Building Up Your Community Members, One Phone Call at a Time
Is speaking one-on-one with your community members part of your community strategy? For Tosin Abari, when building paid professional communities, it’s an integral part. His phone calls with community members provide an opportunity to reset the tone and remind each member of what they can learn, share, and achieve with their fellow community members.
Through this work, Tosin often finds that these one-on-one conversations with community members translate into their first forum post, or later down the line, becoming a community ambassador. What personal touches help you form deeper connections with your community members?
Where’d this strategy come from? Tosin has also worked as a director of player development Vanderbilt University’s football team. He explains how his work building relationships with students and their parents, helping them start off on this new chapter of their lives, prepared him for work in community management.
Patrick and Tosin also discuss:
- Tosin’s background in football
- Why Tosin started taking phone calls with members without mentioning it to Patrick, his manager at the time
- Where we focus our efforts in a world without vanity metrics
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform.
Helping members see the potential in the community (10:22): “There’s so many people out there that have the same struggles that you do, or maybe something that you’ve conquered, and you have expertise that you can share with someone else. … [Each community member has] an opportunity to make a difference, or have someone else make a difference in their lives. They can make something beautiful happen.” -Tosin Abari
Having phone calls with members (12:35): “Most places I’ve been at, they’re like, ‘No, we don’t have time [for phone calls with members].’ … We have X amount of members, we just got to do what we got to do through email orientation, and they’ll figure it out. That always gnawed at me a little bit, because these people are paying X amount of dollars for a membership, and we want to give them the best experience of their life. … [These one-on-one calls can help] other people feel like they’re not isolated, that they’re in a place that holds space for them.” -Tosin Abari
Giving each member the space to feel heard (18:06): “I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten nasty emails [and] I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a very contentious call.’ I let them talk [and] by the end of the conversation, they’re like, ‘Thank you for having this call with me. You calmed me down, and I feel so much better.’ It was just because they just wanted to be heard.” -Tosin Abari
Owning your work with your manager (25:50): “Never let [your manager] be surprised by bad news. If there is bad news, [they] should hear it from you first, before anyone else. Don’t let [them] be surprised, because if [they are] surprised, it’s going to make matters worse. … You should be the person who delivers the message.” –@patrickokeefe
About Tosin Abari
Tosin Abari (he/him/his) is a former collegiate football administrator turned motivated community manager and social media aficionado. With over 10 years of experience in community management and memberships, as well as front-end and back-end social media management, Tosin is extremely passionate in bringing people together with the goal of fostering authentic community.
- Sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform
- Tosin Abari on LinkedIn
- Photos of Patrick’s son, Patrick James
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Hivebrite, the community engagement platform. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for listening. We’re joined by Tosin Abari, who has extensive experience managing premium communities for business leaders to talk about how his work in player development for student-athletes relates to community work, why he started taking phone calls with members, and where he’d spend his time if he didn’t have to worry about short term vanity metrics. This is also the first time we’ve had a guest on the show that I hired and that reported into me at some point in their career.
You may have noticed that Community Signal has been on a bit of a hiatus. There’s a reason for that. On April 20, my wife Kara gave birth to our first child, a son named Patrick James. He’s doing amazing and Kara continues to recover with a bit of progress each day. It has sometimes been challenging to find time to take a shower, let alone book, write, host, and finished a podcast, but I’m happy to be back. If you’d like to see some photos of Patrick James, check out my Twitter feed @patrickokeefe. Patrick is here partially because of this podcast. Maybe that’s a story we’ll tell another day if you’re interested.
Our gratitude to the show’s Patreon supporters including Jenny Weigle, Maggie McGary, and Serena Snoad. Thank you for supporting what we do. Please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle if you’d like to join them. Let’s bring our guest on.
Tosin Abari (he, him, his) is a former collegiate football administrator, turned motivated community manager and social media aficionado. With over 10 years of experience in community management, membership as well as front-end and back-end social media management, Tosin is extremely passionate in bringing people together with the goal of fostering authentic community. Tosin, welcome to the show.
