Building and Nurturing Atlassian’s Community Leaders Program
When Trello was acquired by Atlassian, Erica Moss went from being a team of one to a community manager with a supportive and specialized team. With this came the challenge of supporting Atlassian’s Community Leaders program, a group of Atlassian experts that share their knowledge with others. Tasked with taking the community from a Q&A forum to something more, Erica focused on what she thought would keep community members coming back and the “warm fuzzies” that would help community leaders define their tone and new members feel welcome.
And while Erica has grown the Community Leaders program from 60 to 128 members, it’s not quantity that she’s optimizing for. Because Community Leaders are representatives of Atlassian’s products and brand, she’s focused on finding leaders that can speak with accuracy about the suite of products and with a thoughtful tone.
In this episode of Community Signal, Erica talks about what makes the Community Leaders program successful and a value-add for its members. She and Patrick also discuss:
- The different roles on Atlassian’s community team and why specialization is so important
- Foursquare’s 10-year anniversary and why Erica is proud to be a superuser
- The “invisible work” involved in community management and how Erica’s team brings transparency to their work
The story behind the Atlassian community: “Initially, the community looked more like a Q&A forum. Someone would post a question, users who felt that they could offer any value would jump in and it was very transactional. That works in some context but I think what we find with products in the Atlassian suite specifically is there’s a lot of nuance. There’s a lot of value in [having] multiple opinions. … We really wanted to double down on that and nurture that, so that’s where you see two years ago where we switched from a Q&A forum to what is now our community built on Lithium. In doing so [we said], ‘We really want to create a sense of ownership and a sense of, “Let’s really build this thing that we know is special and we know is magical.” Let’s get some stewards of the community and really create some ownership there.'” –@EricaJMoss
On building a community that’s a conversation space: “If I think the community is not welcoming or approachable, I can treat it as a transaction. … What is my motivation to come back? What are the warm fuzzies? Why should I invest my time with these other humans?” –@EricaJMoss
Advocating for your work will make you a better community professional: “As community managers sometimes it’s tough for us to be advocates for ourselves and champions for ourselves. I had a conversation with someone recently on the team because it doesn’t always feel natural, and it doesn’t feel easy to toot your own horn and say, ‘Hey, I did this and this was the impact of it.’ It’s so important, and I think the more cognizant you are of it, and the more you practice that, the better you will be as a community professional overall.” –@EricaJMoss
About Erica Moss
With roots in journalism, Erica Moss marries her background as a professional storyteller with her passion for connecting people as the senior manager of community engagement at Atlassian, helping to nurture and grow the Community Leaders program. Outside of work, she loves theater, photography, TV, pop culture, hyperbole, and cured meats.
- Erica Moss on Twitter and Instagram
- The Atlassian Community
- Atlassian’s Community Leaders Program
- How to become an Atlassian Community Leader
- Stack Overflow
- Let Me Google That For You
- The Atlassian Authors Program
- Foursquare and Swarm
[00:00:05] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, a podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @CommunitySignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, thank you for listening to Community Signal. On this episode, we’re talking with Erica Moss from Atlassian, the company behind Jira, Confluence, Trello and more. Among our subjects bringing conversation to a Q&A community, the sneaky power of Foursquare and Swarm, and suffering from whack-a-mole syndrome in your career.
A big thank you to our patron and supporters including Luke Zimmer, Marjorie Anderson, and Serena Snoad. If you like the show and would like to support it financially, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for more info.
With roots in journalism, Erica Moss marries her background as a professional storyteller with her passion for connecting people as a senior manager of community engagement at Atlassian, helping to nurture and grow the Community Leaders program. Outside of work, she loves theater, photography, TV, pop culture, hyperbole, and cured meats. Erica, welcome to the show.
[00:01:09] Erica Moss: Hi, Patrick. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:12] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. We’ve followed each other online for a while and never spoke on the phone or in person which is often how these episodes of the show go. It’s my way of getting to know people a little bit better, so appreciate you making the time.
[00:01:24] Erica Moss: Totally.
[00:01:25] Patrick O’Keefe: You head up the Atlassian Community Leaders program, a group of about 120 advocates who answer questions posted in the community, moderate discussions, write articles, and so on. From what I understand, you really took a grassroots program and reorganized it creating what is now this program. Can you talk a bit about the origins and what components were missing, what you added, what the extra spice was to it to help bring it to what it is now?
