For this episode of Community Signal, we’re joined by community professionals Jenn Hudnet, Lana Lee, and Phoebe Venkat. They candidly share stories about the impact of racism and stereotypes against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in their own lives, in the workplace, and in the communities they manage.
Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe each had stories to share about their families, the circumstances that brought them to the United States, the racism and discrimination they faced, and the shared generational trauma they’re working through together. “We have to look forward. We’ve got to acknowledge some of the wrongs that happened to our parents, relatives, and friends in the past. It’s very difficult to do. We’re doing it, but it definitely takes a community of community to get that done,” shared Phoebe (7:47).
There’s also a discussion around the work that companies and colleagues must do to maintain safe workplaces and communities. “Your intention might not always be to hurt or harm someone or to make fun of someone, but the impact is still there. Being able to understand the impact that our words and actions have on others is important [as well as] being able to acknowledge the impact that it might have on somebody. I think microaggressions are something that I’ve even had to learn to recognize because I’ve just internalized them and accepted them over the years of being here,” said Jenn (21:12).
And there’s an important reminder in this episode to see your colleagues and community members as individuals. Individuals that might have a bad day, that might make mistakes, or that might be comforted just by your presence. “Sometimes we hear stories of people. [Maybe] they posted a really good picture one day and then the next day they’re feeling down. … As a community manager, [it’s really important to] take time to read and understand where people are coming from,” explains Lana (49:46).
We’re thankful to Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe for sharing with us. May this conversation lead to safer communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, and personal boundaries.
Lana, Jenn, Patrick, and Phoebe also discuss:
- The model minority myth and the harm it causes
- Recognizing emotional labor and setting boundaries
- There are no growth hacks when it comes to helping your community members feel safe
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Moving forward through generational trauma (8:03): “It’s interesting for us as the children because it’s very painful to come to terms with [the trauma that] our parents have experienced and even to help them understand. There’s so much that they’ve just accepted as part of life, racism, and pain that they just endure because they are so strong based on the past that they’ve endured. Part of that is also embracing that pain and helping them to embrace it and moving forward with them.” –@jenntothechen
The ripple effects of the model minority myth (12:51): “If we’re treated better because we’re Asians or Pacific Islanders, we’re seen as the ‘teacher’s pet.’ Of course, it does definitely have advantages, but do you want advantages that come at the expense of other people’s suffering?” -@pheebkat
Your presence can mean a lot to someone going through difficult times (14:26): “It’s important for people to know that [you’re there for them], even though they may not need you at the time. You give someone a gift of presence, just being around them, knowing that someone’s there to support them.” –@lanalyzer314
Breaking the model minority myth (18:06): “With the model minority myth, a lot of us have just been taught to embrace that culture of silence, of not rocking the boat or causing any conflict. I think one thing that I’ve come to terms with is that it is okay to speak up. Obviously, to do it in a respectful way, to be mindful of a different perspective, but to not be afraid to speak up when you notice something that bothers you, when you notice underrepresentation of a certain culture, and to embrace that. Being able to do that actually really empowers you as a person and also builds community as you bring more light to different issues that people might not be considering.” –@jenntothechen
Think of the impact of your actions, not just your intentions (21:13): “Your intention might not always be to hurt or harm someone or to make fun of someone, but the impact is still there. Being able to understand the impact that our words and actions have on others is important [as well as] being able to acknowledge the impact that it might have on somebody.” –@jenntothechen
Recognizing the emotion labor that we carry (28:18): “The [definition of emotional labor that] I’ve adopted is the labor [that’s] not on your job description. You get hired to be a community manager or accountant or whatever you are, and then you end up taking care of the community around you, your colleagues, making sure they’re okay, [and] volunteering at affinity group events.” –@pheebkat
Prioritizing ourselves matters just as much as prioritizing our communities (32:16): “I struggle with where I want to take on more and do more and constantly think about what my community members need, but I know that if I don’t take care of myself first, I’m not going to be able to do that.” –@lanalyzer314
To build a safe community, start small (44:58): “When you’re building online communities, sometimes it’s harder to get to the heart of others. You’re building a community at scale, you’re trying to make sure that things can work for many, but in terms of making sure people feel safe – feel heard – some of that work does need to be one-to-one or with a small group.” –@pheebkat
About Our Guests
Jenn Hudnet is a community manager at Salesforce. Jenn has joined us on Community Signal twice in the past, once in 2018 and once in 2017. She has previously held roles at Lithium Technologies, Google, Procore Technologies, and Intuit.
Lana Lee is a senior community manager and strategist at Zuora. She graduated from UC Berkeley in civil engineering and then went to USC, where she got a music degree in oboe performance and Masters in civil engineering. After 15 years as a civil and structural engineer and a career as a web developer, Lana transitioned to community management. Lana was also our guest for the most listened to episode of Community Signal in 2018. Visit her blog, Tales of a Community Manager or her Netflixionados, Primers and Hulu-ites meetup group for more from Lana.
Phoebe Venkat is a director of community for TripActions. She has more than 10 years of experience in community strategy and building. Her expertise also includes communications, marketing, leadership, and operations in several industries. Phoebe’s greatest inspiration is her mother, Hanna, who taught her the value of connection and belonging.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- The long history of racism against Asian Americans in the U.S., via PBS News Hour
- The Subtle Asian Traits group
- What Is the Model Minority Myth?, via Learning for Justice
- The Complex History—and Ongoing Realities—of the “Model Minority” Stereotype, via Goop
- Asian Americans: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
- LinkedIn to pay its ERG leaders, via Axios
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- 6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority, via NPR
- Key facts about Asian Americans, a diverse and growing population, via Pew Research Center
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for listening to Community Signal. This episode features a wide-ranging conversation around creating online communities that are safe for Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander people with a focus on understanding the racism and bigotry AAPI folks deal with so that we can practice truly thoughtful community moderation, trust, and safety work.
Thank you to our Patreon backers, including Carol Benovic-Bradley, Rachel Medanic, and Heather Champ for being so supportive of our independent show empowering us to create episodes just like this. Visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for more info.
Racist violence against Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander people is not new anywhere, but it’s especially not new where I live in the US. From xenophobia in the 1800s to the Chinese Exclusion Act, from the internment camps during World War II to the model minority myth, and far too many incidents in between, but in the wake of increasingly visible horrendous attacks targeting AAPI folks during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to have a conversation on the show.
In order to do it right, I brought together a panel of experienced community pros, and we collaborated around ideas over a couple of months. It started pretty open-ended, and the direction where they guided me was the direction that our show took. The topics we discussed in this episode are a result of that collaboration. I’m joined by Jenn Hudnet, Lana Lee, and Phoebe Venkat. Jenn Hudnet is a community manager for Salesforce, Lana Lee is a senior community manager and strategist at Zuora, and Phoebe Venkat is a director of community for TripActions. A big thank you to Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe for their contributions to this episode.
Jenn, welcome back to the show.
