We’re several months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the daily loss of lives is still devastating and the longterm effects on our communities and society as a whole have yet to be seen. For many of us, the pandemic has affected our routines, our families, our work, and our livelihood. While some online communities have seen more engagement from community members (I love this story that mentions how Ethel’s Club pivoted from a brick and mortar social club to an online one), we’re also seeing tremendous layoffs across all industries.
Amidst all of this and despite being just a few months old, Pandora’s community is aspiring to be a space where members can connect over music and everything impacting their lives right now. In this episode, community manager Erick Linares shares the strategy behind the launch of the Pandora community and how he’s working with his team to foster great conversations.
Patrick and Erick also discuss:
- Why Erick thinks a superuser program will be integral to the Pandora community
- The challenge of making the case for a new community during the COVID-19 pandemic
- How the mentorship Erick received at Fitbit propelled his career growth and how he’s paying it forward
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Turning question-askers into conversation starters (14:45): “When we respond as moderators, we have a signature that says, ‘Come share your playlist with me in the playlist swap.’ [With small things like that] we’re trying to drive engagement [so that members don’t simply] ask a question and then bounce out because that’s not actually engagement, that’s just coming in and asking a question and then waiting for your answer and never coming back.” –@thegateceo
Creating authentic conversations with your community (16:35): “[We don’t just create content that says] ‘Hey, go listen to our podcast’ or ‘Go listen to our playlist that we’ve created as Pandora.’ We’re being very personable. Some of the posts that we’ve created on the community are like, ‘How are you dealing with COVID-19 anxiety?’ Then [I share how I am] actually coping with it and how my employees are coping with it. … These are the types of conversations that are going to help our users want to engage with us and be very personable and not to only think of this as a support space or a space for Pandora, but a space where they can actually share their own experiences.” –@thegateceo
What makes a great boss? (36:22): “The difference between a good boss and a great boss is having someone who looks out for your career beyond what you can do for them in this moment.” –@patrickokeefe
About Erick Linares
In December of 2014, Erick Linares took on a role at Fitbit as a customer support specialist and wore many hats during his tenure. Erick grew from a support specialist to community and social support specialist to transitioning to the community team manager of the Fitbit community, under the leadership of Allison Leahy.
In March of 2019, Erick took the leap to Pandora as community manager to begin the efforts of building the totally new Pandora Community, which launched in September of 2019. In addition to his community role, Erick also oversees the social care programs for both Pandora and SiriusXM.
Erick lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is passionate about all things music as he’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in sound arts. Prior to working at Fitbit, Erick ran live sound for the San Francisco 49ers during their inaugural season at Levi’s Stadium.
- Sponsor: Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities
- Erick Linares’ website
- Erick Linares on LinkedIn
- Pandora Community
- Pandora and SiriusXM
- Fitbit, where Erick previously worked
- Allison Leahy, formerly of Fitbit, on Community Signal
- The Khoros online community platform
- The Pandora Help Site
- Pandora’s Playlist Swap
- Pandora’s Music Genome Project
- Pandora’s Getting to Know You Playlist Challenge
- SiriusXM is trialing free streaming until May 15th
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, a podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to this episode of Community Signal. We’re talking with Pandora community manager, Erick Linares about launching the Pandora community, the differences between the Pandora and SiriusXM communities, and mentoring your team and helping them further their careers.
Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, our Patreon supporters have continued to back this show and that means so much. Thank you. This group includes Marjorie Anderson, Jules Standen, and Carol Benovic-Bradley. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
In December of 2014, Erick Linares joined Fitbit as a customer support specialist and wore many hats during his time at the company. He moved from a support specialist to a community and social support specialist, eventually transitioning to become the community team manager of the Fitbit community under the leadership of Allison Leahy.
Erick left Fitbit in March of 2019, taking a leap to Pandora as a community manager to begin the efforts of building the totally new Pandora community. In September of 2019, the Pandora community was publicly launched. In addition to his community role at Pandora, Erick also oversees the social care program for both Pandora and SiriusXM.
Erick lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is passionate about all things music as he earned a Bachelor’s degree in sound arts. Previous to working at Fitbit, Erick ran live sound for the San Francisco 49ers during their inaugural season at Levi’s Stadium. Erick, welcome to the show.