[00:01:52] Tosin Abari: Welcome, Patrick.
[00:01:54] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s good to have you. You played football at the University of Maryland, where you were a defensive tackle and you were a member of the 2001 team that won an ACC championship. You graduated from Maryland with a double major in economics and criminal justice. You did some work in the government before returning to football most recently as the director of player development for the Vanderbilt University football team. It seems like you were on this football path, that’s where a lot of this goes, I think. How did you end up in community?
[00:02:20] Tosin Abari: With football, I had grandiose dreams of coaching, being a GM and really forming a team and being involved in the building of the team from the ground up. During that time, as a football coach, there’s not a lot of pay. You just got to grind and do what you got to do to figure out ways of bringing in income. My wife is an author, writer, editor. She found an opportunity to get into community management and this was over a decade ago.
I was like, “Sure, I could do that. I don’t mind checking out the communities, engaging with people, and just getting the community going in some form or fashion.” I started off that way. I was like, “This is great. I can work from home, I can work in the office too after-hours.” It was super flexible, it was my first foray into remote work. I was like, “This is perfect, just matches everything that I stand for,” because I love people, I love engaging with them, whether it be sports, which is heavily in my background, or any interests that are out there.
I did that and I just kept growing with it because initially when I got into community, they were, “You’re the sports guy.” I was doing all like ESPN and I was doing nfl.com, some of the athletic stuff like LIVESTRONG, which doesn’t exist anymore. That was really cool to do that and then they realized that I have other interests. I was like, “Yes, I do have other interests besides the sports.”
I started doing other things with AARP, some of the news like the Gannett series of communities that they have. That was really cool, and the whole time, just building, building, getting exposed to different types of things, kids, older people, sportspeople, people with certain niche interests, and all those good things. All the while just getting experienced with managing, moderating, doing the whole bit and the funny thing was I was also doing it in person too, with football, because football is a community as well.
As a director of player development and recruiting, you have to get to know the parents, get to know the players so you have that community. It gave me really good, I guess, practice, I will say, in real life and then also in the virtual world and just connecting with people because at the core of who we are as human beings, we love community. That’s what makes us different from, I guess, all species on the planet. Every species on the planet, they have their own community, but I think that’s what makes us special, that we can build community and really thrive and really get things done in a community.
[00:04:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. The director of player development role is interesting because, from what I understand, you would help student-athletes transition into their college life and help them be successful in their academics, develop life skills, and for the lucky few, be a part of the process of them getting drafted into the NFL, but as you mentioned, you were also connection between their parents and the football program. It seems like there are a lot of interesting skills there in managing those relationships. Are there any things that you take away from that time that you apply to your work today?
[00:05:13] Tosin Abari: Yes. It was great because I didn’t know how ferocious parents would be. Now I’m a parent, but there were some things that some of the parents, they were like, “My son needs to be–” especially the younger players that were 18, 17 years old, and over the summer, we had to get their dorm room situation set up, just the schoolwork because this is the first time they were away from mom and dad.
Some of the things, our decision-making process was a little slow for their liking, because they were just like, “I need to know that my son is okay.” Some parents were like, “This is their chance to be a man, they’re okay, they can handle this.” Other parents that are a little more like, “I need to know that everything’s good”
That really helped me to navigate the feelings of the parents because there was no ill will towards me, but sometimes they would get a little ferocious like I said, and that helped me navigate just personalities. I thought that was the biggest takeaway. That was one of my most memorable opportunities in terms of engaging with people, just the kids, just seeing them grow from boys to men and just guiding them along the way. I thought that was just a spectacular experience.
[00:06:21] Patrick O’Keefe: When I was researching for this show, I came across some rosters and I was like, Tosin, nose tackle? 6 foot, 256.
[00:06:29] Tosin Abari: I’ve been bigger.