[00:02:22] Jenn Hudnet: Hey, Patrick, good to be back.
[00:02:23] Patrick O’Keefe: Good to have you. Lana, our guest for our most listened-to episode of 2018. Good to have you on again.
[00:02:30] Lana Lee: Hi, Patrick, how are you?
[00:02:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Phoebe, welcome for the first time.
[00:02:34] Phoebe Venkat: Thanks so much for welcoming me. Hi, everybody.
[00:02:37] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure to have all of you. Before the show and talking about the racism that AAPI folks face, one of the themes that cropped up pretty consistently wasn’t so much the racism that you faced, but the racism your parents have faced. Lana, in particular, you said, “To provide a safe space for the AAPI community, these stories need to be heard.” I would love for you to share those stories here. Lana, would you go first?
[00:03:02] Lana Lee: Sure. One example is, maybe in the ’80s, my dad, he’s an engineer, and he was trying to become a manager, but at that time, there weren’t very many Asians in management roles, and he has an accent. He would spend the evening just watching karaoke trying to get rid of his accent, and he would just watch basketball because people talk about basketball and sports, and my dad is so not into sports. He would do that because he wanted to get rid of his accent.
Then even growing up, my mom and my dad, they never really had us go to Chinese school or anything like that, they just said, “Learn English. Don’t speak with an accent because English is your ticket out,” because they came from Communist China during the ’60s when Nixon went over there. They just saw that as the golden ticket. Of course, things have changed now. That has been in my experience.
[00:03:52] Patrick O’Keefe: Phoebe, you would add something to talk about this?
[00:03:55] Phoebe Venkat: Yes. My mom came over in the late ’70s direct from Taiwan. Actually, her parents had escaped Communist China. There’s a lot of different kinds of I guess, places of belonging for our family. I know that when my mom first landed in the US, very tough to find a job. She barely spoke English. She did end up getting a job at a factory, and that was such a, I think, plus, not only just to make money, but she met so many different kinds of people from different religions, cultures.
I remember going to different people’s home eating Thai food one Friday. We do like a potluck, German food another Friday. That was really wonderful to experience. I had no idea that it would shape the rest of my life, now as a community builder that I really seek those different relationships.
[00:04:43] Patrick O’Keefe: I think both of you talk about belonging just in different ways, whether it’s your dad trying to fit in, or belonging in an online space. It makes me think of how, and we aren’t getting into the model minority myth, which I think this relates to also, but belonging, for some people, means changing who they are to belong whereas belonging, we talk about, or at least we try to, I like to hope is creating space for people to come as they are and belong in the group. Is that fair? Does that have some applicability to this conversation?
[00:05:13] Lana Lee: Yes, I believe so. Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of someone. It takes a lot of strength. Usually, you build up that strength by not belonging. It’s a lot of self-talk and things that. You realize it’s just, well, if they’re not like me, that’s fine. I’m great. I’m proud of who I am. That’s something that maybe just my parents but Asian parents, in general, they built up because they came here being different, being stereotyped and things that.
Our parents have higher degrees. People assume that my parents would own a restaurant or something. They would say that you smell mothballs because that’s just what they know. They don’t know of anything different. I think belonging is very important, and it takes a lot of strength to feel like you’re different, and it’s okay to be different too.
[00:05:57] Jenn Hudnet: I think another thing that I want to add here, in Asian culture, it’s common to have a culture of silence. Whether the things that they’re ashamed of, if there are different, if they stand out in some way, they hide that. There’s a sense of shame surrounding that. I think the important thing is to embrace what’s different and accept that as okay, to let go of that sense of shame or guilt about being different and needing to stay silent about that and embrace that and know that you can belong in whatever community that you’re a part of.
[00:06:29] Patrick O’Keefe: I did find it interesting that you mentioned your parents before yourself, and I think that’s a very natural thing to do, but also– It’s interesting because it’s like– and we don’t have to get into this here. It’s maybe not our expertise, but there’s just the generational trauma that exists there. You don’t even think of yourselves. The things that you have to endure on a daily basis as all American. Current generation of Americans on our show is things that you deal with, the minor things that you might dismiss knowing where you came from or where your parents came from. I don’t know that I have a point, but I just thought it was really interesting how that was the theme, other points that were brought up in our pre-show doc.
There’s a lot of things there: selflessness that comes into community building, putting others first, putting respect for those who came before you. There’s so many different things there, but it’s interesting how that really influences just the conversation around these issues, what generations past dealt with; not so much what we dealt with. I don’t mean we, Patrick.
[00:07:20] Lana Lee: I know a common thread because I’m in some Asian groups, like Subtle Asian Traits and things that. A lot of Asian parents, they sacrificed a lot for us. We never went on vacation, but the popular thing when growing up with a Mickey Mouse watch. I didn’t get a Mickey Mouse watch, so my mom cut the next closest thing, which was a snoopy watch, but I never felt I lacked anything because they built us up in terms of self-esteem, and maybe it’s the culture, but it’s just they don’t look back. They always step forward because looking back would only hold you back. Just keep moving forward. That’s something that’s instilled with me.
[00:07:54] Phoebe Venkat: Lana, I think he makes such a great point on how our parents and generation before don’t look back. I think us as a newer generation have to do both in order to not only survive and thrive but to help bring others along. We have to look forward. We’ve got to acknowledge some of the wrongs that happened to our parents and relatives and friends in the past. It’s very difficult to do. We’re doing it, but it definitely takes a community of community to get that done.
[00:08:21] Jenn Hudnet: Phoebe, I love how you put that, a community of community. It’s interesting for us as the children because it’s also very painful to come to terms with what our parents have experienced and even to help them understand. There’s so much that they’ve just accepted as part of life, racism and pain that they just endure because they are so strong based on the past that they’ve endured. Part of that is also embracing that pain and helping them to embrace it and moving forward with them.
[00:08:51] Phoebe Venkat: I mentioned before the really lovely story of how my mom had all these different people working with her in the factory. I knew that very early on because I experienced it, I didn’t know until probably in the last several years that when she did move on to a job at the US Postal Service, which was, like Lana mentioned before, getting that golden ticket like, wow, federal job with days off, but she was harassed so much, assaulted there. All these things, she kept from me because she wanted to protect me. Now I know when things happened to me or more importantly people I love and care about, I can’t be silent because she had to be silent in order to pay the bills.
[00:09:29] Lana Lee: I think that comes a lot with our culture just because, with my Asian friends, we joke if we’re hiking, and we’re, “Oh, this is really hard.” My Asian friends will be like, “Show no weakness, show no weakness, keep going.” It’s instilled in us to be don’t show your weakness, don’t share low moments of your life and things that. I remember in high school I had to write a paper about World War II and what my parents endured.
My mom was in British boarding school in Hong Kong and my dad was in China on the Japanese side. Then just seeing my dad told the story, it’s like he’s starting to cry, and I’ve never seen my dad cry. It’s like, maybe my dad, but no one on my family they cry. It was just hard and just like, I don’t want my dad to cry. It’s like those stories that otherwise I never would have known all that he’s struggled through, and that makes him how he is today. Sharing the stories is really important, and showing weakness and being okay with your weaknesses too, because that’s your strength.