[00:01:43] Erick Linares: Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:45] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s great to have you on now. Pandora was founded 20 years ago and I’m guessing they may have tried the online community thing at least once during that span. Maybe they didn’t, I don’t know. You find yourself about a year ago taking this job and then six months later launching the Pandora community. Why now?
[00:02:03] Erick Linares: Like you said, Pandora has been around for around 20 years now. The big thing about Pandora is that when communities were growing and continuing to be creative throughout different businesses, at the time, I think Pandora was used to using support through e-mail. One of the biggest things that Pandora was really interested in doing is getting with the times and scaling their support channels to be more with the modern times such as community, social media, chat. Those are some of the things that we’ve actually implemented within the last year or two.
We’ve brought up a social support aspect to the support space as well as brought up the Pandora community, which is what I was brought on for to actually bring to the table. It was very much just scaling to actually grow with the times. One of the biggest channels I think for support that was missing was chat was one of the big ones.
I think bringing community on board and seeing the value that the community brought to Pandora and to the current subscribers and listeners and being able to present our products in a space that our users were actually looking for the information, was one thing that really brought community to the forefront. It’s not where we’re actually just giving information but we’re collaborating with our listeners, with our subscribers.
We’re finding users who are key members and knowledgeable on our products who have been using our product for years and years and they’re able to share that information with other users who are actually looking for that type of information or asking questions about the product where we already have customers who have been using the product for over 10 years and scaling that into the community.
[00:03:37] Patrick O’Keefe: You launched this community in September to the public. A lot has changed since September, I mean, just so much. So much has changed since February, but what would have been the difference do you think if you had to schedule the launch for that community in let’s say March 15th instead of September 15th, what do you think the difference would have been?
[00:03:55] Erick Linares: I think what’s really changed for us, the way we launched in September, some of the things that we were thinking about were like, “Oh, holidays are coming up. Are we going to see very few engagement because of the holidays?” Now, we’re coming across this whole COVID-19. This whole pandemic going on, global pandemic. Our thoughts were really thinking that a lot of people were maybe not going to be online, but what we’ve seen is actually an increase in engagement because a lot of people are at home and they have a lot of time on their hands so they’re able to join onto the community.
What we’ve done is we’ve really focused on trying to create engagement within the community over the past couple of months to drive a lot of engagement. That’s one of the key points that we’re trying to push across for our community. We’ve only launched in the past seven months. It’s a very young community where a lot of people are coming to the community from our help site.
The number one place that is driving traffic to us is our help site because it’s being driven through the support space. We have a huge banner on our help site that is driving users to community. Other ways that we drive users to the community is through our support emails. We actually have a signature that says,
“If you need more help, go to the community and get help yourself there.” We’re driving that. I think if we would have launched a couple of months earlier, we may have seen higher registrations.
[00:05:10] Patrick O’Keefe: You touched on something a moment ago that I think like go back to for a second, which is that you launched at a time in September, end of the third quarter, almost fourth quarter, going into the holidays. Pandora isn’t like Procter & Gamble or Walmart, right? It’s a little more nimble, but still, you’ve got that quarterly outlook on things. There might be a temptation in those cases to say, “Hey, you know what, January.” This can be a January 1st initiative, this is going to be a 2020 initiative. We don’t need to get it done in 2019 but if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have been set up to receive people in the same way when COVID-19 hit. Having those four months in 2019 actually proved, I would have to think quite fortuitous.
[00:05:47] Erick Linares: Definitely. We were able to not only come up with the plans to actually launch the community. I’ve been with the company since March 2019. Let’s say from March to September to do all the planning, the implementation, working with internal stakeholders, external stakeholders. We use the Khoros platform. Having that relationship with Khoros really helped expedite the launch to about six months of building and getting it built up and then doing all the marketing, planning for that last month of the actual launch.
We did an employee launch initially on September 4th, then on September 10th we actually did a push VIP launch where we actually reached out to our most engaged listeners on the Pandora platform and we did a launch for them exclusively. It was a VIP beta launch. Then we actually did our public launch on September 17th.
[00:06:34] Patrick O’Keefe: I was close. That September 15th date I pulled that right out of thin air. Actually, I was making it up a date. It was actually pretty close.
