What Makes an Online Community a Home?

May 21st, 2021 marked 20 years since the launch of KarateForums.com. In this episode of Community Signal, Patrick speaks with five forum members that have been on KarateForums.com for nearly 65 years, collectively. Together, they discuss what keeps them coming back to the community as members, moderators, and martial artists. 

While each member brings different experiences and background to the community, Bob, Brian, Danielle, Devin, and Noah all cite the quality of the interactions that they’ve had in the community and how it has brought out their skills as community members, teachers, and students of the martial arts. Those interactions helped these folks launch their own martial arts schools, grow as martial artists, and pay it forward to hundreds of thousands of other folks seeking out knowledge.

Whether you’re listening to this episode with 20 years of community management experience or you’re working on approaching that milestone, a few things emerge as truths from this episode –– that it’s not the size of a community that matters, but the level of care that you find there. That community members can go from the verge of being banned to becoming model community members, if given the chance. That communities thrive when they help their members achieve their goals and pay it forward to others. Whether this is your first year as a community manager or your twentieth, we hope that you find these lessons and stories helpful. And here’s to another 20 years of KarateForums.com! 

They also discuss:

  • The benefits of your members joining other communities
  • How KarateForums.com helped each guest find confidence, friends, and more
  • Why Devin describes KarateForums.com as charitable
Continue reading “What Makes an Online Community a Home?”

Dismantling the Model Minority Myth and Fostering Safer Communities, One Conversation at a Time

For this episode of Community Signal, we’re joined by community professionals Jenn Hudnet, Lana Lee, and Phoebe Venkat. They candidly share stories about the impact of racism and stereotypes against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in their own lives, in the workplace, and in the communities they manage.

Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe each had stories to share about their families, the circumstances that brought them to the United States, the racism and discrimination they faced, and the shared generational trauma they’re working through together. “We have to look forward. We’ve got to acknowledge some of the wrongs that happened to our parents, relatives, and friends in the past. It’s very difficult to do. We’re doing it, but it definitely takes a community of community to get that done,” shared Phoebe (7:47).

There’s also a discussion around the work that companies and colleagues must do to maintain safe workplaces and communities. “Your intention might not always be to hurt or harm someone or to make fun of someone, but the impact is still there. Being able to understand the impact that our words and actions have on others is important [as well as] being able to acknowledge the impact that it might have on somebody. I think microaggressions are something that I’ve even had to learn to recognize because I’ve just internalized them and accepted them over the years of being here,” said Jenn (21:12).

And there’s an important reminder in this episode to see your colleagues and community members as individuals. Individuals that might have a bad day, that might make mistakes, or that might be comforted just by your presence. “Sometimes we hear stories of people. [Maybe] they posted a really good picture one day and then the next day they’re feeling down. … As a community manager, [it’s really important to] take time to read and understand where people are coming from,” explains Lana (49:46).

We’re thankful to Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe for sharing with us. May this conversation lead to safer communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, and personal boundaries.

Lana, Jenn, Patrick, and Phoebe also discuss:

  • The model minority myth and the harm it causes
  • Recognizing emotional labor and setting boundaries
  • There are no growth hacks when it comes to helping your community members feel safe
Continue reading “Dismantling the Model Minority Myth and Fostering Safer Communities, One Conversation at a Time”

Helping Online Community Members Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis

Crisis Text Line offers free, 24/7 support via text message to anyone facing a mental health crisis. Some organizations partner with Crisis Text Line to develop co-branded text lines for their community, but starting today, you can make Crisis Text Line part of your policy and response strategy if anyone in your community or on your team shares or shows signs that they’re experiencing a mental health crisis.

The other part of your response strategy leverages a skill that you likely practice everyday –– empathy. Becka Ross, the chief program officer at Crisis Text Line, reminds us that “anybody can be empathetic. When somebody is expressing or showing signs of mental illness, it’s not the expectation that somebody steps up into a role of a psychotherapist or a doctor or any other mental health professional, but all humans can be empathetic to one another.”

Crisis Text Line is powered by a team of 39,000 volunteers. Their community, training, and volunteer opportunities call on people from all walks of life to work together to help those facing mental health dilemmas. In our discussion with Becka, you’ll learn not only how the team supports one another through community, but also how you can do the same for your own community members and the people you care about.

Becka and Patrick discuss:

  • How Crisis Text Line partners with organizations and offers itself as a resource to anyone in need
  • Forming a mental health crisis policy for your community
  • Using machine learning to respond quickest to those most at risk
Continue reading “Helping Online Community Members Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis”

Whistleblower: Facebook is Allowing Dictators to Mislead Their Citizens

Last month, Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook, went public as a whistleblower drawing attention to how the company delayed action against or outright ignored manipulation of it’s platform by autocratic leaders and global governments to the detriment of the people of those countries.

All work, including community management, requires trade-offs, areas of focus, and prioritization. Our teams and resources allow us to increase our areas of focus and more consistently foster the interactions that our communities exist for. But for an organization with the staff and resources of Facebook, you’d expect the trade-offs to be few and far between, and the areas of focus to be vast – covering the areas of the platform prone to abuse just as much as areas that foster healthy interactions.