[00:10:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Lana, you mentioned something before the show as part of the model minority myth is. You said, oftentimes, Asians are seen as the model minority that many don’t think need help. That seems like that ties and then what you just said, is not only showing weakness but also people see that and think, this person doesn’t need help.
[00:10:41] Lana Lee: That’s true. Even when you asked me, I was just like, I don’t feel that my struggles are as difficult because a lot of the Black Lives Matter and just any other minorities, they seem to have struggled so much or even, folks from Vietnam. I had a manager, he just told me how much he had to swim just to escape. It’s just like, my life is not that difficult compared to that, and they’re so happy. When you asked me, it’s just like, I don’t know if I have anything worth sharing, because it’s just like, I don’t have as much struggles. Maybe I don’t see it as much. Also be like, how society views Asians as model minorities, we get the forgiveness of others more so than other people, something like that.
[00:11:26] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s why we have Google Docs, to make people think and put things in there before the show and really go over everything. We’ve mentioned model minority a couple times. Let’s talk about the model minority myth. It’s a good example of, in my opinion, the stereotypes and microaggressions applied to Asians, Asian American people, and Pacific Islander people, and it’s something all three of you discussed, as we were putting the show together. I read an interview, which was published at Goop, of all places, with Professor Ellen Wu, who is a historian and director of the Asian Americans studies program at Indiana University.
She described the myth as follows, “The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans has many dimensions. In addition to caricaturing Asian Americans as smart and upwardly mobile, the stereotype also cast them as apolitical, quiet, uncomplaining, essentially embracing a don’t-rock the-boat mindset. As ‘good people of color’, the model minority doesn’t get into trouble. They’re not criminals, they’re not violent protesters, they keep their heads down, and it works, supposedly. Policymakers, social scientists, observers, and even some Asian Americans themselves hyped up these particular traits between World War II and the mid-1960s. These assumptions are still around.”
“They position Asian Americans as what I call,” this is Professor Wu, “what I call definitively or decidedly not Black. Political leaders, academics, journalists, and ordinary people have referred to them as a way to say, why can’t Black people be more like Asians? In the 1960s, they were used for a way to dismiss or refute the claims of the Black freedom movement because they offered ‘evidence’ that America is a land of opportunity for racial minorities, rather than the truth, which is that America is a country built on anti-Black racism and White supremacy.” That’s a lot. Do you think that feeling encapsulates the model minority myth?
[00:13:03] Phoebe Venkat: Absolutely. I feel like that myth is something that is pushed upon our society in the US to help pit minorities against each other. If we’re treated better because we’re Asians or Pacific Islanders, we’re seen as the “teacher’s pet”. Of course, it does definitely have advantages, but do you want advantages that come at the expense of other people’s suffering, not getting the opportunities that they deserve? It is definitely like an internal struggle.
[00:13:32] Jenn Hudnet: I think, too, model minority myth drives a wedge between people and is almost in a contrast thing to what community is. An example I have here is, I have a coworker who is Black, and last summer with everything that was going on, I reached out to him saying, I stand with you. Anytime that you are struggling or just need a listening ear, I’m here for you. When the AAPI hate crime started rising up, he reached out to me and did the same thing. When he first did this, I thought, oh, what I’m going through is not even as bad, but there are incidents of racism, of assault, of violence that I’ve experienced as an Asian American woman.
For us, actually, to come together and have a conversation, to acknowledge one another’s stories and the incidents that we’ve experienced and to just bridge that sense of community and even to try to build that sense of community within different groups in our team, in the community that we work in, that was something that was really beautiful, being able to acknowledge that even if we have had different experiences, that that’s still some pain that we’ve experienced and to help one another through that.
[00:14:43] Lana Lee: That’s really important. I like how you said like, you told your coworker that you’re here for them. It’s important for other people to know that they’re there for you, even though they may not need you at the time. Even like just you give someone a gift a presence, just being around them, knowing that someone’s there to support them. I never see my mom all the time, but I know if I need anything, then I know she’ll be there, and things like that, and same with my dad. Just saying that you’re there for someone and that you’re present is really important.
[00:18:54] Patrick O’Keefe: I would like to take a moment to recognize our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
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I don’t want to sound like a white man watching a white man here, but I watched John Oliver’s segment on AAPI bigotry. He’s not the first person to do this by a longshot, but he talked about how AAPI is, maybe problematic isn’t the right word, but it’s a tough term because it represents so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Indonesian Americans, Filipino Americans, Indian Americans, Nepalese Americans, Bhutanese Americans, and so, so many more. He talked about how disaggregating the data exposes disparities that may be missed when you lump so many people into one large group.
His example was in higher education, but it applies to poverty and wealth, just the same, I think. There are segments of the AAPI community that, when broken out, are struggling far more than others on average, but when you group them all together for someone’s clean spreadsheet, where they wanted to only have five categories, once upon a time, or whatever their goal was, you can miss that. It’s a convenient term for a lot of people, which isn’t to say there aren’t positives to it as well. Is that fair?
[00:16:46] Phoebe Venkat: Yes, I think that’s totally fair. I think it’s also understanding and learning the time and the place. I feel such pride when we talk about AAPI, wow, it’s all of us. This is an amazing group of people. Then knowing, okay, but we’re more than just being this group of people. That person is Filipino and they come from this background, and they’ve had these troubles and these wins. I think it’s being able to not choose one or the other and say, “I can be proud AAPI,” while at the same time calling out someone, a friend who’s Cambodian, and making sure that their culture and their values are highlighted too.
Something that comes to mind, I forgot if I put this in the notes or not, is because we’re seen as the quiet ones that just put their heads down and do their work and do the math, I don’t know any math. I think that sometimes when we do speak up, I know personally, I’ve experienced backlash when I have spoken up about, “Hey, this graphic with the people in it, need to have different kinds of people, brown, yellow, Black,” and being like, “Oh, no, we think that’s diverse enough.” It’s like, I wonder if I was a different shade of what I am, darker, maybe that would have been taken to heart. I don’t know. I can’t assume, but it’s almost like, “Oh, that’s not even valid.” I always find that so frustrating, but I just keep bringing things up.
Things like the kind of voice you use for voiceovers because we do run strategies and employ people to record videos and things where that matters too. The care of all of these different things we have to keep track of while trying to do our job really well because that can get very daunting, quick.
[00:18:21] Jenn Hudnet: I think adding to what Phoebe is saying too, is to use your voice and not be afraid to speak up when you see something that bothers you. With the model minority myth, a lot of us have just been taught to embrace that culture of silence, of not rocking the boat or causing any conflict. I think one thing that I’ve come to terms with is that it is okay to speak up. Obviously, to do it in a respectful way, to be mindful of a different perspective, but to not be afraid to speak up when you notice something that bothers you, when you notice underrepresentation of a certain culture, and to embrace that. I think being able to do that actually really empowers you as a person and also builds community as you bring more light to different issues that people might not be considering.
