As we’ve shared on many episodes of Community Signal, community professionals come from numerous career paths, educational backgrounds, and areas of interest. In this conversation, Patrick talks with Matt Nevill, customer community manager at Agilent Technologies, about his transition from engineer to community manager. As a one-person community team, Matt discusses how he partners with other teams within his organization to ensure the success of Agilent’s community and gets advice from Patrick on when and how to scale the team.
If you’re thinking about how to justify adding another team member or quantifying your community’s value, the advice is all here. As Matt and Patrick explain it, it’s all about clearly communicating that a more engaged community means happier customers that turn into repeat customers.
They also discuss:
- A support staff that was getting crushed by calls until they launched a community
- The right way and time to scale your community team
- Evaluating community platform options
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Deciding when and how to scale your community team (24:25): “What I like to think about is depth versus width. We make choices all the time where we sacrifice depth for width. Meaning, how much can we interact with an individual community member? How good of an experience can we give to that one person versus serving everyone? If you throw one person into a sea with 30,000 people, then there’s a limit to how much they can actually give individualized support to those people.” –@patrickokeefe
The value of having an open community (43:47): “I think part of providing a good experience is less hurdles to jump over. If you have an open community, then people can find [your] content because it’s indexed by external search engines. Not only that, but if they just visit your community, they can poke around and read the content without feeling like they’re trapped into [creating an account]. Some people don’t want to do that. My theory is if you have a good community site that is easy and people like to use, people are going to be more willing to create a meaningful membership in that community.” -Matt Nevill
Evaluating community platforms (48:25): “When you’re weighing your [community platform] options, you want to look at what seems to be the most stable. What has a good support structure when we need help? What has a good partner network? If it doesn’t do what we want to do, what can we customize? … When you first evaluate different platforms and pick something that you’re comfortable with, you’re going to expect to be able to use it for at least probably three to five years.” -Matt Nevill
About Matt Nevill
Matt Nevill has over 17 years of experience in various customer-facing and digital roles at tech companies. He is currently the customer community manager for Agilent Technologies. Agilent Technologies is a global leader in life sciences, diagnostics, and applied chemical markets. The company generated revenue of over $5 billion in fiscal 2019 and employs 16,300 people worldwide.
Over his career, Matt’s responsibilities have included community management, customer service and support, support management, systems engineering, process improvement, digital customer experience, content standards, and customer self-help strategies. He graduated from Texas A&M in 2002 with a Bachelor’s in Telecommunications Engineering Technology and later obtained an MBA from Houston Baptist University. Matt has worked remotely for the last 13 years and is based out of Houston, Texas.
- Sponsor: Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities
- Matt Nevill on LinkedIn
- Agilent Technologies
- The Agilent community
- ADTRAN and Layer 3 Communications, where Matt worked as an engineer
- Agilent wins the Frost & Sullivan award for its social media support efforts
- Community platforms mentioned: Higher Logic and Khoros (Lithium and Jive)
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, a podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. We’re talking with network engineer-turned community pro-turned network engineer-turned community pro again, Matt Nevill, about that career path, being a team of one at a $5 billion company, and what the director of community title means. I’m blown away by the continued support of our backers on Patreon, all of which have now been with us over the long term. This includes Luke Zimmer, Marjorie Anderson, and Jules Standen. It means a lot. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Matt Nevill has over 17 years of experience in various customer-facing and digital roles at tech companies. He’s currently the customer community manager for Agilent Technologies. Agilent Technologies is a global leader in life sciences, diagnostics, and applied chemical markets. The company generated revenue of over 5 billion in fiscal 2019 and employs 16,300 people worldwide.
Over his career, Matt’s responsibilities have included community management, customer service and support, support management, systems engineering, process improvement, digital customer experience, content standards, and customer self-help strategies. He graduated from Texas A&M in 2002 with a Bachelor’s in Telecommunications Engineering Technology and later obtained an MBA from Houston Baptist University. Matt has worked remotely for the last 13 years and is based out of Houston, Texas. Matt, welcome to the show.
[00:01:43] Matt Nevill: Thanks, Patrick. Pleasure to be here.
[00:01:45] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s good to have you. As I was looking at your background and your career, I saw how you started in your profession. You took a degree. It was really in engineering and you turn that into what looks to be a successful career, network engineering at ADTRAN for well over 10 years where you went from a network engineer to a lead network engineer, to a senior network engineer. You’re building out this career for a decade and then you switched over to support community manager. What happened?