[00:06:42] Erick Linares: On September 17th is when we actually did our public launch and then we did an email blast, a marketing blast through our CRM team to about 30 million subscribers to promote it a week later on September 24th, so that window I think really, really helped us to get the subscribers and registrations that we currently have on it. As of right now, we have about 45,000 registered members. We’re averaging about 6,000 registrations a month, which has increased over the last month or two around COVID-19. We’re seeing around 4,000 registrations. These last couple of months have increased our overall registrations to average out to about 6,400.
[00:07:21] Patrick O’Keefe: You touched on another area a moment ago that I wanted to talk about which was discoverability of the Pandora community. Now, you mentioned some of the areas where people can find you, email signatures, the help site being big ones. You sort of answered my question, but I think what I’d like to hear about is almost- – It’s not adversarial, I’m not trying to cast any negative light, but I’m sure there’s a fight for attention.
There is at every company, at companies I’ve worked for where it’s like how much emphasis can go to this versus this? Sales, CTAs, lead acquisition, lead gen versus community. Where can I have my link? Where can you have yours? Where does it all fit? If I go to Pandora.com right now I just see a tiny link in the footer to the Pandora community. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that fight for attention, how you are working to make sure the community gets in front of people.
[00:08:02] Erick Linares: Definitely. What I did when I was putting together a marketing plan for the actual launch of community is I met with internal stakeholders actually based on our marketing team, our CRM marketing, because I wanted to make sure that we blasted it via emails. We actually generated a GIF animation that said, “Join the Pandora community. Here’s three reasons why.” We actually had our creative team create the animation for us so we worked very closely with them to create the animation.
Then we had our social marketing team actually push that out to marketing channels of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. We also pushed that through our social support channels as well because a lot of the traffic was going to be coming through our support channels. We pushed that gif animation through those channels. Another way that we did to get some traffic to the community was our help site. That’s where people are looking for help, on help.pandora.com, because they have a question about the product, they need something answered.
We generated a huge banner at the bottom of that help site that says, “Join the Pandora community,” which drives a huge portion of our traffic. Another portion of our traffic, like you said, on pandora.com you see the community on the footer. If you actually were to log in on your actual profile, if you click the profile image you’ll see there’s a link to the help site as well as the community as well. We’re trying to have users discover that once they’re logged in through the Pandora experience as well, so they could see that they can actually engage, they can actually share a playlist through the community as well.
We’re trying to make the driving to community across all the different channels that we have. That was very key to getting the amount of registrations that we’ve had that allow people to discover ig. One thing that we actually did as well as we launched publicly on the community, we’re actually SEO friendly. If you searched Pandora community or if you search any Pandora related issues on Google, we will show up in those search results. The more engagement we’re getting, I think the higher we’re getting served on those searches.
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So I hear a consistent theme as you talk about the community and the theme to me is support got you in the door, right? Support gets you in the door as a hire, you personally get the community in the doors as an initiative.
Sort of the first focus of the community is building out a support apparatus, social care, peer to peer support, and building out the help desk further. What do you want the community to prove long term for the business after you prove out the support case?
[00:11:05] Erick Linares: I think our big thing is to prove that we’re actually bringing engagement to users, that users are not just coming to the community to seek out support, but they’re coming to have a conversation to actually build community within the community space with other users. Some of the spaces that we’ve actually created on the community are specifically meant to drive engagement. We have the different sections of the community.
The parent levels are the support space and then we have our listener lounge space, which is more of the discussion areas. We have a community chat which is more of engagement, where we want our listeners to come in and talk about music, to talk about podcasts. Our playlist swap spaces where we actually want users to not only come and talk about music and to share playlists, but to be able to know that when you come to this playlist swap you’re sharing this with other people who actually have Pandora because it’s so easy to go to Facebook and share playlists on Pandora but not everyone on Facebook has Pandora.
This is a space where everyone that’s logged in and registered when is creating content is a Pandora user so it’s very easy. Building that social aspect that we didn’t really have on, let’s say, a platform like Facebook or Instagram, that’s another thing that we actually pushed our company as well to add is when you do share a song that you’re listening to on Pandora, you can actually share it to Instagram now through a story just like you could previously with other platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.
We’re including those and the real return on investment that we want to drive to our company is self-service with support as well as engagement and driving our users to perform more upgrades through their service because we have three different tiers of service. We have our free, our plus, and our premium. We want to drive users to that premium experience if they’re using our free or if they’re using our plus.