[00:19:06] Lana Lee: I’d just say the important thing is that the microaggressions are very subtle. Sometimes, they could be said under the breath, or just as a joke or something. To take notice of, because sometimes always the person that– I notice the person that’s sitting alone because I was always in that person, so I can be like that. You can see if someone says something in a group, you get the pressure of being like, “Oh, [chuckles] that’s funny,” but then they’re just like a drooping flower, so you know that it affected them in some way. That’s when you want to go, “Is everything okay?”
It’s like, if you just say, “What she said wasn’t cool,” or “What he said wasn’t cool.” Even just that, so just getting the confirmation that they’re not crazy thinking that way or they’re not feeling weak or having their feelings hurt or anything because your feelings are true.
[00:19:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I see people in the doc here because I just jumped in there myself to take a quick look too, [chuckles] I see we’ve got two people in there.
[00:19:58] Lana Lee: I actually had to Google what microaggressions are, and I’m like, oh, yes, that’s what it’s called. I’m like I don’t know.
[00:20:05] Phoebe Venkat: I don’t know if this is shifting the topic too much, but-
[00:20:08] Patrick: Go for it.
[00:20:08] Phoebe Venkat: -something I’ve noticed is that companies were really, really hyper-involved last year around the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans as well. They were like, we make a commitment, we’re going to do all these things. I think that is good. It’s very important. You need to show and prove that you’re making some kind of progress, but these microaggressions, these smaller incidents, they’re just as important for the company to tackle. It’s not just about, okay, we can up the number of Black employees or retain the number of Latin employees. It’s also what are you doing to make sure people feel safe to speak up and speak out consistently and do something about it. Take in the feedback.
I don’t have the answer there, but it’s more like, okay, this needs to be parallel tracks. Let’s solve the big hairy problems, oh, and then we’ll get around to the microaggressions within the company.
[00:20:56] Lana Lee: Oftentimes, microaggressions cause toxic work environments, too.
[00:20:59] Phoebe Venkat: Totally.
[00:21:01] Lana Lee: When they’re not said in the meeting, they’re said on the side or in Slack and they’ll be like, haha. Like that.
[00:21:07] Phoebe Venkat: I always say, yeah, I don’t get the joke and then there’s silence. It’s like, okay. I’m like, I’m sorry, if you feel uncomfortable, but tell you what, we feel uncomfortable a lot of times, all day.
[00:21:20] Jenn Hudnet: I think the thing with microaggressions, too, is it can be intentional, but, oftentimes, it’s unintentional. One thing that’s been important for me and helping my community understand this topic of racism is intention versus impact. Your intention might not always be obviously to hurt or harm someone or to make fun of someone, but the impact is still there. Being able to understand the impact that our words and actions have on others is important and being able to acknowledge the impact that it might have on somebody. I think microaggressions are something that I’ve even had to learn to recognize because I’ve just internalized them and accepted them over the years of being here.
Just even one example, or a couple examples, if I may, are people saying, oh, you speak English so well or you speak so articulately. It’s because I’m an Asian American woman. In the past couple years after I got married, I took on my husband’s name. Before, my last name was an Asian name, now it’s more white because my husband is white. When I meet with somebody, and they don’t know that I’m Asian, once I hop onto that Zoom or Google Meet, they’re like, oh, I didn’t expect you to look like that. I’ve actually heard that a handful of times.
Being able to call that out or being comfortable with calling that out and for people to acknowledge the impact that your words may have on others, even if the intention wasn’t exactly that.
[00:22:46] Lana Lee: It’s so easy to tear someone down, but it takes a lot to build someone up. Even just to give chipping away a little at a time. If you chip away enough, then your whole shoulder falls off, right? It adds up sometimes.
[00:22:58] Patrick O’Keefe: Gosh, “I didn’t expect you to look that way.” I never said that in a Zoom. It’s such a weird thing to say. It reminds me I had a staff member once and she was – I want to keep it very anonymized – she was from a different country than the US working with a US-based company. She’d been with the company for a few months before, let’s say six to nine months before I started working with her, and I noticed something one time. I noticed that her name that she signed her name a different way. I noticed it had an extra letter. Think about Jenn with one N versus Jenn with two.
Her name and all the official company stuff was Jenn with one N, but she signed it with two this one time. I saw it a couple of times, and I was like, “Hold on a sec. Excuse me, I want you to tell me something. How do you spell your name?” It turned out that she spelled it with two instead of one, and the company had the thing wrong, but she never brought it up. She never thought she’s like, I’m not going to mention it. It’s not important to me or my job. I want to please the Americans more or less that I’m working with and keep this thing very smooth, and it’s not worth the confrontation. I said, “We can get your name right.” This is before I got there. I said, “We can definitely get your name right. I think that’s something that they can do here.”
I had everything updated on Slack, Gmail, internal company documents, et cetera. It was like, I didn’t get any pushback on that, and I made a point to myself. I tell our small team that she was on. I said, “Hey, everyone, just so you know, you’ve been saying this name wrong. It’s this.” Everyone was like, “Yes,” we’ve got that from now on. From that point forward, everyone referred to her name correctly, but she was never going to bring that up. No one noticed it or she didn’t slip it in somewhere. I don’t know. It strikes me as being related in a sense and just to me, it’s very basic getting a name right, but still in her case, it was not even worth bringing up, and that stinks.
Phoebe, I wanted to mention something on the microaggression side, you shared a story before this show about how white colleagues will do things in front of you or near you that they wouldn’t do if Black colleagues are around. I thought that was a really interesting example. Could you talk about that a little bit?
[00:24:57] Phoebe Venkat: Yes, this happens in all kinds of settings. Not even just professional work setting, but white colleagues will sometimes put on this, I guess, I don’t call it urban accent, but what they think is an urban accent or rappers accent, rapping, or talking a certain way with hands, and I’m like, this is problematic. I will usually step up and say something, understanding that I don’t think people are trying to be nasty, evil, racist. I think they see this on TV or comedy shows and they want to emulate things, but there’s a time and a place. A work setting is not the time of the place. I just think there’s a fine line between what you think is funny and also working cross the line to appropriation. That’s something I’ve seen.
I’ve also seen instances where people will talk about certain cities or areas, talk about how bad they are, Oakland. It’s all very veiled language. I know what you mean when you say you don’t like Oakland. I’m not stupid. I’ll sit there and listen. I think a lot of this is when you’re one of these warriors trying to look out for things, you’ve got to listen first, understand like, is this group actively trying to be nasty, or maybe this is an educational moment. It’s thinking things out, but I’ll hear things like, oh yes, I bought a house on the good side of Oakland and this and that. I’ll just chime in and be like, “Oh, tell me more about the good side.” The playing dumb thing and just trying to get them to talk a little bit more about it.