[00:01:51] Erica Moss: Yes, totally. The story of the Atlassian community is an interesting one because obviously, they’ve always had this core group of humans who were advocates, enthusiasts, champions, whatever you want to call them. I think initially in its initial stages, the community looked more like a Q&A forum. Someone would post a question, users who felt that they could offer any value would jump in and it was very transactional. That works in some context but I think what we find with products in the Atlassian suite specifically, there’s a lot of nuance. There’s a lot of value in multiple opinions and having multiple folks pop in and say, “Hey, I’ve had a similar pain point. This is how I tackled it. It might work for you too.” But then someone else might bring a different perspective.
We really wanted to double down on that and really nurture that and build that out a little bit and so that’s where you see two years ago where we switched from a Q&A forum to what is now our community built on Lithium. In doing so, we targeted a group of humans where we were like, hey, we really want to create a sense of ownership and a sense of, let’s really build this thing that we know is special and we know is magical. Let’s get some stewards of the community and really create some ownership there.
That’s when you see the launch of what was called the Community Champions program. Initially, it was some folks who were handpicked like, “Hey, you were super active in our Q&A forum. Why don’t you come on over and join us in this bright shiny new community where we’ll still have that Q&A functionality but also let’s start discussions. Let’s have you write articles based on your best practices and your learnings.” There was obviously a lot of enthusiasm about that, a lot of support. We brought over, I think, initially about 60 humans and gave them that title and we wanted to make sure not only in giving them that title but we wanted to make sure we were also reflecting value back to them.
They’re very giving of their free time. Obviously, they’re in the community answering questions and engaging with the regular members but how can we keep them invested? How can we keep them excited? That’s when we started thinking about perks and benefits of being a champion. To this day, we give them free vouchers for Atlassian certification exams. We invite them to off-sites that the community team has. In December, we all met in San Francisco and invited some of our local champions to join us for some conversations.
We have a big user conference twice yearly and so we extend discounts and free vouchers to those things. In doing so, we’ve created a lot of momentum and we’ve grown the program from 60 humans to about 128. I think is our official count as of today.
[00:05:01] Patrick O’Keefe: When I hear you say that it was a Q&A forum and then you switched to more of a Lithium powered community, what I take from that is that you wanted to make the community more conversational, less, what Stack Overflow was known for at one time, I know they’ve had some issues recently that I’m not fully read on, was sort of, “Here’s a question, here’s an answer, everybody else get the hell out.”
[00:05:25] Erica Moss: Exactly.
[00:05:26] Patrick O’Keefe: It was very, in some cases, blunt, very technical, very blunt, some would say, unfriendly. In this case when you have that Q&A mentality when it’s just about a question and answer, there’s less room for people to have conversations to get to know one another. Is that part of the motivation of this change?
[00:05:44] Erica Moss: That is the nail on the head. It’s totally about giving folks a reason to come back. If I think the community is not welcoming or approachable, I can treat it as a transaction. I’m sitting at my desk and I’m struggling with a Jira issue, I can pop into this Q&A forum, get an answer or two fairly quickly because it is a global community so folks are obviously online at all times, but what is my motivation to come back? What are the warm fuzzies? Why should I invest my time with these other humans?
Of course, there’s motivation from a like-minded individuals’ perspective. I know when I’m coming to a community like this that other folks are working with the same tools that I am, but that’s not enough of an incentive to keep me backing back. We really made a deliberate effort to get away from that Q&A transactional feel and bring in the discussion’s functionality that Lithium has, bring in the article writing functionality, and we truly saw a 180 when we became more thoughtful about that. It’s been really cool to watch.
[00:06:53] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s just more fun, right? It’s not so much fun to manage a Q&A community that is so abundantly dry as tech communities and support based communities can be? It’s probably a lot more fun as a professional to manage a space where people are actually talking about things.
[00:07:08] Erica Moss: Selfishly, I would much rather be nurturing a community that had very tangible technical information, where folks are learning things, but also those random off topic situations where you really get to know these people as humans, not as robots, absolutely makes my job a lot more fun.
[00:07:31] Patrick O’Keefe: You told me that one of the challenges you have is measuring the impact of this program. For example, that you could lower the bar for entry into the Community Leaders program, keep adding people and make that number bigger, but that you have kept the barrier to entry high. How high is the barrier to entry?
[00:07:49] Erica Moss: Oh my gosh, I feel like you should probably ask them that. We have, intentionally, like I said, kept that bar high because it’s important to not only ensure that the humans that are currently in the program still feel special and feel like it’s an exclusive VIP club, but also we don’t necessarily want to usher in a lot of humans that aren’t super-knowledgeable, or do not reflect the personality and tone that our current leaders exhibit.
