influenced by our advertisers.
29:26 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a perfectly good answer.
29:27 Jenn Lebowitz: Now, again…
29:27 Patrick O’Keefe: The answer is, “We don’t talk to each other.” And that’s fine. That’s one way and a good way to do it. But I was curious because I think it’s one of those things where… a lot of companies who are in community for community, right? So they host communities and they manage communities and they have a the business side. And so sometimes those areas create an issue, but I think when it’s done well, and when there is that strong separation, it can be a really successful operation.
29:50 Jenn Lebowitz: Yeah, it’s really cool and when I was interviewing for this job, that was something that I asked about too. Because the integrity of the work was obviously something that was really important to me and I’m really glad to see what they say is actually true. It’s like exactly how it is on the website. So, pretty cool.
30:04 Patrick O’Keefe: You were like “Is Pfizer a secret investor?”
30:09 Patrick O’Keefe: Jenn, thank you so much for coming on the show.
30:11 Jenn Lebowitz: Oh, thanks so much for having me and thanks for all the work you do. It’s really really incredible and helpful. So thank you.
30:17 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s very kind of you. We have been talking with Jenn Lebowitz, senior director of Community Development at Health Union. That’s Health-Union.com. You can follow Jen on Twitter @JennLebowitz, J-E-N-N-L-E-B-O-W-I-T-Z. She’ll be presenting a workshop, Results-Oriented Moderation, at CMX Summit East in New York City on May 18th. For more info on that, visit bit.ly/jenncmx. For the transcript for this episode plus highlights and links that we’ve mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn @patrickokeefe and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and we’ll see you next time.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.