[00:02:13] Matt Nevill: Yes. As a part of some of those roles and it was more like when I became a lead engineer to lead a team of support engineers, well, we have a vested interest in making sure that customers can find things to not call us [chuckles] and make our job easier in support. Part of that job was trying to consolidate, organize, and just make our contents available and easy to find, and figuring out what we didn’t have that we needed to bridge those gaps.
What happened was we were looking around the landscape at our competition and trying to figure out, what does everybody else have digitally that we do not have that can help us to deflect more calls and be more efficient and support? Looked around and it was pretty obvious, we needed a community like everybody else had a community of some sort. It’s just a great way.
As a consumer yourself, you’ll go out and try to find help for something and often starts with a Google search, which leads you to a forum thread, which leads you directly to your answer. We knew what we needed and what we had to do. That was where it started was we decided, “Okay. We’re going to launch a community,” and then we did the market research, figured out who was the best fit platform-wise for our needs and requirements that we add.
After that, part of the onboarding was getting consulting so they could tell you, “You’ve never done this before, but here’s the way that this show works,” is you have these resources that operate this way and it helps to make a community successful. One of the things that came out of that was a community manager obviously. It was nice that that came externally because that was from the platform. We use Jive at the time and Jive was fantastic with the consulting.
They harped on it pretty hard that having a community manager is going to help ensure the success of this. You don’t want to just launch the thing and not have any direction or an overseer or a facilitator or anything like that. I started out. My role at the time, I was still technical. I was still talking to customers doing debugs, troubleshooting, that kind of stuff. I still had part of online content as my job and especially since I was told to go investigate this.
Once we got into it and started launching it, then I was trying to build out the structure and the strategy and everything else while I was still helping the support team. It just got into where I’m starting to get pulled into different directions. I’m sure you’ve heard this story a million times, but that’s basically how it started was I was getting pulled into different directions and we’d made this investment. We wanted it to be successful. That’s when I went back and said, “I need to be able to do this full-time,” and so got permission and made that my official job at that point. I loved it. It was great.
[00:05:04] Patrick O’Keefe: What did that do to your salary?
[00:05:08] Matt Nevill: I actually got to keep the same salary that I had. It was more a shift of job responsibilities. It was great because I was working remote at the time. Some people may be concerned, “How do you launch a community while you’re remote and things like that?” You figure out as a remote worker, we were talking about this before the show started, it’s for some people, it’s not for some people, but you kind of learn how to be effective if you’re the type of person that working remotely resonates with.
Got everything ready and launched it. I got to keep my old salary and a lot of the job responsibilities. They were great about letting me kind of have a combined role. I could still do community management full-time, but I was still able to act as like a subject-matter expert for one area of the community and actually take on the role as the person that’s responding, adding tags, categorizing, that kind of stuff.
[00:06:03] Patrick O’Keefe: At ADTRAN, your support staff was getting crushed with calls. That’s why you are one of the reasons they chose to go in this direction. As you just said, you started their first community. You told me that it really ended up making that support team scalable. Tell that story.
[00:06:18] Matt Nevill: We had some attrition, when you’re already getting buried in calls. I remember one time, we would look at our software that kind of manage the call queue. You’d refresh it and it would never get smaller even though everybody on the team was on the phone or taking tickets. In the midst of all of that, that’s kind of when we started looking at this. If memory serves me right, things actually got worse before they got better.
We decided we’re going to launch a community, but then we still were just getting killed like really bad with incoming support tickets. A lot of people would look at this like, “Why are you taking a resource away that could be helping with all of these tickets that are coming in?” You kind of had to do some selling and explaining to people like, look, the long-term vision is we get this running and it’s going to, in turn, deflect a lot of this volume so then we can concentrate on harder types of calls or the easy stuff will be out there where people can self-serve and self-help. That’s how that started.
[00:07:23] Patrick O’Keefe: If I understood what you said, at first when you launched the community, it got worse like the calls? Is that what you meant?
[00:07:29] Matt Nevill: Well, it was really bad timing. If I look at all the time that I was in support, we would have waves where the volume would be bearable and the volume would be unbearable. We just launched it during a time where we had more complex products. Any tickets that did come in, they were automatically harder. Like I mentioned, we had some attrition at the time. It could create this just downward spiral of, “Oh man, this is just a pressure cooker job. Who wants to be here just getting killed on the phone all day?”