They are, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the Atlassian team, and so as part of that, we equip them with resources that help them more effectively answer questions and that kind of thing. We intentionally wanted to keep it a cool kids’ club because we want to keep that quality high, and we want to make sure that they are reflecting value back into the community.
That has been a very intentional thing from the beginning because, like you said, to your point, it would be really easy for me to put butts-in-seats, so to speak. I could have 500 “leaders”, but it’s really important that they’re bringing that product knowledge, they’re bringing that enthusiasm and tone, and that keeps the quality of the program high.
[00:09:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Is there a specific milestone people reach where they can be considered for admission? Is it a nomination process from the current members part of the program, that they see someone in the community and they put a nomination forward and comment on it and weigh in and someone selects it from the company, or how does someone get added to the program?
[00:09:20] Erica Moss: That’s a great question. It’s a challenge that we’ve actually been thinking and talking about recently, is the discoverability of the Champions program. How much do we want to elevate it and make it front and center as part of a pillar of the community? Historically, we were handpicking folks based on their activity in the community. If you were a top contributor, if you were posting answers every day and writing articles on a consistent basis, you would show up in an activity report. I would then take all of the humans in that report and evaluate their answers.
When I’m looking at their answers, I’m looking for technical accuracy, I’m looking for tone and I’m looking just 360 view like, are they a good candidate and will they represent us well. That was historically how we were handling recruitment or our funnel into the program. As we moved along we were like, “We’ve got super smart people in this program, why don’t we ask them to refer folks that they have found in their travels in the community, that they think would add value?”
We set up some referrals in that way, and then eventually we moved to an actual application form on the website where if you’re like, “Hey, I’ve been using Atlassian products for a long time, I see these champions, I want to be one of them. I’d like to raise my hand and be considered.” That has brought us a handful of really solid candidates as well.
[00:10:41] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m glad you mentioned tone because I think it’s an important thing to talk about sometimes in community, especially with how we identify leaders and promote leaders. As we talk about tone policing, which can be a bad thing when people are providing feedback and you want to get to the core of what they’re saying without disregarding the value of the statement, for, say how it’s expressed.
When you are looking to leadership in communities and you are managing a community, how you say something is as important as what you’re saying. Even going back to that Stack Overflow example I used earlier, when I’ve read Stack Overflow and thought, “Well, that’s harsh.” Or when I’ve been in tech communities because that’s part of my background and have that group of people especially say, one that stands out is the phpBB community years ago because I used to run a really large resource for that community software for about 11 years.
We would joke on our site about how people would on the other site say just so rudely, “Search first, check the search–” I mean, it’s kind of a stereotype or whatever. It’s whatever you would call the example of a community trope, I guess, is like, “Have you searched? You should search first. Here’s the link to the search.” There’s even a website, Let Me Google That For You where you can link to a search term and it basically visually inserts it into Google and hits the search button for you, which I find to be terribly rude and would never use.
That’s the difference in a lot of cases especially in technical communities between friendliness and driving people away. A lot of people have the knowledge, a lot of people have the expertise in a tech community, but the difference between friendliness and not is how that expertise is expressed.
[00:12:11] Erica Moss: Absolutely. I will say it’s an evolving process where we audit these leaders even who are currently in the program because we want to make sure that we are continuing this warm fuzzy feeling, that they are still exhibiting the traits that we would want leaders in our community to exhibit. We’ve certainly had situations where someone will flag a thread where it’s like, “A leader is being a little bit prickly here. Let’s keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t become a pattern.” Tone and enthusiasm is absolutely something that we pay attention to and are constantly working on.
[00:12:52] Patrick O’Keefe: In some ways when we talk about the value of a program like this amongst ourselves, amongst community pros, it’s like air, it’s the value of air. It’s like, “I like breathing, I think it’s important to my existence here.” When it comes to communicating the value of this program to a wider company or to not community pros let’s say, how do you go about demonstrating to that?
[00:13:16] Erica Moss: That’s the million dollar question always. I feel like with community, and I think I am consistently trying to strike a balance between the hard tangible stuff that I can point to in a Tableau report. For example, in terms of engagement or retention, are our efforts encouraging folks to continue to come back to the community? Again, getting away from that transactional nature.
You have that on one side of the coin, but then you also have all of this awesomeness that they’re creating on a daily basis, in terms of welcoming new users to the community and helping us keep our community healthy. This group of leaders that we have they’re cleaning up spam, and they’re making sure that our tag architecture doesn’t get out of hand and it stays healthy and clean. It’s a lot of stuff like that that is super difficult to put a metric behind but is absolutely essential to the health and the growth of the community.