[00:06:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I knew you played football but it’s not the position I saw just from having had video calls with you over years. Dang, the nose tackle, the guy in the center of the D line, that’s Tosin? He was that size? I was like, man, that’s something, I did not see that coming.
[00:06:46] Tosin Abari: You just see pictures of me, I’m just this Goodyear Blimp, it was just like the Michelin man, I was really big. Because when I first started in my scholarship, when I walked on, I thought I was going to play linebacker, which is what I played in high school and they were like, no, we don’t need you there. If you’re going to walk-on, you’re going to have to be at this position. I was like, “Okay, cool.”
I just gained the weight little by little and I think actually in my senior, I ended up being about 275, 280, and just doing it, mixing it up in the line of scrimmage with the O line, D line, blah, blah. It was a very gratifying experience, just learning how to navigate, number 1, being a walk-on, it’s where they didn’t really want me, I’ve forced my way into the action and just saying, “Hey, man, this guy is someone that we can count on. He’s someone that we didn’t really want you in the beginning but now you’re a valuable member,” and that was an awesome experience that I will never ever forget.
[00:7:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a moment to talk about our generous sponsor Hivebrite.
Hivebrite empowers organizations to manage, grow, and engage their communities through technology. Its community management platform has features designed to strengthen engagement and help achieve your community goals. Hivebrite supports over 500 communities around the world, including the American Heart Association, JA Worldwide, Earthwatch, the University of Notre Dame, Columbia Business School, and Princeton University Advancement. Visit hivebrite.com to learn more.
You’re the first guest on the show that I hired, also the first guest that’s reported into me at some point in their career and when we worked together, it was on private paid communities for business professionals. They would pay a certain amount of money and receive access to a private community or a lot of the people in it would be at a similar place to them or working through similar problems. Thinking about those types of communities, because you’ve gone on to build more of that experience at Kindred as well. What’s the biggest challenge in working with those communities, where people are professionals, they’re paying to access this resource, what sticks out in your mind?
[00:8:41] Tosin Abari: The biggest thing that sticks out, because I did orientations with Kindred, and a little bit my previous spot is that they get this membership and they don’t know what it entails. They’re like, there’s this feeling of overwhelm, and a lot of times when they’re overwhelmed, they just put it to the back burner and do nothing with a membership. They don’t understand what the membership entails and that is the biggest thing I’ve always noticed, is they’re like, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know what to do. What is this membership, what is the expectations for me and being a member of this community?
Because a lot of times, they see all the glitz and glamour, they’re on LinkedIn, and they see that, “Hey, you have this badge, I’m part of this X community,” and you’re like, “Okay, now that I’m in it, what’s next?” A lot of times their assistant sets it up and they themselves don’t go through that process of the onboarding, and their assistant does everything and it’s up to the assistant to pass on the information.
A lot of times, things gets lost in translation, and they’re like, “Okay, I’m supposed to do this. What do I do next?” That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed, is just this overwhelm whenever you ever ask and you do outreach, they’re like, “I don’t even have my login. I don’t have this, I don’t have that. What am I supposed to do? I’m confused. I didn’t get the onboarding.” We’re like, “We gave you the onboarding. Your assistant did everything.” That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed.
[00:09:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Does it feel like it’s its own player development?
[00:10:00] Tosin Abari: Absolutely, I love the one-on-one conversations. That’s something that when we worked together, I enjoy just being able to give that handholding, and be able to really walk a member through the steps like, “This is an opportunity for you to grow your brand, number one. Number two is connect with people on a deeper level.” Because there’s so many people out there that have the same struggles that you do, or maybe someone that you’ve conquered something and you have expertise that you can share that with someone else.
I think that’s such a beautiful thing to be able to just share with other people in the community. I think a lot of members don’t understand that. They don’t understand that they have an opportunity to make a difference, or have someone else make a difference in their lives and they can make something beautiful happen.