But for Facebook, Sophie describes how, at least internally, those lines between healthy interactions and “inauthentic interactions” surfaced potential conflicts of interest, slowness to take action, and a tendency to focus on some countries more than others.

When we’re prioritizing what to work on or how to foster our communities, we may reference company values or internal OKRs. But for community professionals, there’s also the question of how does this preserve the safety of the community and those in it? How is Facebook scaling to protect the political safety of its members? Or perhaps a better question is, does it even think it has the responsibility to do so? As Sophie says, “it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, Facebook is a company. Its goal is to make money. It’s not focused on saving the world or fixing the product. I think it’s important to be cynically realistic about the matter.”

Sophie and Patrick discuss:

  • Manipulation so brazen that the government actors didn’t even bother to hide it
  • The real-world implications that “inauthentic behavior” on Facebook has had for Azerbaijan, Honduras, India, and other countries
  • How Facebook differentiates and actions inauthentic profiles and pages
Continue reading “Whistleblower: Facebook is Allowing Dictators to Mislead Their Citizens”

Why It’s Harmful to Label Community and Community Pros as Underdogs

Georgina DonahueIf you were designing a curriculum to teach undergrads about community management, what would you cover? Georgina Donahue’s approach in designing such a curriculum for a course at the University of Massachusetts was grounded not only in her experience as a community professional but also in her understanding that as a professor, she was instructing a community of students getting ready to enter the workforce. “Think about the experience of … an undergraduate right now. … How do you really use that course to make your students ready for the workforce and appealing to a hiring manager?”

Similar to designing a curriculum, think of the different strengths that your colleagues bring to your community team and efforts. What are the career trajectories that speak to their strengths, interests, and your community’s needs? Patrick and Georgina discuss two potential roles, community data analyst and community platform architect, that we may start to see more as community teams scale. While community professionals are often tasked with wearing many hats (and can excel while doing so), as our profession matures, the opportunities ahead will offer continued growth, potential for specialization, and more focused roles to serve our communities and community teams.

Georgina and Patrick discuss:

  • The curriculum of Georgina’s community management course at UMass Lowell
  • Community paths outside of management for community pros
  • Why you get lifetime access to the Pragmatic Alumni Community after taking a course at Pragmatic Institute
  • Why you’re doing yourself a disservice if you label community as an underdog
Continue reading “Why It’s Harmful to Label Community and Community Pros as Underdogs”

Lessons from Community Memory, the First Publicly Available Social Media System

Lee Felsenstein’s work in tech and social organizing led to the creation of the Community Memory project, the first publicly available social media system and public computerized bulletin board system. Mr. Felsenstein was also a founding member of the Homebrew Computer Club, and he helped develop the personal computer.

So, what was the first publicly accessible computerized bulletin board like? Mr. Felsenstein was less concerned with metrics around volume and recalls more specifically the diversity of interactions that happened through Community Memory. “We found somebody who did some typewriter graphics on it, [using] the teletype to laboriously draw a picture of a sailboat. That was not anticipated. We found all manner of people asking questions and giving answers to questions.” (Go to 7:07 in the discussion to hear more.)

Mr. Felsentein also describes in great detail how he helped onboard people to Community Memory. Psychedelic posters, a cardboard box covering, and a person that stood near the terminal at all times who served as a promoter, tech support, and a bodyguard all helped people walking by Community Memory in its first home, a record store, use a virtual bulletin board for the first time.

There are many takeaways from this episode of Community Signal, but let’s start with one –– Community Memory’s approach to onboarding and tech education helped many take their first steps with computers and with virtual message boards. How can we carry this example forward, when for a lot of us, access to the internet comes by way of our mobile devises. Mr. Felsenstein is thinking about this and other community builders should, too.

Mr. Felsenstein and Patrick also discuss:

  • The Free Speech Movement of the ’60s
  • The origin and story of Community Memory
  • Lee’s involvement with The WELL
Continue reading “Lessons from Community Memory, the First Publicly Available Social Media System”

Creator Tools Drive Community Interest and Revenue for Old Call of Duty Games

The Zombies game mode within the popular Call of Duty video game franchise has created a massive community of fans and players who not only play and connect with the developers, but with each other as they try to discover every aspect of each piece of content released for the game.

In two versions of the game, they are even able to create their own content that can be played and shared online with other players. This ability to co-create and remix is the focus of this episode, as it leads to the game being more valuable to all parties, from the game publisher that owns the franchise to the player who plays alone. 

But you don’t need to be a fan of Call of Duty: Zombies or even video games in general to take community learnings from this conversation.

MrRoflWaffles is a YouTuber and streamer that has grown his channel to over 1.7 million subscribers and 400 million views. His audience comes to his channel to partake in all things Call of Duty: Zombies –– whether it’s the latest news from Activision or deep dives on Easter eggs. In talking with Patrick, MrRoflWaffles explains how mod tools, which allow you to create new content for the game, and Easter eggs keep Zombies fresh, interesting, and challenging to both expert players and folks that are new to the game.