We also want to drive free listeners through the plus environment. Doing a lot of that and also a lot of education of our specific product. A lot of people don’t know that Pandora actually serves a premium product. The premium product is very competitive with Spotify, where you’re able to play music on demand. I think that’s something that we didn’t do a great job of marketing initially when we first launched it. Even myself when I first joined the company, I didn’t know that they actually served on-demand music. I thought it was just a radio service. It was very well known for the longest time that Pandora was a radio service but we’ve actually introduced Pandora premiums for on-demand music, as well as the Music Genome Project, which will serve you music based on your likes and your thumbs up and your thumbs down throughout your entire usage of Pandora.
[00:13:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Talking about engagement, when I asked you for challenges that you were thinking about, you mentioned getting community members to respond to questions and provide peer to peer support without a superuser program yet. Why do you see the lack of a superuser program as a challenge?
[00:13:53] Erick Linares: I think it’s because since we’re so young, we just haven’t identified superusers on our space right now. One of the things that I used to do when I actually worked on the Fitbit community was we would allow threads and conversations and questions to get asked and we would leave them for about 24 hours to allow other members to actually respond to it before we actually engaged with it as moderators.
I think one of the difficulties right now is that since we’re so young, a lot of users are coming in and asking a question, and just waiting to get a response, and then bouncing out. What we’re really trying to do is get them to not only ask a question but also engage with a piece of content through our discussion spaces and driving those discussion spaces to the forefront. Ways that we’ve done that really is when we respond as moderator we have a signature that says like, “Come share your playlist with me in the playlist swap.” Just small little things like that, where we’re trying to drive that engagement to not only just ask a question and then bounce out because that’s not actually engagement, that’s just coming in and asking a question and then waiting for your answer and never coming back. We want return customers. We want customers to come in and to come and share their experiences in the community and build community through the platform.
[00:15:01] Patrick O’Keefe: So you see a superuser program as being crucial to being able to do that long-term.
[00:15:06] Erick Linares: Yes. I think long-term we’re really aiming for around the one year mark to start really looking to implement that superuser program. We’re a couple of months away still. We’ll see how it all plays out with this whole COVID-19 thing and how that drives regular usage to the community or will we continue to see the same level of engagement through the community, which we’ve been slower over this past couple months, but we’re really aiming towards around a year or year and a half mark to start thinking about that super user program.
[00:15:35] Patrick O’Keefe: I feel like part of that, and this is just me speaking, is obviously there’s a community for everything online and there’s tons of music communities and within music sort of a delineation, not just like genre or era, but also technology, production, hardware, and everything that goes into music. There’s a lot of communities that are just communities of enthusiasts, of hobbyists, of professionals that are independent and that thing is what they’re focused on.
Wherewith a community like Fitbit has, like Pandora has, like many larger companies have. I feel sometimes people feel like, “Why should I help you make money? You’re publicly traded. I pay you money. Why should I spend my time there?” I feel that’s part of the thing you answered with the superuser program, but also part of the challenge you faced in getting people to stick around instead of just using this as a channel that they take from as a user of the service. How do you navigate around that challenge?
[00:16:28] Erick Linares: That’s a great question. One of the things that we’re really doing is to not only create content that’s saying like, “Hey, go listen to our podcast,” or “Go listen to our playlist that we’ve created as Pandora.” We’re also very much being very personable. Some of the types of posts that we’ve created on the community are like, “How are you dealing with COVID-19 anxiety?” Then me, myself as the community manager going in there and posting how am I actually coping with it and how are my employees coping with it.
My moderation team that’s responding to all these things and just being very transparent and very personable on the community. Those are the types of conversations that are going to help our users to want to engage with us and to be very personable and not to only think of this as a support space or a space for Pandora, but a space where they could actually share their own experiences as well.
It doesn’t have to be about our product. It could be just very much about their own experiences through a pandemic, as what we’re experiencing. Of course we throw in there like, “Hey, here’s some playlists that you could listen to while you’re at home.” I think it’s been very helpful and we’ve been able to drive engagement to those specific threads. Right now another thing that we’re doing is creating challenges.