[00:10:49] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you think that’s something that should be a part of the onboarding? At a certain scale, getting on the phone, talking to people one-on-one, for every community, doesn’t make sense, but with paid communities, certainly you’re controlling the influx of new people, especially depending on the pricing and how much you charge, you’re cutting off a certain percentage of the population. Do you think that a personal one-on-one walkthrough is something that should be offered, if at all possible, for these types of products?
[00:11:15] Tosin Abari: Oh, absolutely. Personally, I love that. I’m an extroverted introvert. On the outside, everyone thinks I’m like, blabbermouth and love people, and I do, but I do love my alone time. I love those one-on-one conversations. I actually don’t like small talk. I like more authentic, deeper insights into your soul. I know that’s really deep. People don’t like that, but I love that. It gives me a wonderful insight. I know most people don’t like that, because, I get it, manpower or man-hours, you just don’t have the time to say, “Hey, everyone get on the line.”
I think you can try it. Try and get on the line, give that person that one-on-one conversation to be able to just ask whatever questions, because I know sometimes when you get in a group setting, even if you have orientation, you don’t ask the questions that you want to ask. A lot of times, you’re paralyzed, like, “This is a stupid question. Is this something that you addressed earlier?” So people just keep their mouth shut, instead of just being open and saying, “I don’t know. Can you tell me how to solve this, and let’s get moving?” Most people don’t want to do that.
I think a one-on-one opportunity gives people the chance to just say, “Hey, this is a question that’s on my mind. I don’t know if I’ve missed it or not, can you help me?” I really believe it should be like, advertising more, but I understand it most places I’ve been at, they’re like, “No, we don’t have time.” I always get the “Tos, we don’t have time.” It’s unrealistic.
We have x amount of community members, we just got to do what we got to do, either through email orientation, and they’ll figure it out. It’s just like, that always gnawed at me a little bit, because these people are paying X amount of dollars for a membership, and we want to give them the best experience of their life.
By doing so, I think, giving them that onboarding one-on-one opportunity, I think will help them do that, and it’ll keep them coming. By you doing that, they can end up being your community ambassador, they can end up getting more people into the pool, and making other people feel like they’re not isolated, that they’re in a place that holds space for them.
[00:13:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Every person that you manage is different. When I consider what that means, I always think of you in a couple of ways, and you’ve highlighted one of the ways here, which is that when I was managing that team, and I had community managers who the idea of a member calling them on the phone was a nightmare. We also had a limited amount of time each day. At a certain scale, one-on-one phone calls can go 15 to 30 minutes, can become costly to the health of the overall community. We didn’t have the budget that I would have liked, but I didn’t build phone calls into our program.
I learned one day that you had started offering your number and taking those calls, and we chatted and you liked those calls. You liked them, you thought they’re valuable, and most importantly, you felt that they helped you to do your job and to accomplish the goals that you had. That was perfectly fine to me. My main concern was just around your time management and how others in the org would view you if I wasn’t always there, and maybe wasn’t always as supportive.
Once you laid it out though, I was like, “This is great. Go ahead, do it. Just watch the clock. Be careful.” You did that. Why did you take it upon yourself to start offering your number to members?
[00:14:22] Tosin Abari: I wanted them to feel like they belong. I remember when you did say that, my mentality is this, and I’m a very person into energy, karma, and all those things. I felt like, if I put in that energy, even if it’s– let’s say I get a very chatty member that maybe has me on the phone. I’ve had conversations, but they had me on the phone for an hour. I believe that that energy that I poured into that person into the universe was going to come back. Since I’ve been in my working profession, I’ve always been a person who listen, and I felt like if you do it just the one time, you never know what that person’s going to do. You never know if you just unlocked the code where that person can be your ambassador, be that person that is “I’m your champion, your advocate.”
Also, even if they don’t, I treat every member like they’re a part of me. They are truly a member of my family. I want them to feel like, “This is a great opportunity for me to connect. Tos got my back. Tos really made me understand what it is to be a part of a community.” I just felt like that’s super important. I work hard. If I felt like something else was going to suffer for that particular day, I’ll catch up. I’ll stay up a little later. I felt like that’s an opportunity for me to put my hands on someone.