When people start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, I feel like that is the educational moment. I don’t need to berate somebody. I think when I’m asking people to repeat what they’re saying, they have to think about it. It helps get people out of that zone.
[00:26:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Just that they see you as like someone that they can do that in front of is a burden.
[00:26:43] Phoebe Venkat: Yes.
[00:26:43] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s something that’s offloaded onto you. We’re not like them. We’re different. I can make these jokes in front of you. That’s a burden in itself.
[00:26:52] Phoebe Venkat: Yes. I’m the other. I’m not like them enough to be in the cool crowd. Thank God. I don’t want to be making rap jokes and stuff. I actually love rap music, but you will never catch me running around quoting lyrics and just being a supreme idiot. That other that you are, you’re just like a stand and you’re barely even existing as a human. That’s how I feel sometimes. It’s like, wow, you didn’t even acknowledge. Someone is right here typing away, doing stuff, meeting with people, and you’re just going on having these problematic conversations. I just can’t monkey. See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil. I like to surprise people when they think that I’m this stereotype that won’t say anything.
[00:27:34] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about emotional labor, a little bit. As people who work in community moderation, trust, and safety, we do a lot of emotional labor by default. This is emotionally intensive work. To some extent, it’s what we sign up for. We don’t sign up for abuse. We don’t sign up to be abused. Our employers and those around us should protect us from abuses as much as possible and systems and processes should be set up to make sure that people who do abuse us in our professional capacity don’t get away with it and they’re held accountable, but it’s inevitable.
To some extent, I would say that makes it even more draining for marginalized people who do this work. For example, AAPI folks are often asked or even expected to do work beyond their job description when high-profile acts of bigotry and hatred occur, and this is not unique. Other groups are asked to do the same thing when there’s some violent act targeted at a group they identify with. It’s, in this case, being Asian, but, Phoebe, you mentioned before the show that you felt like you’ve been performing emotional labor for the majority of your life.
[00:28:30] Phoebe Venkat: Yes.
[00:28:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I wanted to ask you to talk about that, to introduce this topic of emotional labor.
[00:28:35] Phoebe Venkat: Sure. You’ll hear different definitions of emotional labor. The one I’ve adopted is the labor that you’re not, it’s not on your job description. You get hired to be a community manager or accountant or whatever you are, and then you end up, you’re taking care of the community around you, your colleagues, making sure they’re okay. Making sure everyone’s taken care of volunteering at affinity group events.
For example, at most companies I’ve worked at that are larger, they’ll have the Black professionals group, Asian professionals. The marginalized people are the ones running the mic, doing the run-up show, documents, doing the MCing. Maybe sometimes MC goes to the white executive sponsor, and we’re behind the scenes. We’re putting all this work not because we’re forced to, we do want to step up and do that work. It’s important to highlight our cultures, but at the same time, we’re also like, damn, this is exhausting.
I did see some recent news. I think it was LinkedIn. Don’t quote me on this. I think they’re going to put in effect some monetary payment for some of their employee resource group leaders. I don’t know how that’s going to come out to play. That doesn’t mean that’s the only answer is just monetary contribution, but it’s good to see there is some movement in that area, but there’s just so much of this labor going, not only unpaid but unnoticed and unrecognized.
[00:29:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I think the classic example is just like the DEI programs where companies say something, talk about something, they want to do something, maybe they changed their logo. We see a lot of rainbow logos this month, for example, as we celebrate Pride. It’s the thing where if it takes more than an hour and you’re not hiring an outside consultant, that means you’re taking time from someone else who already has a full-time job.
I’ve talked to people at companies I used to work at, especially Black people, Black Americans, who just routinely, more than one, several, that were at a company, and it’s like, well, we need to do this thing. Of course, we turned to that person and they are expected to do this program for free, but you are just in that group that’s being victimized. That doesn’t mean that this is the work that you’ve trained for to tell the whole company how they should behave. That’s a profession, that’s a job, that’s a skillset, that’s training, education, understanding the wider context around all of these issues. It’s just not fair.
[00:30:50] Phoebe Venkat: Yes, there definitely has to be more of a balance. I think part of it is companies stepping up, making some of these roles, the leadership and co-leadership roles, a little bit more formal, whether that be through payment or some other way to acknowledge this is part of someone contributing to the broader culture of the company. I also think it falls on us. I hate to put more work on us, but I know there’s times I’m just like, yes, I’ll do it, yes, I want to help, but I have to understand how do I not say no, but say, yes, I can help in this specific way this time. Next time I’ll have more time to carve out, but you know what, this person I talked to was actually great at this. I talked to him and he thought he could help out.
I think it’s looking for, again, leaning on the community, and just being honest about, maybe you’re not in the right headspace at a certain time. I think that’s really hard to do. I know I find it difficult to say no. I have to find ways to say yes, and here are some parameters around that.
[00:31:46] Jenn Hudnet: I think that’s so important, Phoebe. I think as community managers, especially, often we want to take care of other people and we’re the last person that we take care of. I’ve thought about this in a couple of ways, and one is, no, you’d hear all those same announcements. I know it’s been a while since we’ve all traveled, but it’s put your mask on first and then put your mask on your child. That is so key, especially now as we go through different struggles, each one of us has personal struggles we’re going through on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, and we deal with that in different ways. I think it’s important to be able to take care of ourselves first, whether that means disconnecting, taking a day off, even just saying no to something and being okay with saying no to that.
I struggle with the same thing where I want to take on more and do more and constantly think about what my community members need, but I know that if I don’t take care of myself first, I’m not going to be able to do that.
[00:32:39] Lana Lee: I’m about the same. It’s just like I’ve actually had to step down– Because, especially with COVID, everyone had to become a community manager overnight. The thing is, I was just like, oh, this is my space. I can help. It was helping lots of nonprofits and things like that, but then within the past couple of months, because, a lot of the stuff that we have to do, we have to do online. It turns out that I was starting to hurt my back where my back was hurting so much because I was just sitting at the computer so much. At one point, I couldn’t even put on my shoes and my socks. My back was hurting. I had to be okay, I’m helping too much.
I like how you said in your document, Phoebe, is who cares for the carers? I just think I will just go back to Mr. Rogers because he’s the ultimate carer. It’s just like, what did Mr. Rogers do? What would Mr. Rogers do? He took time off. I assume that he did. I didn’t know him personally, but so then I just sat down and– Sometimes it’s like, oh, I wish I could help, but at the same time, what, Jenn said, we have to take care of ourselves, otherwise, how can we help other people?
Also, when I did say no, they were saying, what can we do to keep you on? I was just get me a new back, or I really need time for myself to take care of myself and go out for a walk and see sunshine or something.