I’ve seen on a lot of the social platforms that we oversee that people are doing challenges on TikTok on like dance challenges. We’re trying to come up with similar types of challenges to follow some of the trends that are happening right now with the world. We’re doing challenges for playlists. We’re on week two right now. We’ve done our second challenge and we’re doing one that’s called Getting to Know You. We’re asking questions like, give me the name of your favorite song off of the first album that you ever purchased, or your least favorite song, or tell me a song that you listen to when you’re happy. Then we’re actually not only creating those as posts but people are sharing those posts and then they’re also linking to the Pandora product, which is helping us to get more listening hours during this pandemic, which is great.
[00:18:20] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned to me before the show that your previous experience at Fitbit with Khoros helped you master the platform and as community manager at Pandora, these are your words, “truly got the full access experience that you were missing at Fitbit.” Talk about that a little bit. What was missing and how your experience with the platform changed once you made the switch to I guess a higher-level role in a sense.
[00:18:41] Erick Linares: When I was at Fitbit, and I started off my career there as a moderator. I had limited capabilities on what I was able to do with Khoros on the platform. Then I transitioned over to be the supervisor of the team with Allison Leahy who was the director at that time. When I said limited capabilities, it was more of the permission set of Khoros on the back end to determine how users would engage with the platform, how the platform would react to that engagement.
Being able to build badging and gamification on the back end was a great thing for me to learn and to take in and to implement for this platform, as well as the design of the community and the design of how we wanted the community to actually react to the engagement of users and as well as creating the rules and our guidelines, creating the different spaces, creating the internal spaces for the moderation team based on just best practices of things that I learned during my experience with Fitbit. That’s very much what I meant, more so, the permission set of Khoros and really getting a mastery of building it from scratch was super helpful for me. Being able to see like, “Oh, this is why we did things at Fitbit this way because, at the end of the day, this is what’s going to drive more engagement or more user interaction on the community.” Having those strategies in my mind as I was building the community was super helpful.
[00:20:00] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you find yourself giving your people that access earlier now because you feel like it might be more beneficial for them to see it quicker? Has that informed you at all?
[00:20:09] Erick Linares: Definitely. Yes. One of the things when I first was moderating at Fitbit, a small thing that I didn’t have permission to do was to put up banners. Allison Leahy very much giving me the ability to be able to go ahead and learn as much as I could on the community, at one point she gave us the permission set to be able to post banners when she wasn’t around and that’s something that I’ve given to my team already from the beginning of the community launch just because I want them to be self-sufficient and to not really need to rely on me at all times for the community.
That’s been a great help, not only to myself, but it has really taught them as well to learn more about the community platform and to be able to manage the community self-sufficiently without having to reach out to me for every little thing, which is great. Things like banners, being able to float topics on the community. If they find an issue that’s totally brand new and I’m not around to say like, “Oh, yes, let’s float the topic.” They have the free reign to go ahead and do those types of things. Those things have been very helpful.
One of the biggest things that community has really brought to our company that really wasn’t around for our support organization as much previous to the community was just the transparency. When we do see issues we are very transparent in acknowledging it and thanking our subscribers for calling out issues and saying like, “Hey, thanks for letting us know that this is an issue. We pushed it along to our engineers who are currently trying to replicate the issue and we’ll give you an update.”
Doing those sorts of things has really been helpful and that really doesn’t have anything to do with the platform, but that’s more of just the goal of community. My thinking of community is that transparency will bring trust with the listeners and the community as well. It was proven with me at Fitbit and we’re seeing returns on that here at Pandora as well.
[00:21:55] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned the wider company. You are now in the beginning stages of planning an online community for SiriusXM. Individually, SiriusXM existed longer than Pandora. Goes back even longer. I’m curious, what are the differences that you’re anticipating between the Pandora community and the SiriusXM community?
[00:22:13] Erick Linares: Technically speaking, the SiriusXM community is going to be very heavily focused on satellite service. SiriusXM, their subscribers are very much within the vehicle at this very moment. Our business is basically GM and Ford and all these big car manufacturers are putting our devices, our radios into vehicles. They’re selling them off the lots with a six-month subscription to SiriusXM. We get those people to subscribe. Our business is keeping them as a subscriber once they finish that six month period for SiriusXM.