It was funny. One of the things, when I led some of the digital events, I’m like, “No, I’m a real person.” That’s what I would get in the email back. Like Tos, you really exist. You’re a real person. I’m like, yes I do. I know the email outreach can be a little overwhelming, but no, I’m a real person. When I heard that, I was like, you know what? They validated everything that I was doing. That a lot of these members, they want that, they want the person like holding their hands because they don’t have a lot of time and they want whatever little bit of time they’re devoting to whatever membership that it is, they want it to be worthwhile.
If I could do that for them, by making it and personalizing that experience, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make sure that you have a phenomenal experience and that you can take this membership and hopefully build friendships that will transcend the membership. That’s my goal.
[00:16:32] Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve done many of these calls now across different types of communities, different verticals, people with different goals, where you’re on the phone, you’re walking them through the product, you’re answering their questions. Your goal is essentially to bring them into this online community in this online platform and to get them to share, to respond to people, to participate, there’s value in people just reading.
Certainly, I always tried to push that even though I wasn’t always appreciated, but you can’t see my eyebrow on the audio. That’s your goal here. Having done so many of these calls, is there a particular, I don’t want to cheapen it, a trick, a hack, a magic moment? Is there a particular thing that you’ve seen really work over and over again when it came to bringing a person into the community? What’s your go-to? What has opened people’s eyes to get them to be a participant in these platforms?
[00:17:23] Tosin Abari: It’s no different from when you’re in person, people want to be heard. They want to be heard. Just listen, don’t hog up the airways. Most of the time, members, they know exactly what they want to talk about is generated or them, because they’ll set it up through whatever scheduling link, but number one, and this is in real life. They want to be heard. They want someone there on the other side, that’s human and says, “Can you listen to me? Can you hear me?”
That’s what I do, 100%. Number one is being that person to hear them and hold space for them. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if it’s virtual, doesn’t matter if it’s a membership, doesn’t matter if it’s your relative or one of your good friends, it’s just be there for them. Once you do that, it calms them down. I don’t know how many times where I’ve gotten nasty emails where I’m like, “Oh my God, this is going to be a very contentious call.”
I let them talk. By the end of the conversation, they’re like, “Thank you for having this call with me. You calmed me down and I feel so much better.” It was just because they just wanted to be heard. That’s my number one thing on how I treat people in real life, and also in any community that I manage.
[00:18:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Is there an example that sticks out in your mind, someone that you listened to or you lended your ear? I think a lot of people hear that and they say, “Well, gosh, that’s a lot.” It could be someone’s therapist basically on some level. Is there an example that you have in mind where you had someone and you listened to them and you directed that into them participating in the online community? Do you have one bread and butter story?
[00:18:54] Tosin Abari: Yes, I have a lot that are very similar, but one that really stuck in my mind, it was in one of the communities. We offered the ability for members to write articles, to engage in in-person events, digital events. If you don’t want to write an article, you can also write short pieces that will be published. I had a member who was just super confused. They were just like, “Tos.” They responded back. I had asked, “Can you participate in a forum?” They were like, “You want me to participate in a forum but I’m so confused. I don’t know what’s going on. I want to schedule a call with you so I can get da-da-da.” They didn’t even say it that nice. I told them, “Yes, definitely. We can talk. Let’s get to the bottom of why you feel like you’re not in a good place.” Once I told them that and I told them that, “This is what you have, the opportunity. You could write an article. I see that you’re expert in this particular field.” I just assuaged them and I could feel on the phone, their confusion and slight anger turned into like, “Oh, I could do this. I could do that.” All of a sudden, this person was posting in the forum for the first time. Number two, before I left, they became a community leader. They were leading events, like digital events and I was like, “Man, I remember, our first conversation, you were so upset, and now you’re leading things.” He brought in a number of speakers that were phenomenal. I’m not going to say his name but he did bring in Chris Gardner from Pursuit of Happiness to speak to the membership. I was like, “Man, I didn’t even know you knew that guy.” It really resonated with the community. He had all of this information, all of these connections.