[00:33:52] Phoebe Venkat: Not feeling like we have to have an excuse. We have to have something physically broken with us. While that was your situation, you probably needed that time away, regardless of how your back was feeling, and not feeling like I have to document and show people, oh, I’m going to the doctor for this. I’m going to the therapist for whatever. I think the lack of a better phrase, mental health days, I think when I led teams and I’m the manager and I encourage people to take time off and not tell me what they need it for if it’s mental health or other reasons, I realized that, hey, I actually need to do that too. Otherwise, they’re not going to take that time. It’s become like a good forcing mechanism for me to walk the walk and talk the talk.
[00:34:33] Lana Lee: Sometimes it’s like, I look at those because there’s a lot of more like Facebook groups that have been developed. There’s a lot of people just because they’re community managers in name only, it’s just like, no, that’s not how you do it, but I have to remember that we can’t save the world. Sometimes we have to look away and just be like, look away.
[00:34:53] Jenn Hudnet: Adding to your point, Phoebe, the company I work for, I am really grateful for because we have what we call well-being days. It’s not just about physical well-being, like that broken or hurt back or if you’re sick or something like that, but about emotional and mental well-being too. I think oftentimes we put our heads down and dismiss the issues that we’re experiencing, perhaps with emotional and mental well-being, but actually being able to acknowledge that and realize, right now my emotional well-being is taking a hit, I’m anxious, I’m stressed, and I just need to disconnect for a bit.
Being okay with that and not feeling guilty over experiencing that, but acknowledging that this is just part of that pain and part of that struggle and even being open and transparent about the things that you’re going through if that conversation can happen.
[00:35:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it just feels like a double whammy, frankly, because I feel like we still see community hiring people who put out a Twitter thread about hiring for a community role, whether like, you’re always connected.
[00:35:58] Phoebe Venkat: Always on.
[00:35:59] Patrick O’Keefe: Who are you to be the best community person for this role, always connected? I don’t want to point about examples as being exemplary, I think it has gotten better, having watched it for 20 years, that it has gotten better when it comes to the 24-7 understanding, but it’s been hard-fought gains to get some percentage of companies hiring and people understanding the role, at least in the sense that you cannot do that and still be sustainable. You do need to ask, as you said, take care of the carers, and then you have that work already.
This is already our work that even if we work at a company I feel like that understand it, we still have to sometimes fight against expectations that maybe people have in the company. Maybe this person’s like, why didn’t you get to that thing at 8:00 PM on the forum, or why don’t you respond to that tweet if you work in social media? It came in at 11:57 PM. Shouldn’t you be getting push notifications? Then not only to work in this line but then to be in a marginalized group or minority group and then having this burden added onto your plate. It’s just a lot.
Phoebe, I think you mentioned something earlier about repeating what people say back to them when they’re saying these things that are inappropriate in front of you, but I feel like also with companies, it’s easy to say and hard to do. I’ve had my share of tough conversations at companies as a white man. With that privilege, I’ve had those tough conversations sometimes where it’s like, hey, I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this. It’s almost like the same strategy in the sense. When you’re repeating someone back to someone, you’re wanting them to think about what they’re saying a second time and let it cycle to their brain again.
If someone says, you should do this thing for free, you almost feel like you could use that strategy there too, like to repeat it back to you. Just to make sure I understand, you’re asking that I put this program together, I saw this great program that, whatever this company did, you want me to put this thing together but that costed them X amount, I know they hired this person. Do we have a budget for that, or is that part of my job, or is it just like giving them the brain capacity to cycle through again, and maybe some of those people will realize, hey, actually, maybe not? I don’t know.
[00:37:51] Phoebe Venkat: That’s really good advice. I’m definitely saving that in my file.
[00:37:54] Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, it came from you. I’m just cycling it back. Phoebe, before the show, you had brought up the topic of racial divisions and how, in your words, “There’s still a lot of anti-Black, Black, and Hispanic, you name it, behavior and thinking in some Asian communities.” I wanted to give you some space to talk about that.
[00:38:14] Phoebe: Yes, thanks, raising that. I think what I’ve seen the most and experienced the most is other Asians– I’m Chinese. I’ll see other Chinese people either writing online or telling each other about unfair practices in terms of school admissions and things like that. What I see that as is not the well-disguised racism. The assumption that your child deserves and is owed a slot at UC Berkeley or Stanford because that was a dream that you had. I remember getting involved in several kinds of heated conversations where I said, “Well, great, my son has a dream. I want him to work hard, and hopefully, he gets that dream. He doesn’t get that dream, he’ll have to find new dreams.”
This is how we progress as humans, but that was not a very popular comment. Of course, I should have known better than being on the online thread to try and change people’s minds, but it was more about I’m not here to fight your perspective, you have a certain way of raising your family of the dreams you have for your children, but let’s be clear about many people didn’t even get the chance to privileged to have that dream because there is still no equity amongst races, classes. If we can get more people into living their dreams, pursuing what they can pursue, while at the same time, that’s not taking it away from us. It’s not a zero-sum game that we’re living in. We’re not hamsters on a wheel.
Of course, who doesn’t want to be successful and live a comfortable life? Knowing that we’re living a comfortable life at the expense of other people every day, it’s something we need to think about and take actions on. It’s a tough mindset to get out of. I do have empathy for those who view it that way, that they feel like people are constantly taking things away from them that they don’t acknowledge that people are working hard everywhere and certain people, marginalized people, have to work even harder, 10 times or more, to even just be considered for a certain kind of opportunity, whether that’s a career, education, and other things.
[00:40:09] Lana Lee: I think it just comes down to education, just being educated of how things are, that not everything is like America. There’s a caste system in India. There’s some people that they just– no matter how smart they are, they just can’t get the job because they’re born in the wrong cast. It’s just being educated that the world is beyond your sphere, beyond your local community. You have to expand your community to understand how other people live as well and their struggles and things like that.
[00:40:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s move into some online community specifics for creating an inclusive and safe community. It’s a big topic. I guess, first of all, I want to talk specifically for AAPI folks. Is there anything that you feel is unique in creating a space for those groups, or is it just good solid principles that create better communities for all? I’ll just say Jenn, if you if you have any thoughts, I’d love for you to start it off.
[00:41:01] Jenn Hudnet: I think one thing is you mentioned earlier in this podcast talking about that culture of silence, and especially for AAPI, that is something that for me, for example, I grew up with that. With a lot of the racist incidents that I experienced it was just put my head down, ignore, and internalize that pain, but actually being able to come to terms with that and not only speak out about that but be okay with just the emotional mental effort that goes into processing what happened and dealing with that. I think creating that space for your community and also for yourself as a community manager is so key.
For me, I think that took a lot of time and space this year, even just for me starting to understand my background and things I experienced and how that had an effect on me, the microaggressions, the model minority myth, and some of what we’ve talked about. I think that was some process for me, I think, talking about self-care, that took a lot, but it was after I engaged in that self-care that I was then able to take care of my community, which was then creating that inclusive and safe space for people to come and learn. I don’t want to ramble on too much here.
[00:42:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Without naming names, though, did you encounter any communities that didn’t make space in a way during these tragic events? If so, was there something about– Is it a policy thing? What was it that created that space, do you think, where you could have an actual conversation about it, or at least allow people to live in the moment and feel their feelings?