There isn’t like a black and white super easy way to report back on some of that stuff. I think it is a consistent effort on my part to educate folks internally, and really celebrate those maybe smaller wins or those anecdotal wins. That might be something as simple as reporting it in a Slack channel and reminding folks what’s happening there and those little magic moments. I think, again, the answer to that is a wonderful mix of both super quantitative stuff and also qualitative because these people are humans. I don’t want to distill them down into just a number because they’re obviously so much more than that.
[00:15:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Looking at wider community metrics, you’re watching retention rate and accepted answers rate?
[00:15:15] Erica Moss: Yes.
[00:15:16] Patrick O’Keefe: Is that retention as in staying in the community as active, or retention as in staying as a paying customer and showing how the community participation impacts that churn?
[00:15:28] Erica Moss: That’s a great question. I would say we’re not necessarily looking at product stuff. We know that folks who visit the community during their evaluation process, when they’re thinking about our products, going into the community and participating in the community is certainly one way that they feel more engaged and are more likely to continue down that funnel.
When we think about retention, it’s more of continuing to bring folks back. Are those folks who are coming back engaging in other activities? Maybe I came once and was a lurker for a long time, but hey, now, I’m coming back, I’m liking things. I’m upvoting things. I’m accepting answers to the questions that I’m asking. Starting to deep a toe in and really adding value instead of just consuming the content that exists there.
[00:16:19] Patrick O’Keefe: Who do you think is the person that sticks to provide some deeper context there? Like I said, I have a background in tech communities. The phpBB community I mentioned that we had a support forum that was, I guess, besides the official one, the second largest and most active support community for that software, which was at one point very dominant in the space and very widely used, and it’s still-
[00:16:37] Erica Moss: Sure.
[00:16:37] Patrick O’Keefe: -pretty widely used now. We’d have the normal support community type challenges as far as the reality is people are here to ask a question, get their answer and move on with their life. They don’t envision this as being three hours of their day every day, every week for the next few years. There are users who stick, who stay and decide to do so. What do you think it is about those users? What unites them or why do they do so?
[00:17:01] Erica Moss: Obviously, we spend a lot of time thinking about this. I think in order to encourage those folks to keep coming back, obviously, we can encourage them, respond to them, upvote their stuff, and that kind of thing. I think it’s also conjoined effort with folks like on the e-mail team. We’ve been thinking a lot about that funnel and as folks take different actions, how can we reengage them via e-mail. Show them and educate them about what the possibilities are in the community because I think a lot of times when you enter a community, it can be a little daunting. You’re like, “I don’t know how to navigate this space. I don’t know what I don’t know.” [chuckles] I think we’ve made a deliberate effort to figure out more what that funnel looks like and how we can encourage different things at different points in that journey. Again, you’ll never get to a perfect solution to that. E-mail has been one way where we’ve been able to reengage folks and remind them that we’re here. There’s always something to do in the Atlassian community.
[00:18:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Is an element of this the Community Leaders program in the sense — you referenced this a little earlier. You talked about how you’re thinking about the right way to expose the program to the community, to publicize it within the community, in your tools. Is that one element of this that maybe there is a program like this that has these benefits and the perks that you referenced, and if you are active in the community and you do help others that there is potentially that opportunity. Is that a reason that you think some people might stick around?
[00:18:37] Erica Moss: Yes. I think the challenge with a program of this nature is the balance between keeping it aspirational but also not positioning it as a, “I’m never going to get there,” kind of thing. We’re very thoughtful in our messaging when it comes to stuff like that. What we’ve done is looked at different touch points for super active people to bring them into the program or at least talk about the program in a way that makes sense to them.
For example, we have the Atlassian Authors program. This is a program that folks can be invited to if they are super active on the community and adding a lot of value. We’re like, “Hey, why don’t you come in and start putting pen to paper and writing some articles about your expertise.” In the same breath, in that messaging to those level four folks as we call them, we introduce the Champions program.
We say, “Hey, you seem super knowledgeable, you’re super active. You’re uniquely positioned to join this program that we’ve put together.” We outline the perks in a brief way so folks understand, “Hey, I’m putting my time and effort in this but also Atlassian notices and reflects that value back to me.” That’s one example of a touch point where we talk about it a little bit.