What I was trying to say is it was during one of these bad times when everything was turning up as far as our volume, as far as complexity, how hard it was to actually get a resolution to an issue. That’s when I was trying to launch the community and started to take off. At that point, I had to really decide, “Do I want to stay technical and do this kind of stuff or do the community management stuff?” I really love the community management stuff.
I can focus on that and make sure that that’s successful and try to sell everybody else and make them believe. Once we have a good, healthy community, we’ve got good activity, we’ve got answers to questions, we’ve got content in there, then it’s not going to be like overnight. The day we turn this on and make it live, everything’s not just going to go away. No one’s going to call in, but there’s going to be a ramp to where this is going to be a very useful resource for customers. We’ll see the fruits of that. It just is going to take some time to happen.
[00:08:56] Patrick O’Keefe: How did you recognize that it made that team scalable? For example, what was happening before the community? Was it, for example, we were having to hire people at an untenable rate that just was not going to scale financially? After that, you were able to slow hiring in that area because people were self-serving?
Did you notice call volume went down markedly after a period of time, after you had invested in the community and spent that time to develop it into a useful resource? People were self-serving and Google results were increasing and you were getting more searches and traffic and things like that. How did you really say, “Okay. This has worked. This is what we saw happen as a result after, whatever, six months, nine months, 12 months?”
[00:09:33] Matt Nevill: Once we launched and fast-forward, we could tell that the call volume drops. Instead of us looking at the huge software and seeing it just increase every time you refreshed it, there would be like a normal, manageable amount for the amount of people we had on the phones to actually support it. It kind of stayed, so it flattened. There was a significant amount of calls that just didn’t come in.
You could look by activity in the community. You could tell if someone asked a question and got an answer. We see that that thread is getting a lot of views. It’s a common thing like it’s a common call that we would take in support. We know that that was providing some value. One of the biggest things that I think helped us the most is we had this knowledge base at the time. It was so frustrating because we had thrown all of our documentation into it because we wanted to create a one-stop-shop for post-sales, user manuals, quick start guides, hardware installation guides like all of our official documentation. We also had articles that support would create. They weren’t official. They didn’t go through our tech pubs department. These were things that people like me and other support engineers would write.
We had a pretty good set and it was organized by product. It was great for browsing, but the search engine on it was just terrible. Even worse than that is it was not visible to external search engines, so Google couldn’t index it. Our website at the time, it wasn’t connected and integrated with the knowledge base, the knowledge base was a separate site. We did our best to link to it to help people find it.
If you went to our website and searched, you couldn’t find anything. If you finally stumbled across the knowledge base and found it and you searched, you couldn’t find much. Once we transitioned to the community, we said, “We’re going to have questions and answers from questions that come from customers, but we’re also going to shut down this knowledge base. We’re going to pick up all of the content that we have and we’re going to move it over into the new community.”
Jive was great about that because they supported PDFs and we had a lot of PDF content. Also, it had a really good editor where we could create our own content like create new documents. We could also embed videos. Another part is we didn’t have a lot of video content, but we did hear a lot of customers and I’m same way, the first thing I want to do if I need help with something, I want to see a video. I want a short video that tells me how to do what I want to do. Show me. Don’t just tell me.
We were trying to start increasing the video content that we had. What happened was there weren’t a lot of people that felt comfortable doing that. Some people don’t want their voice on the video. Some people don’t feel comfortable with the software. I decided to take that head-on and I’m like, okay. I’m going to try to figure out what our most common calls are that we take just hundreds of times a week and they’re big-time sucks. Once we get on the phone, they just eat up a lot of time.
It’ll be so much easier if I could say, “You know what? We have a video on this exact topic. Let me send you this link and watch it. If you have questions, we will totally help you out, but I promise that this is what you want to do.” I started building up slowly this video library. Later, other parts of the organization jumped on and we did it. We also launched our first support YouTube channel because a lot of companies, they divide up where they want the branding and the marketing to be their own social channels and support is different. We wanted to honor that. We just said, “This will work better because then, we don’t have to go through another organization within the company to get stuff published. We just have direct access to it.” We created the support YouTube channel and then we would load the videos there and then embed them back in the community as a new community video article. We had Google Analytics, so we could tell people are finding this stuff.