[00:42:30] Jenn Hudnet: I haven’t experienced any communities that have, I would say, outright done this, but I think that with the challenges that we’re facing, it can be easy to still focus on the community programs, the initiatives that we’re going through and on implementing that. It is important to take a step back and to be able to create that space, to create that sense of community, even if it’s not something directly tied to say your community goals or your KPIs and things like that. The tactics that I think are often top of mind for us.
One thing that my company has done is something called equality circles. I held this with my community recently for the Asian American community. What this is, it’s a safe space. Nobody’s used that term a lot, but what it looks like is a Zoom or Google Meet where people can come and just speak openly. It’s not recorded. We make that clear early on. Nothing is to be screen-shotted or shared outside of that space, but it is a time for those who’ve been affected, in this case, the AAPI community, to come and share what they’ve experienced, what they’re feeling, and to just talk about that. For those who are not part of that group, it’s a time for them to just come with a desire for understanding, to learn how to become allies to those who are hurting.
I think this was really key for our community as we grieve the different things that happened this year with violent acts and things like that, for example, but just also for others who are not Asian American to learn what it’s like for us since they don’t often have that opportunity. Is for us to process that together and grow together as a community.
[00:44:07] Lana Lee: It’s just really important to listen to the stories because each one of us has a different background. Our parents have had different stories. Then I think it’s really important just to listen and not to minimize the other person, to be like, oh, it wasn’t that bad. What you were explaining wasn’t that bad, but whenever they say, but what about this? It’s just like you can’t really negate what has already happened, history and their feelings and their struggles, so that’s why for me I just always like to tell stories because you can’t just go back and erase history cause that’s already happened.
Stuff like that really– I think the stories make an impact, the good and the bad stories, and sometimes people don’t want to hear the bad stories. I meet some people, they really love Asian culture, but they only want to hear the good stuff. They want to hear about food, dim sum. It’s like I don’t talk about like when I talk about when I was younger, I wanted to have hair like Blair from The Facts of Life, that my hair would never feather. It’s like they don’t want to hear about that. They only want to hear about the good stuff like, “What are you like? What was it like?” It’s like it’s just like every other day for me. Stuff like that, the good and the bad.
[00:45:15] Phoebe Venkat: Something I wanted to point out was, especially when you’re building online communities, sometimes it’s harder to get to the heart of others. You’re building a community at scale, you’re trying to make sure that things can work for many, but in terms of making sure people feel safe, feel heard, some of that work does need to be one-to-one or one to a small group.
Last year, last summer, when everything exploded, not exploding, but sort of more with George Floyd’s murder, I had one of my customers in my community reach out after he had seen some of the posts my previous employer, Okta, had written about how they were making certain donations to Black Lives Matter. We had talked before on the phone and also privately in Slack he pinged me and said he really appreciated what the company was doing. This wasn’t something that he chose to comment publicly, but I thought this means something. It wasn’t just lip service, and this person saw it.
From that point, we’re able to build a stronger relationship. I think it’s seeking each other out, not just when things go really bad. The fact that we already had a relationship before that he felt, I think, safe enough to reach out to me and talk to me about this one-on-one. It’s easier said than done. It’s the hard work of community where you’re building up scale at the same time where those one-on-one conversations and engagement that can really help the other person to help your broader community.
[00:46:16] Lana Lee: That’s really important, how you see them as just not as customer 1, 2, 3, 4. You see them as a person, you say, “Hey, how are you? How are you doing? How are you holding up? How’s painting your baby’s room or something?” Even if you need to remember those little things, like the stuff that you read from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was just like those things matter because when you’re working from home day-to-day, it’s like you’re stuck in the grind. When you remember little things like that, it makes a big difference.
[00:46:46] Phoebe Venkat: Absolutely. It’s like remembering that everyone alive and not at the same time. Somebody happens in your community, they happen to be a customer of my company, but there are a million other things that I don’t know about either. If I’m really going to serve them well as a customer, I’ve got to get to know what the other facets of their life are, but if they’re willing to share and they feel comfortable sharing.
[00:47:99] Patrick O’Keefe: You all make it sound so easy. The secret to great communities is to show up and do the work consistently over a long period of time, big secret. It’s a big hack. All that’s easier said than done. It sounds like, and not a surprise, I think this is the case with most of my guests, is like although it sounds simple and it’s easy to gloss over, is the work that you do, the work that we do to create environments where people feel comfortable before there is something that is tragic that occurs where they can then participate actively or already feel safe or reach out because they appreciate the donation or whatever it may be because we’ve already done that work ahead of time to create a space.
We’re not being reactive in the moment to this thing happened, yes, improvements is needed, yes, we can move in this direction, but we’ve created not a blank slate, but essentially, a space, an opportunity. We’ve created the foundation for ourselves and our company and our community and our members to make that move, to go in that direction because of the foundation we’ve already laid. I don’t want you to gloss over that or speak about that like it’s not the good work because it is. You should all be proud of it. We should all be proud of that work that we do.
[00:48:25] Phoebe Venkat: Thank you.
[00:48:27] Patrick O’Keefe: Lana, I want to call something out that you mentioned before the show on this topic because you talked about inappropriate jokes, earlier I believe, but also you mentioned how when a joke’s told offline and it makes someone uncomfortable, “one can see that person physically and emotionally withdraw, and they are no longer engaged in the conversation. For online communities, we don’t have the same type of physical cues we would see in person. It’s crucial to exercise empathy and encourage others to read between the lines of one’s response or lack of response.” Could you talk a little bit about that?
[00:48:54] Lana Lee: Yes. Mostly in a lot of the communities that I volunteer for, sometimes people are sharing things with– they assume that they’re confessional to people that they don’t know. Then they’re a little more open and then sometimes it’s if you don’t know someone, for some people, it’s easier to turn them down if you don’t really know them because that’s why, as a community manager, I try to get to know who my customers are and my users so at least I know who they are and their background. Sometimes they’re in a good place, sometimes they’re in a bad place, but it’s really important to read between the lines just seeing certain words that they use or reactions or engagements with other people because they could be hurting on the other line because we don’t know.
Sometimes we hear stories of people like they posted a really good picture one day and then the next day they’re feeling down or something that’s happened in their personal life you didn’t know about, and you’re just, oh, I wish they reached out to me, and things like that. That’s really important to, as a community manager, to be able to take time to read and understand where people are coming from, especially when you have sometimes upset customers. Sometimes they may just be having a bad day.
[00:50:01] Jenn Hudnet: I think that’s so key, Lana. If I may, just adding on there, having that personal touch and taking time not only to read and understand but to listen. I’ve been on the receiving end of many angry or upset or frustrated emails or Slacks and things like that, but then when you hop on the call with someone, like a Google Meet or Zoom, and just hear them out, often, that changes. I think what’s important is to not have a one-size-fits-all approach but to be that community manager who can take time to listen to your community members, what they’re going through.