We also have folks who host events, like in-person events, on behalf of Atlassian. Obviously, those folks have a lot of product knowledge. They’re very enthusiastic about the Atlassian ecosystem. We also try to message to them being like, “Hey, again, you’re uniquely positioned in this role to also bring that expertise online.” We recently started looking at those different touch points, different humans who might be interested, folks who become certified in Jira or in Confluence, it means they’re super knowledgeable. It means they care enough to become certified in our products. This is an opportunity for us to present the program and let them know that it exists and bring them over. I think finding those different touch points has been a really great way to build momentum around the program.
[00:20:54] Patrick O’Keefe: One final word on superuser-type programs. I talked to our mutual friend, Jen Pede, as I was putting this episode together. She told me that one of the things that you would probably be most proud of is being a Foursquare superuser.
[00:21:06] Erica Moss: [laughs] Jennifer, I love it. That is absolutely accurate. We actually all just went to Foursquare day at Foursquare headquarters here in New York because they were celebrating 10 years. I can honestly not believe it, but we, Jen and myself, and a handful of us have been with them, it feels like since the beginning even with the split with Swarm and we are loving it. Again, I’m a superuser level one so I’m able to edit locations and that kind of thing, but yes, that is an app that I use on a daily basis for sure.
[00:21:40] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s funny you say that because Foursquare is an app that, as you know, had its moment, was one of the buzzed-about social platforms for a while, and now seems to have settled into this nice place, because my girlfriend swears by Foursquare when it comes to finding restaurants. Wherever we are even home in LA or traveling or somewhere else, she uses it and it’s worked out really well. Foursquare is a platform that, again, a lot of digital marketing folks won’t really talk about much any longer but it’s still being used and it still useful.
I sometimes find the need to remind people that it’s okay not to be at the mountain top, I guess, is one way to put it. It’s okay. If you think about the amount of scrutiny that Facebook, Twitter, and those weird top, I don’t know, .00001% platforms that make it up there have to deal with and then everything else that exists in the social web from small online communities to B2B communities to whatever else, to social tools that have a specific use case like Foursquare, it’s not necessarily a bad place to be. Foursquare, like I said, still useful, still being used. Why do you think that is?
[00:22:50] Erica Moss: Such a great question. I think it’s because they had built that loyalty in such a real way when it was just Foursquare. I think when it was just Foursquare, it was a perfect app. Then, of course, you see that fork in the road where they literally forked the app and then we have Foursquare and then we have Swarm. I think Foursquare tried to make a play against Yelp in terms of reviews and liking things of that kind of thing and it just never maintained that momentum that it had seen when it was one app.
Again, I use Swarm every single day. I still check in everywhere, I love the lifelogging portion of that but a lot of folks the habit wasn’t instilled in them initially and if you’re going to split it, there’s no way to re-engage those folks and get them excited. It’s been a little bit sad as an enthusiast and a big fan to see the joy weighing there, but, like I said, Jen and I have maintained our status. [chuckles]
[00:23:51] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s fun to be a part of social spaces and communities that aren’t Facebook.
[00:23:55] Erica Moss: Yes.
[00:23:56] Patrick O’Keefe: That aren’t Twitter. There’s something about it, there’s something, I don’t know if I want to say more wholesome or it’s just good. It’s just good to have places that you go to that are not those places, nothing personal necessarily against Facebook or Twitter. I do have issues with them and how they run certain aspects of their companies. But I’m on both of them. It’s interesting. We use Swarm. We like Swarm a lot because the purpose it serves is basically what you just said, exactly which is that we do travel and when we travel we go to places and we check in and then I am literally thinking like, “Where the heck did we go?”
[00:24:31] Erica Moss: Yes.
[00:24:32] Patrick O’Keefe: “What happened? What was that restaurant? What was that time? When were we there? What did I have for breakfast?” Because we have Swarm, I can actually go back and find those places and I’ve done this multiple times already when looking for places to go back to or recommending places to other people. It’s really my girlfriend that got me into it because before we met I was not using Foursquare or Swarm. I don’t think I had accounts but she swears by, uses it, finds value in it and now so do I. I actually downloaded the Foursquare app for the first time, or at least for a long time like a month ago.
[00:25:02] Erica Moss: Right.
[00:25:03] Patrick O’Keefe: I was like, “Okay. Well, obviously, this has worked out well.” I’m trying to pick a restaurant. I don’t want to ask her. “I’m going to go ahead and download this app myself and give it a shot.” Still, adopting users even in 2019.