They’re coming from these sources from Google searches directly from these links that we have on our website. We could just tell so much more because we had so much more analytics. We could tell that the volume was dropping by a significant amount. We felt like we had some breathing room. I remember it was really cool because, finally, when things calmed down, we got to a point where we could tell all of the engineers, “We want you to have some lab time.”
Before we were so busy, you couldn’t just do extra stuff. Now, you’re going to have X hours a week to go in the lab, set up stuff, figure things out, do whatever you want to to help further your education and get you sharper and more competent and help you learn more. We couldn’t do that until the community had paid off and paved the way for us to have some more resources.
[00:14:21] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. I don’t know that I’ve heard a lot of people say that the community freed up people to go and better themselves on staff. Let’s take a pause here to talk about our great sponsor, Discourse, who we’re really glad to have.
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When that call queue dropped from a crazy number to something more manageable, was anyone worried that people stopped using the product? Was their initial concern like, “Why aren’t people calling us? What’s happened? Did sales go down?”
[00:15:18] Matt Nevill: No. We could see that while sales were up, training was up, everything was showing signs of health. The call volume was dropping. That’s one of the reasons we felt so great about it that it was making a big impact. We knew that if we didn’t have the community, then like– Let’s say that we just, for a test, turned off the community for a month, it would have been horrible.
I’m positive we would have had just crazy volume. In fact, there were some times when we had like some single sign-on problems here and there, stuff happens sometimes. Whenever the community couldn’t be accessed, we would hear about it and we would hear about it quick because there were people all over using this thing and relied on it.
[00:15:59] Patrick O’Keefe: You spent three and a half years in that support community manager role and then you took a job at Layer 3 Communications where you went back to being an engineer. At least according to your LinkedIn profile, a senior systems engineer. Why the switch back?
[00:16:11] Matt Nevill: I had just finished my MBA. I loved the company that I was with and my job, but it was that thing where I was torn apart. I can either stay technical or I can be a community manager. I struggled with this a little bit to where I made the choice to be community manager and I loved it. When I graduated and got my MBA, I was a little more marketable in the Houston area.
That’s where I live and that’s where this opportunity came up. It just landed in my lap out of nowhere and I’m like, you know what? I’m never going to know for sure if I don’t try this. ADTRAN was my first job out of college. I was there 12 and a half years. It was honestly really hard to go when you’ve been with the company that long. I felt a lot of loyalty and everything and the people there were just fantastic. I loved everybody that I worked with. They were great.
When I took this other job, I had nothing to do with community and I started to miss it almost immediately. That’s when I was trying to do some other things like a Facebook community that I was involved in. I would still check up within the Jive community of Jive customers. Even though I wasn’t doing anything, I would still read the threads and see if I could help out and answer questions because I still miss that part of it.
I went and did this technical role. Once I had done it for so long– Here’s a funny story. A community management job opportunity had come up actually with Agilent, the job that I have now. When I took the job at Layer 3, I went through the interview process and I got the job, but I decided, you know what? I really need to try this re-seller job first to make sure that this is not what I want to do.”
It was a really good opportunity. It was local. I turned down the Agilent job, did this. The world goes around and the stars align and the same job comes back up available. It just pops up on my LinkedIn and I’m like [chuckles], this is what I really thought I wanted to do until this job came along. I really do miss community management. I’ve got a passion for it. I like it a lot and I still like the technical stuff.
Anyway, I went back to Agilent and interviewed again, got the job, and then it’s just been fantastic ever since. It was just so ironic that the same job had come up and I had to face this same choice again. Do I want to stay technical or do I want to take this community management job? It’s been fantastic. I started with Agilent in January of 2017 and I’ve been with them ever since just trying to make the community better. It’s been such a great job.
[00:18:52] Patrick O’Keefe: What has that done for your career? You have this engineering background. You’ve worked engineering. You’ve looked at engineering jobs, had interviews focused on engineering, compensation, everything that goes into that field. You’ve done that for community too. Now, not only at ADTRAN having the opportunity but also going out and interviewing for a job, getting it, looking at community jobs out there. What kind of perspective has that given you on the career path for community? Do you feel like you’re more limited? Do you feel like you have less opportunities? Is it the same? Is it more? What’s the perspective?