It all started because he was upset, didn’t understand what was going on, was really unhappy about his membership, probably wasn’t going to renew, but because I gave him the opportunity, he turned into, before I left there, a community leader writing a number of articles and being just one of our top community members. That story, I always smile inside on the inside, like “Man, this dude is unbelievable.”
[00:21:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you for sharing that. I will jump in here and just say when it comes to people saying that’s not nice, my goal was always to identify the line between unhappy person and abusive person and protect you and our community managers from that. Now I will say that I don’t think we were supported very well in that. Ultimately, in the case of being able to simply terminate someone’s membership when they were abusive. I don’t think the org was strong on that despite my–
I know there a couple of other protests around that. I just want to make that clear that I would never want you to talk to someone who is abusive to you even if we were placed in those conditions sometimes.
[00:21:41] Tosin Abari: No, I appreciated that. That was really cool. One of the things that I believe that I guess God has given me, one of my special powers is that I love to give me all the problem cases, give me the angered people. I just feel like, in my whole life, I’ve been able to calm people down.
I enjoyed the fact that I had someone like you that had my back and protected me, but I will say this, I enjoyed it because I know that most people don’t want to deal with that because it’s just a lot of negativity, a lot of just bad juju, you don’t want that. Human beings, we want to be happy. We want bliss and you don’t want that, like, ugh. I really appreciate you doing that for me.
[00:22:23] Patrick O’Keefe: Of course. Someone who says they like to deal with that and I fully believe you. That wears on someone, you know?
[00:22:29] Tosin: It does.
[00:22:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I would think it wears on someone. Maybe you are just impervious and that’s interesting because that’s the main thing I think about when I think about you when it comes to managing people differently because what I found about you was that you are endlessly positive and I’ve told you this before. It’s a great trait. The positive vibes that Tosin brings to your team are valuable and great.
It leads to a lot of great phone calls and a lot of good moments, but what I learned was to prompt you for challenges in different ways and to try to create a safe space for you to share the bad because I feel like you– and I could be wrong but my read was that you needed to have a certain level of comfort in order to feel like you were able to share the bad things.
What I really learned especially was to pay attention when you flag something because, if you introduced me to a problem, I knew that you meant it because they were few and far between and I felt like things had to bubble to a certain part to where you were like, “I need to flag this.” I learned to pay attention because anytime you brought up something that was not a positive, I knew it needed attention.
[00:23:39] Tosin Abari: You read me well, that’s exactly how I operate is I tend to, I don’t want to say hide things, but I didn’t want to bring things that were just things that I could just handle or I felt like it’ll handle itself. If I felt like there was something that was red alert, red alert, I would bring it to your attention.
Most of the time, I felt like I wanted to create this safe haven, just this positive environment where I didn’t want you, as someone I’m working under, I wanted you to feel like Tos’s got everything is under control because you have a lot of things that you had to deal with.
Then, being in that position too as well recently is, you don’t want to have to focus any more energy to something else and you want to feel like, “Hey, this person has everything cleared and ready to go.” Because now, if I bring every little thing to your attention, now you’re like, “Uh, I’ve I got to devote energy to this,” when you could be doing something else.
The only time I wanted to bring something to your attention was when it was really, really egregious, like, “Yo, this is a problem, we need to fix this now.” That’s my mentality with everything. My wife hates it because she’s like, “Tos, I want know every little thing,” like, “No, I’m only going to tell you a couple of things, “and because it might be too overall.
[00:24:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I feel more like Tonya, myself. I want to know about things because I want to help but it’s also like, if there’s trust that you have to build with someone, so that they feel they can bring those things to you, and it takes time.