They might be just going through some really tough times. They might be the frazzled parent trying to do homeschooling and work at the same time, or they might be someone who’s going through health issues or have someone going through health issues. I think, especially in this past year that we’ve all been through, there’s so much that each person is dealing with, and we have to come to work every day with our game face on ready to work while all this internal struggle and pain is going on.
[00:51:00] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting. Everyone talks about listening. I want to point at one thing that I think people should keep in mind, is that some of the same people that we hear all say listen will be people who make fun of abuse reports and the quantity of abuse reports they might receive. This isn’t so much an issue with the types of communities that this group and that I typically manage because there’s not that quantity. It’s usually about big social networks or big platforms, anything from Facebook, Twitter to Reddit to YouTube, to midsize, but how bad abuse reports are, how you can’t pay attention to your abuse reports or how they’re just generally garbage.
The fact is that’s a really good signal for a lot of people to show you the thing that matters to them that you may not understand in flagging something that they read in a way because that’s their identity or they’re from that place or they look that way or they do that work or whatever it is. Those are good educational opportunities, even in larger communities where you may not have the luxury of a one-to-one relationship with everyone or you may not know your customers as well to just take that seriously when people take the step to report something and enter something in a text field where they say, hey, this made me feel this way.
It doesn’t always mean they’re right. It doesn’t always mean content comes down, but it is a really good educational opportunity and an opportunity for you to take it from their perspective and validate that, and then apply the guidelines in a way that validates that. Again, maybe that’s removable, maybe it’s not, just not to disregard abuse reports just because you have a quantity of them, or yes, 20% of them are garbage where someone didn’t like what someone said or they disagreed. It can be a useful signal.
[00:52:36] Lana Lee: It’s also a good opportunity to get a new perspective because, as online community managers, we’re used to reading all stuff, and we can interpret things, but versus some people everyone became online with computer cause they can go outside. They may not have the same skills of filtering good comments or bad comments or what’s a joke and what’s not and things like that. It’s a good way for us to reinforce the guidelines to be or at least teach them online community, digital literacy, being able to read things online because you miss the tone, especially if they’re used to face-to-face conversations or live conversations, they may read something a different way.
It’s a good way to give that perspective so they don’t take something out of context or they don’t misinterpret someone and just make the stereotype. Oh, they’re saying that because their picture’s like that. They’re using this as their profile picture, so they must be like that. Quick judgments like that.
[00:53:32] Phoebe Venkat: I think that, as often as you can, sharing with the community how certain decisions are made. Not every single decision because for some communities it might be thousands or millions, but letting them know the process. For example, in my last role, we have a product feedback form. That could be very black box where people feel I submit a product feedback or an idea. I have no idea where it’s going. Is anyone going to look at it? It’s actually laying out the process for them, visually, verbally, make videos, just reminders of how things move through the process will help.
Some people, maybe, still not agree with you, and that’s okay. I still think parts of your product definitely need improvement. That’s okay too, but at least they understand where they stand. I think that giving people that consistent experience that’s also safe. Hey, this is a place where what you contribute matters, doesn’t mean that we’re always going to agree or do what you suggest.
[00:54:29] Lana Lee: That’s important because, otherwise, the fantasy aspect will come into play. They’ll be, oh, they’re not reading it because they hate me. It’s just part of the process because we’re getting all sorts of other ideas as well.
[00:54:43] Phoebe Venkat: That’s a great example, Lana. It’s like sometimes people will say, “Well, I guess you’re only taking ideas from the big enterprises that make big money.” That may be true in some cases. I think it’s not about arguing with them, “Oh, that’s not true.” Why don’t you present an idea that came from a start-up, or a smaller business, or mom-pop shop that made it to the product roadmap?
If you talk about it that way and make that part of maybe your communications campaign versus the going back and forth, you’re never going to get your point across, and that isn’t the point. To get your point across to make them feel like we are doing the job and here’s maybe some examples that can help you understand that we’re trying our best to get the input in on whatever action people are taking.
[00:55:23] Lana Lee: Letting them know that not the big honcho has the voice, but also the little people, the ones at the bottom also have a voice and just as powerful as well.
[00:55:31] Phoebe Venkat:: Not doing it defensively. Like doing in a way that’s like, “Here’s some examples maybe you even didn’t know about them, but I’d love to share them.” You don’t really have to go into all that. It’s really taking that and saying, “Okay, this is something I need clearly build into the content strategy of the community.” It’s more of this example because people are, like you said, thinking about things because they don’t know what’s actually happening, so they’re making up their own stories, which is a very human thing to do.
[00:55:55] Lana Lee: Sometimes what I do is just I say, “Let me help you.” Then when I’m helping them, I be like, “Oh, we can’t say it like this because the process is this,” and like, “Oh, I didn’t know that. I now understand why it wasn’t taken.” I’m like, “Yes, thank you.”
[00:56:10] Patrick O’Keefe: Jenn, Lana, and Phoebe thank you so much for spending time with us today. I’m really grateful for all of your time, not only on this show here but also before the show as we talked about what this program would be. The conversation we would have, it’s been planned over a couple of months. I’m just grateful for your openness, honesty, willing to talk about it, willing to share stories with not only me but the audience. It’s really very deeply appreciated. Thank you so much.
[00:56:35] Jenn Hudnet: Thank you so much for having me on this podcast. It’s a pleasure to chat over these different issues and just come to an understanding of how we, as community managers, cannot only help our communities but also help ourselves. I think that’s it’s been an important lesson for me personally. I’m grateful to have the chance to talk about that today.
[00:56:56] Lana Lee: Thank you for having me on. It’s always great talking to other community managers. I actually learned a lot. Some of the stuff that I experienced I didn’t know the actual words for it. I had to Google some words because I just didn’t know the formal word for it. It’s really helpful just talking to other community managers, especially those of AAPI descent because there’s not that many of us, I guess, because I know we struggle to find a third person, and we found Phoebe. It was really cool to see all the familiar faces, and it’s always great chatting with you.
[00:57:24] Phoebe Venkat: Hey, everybody. I really had such a good time getting to know each other better. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I know some of the stories were painful, so I appreciate that. Lana and Jenn, thanks for looping me in and getting me hooked up into this. I think this is really been a great platform for us to just not only share our stories but also learn from one another, so appreciate it. Thank you.
[00:57:47] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking to Jenn Hudnet, community manager at Salesforce. Follow her on Twitter @jenntothechen, that’s, J-E-N-N-T-O-T-H-E-C-H-E-N. Lana Lee, senior community manager and strategist at Zuora. Visit the Zuora Community at community.zuora.com, and read her blog at talesofacommunitymanager.com. She also has a streaming TV and movie meetup group that we’ll link to in the show notes. And, Phoebe Venkat, director of community TripActions. Visit their community at community.tripactions.com, and find Phoebe on Twitter @pheebkat, that’s P-H-E-E-B-K-A-T.
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, take care of yourself.
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