[00:19:25] Matt Nevill: It’s hard to tell. What I think is that when somebody’s looking at my experience and attributes, et cetera, they see that I’m technical and I like the community management stuff and I’ve had a lot of success with it. There are some jobs and I’ve even heard it on your podcast like, “Should the manager of the community be someone that knows a lot about this product or technology or whatever?”
They’re the best one to be the community manager is someone that has been neck-deep in it for so long. I struggle with that too because that’s how I started at ADTRAN and I’m like, it made sense. It fit. It was perfect. At Agilent, I’m not the person that’s answering the questions. We have absolutely wonderful support people that kind of watched all of the different areas and provide the answers.
When I moved over to Agilent, I didn’t have the background to be able to hop into the different areas of the community and start answering the questions and helping out. I kind of had to struggle with that and figure out, is this really required? I don’t think it is. My opinion is, personally, you don’t have to be an expert and have a PhD in whatever to be the community manager that is kind of supporting a community that runs whatever that is.
For me anyway, to get back to your original question, you’re asking, what do you think that’s done for your career? I think that it’s helped. I think I could totally handle any type of community management, anything. I’m the typical one-man show. I was for ADTRAN and for Agilent. You’re doing strategy. You’re doing the day-to-day. You’re doing operations. You’re doing metrics. You’re looking at the roadmap. You’re dealing with integrations and with enhancements and things like that with bugs. Whenever issues come up, you would create the support tickets and work with support. I think it’s helped my community management career side for sure. At the same time, I have all these network certifications.
I was just nerding out with my brother-in-law the other day. He’s also in the IT world. [chuckles] He was over here for New Year’s and we were just talking. He was like, “Well, hey, how does this work?” I just kind of went off like how the OSI model and layer two, layer three work together and ARP and stuff like that. I have all these certifications and I have such a deep background in that that I still get hit up all the time from people trying to, I guess, interest me in networking jobs, but I’m so firm now that community management is where I want to be that I don’t want to change. [laughs]
[00:21:56] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned, as you put it to me before the show, the all-too-common one-man show for community. You are there at Agilent. Agilent is a big company, billions of dollars in revenue. You’ve been there for three years now. Do you see that changing? Do you see a path for you to advance and build community into something bigger at Agilent?
[00:22:15] Matt Nevill: Yes. Let me clarify. As far as community strategy and things like that, I’m the one-man show, but how it works, it’s a little different and I suppose it is with any organization. We work with partnerships. We have partnerships with support to where they don’t report to me, but they all have an agreement to help answer the questions. We have all these different rules and processes that go on with the community.
I partner with all these people that help to make it run and be efficient and be successful, but it does get to a point at some time where you’re kind of like, “Okay. If we want to do X, Y, and Z, we’re either going to have to prioritize when we do this kind of stuff or we’re going to need some extra resources to figure out how we could do this kind of stuff.” I could see it as something that’s growing. We’re getting a lot of traction and even external recognition. We just won like a Frost & Sullivan award for the community where we were up against Microsoft and Constant Contact recently. We were super excited about that.
[00:23:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Sticking with the subject a little bit, as we were talking about the direction of this show before we sat down to record it, you mentioned the director of community title and that it was something that you were interested and would like to talk about. Sort of the role that I have right now, at least I have that title, whatever it means. When it makes sense to have one, what kind of staffing structure best supports it, I think that’s really interesting. Where should we start? [laughs]
[00:23:45] Matt Nevill: I wanted to get your take on that, hear your story, your side, and if there is a formula where you can say, these factors are happening and that’s when it makes sense to pivot from this structure to that structure that includes the director of community and a community manager and a community strategist. I’m just really curious what you have to say on that.
[00:24:06] Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve heard different ways to get to this point. One thing I’ve heard is when the boss wants you to do something but you’re already at capacity, that’s an opportunity to grow a team. When he wants something or she wants something but you can’t do it, that could be a good reason. I know it’s hard to tell people no, but we all have capacity by which we operate as humans. At some point, it’s too much. What I like to think about is depth versus width. We make choices all the time where we sacrifice depth for width, meaning how much can we interact with an individual community member? How good of an experience can we give that one person versus serving everyone? If you throw one person into a sea with 30,000 people, then there’s a limit to how much they can actually give individualized support to those people and how much they can really deal one-to-one and proactive.