For Pandora, it’s very much heavily focused on the app, very much app-based. Most of our listeners and subscribers are iOS users, Android users who are using it through their telephone and that’s one of the big key differences that we really, really need to focus on and to make sure that we’re heavily focused on. For SiriusXM, we’re heavily focused on vehicles, heavily focused on driving the engagement within the actual vehicle as well as one of the big key initiatives for SiriusXM is to drive our younger generation to the application because we do have a SiriusXM application that isn’t as heavily used as a satellite signal through a vehicle is currently used.
Driving to the millennials, that’s a big thing. SiriusXM, the listenership is more of 40s and above, which totally makes sense because having a service that’s very much used in a vehicle is a luxury that someone who has disposable income can actually purchase and people who are young are not really trying to look for a service that’s in addition to something like Pandora or Spotify where they’re listening to on-demand and then having a separate service that’s used in the vehicle.
One of the things that we’re going to really drive for SiriusXM is the authentic types of content that we’re creating that you can’t get anywhere else such as content like Howard Stern. That’s not anywhere else. Content like Shade 45, specific radio stations that you can’t listen to anywhere else. It’s all authentic content. A lot of the content is no holds barred and it’s — I think that’s one of the biggest things that we really want to drive is just the listening to the authentic content on SiriusXM.
Being able to use the listening experience within your vehicle as well as driving to the application, which is something that not a lot of people know about, not a lot of people know that we’re continuing to improve on that app as well. Not only is there listening through the app, but we actually have video content. We want to be able to share that type of content on the community to not only just drive into the application or in the vehicle, but also on the actual social space through community as well.
[00:24:54] Patrick O’Keefe: What it sounds like to me is that really building a community for SiriusXM, the biggest benefit it can create is that it will hopefully drive a younger audience to SiriusXM and encourage app usage and probably further engage with a few people, it sounds like, whatever number that is that are already using the app.
[00:25:11] Erick Linares: Exactly.
[00:25:12] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. I hear what you’re saying because Howard Stern users, I would think tend to skew older, over 40. I’m a millennial so you’re talking my language. I just got in there at the very cusp of the start. I get it though because I’ve never been a SiriusXM subscriber. I know people who have and they’re good people who tend to be older than me. It’s a really interesting point that community could be one of the things that helps to secure their relationships with people who are say 35 and under.
[00:25:39] Erick Linares: Definitely. That’s a key goal for us just throughout the company right now in general, and I think community will be a big part of pushing that as well for us.
[00:25:48] Patrick O’Keefe: The planning for that was underway when COVID-19 hit and now you have to fight for budget to make it happen. Talk about that.
[00:25:55] Erick Linares: We’ll see how that ends up playing out. Like I said earlier, SiriusXM our biggest usership comes from vehicles being sold on the lot. Right now, a lot of those car manufacturers are completely shut down, so we’re not getting those users to engage with us. That’s basically an issue for us at this very moment. Don’t know how long this COVID-19 pandemic and closure of all sorts of businesses, including automotive manufacturers, is going to last.
Listening to the news today, we’re going to be extending that in California. The guidelines for COVID-19 are going to be extended through May, so we’ll see how long this continues on and I think that’s going to have a big effect on our business, not just with actual subscribers, but a financial hit. It’s definitely going to be a big ask for trying to get funding for a community to bring this into the fold.
I think it’s something that we’ve already had conversations with my leadership team already, so it’s something that’s already underway. I think it’s just very much making sure that I make the push at the right time for getting this funding and to make sure that we’re prepared for this once this is all over. I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles that I’m going to be facing in the coming months. I don’t see it as a blocker. We’ll even use the Pandora community as an example. Not only did we see increased engagement on the community over this time because a lot of people are indoors and I think people are looking for a place to vent and to speak up and to share their experiences right now that they can’t do it personably in the face to face experience where they can only do it online. I think that’ll be a huge point that I will push. Like I said, on the Pandora community, we’ve seen increased engagement, increased registrations.
Our company is really trying to drive for the millennials to get on to SiriusXM so I think that’s going to be another part of how I’m going to use to try to get some of that budgeting is like, “Check this out. This is the viewership that we have on the Pandora community. This is the age group that we see the majority of users sharing on.” We see a lot of millennials on the Pandora community, which is very surprising because the majority of our users are very similar to SiriusXM where it’s like 40 and above, just because it’s been a platform for so long. We’re very much driving to get a lot of millennials onto the platform and to give them a return on their investment basically that will show them that Pandora is a premium service, that’s something that they should be using in comparison to another platform just like Spotify or Apple Music or Amazon Music that’s out there at the moment.