He also shares his “hungry player theory” –– a theory that even as game studios release more content for their games, players are always hungry for more. And while it’s not possible for game studios to constantly release new content, mod tools put the power of game creation directly in the hands of the community.

What tools and tailored experiences can you offer to your community members?

MrRoflWaffles and Patrick discuss:

  • Extending the play life of your game and your community by giving your members tools to create
  • The importance of communicating through game dev challenges
  • How mod tools can alleviate pressure from game studios and developers
Continue reading “Creator Tools Drive Community Interest and Revenue for Old Call of Duty Games”

Building a Financially Self-Sustaining Community of Muslamic Makers

In addition to practicing community management as a profession, many of the listeners, guests, and even members of the team behind Community Signal, manage communities part-time. These might be communities that align with our personal passions or hobbies or communities that exist specifically to help ourselves and others grow. That is exactly the mission of Muslamic Makers. Co-founded by Arfah Farooq, who joins us for this episode, Muslamic Makers is a community of Muslim changemakers who work in the tech industry.

This April marks the fifth birthday of Muslamic Makers and Arfah discusses how the community has grown during that time and how she sees it growing into the future. Muslamic Makers takes pride in offering thoughtful programming that is largely free to its community, and Arfah shares how she and her team are thoughtfully working to keep it that way. Tech companies want access to diverse communities when it comes to hiring and in exchange for sponsorship opportunities, the Muslamic Makers community offers them just that. Arfah also discusses the importance of documenting the processes that keep the community running, so that the community can continue running, whether she’s managing the day-to-day or not. It’s always refreshing to hear that the practices that keep our “professional” communities healthy and well-managed are the same practices that we should try applying to our own personal communities, too.

Arfah and Patrick also discuss:

  • Keeping a community independent, self-sustaining, and affordable to its members
  • Adapting and enforcing your community’s Code of Conduct as you grow
  • How the pandemic has helped the Muslamic Makers community grow beyond its roots in London

This episode is the first that we’ve released since the devastating shooting that left eight people in Atlanta dead, including six Asian women. Their names were Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Xiaojie Tan. The other two people who were killed were Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. One man, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, was seriously injured. As a team, we’ve reflected on how our work in communities matters when it comes to stopping hate. As Patrick says in this episode, “when we educate ourselves about what anti-Asian hatred looks like and we take action against it, we are part of the solution.”

Continue reading “Building a Financially Self-Sustaining Community of Muslamic Makers”

Holding Communities for Community Professionals to a Higher Standard

The field of community management is buzzing. We have more tools available to us than ever before and an abundance of communities and resources to connect us with fellow professionals who know our work and want to share knowledge. But what goes into creating inclusive, diverse, and truly open and welcoming spaces for community professionals? Who is given a platform to share knowledge?

In this conversation with Faisa Mohamed, co-founder of Somalis in Tech, we broach this topic and how Faisa and her team approached launching Somali Women in Tech. On paper, the approach may sound simple –– Faisa made sure that that the Somalis in Tech team was onboard with the mission and purpose of Somali Women in Tech. “If you ask the other team members what Somali Women in Tech is, including the male members who are not in this group, they’re going to know exactly what it is and can tell you exactly what it is because they are fully aware of it.” (Head to 25:06 to pick up at this part of the conversation.) But in practice, we’ve seen that’s not a priority for all communities. In the case of Somali Women in Tech, Faisa provides an example of how building community with diversity, equity, and inclusion as important values from day one leads to more successful communities, both from an internal and external perspective.

So –– how are you creating space and opportunity for others in the community industry? To what standards do you hold the communities that you build and that you’re part of? We’re always interested in hearing from you, so if there’s something you’ve tried or learned from recently, let us know. 

Faisa and Patrick also discuss:

  • Reading between the lines of community job descriptions
  • Gatekeeping in the community management industry
  • Being “intentional” in inclusion efforts
Continue reading “Holding Communities for Community Professionals to a Higher Standard”

Facebook’s Australian News Ban Will Lead to Even More Misinformation

What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t share any news articles on Facebook? How would that impact the communities that you manage or the way you share information with family and friends? What if this ban included  information provided by emergency services agencies for things like natural disasters, wildfires, and domestic violence? This situation is not a hypothetical one for Australian users of Facebook. Just last week, after Facebook failed to make an agreement to pay Australian news organizations for linking to their content, the company issued a ban that prevents sharing Australian or international news content on the platform.

In this episode, Patrick talks to Dr. Jennifer Beckett, a lecturer in media and communications at the University of Melbourne, about the immediate ramifications that this has had and what it might mean for communities on Facebook moving forward.

Dr. Beckett’s work also has a focus in the mental health of digital workers, given the prevalence of moderation-related work, no matter what the job title. As our field expands, Dr. Beckett points to the need for visibility and protection for the people who do this work.

Dr. Beckett and Patrick discuss:

  • The well-being of content moderators and what some organizations are doing to protect their well-being
  • The legal environment for community builders in Australia
  • The need for better communication about the “toxicity” of communities
Continue reading “Facebook’s Australian News Ban Will Lead to Even More Misinformation”