[00:25:16] Erica Moss: You hit the nail on the head in terms of the magic of Swarm. One of my favorite Swarm stories as a friend of mine was asking another friend who was active on Swarm, “Hey, what was that bakery that we went to in Paris three years ago?” There’s no other tool or app that you could really point to that would give you that answer, but he hopped on Swarm and within 30 seconds had the name of that bakery and it’s just cool. I’m a big fangirl.
[00:25:43] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I think when she traveled to Japan, she said it was awesome in Japan. Hey, it’s a useful app. I have this belief that and of course, you can’t convince people otherwise not with venture capital, not with the fight for attention but I don’t build communities to dominate the lives of the people who use it, right?
[00:26:01] Erica Moss: Right.
[00:26:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Facebook sort of does, build a social platform to work in that way and is designed in a way both consciously and maybe unconsciously to addict you. I don’t know. For me, I’m not looking to addict anyone to anything. For Foursquare and Swarm, I feel like it’s– You could say it’s an addiction, I have to check in everywhere. I don’t know that it’s really had that impact that Facebook has. It serves a purpose and it’s useful and that’s why people go back to it and that’s okay. That’s a perfectly a good thing.
It’s perfectly reasonable to have a business that people find value in. Wikipedia says they have 300 employees. I don’t know how updated that is but they employ people, those people are probably happy. Things are fine. It’s a perfectly reasonable company not to be sort of, these are the bigger ones. I think it’s weird that we have to say that way sometimes.
[00:26:50] Erica Moss: Totally. I think Swarm’s other challenge is not a lot of people are comfortable with providing their literal coordinates on a minute by minute basis. That’s obviously a hurdle that they encounter as well.
[00:27:03] Patrick O’Keefe: I can’t get over Venmo. I don’t understand Venmo. People show they’re paying other people money, who they’re paying money for and for what. In some cases, how much. They may do this in public. Who convinced people? Who did this? I use Venmo but it’s set to private. I’m not going to have a social network of my payments. That doesn’t make any sense but people do it.
[00:27:24] Erica Moss: You literally just mentioned the other app that I use probably almost on a daily basis and have so much love for it because I truly don’t know what we did before Venmo existed. Group brunches were more difficult, everything was just more difficult. I have such an affinity for that as well. I totally understand the whole private versus public, sharing your different transactions but such a great app, so easy.
[00:27:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Before this show, we talked about pronunciation of startups and we’re going through a litany here. Tableau, Venmo, Foursquare, Atlassian. Anyway, we’re getting through them. Back to community, Atlassian is, you told me, the first community job you have had where in your words you’ve, “Worked with a true online forum.” How great is that?
[00:28:16] Erica Moss: It is amazing. [laughs] I love having this one-stop shop where all of the humans are having their conversations and, yes, it’s been obviously a learning experience for sure. There are some things that aren’t ideal and we have different features that we wish we could enable that Lithium doesn’t always have out of the box. Yeah, we have a team dedicated to building on top of it and making it exactly what we hope it to be. It’s been really cool.
[00:28:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s interesting to look at someone, and you being the someone, who maybe came to community through, I don’t know, this third-party platform or that third-party platform as their first foray or as their earlier experiences. Now, you have this wonderful onsite community where you can, although there are limitations certainly, do more the things you want and have a little bit more control over things and a little bit more ability to guide where things go. There are challenges too but just having that flexibility, I feel like it’s a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.
[00:29:22] Erica Moss: Absolutely. What’s been interesting and I didn’t really think about coming into this role is obviously folks have a lot of opinions about the suite of Atlassian products and how they function and their wish lists and all of that stuff, but also when you’ve built a community on a platform, in our case, Lithium, folks have a lot of opinions about that functionality there.
They have questions about why this doesn’t exist or are we thinking about this down the road. Not only do you have to think about a roadmap for your products and the the thing that people are buying, you also have to think about the community platform and how folks are interacting with it, what they care about and prioritizing different features and tasks based on that. It introduced a new funnel of ideas and opinions. I hadn’t really considered that before, like I said, jumping in headfirst. That’s been a learning experience as well.
[00:30:24] Patrick O’Keefe: How is the community team structured at Atlassian?
[00:30:27] Erica Moss: I will say it’s a pretty scrappy team. I was actually working at Trello as Trello’s dedicated community manager for about a year, and then Trello was acquired by Atlassian. I was a team of one on the Trello community, and now all of a sudden, I find myself within this much larger company, this much larger ecosystem, and having the opportunity to work across products. All of a sudden, I go from working at a startup to working at a big company, and with that, comes more resources, more humans, which is obviously a positive thing.