I think we get, naturally, if we bring something up, it could mean that I did something wrong, or that I am not strong enough to deal with this thing. That’s unfortunate because, in our case, we had a portfolio of communities, and each community manager was assigned to specific communities. I wanted them to have autonomy to operate in those communities within certain parameters, with certain goals defined, and so that you could say, “Okay, this is what we need to get done. You go ahead and do it. I’m not going to be watching you closely, or standing over your shoulder, but I will be looped in in part of the process.”
The other side of that is, I’m currently on, as we’re recording, paternity leave. Ideally, things I set up for paternity leave, one of the things I said to my team, understanding that they’re going to be talking to my boss now, who they already had a good rapport with, is like, “Never let him be surprised by bad news. If there is bad news, he should hear it from you first, before anyone else. Don’t let him be surprised, because if he has to be surprised, it’s going to make matters worse. Just bring it to him. Let him know. Don’t let him be surprised by it. You should be the person who delivers the message.”
I think that it’s a fine line between knowing what to bring up and what not to, and that you find that over time through cultivating trust, and being honest, and feeling that someone actually has your back. Because if you don’t feel like someone is going to be supportive of you, then any negative you bring up to them is something that you feel you’re going to have to personally take on, take responsibility for, and ultimately, your job will hang in the balance of those things that you flag.
I’ve been in roles like that, where I was reporting to someone, where I felt like bringing something up to them was bad. I didn’t want to bring it up. It was a pain in the butt. They didn’t receive it well. It was a personal affront or something along those lines. It’s tough because I think those bosses ruin a lot of other relationships because we get into this defensive mode, where we’re self-survival. We’re trying to figure out how to stay in their job and how to present ourselves in the best possible light at all times.
[00:26:56] Tosin Abari: I’m probably a little hardened from working in football, where, especially in coaching, and even when you’re a player, it’s like, “Handle it. Deal with it. Don’t bring it to my attention.” I give you full autonomy sometimes, but most of the time, it’s just like, “Just deal with it. Handle it. Don’t bring it to my attention, unless it’s really, really, really, really bad.”
Then obviously, there are some coaches who’re like, “No, I want to know everything.” Overall, it’s just that mentality, that machismo. Throughout football, testosterone was so high. “Man, I’m me. Hahaha. I can do this.” That’s something I always have to remember, like you said, because I’ve had a couple of instances where things have blown up in my face, where I thought I had it under control and it was something small, and my manager was like, “No. Tos, this is not small. It’s big.”
I’ve learned to be a little bit better about that. I still probably should bring some more things to the forefront, but something I’m working on, because I tend to want to be this problem-solver.
[00:27:55] Patrick O’Keefe: We worked in an environment that was, in my view, a bit finicky, where our metrics and goals changed without solid reason, where it was hard to get a footing. Just my perspective on it. There were, at times, also, a very common thing that exists in the world, but a silly focus on short-term metrics and on cheap engagement hacks, like tagging 50 random people in every forum post.
Looking at these types of communities, if we didn’t work in that type environment, or you didn’t work in that type of environment, if you were able to do the things that you believe would make a healthy community, where would you spend your time?
[00:28:31] Tosin Abari: I love the fact that you brought up the engagement hacks. It was a little annoying.
[00:28:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Don’t you feel special if you get tagged in a list of 50 people? If you see your name in the middle of 50 people, just in a random forum post, don’t you feel special, and invited, and desired, and wanted, in the kinds of a community?
[00:28:47] Tosin Abari: Oh my God, I hated that, but anywho. My number one thing, and it was something that I loved in Kindred, one of the things that we started to develop was huddles. When a person had a particular problem, it was an opportunity for them to ask a question, and meet up, and just really quickly say, “Hey, I need this. Does anyone have this expertise on this? Let’s meet up, really quickly, with anywhere between 8 to 12 members.” I thought that was really cool.
Those are the things that really builds community. Those are the things I wanted to spend more time on because, in a given forum, you’re going to get a lot of people with questions. I want the question to be really answered in a way that they feel like they left and like, “You know what? Thank you for answering my question. I feel like I’m an expert,” or, “At least I know the next steps.” Those are the things that I loved about, not the tagging thing, because most people don’t want to do that, they don’t want to talk just to talk. They have these memberships to build these partnerships or build their brand, and they want either, A, “How can you help me,” or, “How can I help you,” or, “How can we help each other?” That’s what I’ll would probably spend more of my time, and that’s what I wanted to do, as opposed to, like you said, the short-term metrics.