[00:28:28] Patrick O’Keefe: As you paint the picture, what better time to be using this SiriusXM app right now? When we don’t go outside, that means we also don’t go in our cars as much, so I have to imagine that’s putting a stress on some subscriptions where people are making choices as far as whether or not to keep things going if I’m not in the car where I always listen to it.
The people who are sticking around are now probably turning to other means of listening to SiriusXM including the app and if you had a community set up, what not to look at this too cynically, but in every business when a situation like this, there’s businesses that people will go to, they’ll watch Netflix more, let’s say, maybe. They’ll buy more groceries and they won’t go to Disney as much and they won’t do these other things. They won’t go to concerts, but it’s a good opportunity for the app.
[00:29:09] Erick Linares: Definitely, that’s one thing that SiriusXM has currently been doing is we’ve been pushing free listening. For the past month we’ve had free listening and anyone can access it. If you go to SiriusXM.com/streamfree, you can listen for free to SiriusXM. Our full lineup up to May 15th and that’s something that we’ve really been driving to not only keep people engaged with SiriusXM but also just like a point of goodwill. We’re just out here sharing SiriusXM for free with people who are unable to listen to it through a subscription and throughout this pandemic, we know people are at home and they want a way to cope with the anxiety of just being at home or not being able to go to work. Listening to shows for free on SiriusXM, I think, has been super helpful and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from our subscribers and non-subscribers as well.
[00:29:57] Patrick O’Keefe: You moved pretty quickly at Fitbit. From an audio engineering background, you were hired into customer support. After seven months you became a community and social media specialist. Another year and 10 months and you’re leading the community team with people reporting to you. Generally speaking, when I see that sort of advancement it means that number one, you did good work, and number two, you had at least one person who believed in you and was committed to mentoring and looking out for your career.
At Fitbit, as you mentioned earlier, you came up under Allison Leahy who’s a friend of mine and has been on the show before and is now at Spotify. You made a point of mentioning Allison in your bio and sure enough, already on the show here before I did. I’d love for you to talk about that mentoring, both as you were coming up with Allison and what she may have done and also what you now do for people you are hiring.
[00:30:47] Erick Linares: Sure. Mentoring, I think it’s a huge point of how I got to where I am today. Like you said, I moved pretty quickly at Fitbit. Not only having that mentoring but also being the type of person that I always want to take the initiative to do as best that I can and to improve on my career. I think I’m one of those types of people that I’m never satisfied with where I currently am and I always, I’m thinking a step ahead of like, “Where do I want to go next? What do I want to do next? What do I want to learn next?”
Always learning, I think that’s a huge thing and just having that inside of myself to be that type of person to want to continue to grow and continue to learn something new but then having someone like Allison who was actually, her thought process is very much where she wants to mentor me or she wanted to actually be able to lead me to where I wanted to go. I had to take the initiative to say I want to learn this stuff and then it was up to her to allow me that freedom to learn what I wanted to learn about community, to learn about everything from moderation of community, to writing out guidelines about community and why we have specific guidelines, why we allow specific things on the community.
Another thing that she really helped me with and she allowed me to focus on is the reporting aspect of community. Being able to speak on KPIs and being able to understand what that actually means in the business and being able to think of a KPI and put that with the actual overall business of what Fitbit wanted to do as a brand and where we wanted to go and to move forward and how community could actually be a guide for that specific thing for the business.
I think doing a lot of that and then very much just being the type of person that if I wanted to do something I was the one that would go up to her and say like, “Hey, can you teach me this or show me that?” She was so busy at the time. She was overseeing the community, she was overseeing our social team as well, so being able to in my mind say, “Hey, what can I do to make her job easier,” but also learning new things? I think that’s something that I’m very much doing with my current team at Pandora.