I’m a community manager. I have a counterpart in San Francisco. Her name is Monique. She focuses more on the operations of the site, gamification of the site, that kind of thing, whereas I focus on our Leaders Program and building that and making sure they’re happy. We also have someone who’s completely dedicated to content on the community. Not only is she writing articles and posting stuff there, but she’s also looking for our brightest stars and folks who would be uniquely positioned to help us create content there, and her role has been so invaluable. I realize that that is nice to have and a luxury because we have more resources and a bigger team, but what a great resource and great skill set to have on our team. That’s been awesome. We do have someone who’s dedicated to e-mail and paid social. She really thinks about the strategy behind promoting the community and bringing more folks in that way. We have our folks who focus on our in-person events and making sure the humans who host those are happy and getting what they need.
All of us funnel up into the head of community, our manager, Stephanie. She obviously focuses on a lot of the strategic stuff, the roadmap, “Where are we going? What are our goals?” Wrangling all of the cats, making sure that she’s elevating the community program to internal stakeholders, and that kind of thing. Definitely a smaller team, but I think probably a bigger team, considering most other standards. It’s been great.
[00:32:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, you’re totally right. It is a bigger team by many standards. I have three direct reports right now, about to have a fourth, and then add two more part-timers. The reality is that even though, your team, it sounds like is maybe six reporting into the lead. Did I count right? Is it five, six, seven, something like that?
[00:33:07] Erica Moss: I think, all in, we have eight.
[00:33:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, eight reporting into the community lead. That’s one of the biggest community teams in the world.
[00:33:14] Erica Moss: Yes.
[00:33:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Call that sad or good. Sad or happy mad or glad, it’s just reality. It’s the truth. Most community teams are one person because the people hiring or choosing that person don’t see it as more or aren’t giving it the opportunity to become more. Those of us who do have other team members, direct reports, or even equals among our team, if you’ve got two, three, four, or five, you’re probably top 1%, 2% community team in the world, again, as sad or happy as that makes you. It sounds like you have an interesting team.
What’s noteworthy here, the specialization, I think is interesting and good. You talked about the specification of different roles and how people serve in different ways, rather than just having community manager, community manager, community manager, but having the events person, having this person who’s doing gamification or operations, having this person, you, who’s actually managing the actual onsite community.
It’s always good to see specialization within community. For example, I want to see more community departments have a dedicated analytics person, a data scientist, someone who does nothing but data to serve the community because we sit on mountains of data, and it’s too much to ask, in many cases, the existing professional or the community manager, or whoever it is, to also be in charge of maximizing the value of that data.
They can spend five hours a week, three hours a week, maybe even a day of their week. Unfortunately, I would not recommend that, but maybe that’s what they do. They look at data. That’s not going to maximize it. Seeing these specialized roles is a positive thing for our space.
[00:34:42] Erica Moss: What’s cool about the community team at Atlassian is that it feels like a startup within the greater org. By that, I mean I feel like we have a lot of autonomy and we have the ability to choose our own adventure and decide what’s best for the humans in our ecosystem. That’s been really refreshing because I think that was my fear when I went from exclusively Trello to Atlassian.
It’s like, “What’s the bureaucracy going to look like? What’s the red tape going to look like?” I really haven’t encountered that. I think that’s why we’ve been able to see some of the successes that we have. I think from the top down, there is an investment in the community and there is an appreciation for it and an understanding for it. I know that that is also a luxury and not something that everyone gets to enjoy.
[00:35:29] Patrick O’Keefe: You are correct.
Let’s talk about community careers. In our pre-show chat, you mentioned that you, “Worry a lot about suffering from whack-a-mole syndrome in this career path, where you’re chasing so many shiny objects all the time that you don’t pause to be proactive about future plans and reflective about what you’ve done well and can learn from.” Talk about that.
[00:35:49] Erica Moss: [laughs] I’m going to go ahead and trademark whack-a-mole syndrome, because I think I’m the first person to use that, ever. I think it’s super tough because you wear so many hats as a community manager. When I think about how a typical day is structured for me, I can start it with an idea of what I want to tackle and what I want to get done, but that can be completely derailed in like two minutes because something over here is on fire or I have a member asking me a question and I need to give them that white-glove service that I’ve established with them.
You find yourself just context switching so much, to the point where, some days, I’ll just find myself switching between tabs but not really doing anything, and you have this moment where you’re like, “Okay, let’s take a step back, maybe walk away from my desk for a second.” Because, again, you are chasing so many different shiny objects that sometimes you don’t stop and think about, “Okay, what have I accomplished today? What can I point to as a win, and that kind of thing?”