When we were working together, I never looked at the metrics. My overall goal is I would look at the long term, like month to month. I would never look week to week, because I never wanted to be inundated with the metric metrics, metrics, metrics. I hated that, and I told myself, “No, I know the community health. Patrick will tell me if things are not doing too well, but I’m not going to focus on them. I’m going to focus on building a community and not worry about the numbers and really build the community on a more thoughtful and authentic manner.
Authenticity is so important for me and I just felt like doing that it’s not authentic. Members, they’re not stupid. They know when they see a whole list of tags and stuff like, “Okay, I get it. I see what he’s trying to do,” but it leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Some people are like, “Cool, I do have some knowledge on this.” That’s not my cup tea, but I did it anyways because short-term metrics, get the X amount of this, people active, da-da-da.
My goal is to like build and foster those relationships and that was by, “Hey, if you have a question, let’s see if we can all meet up either in person or–” Well, I know now with COVID Zoom is the rage. “Let’s have a Zoom session. Let’s meet up in a digital world.” People like that, they really enjoy that because what it did was lead to other questions that they maybe were too afraid to ask in the forum and they were like, you know what? You guys decided to come into this situation, let’s get the questions going, rapid fire, rapid fire. It was like, we had one, it was spectacular.
We had people from all ranges. We had experts on the line and then we had people who were to complete novices. It was beautiful to see just the engagement, the interaction between the members and that’s what I would do to build community on a more micro level, as opposed to like doing this whole short. I never look at metrics. I never, because what it does, it makes you robotic. It sucks away that creativity inside. I hate when creativity is snuffed. I want creativity. That’s who we are as humans. We need to fly. We need to just be our most creative versions of ourselves.
[00:32:00] Patrick O’Keefe: If I’m hearing you, what I’m really hearing is you have seen value in smaller groups, breaking people out into smaller groups of people, perhaps based around a specific topic event, question, something that lives not necessarily long term, but happens in a moment and people get together. They’re their artists at time, they talk to one another in a live fashion, relationships foster that way.
[00:32:21] Tosin Abari: Absolutely. I know there’s other ways of doing it. I really feel like the advantages of doing that are huge. I always take myself out of it. I know I should because I have a job and the company this, that, and the other, but I’m always focused on the member. I want the member to feel like this is their moment. This is their opportunity to really connect with someone and I want that for them. I really want that. Because for me, I feel like everyone can change the world and a lot of these members are in positions to do that. They have companies and ventures that can do those things. I always challenged every one of my members to go deeper, go past this initial level of membership. Let’s see if you can do that. My goal is, if you didn’t have the membership, did you make a connection with someone and you know that you made a long-term partnership and just a connection that will just transcend the membership? That’s my goal.
If I did that, then I did my job because a lot of times the membership, you get, forces you in a box and you’re like, okay, these are the people that I’m supposed to meet. That’s great, but are you going to do this outside of the membership? Are you going to really connect? That’s my goal is if that happens, then I did my job. We’re community managers and we were managing the community and we’re trying to elevate it to its highest level and I feel like if you can do that, then you does your job. You can sleep at night and look at yourself in the mirror.
[00:33:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Tosin, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you for bringing me back into this show for the first time post-birth, I appreciate it.
[00:33:54] Tosin Abari: Absolutely. Thank you. We definitely should have hooked up a long time ago, but I’m definitely appreciative of the opportunity to be on the show and I look forward to listening to more segments and an opportunity to connect with other listeners, and we will keep on doing it.
[00:34:11] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Tosin Abari, who was most recently the head of community for Kindred and is now open to his next big thing. You can find him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/tosinabari.
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. Thanks for listening.
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