Like I said, right now they’re very self-sufficient. I don’t know if I called it out, but once I joined Pandora I was brought on to build the community. Built the community, it went live and my moderators have never moderated community as well. They were just accustomed to doing an e-mail. They had no experience with community. I had to train them on community as well. Get them, try and create training documentation for them, train them on why we do certain things on the community. Why we remove content. If we do remove content, we send private messages to inform the customers. Creating all those custom email templates and being able to train my team on the moderation aspect as well is something that, I taught them to become very self-sufficient, which they are right now. I feel that I don’t really have to step into the community to tell them, “Hey, do this, do that.” A lot of what they do is if they have questions, they’ll ask me in Slack, which is where we have our own private Slack channel and that we’re always in communication.
Another thing that I learned from Allison is just to be available for my team. She was always available for us 24/7 and that’s something that I do as well. My team knows that they could send me a Slack message, they can text me, they all have my phone number, they can call me and they don’t have any hesitations of doing that. I think that really helps with mentorship because if they feel like they can ask any question. If they want to learn something on the community, they’re able to call it out and I will sit there and teach them.
I have no hesitation with teaching them. Not only do I mentor my team, but I also mentor other community managers. I have a community manager at Pinterest who’s totally brand new to community management. She came from the social space, she got the job at Pinterest as a community manager and I’m mentoring her as well. Her name is Gabby McCone and I’ve been working with her.
I think that’s really a big thing. I think continuing that mentorship, giving back what I learned and what I got from Allison as well is something that I want to pass on and I feel like I’ve been doing it and I want to continue to do it. This podcast is a part of that and just continuing to share that.
[00:34:44] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned having initiative, which I think is something that is great to have and a lot of people don’t have it. A lot of people may have it, but are too shy and there’s a whole lot of… There’s complex issues, obviously, beyond that between different people with different backgrounds and how they feel comfortable taking those initiatives, I think it’s something you should do.
Is there something that you do or that you’ve seen done, Allison or somewhere else, that helps to create space where people who might not be the most outgoing but might want to take initiative, something that creates space for them to step forward and say, “Hey, I do want to do this thing. I do want to learn this thing. This is where I want to go next”?
[00:35:21] Erick Linares: One thing is knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s say I have an employee that I know his strength is very much doing things like reporting. They’re not very outgoing, so they don’t want to say, “Hey, I want to do the reporting for community this month or to focus on that heavily.” I think for me just having that understanding of the personality of the person and to know who this person is, getting an in-depth understanding of who they are and what their strengths are and then being able to probe them and just say like, “Hey, I know that you’re able to do this. Are you interested in doing this?”
More of an ownership capacity of owning this specific product or this specific space on our community. I have an employee who’s very outgoing and he doesn’t really call that he wants to create content on the community for engagement, but I have noticed that he is very outgoing, he’s very social. For me it’s like, “Hey, let’s translate that to the community. Come up with ideas on our content calendar for what types of content we want to create in the discussion forums,” and now he leads that part of our community. He’s creating content without me even telling him to do it now just because I took that initiative to ask him if that was something of interest to him and it sparked something in him.
[00:36:32] Patrick O’Keefe: I tend to think the difference between a good boss or an okay boss and a great boss is having someone who looks out for your career beyond what you can do for them in this moment.
[00:36:44] Erick Linares: Definitely. I think that was a great thing of Allison Leahy. I think she was always looking out for career growth and what we wanted to do, even if it wasn’t at Fitbit, even if it was longterm. I think that’s the type of mentality that I bring as well for my employees. Here at Pandora, I’m overseeing community but a couple of months into my tenure once we launched community, I actually took over social care for Pandora as well.
I oversee our social media manager. She reports to me and then we actually coincided and we’re very much aligned with SiriusXM after the acquisition. Now, I report directly to SiriusXM and now we’re in the process of building community but I’m also overseeing social for SiriusXM.
[00:37:28] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a lot. That’s a lot of subscribers. I’m curious to see what happens with the SiriusXM community and maybe we’ll have to check back.
[00:37:36] Erick Linares: Definitely, we will for sure have to do that.
[00:37:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks, Erick. It’s been a pleasure to have you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
[00:37:42] Erick Linares: Thank you so much, Patrick. It’s been a pleasure to be on.
[00:37:45] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Erick Linares, community manager for Pandora and SiriusXM. That’s pandora.com and siriusxm.com. Check out the Pandora community at community.pandora.com. Erick is on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ericklinares and you can connect with him at ericklinares.co. That’s E-R-I-C-K-L-I-N-A-R-E-S.C-O.
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