Doing so, I think it’s really difficult to be reflective. Whether you’re at a startup or a bigger company like Atlassian, it’s always, “Go, go, go.” I think, as a team, we have tried to be really thoughtful about that. When we have our off-sites and stuff like that, what are we doing well? What should we double down on and continue doing? What are some things we’re doing that are not effective, that are a time-suck, that we need to walk away from?
[00:37:30] Patrick O’Keefe: What I find is just that I’m interrupted. It’s not that “What have I done?” Of course, I have people reporting in to me. That’s part of it, and triaging things and dealing with their concerns, they’re flagging things for me to review and approve, but fires. An e-mail I sent recently, I put the word emergencies in quotation marks, referencing to these phenomena. There are these “emergencies” that really aren’t emergencies at all. There’s really very few emergencies.
I get messages throughout the day from all sorts of people across the company that this community thing is this, they needed help with this, Sales has a question about this. It’s like I am, not the gatekeeper, but the person to triage it because I try to keep those distractions off of my team, in a sense, and so there are certain things that should be elevated to me. It is to the point where I have a Trello board, to mention an Atlassian product.
I do have a Trello board and that’s how we organize the repetitive tasks and any tasks that take more than, say, a few minutes, to say, “Okay, these are things that we’re doing, these are things we’re getting done,” so that we can document them and talk about them at the end of the week, or the end of the month, or however it works. Also, they’re showing I have these tasks. I put tasks on my board to remember them. I don’t put a due date on them because they don’t have a due date. They just are things I need to tackle at some point in the future.
That list, for the last few months, part of it is being short-staffed, that list has not gone down very much. That list of things has not been moved from. Those long-term, midterm, due-date list projects that would represent progress in this way are not getting done as much because I have all these short-term emergencies. On that level, I sympathize.
[00:39:14] Erica Moss: Yes, I don’t think we talk enough about the role of community manager and how much “invisible work” is involved. When I’m thinking about my workload on a weekly basis, of course, I have these big north stars or these larger projects that I’m tracking toward, but like you said, you’re having a conversation with the sales team or this other member has a question about an upcoming event. That’s why I think when folks talk about what are the good qualities of a community manager, being able to context switch and like you said, be that traffic controller and that gatekeeper in that way, and to be able to wrangle the proper humans, is so invaluable and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that happens over time. I think a really good community manager is curious about that and wants to get to know the humans across the org. You can ask for help when you need it or you can delegate a task when you need to because otherwise, man, you’re going to burn out.
[00:40:16] Patrick O’Keefe: I have a community manager on my team who is outstanding and to your point, a lot of the work that she does, you talk about that invisible work and that I tried it, talk about and remind other people in the company is she does work that makes everyone else better in ways that she will never get credit for. Events wants to know about people in this region who have asked about events in the community, well, they asked her. There’s no credit for that, there’s no attribution for that connection. No one credits that as a sale, it just goes to the bottom-line of events. Or with Sales, they have a question, a pre-sales questions about what they can do in our community, so they ask her and she provides that answer. They close a sale, no attribution. She raises all the ships, she’s the rising tide. That takes time out of her day and her week and her month and her year.
It’s not on anyone’s spreadsheet, it’s not in Google Docs, it’s not in Trello, it’s not on any financial document. That’s the challenge, I guess, finding people to work for, who understand that reality and also understand that when we’re communicating that to them it’s not an excuse, it’s not that no work is being done, it’s that things are being done and we’re explaining what they are, but they don’t hit our bottom-line the same way they might hit someone else’s.
[00:41:29] Erica Moss: Yes. I think a way in which we started combating that on the Atlassian community team, which is something my manager instituted, is a community show-and-tell, once a month. During the show-and-tell, we get basically everyone in the room who touches community, and we share wins and highlights or things we’ve shipped. That doesn’t obviously speak to a lot of the invisible work that’s happening. I think, again, as community managers sometimes it’s tough for us to be advocates for ourselves and champions for ourselves. I had a conversation with someone recently on the team because it doesn’t always feel natural and it doesn’t feel easy to toot your own horn and say, “Hey, I did this and this was the impact of it.” It’s so important and I think the more cognizant you are of it and the more you practice that, the better you will be as a community professional overall.
[00:42:26] Patrick O’Keefe: Erica, it’s been a pleasure, thank you so much for making time for us.
[00:42:29] Erica Moss: Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having me. I’ve loved it.
[00:42:32] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Erica Moss, senior manager of community engagement at Atlassian. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ericajmoss and check out the Atlassian community at community.atlassian.com.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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