It depends on your scale, right? If you have a service where people have to pay you, let’s say, $10,000 for that service, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone beyond an account manager might want to pick up the phone and call them and have an individual relationship with them as a community member where they help to bring them into the community and help them to start their first conversation and help them to get answers and help them to meet other people, who are in the same industry or field or using the product the same way. That takes time to do that on a one-to-one basis.
For me, it’s really like, how much can I get done? What do I need to get done and do I need more people to do that? Part of it is just being able to filter through the financial lingo and figure out the way that the community speaks to the bottom line. I think the way that people do this most directly and the easiest way. I say “easy,” but it’s not that difficult. Especially in enterprise instances, you look at the community. You look at who’s in the community and you look at what they do. What do community members do that non-community members don’t? How much more often do they retain? How much more do they buy add-on services? Do they show up at events? What else did they do that asked them the financial bottom line?
I can show that members of a community retain at a rate that is X percent higher. That X percent represents X dollars in annual revenue. That’s revenue that my team generates. If I’m doing that and I’m growing the business in that way and my salary is far less than that, [chuckles] then why wouldn’t you give me another person? Imagine what I can do with another person on this team once I’ve shown that the community generates X amount of dollars.
There’s a lot of ways to get to that figure. Call deflections are one way that you mentioned. Call deflections can be tough because you have to be able to show like, “Did that person channel shop? Did they hit Twitter and Facebook and forum? Did they call and did they email?” If you can crack that egg, then you’re in a pretty good place as far as saying, that’s one way to save money, which is definitely generating revenue.
How else does the community generate revenue? I always like to look at those community advocates and what they do and how they impact the bottom line because at the end of the day, forum posts and those sorts of things aren’t essentially strong metrics. They’re more community health or even vanity metrics sometimes. Executives just don’t really care about forum posts all that much. They care about what they represent to the bottom line. I think that’s the one thing that you just have to filter your knowledge through. A lot of people get stressed about that and it seems like a really difficult thing. Just find that one thing that translates to the bottom line and start there and there’s got to be something. You just have to really think about it and drill down on it. That’s when you have the opportunity, I think, to really grow a team.
[00:27:20] Matt Nevill: Once you have that in place and you say, “Okay. I need some more people. You have a director,” then how was that for you where you would shift the responsibility and define? It’s not a common thing between two companies. Your roles as director may be completely different from someone else’s roles as director of community.
[00:27:40] Patrick O’Keefe: For me, I came in as a team of one. I was the first hire on the team that I have now. I now lead a team of eight. One senior community manager, two community managers, a community specialists, and then three off-hours community moderators who are part-time to my team. When I first got here, it was just me. I was doing everything.
I built everything from scratch here as far as our playbooks, our policies, our processes, onboarding onto the communities that we serve, everything. I built for the most part that wasn’t there. None of that stuff was there. I wrote those things from scratch. I was managing the communities as we do hand-to-hand in the trenches. I love that work. I could do that tomorrow. I’d be fine. I did that.
I got to a point where it was like, okay. We’ve got this number of members, this number of active members. If you want me to look at big picture things, I can’t. I cannot look at bigger objectives and things that would move the needle in the wider company because I am head down in these communities every day. If you want this program to grow and the benefit of these members to grow, I’m at scale. We can’t do more. That’s it. I’m scaled out.
That was how I got the first community manager and then I kept managing communities. I split them with her and then transitioned her to run the day-to-day with me supporting and then me taking a more senior role where I was looking at and supporting her day-to-day work, making sure that she was set up for success, looking at how the communities impact the other areas of the business, really honing into deeper metrics, setting up things like better reporting structures for analytics and for the data collection, software considerations, software choices.
We just finished a massive migration from Facebook groups onto our own hosted platform. That was an undertaking that was years in the making that I talked about in my job interview two and a half years ago, was that we need to get off Facebook groups. It’s for the long-term survival of the company. I said that I’ll do the best I can with Facebook groups for you, but you have to get off them because Facebook will always get between you and your community. We finally are very close to doing that this month with most of our communities.
It started with that first person. I transitioned off the communities and then we launched more communities and then it was like, “Okay. This one person can’t do these things. We need someone else.” We launched more communities. We’ve grown active members by X-fold, several folds. It just was like there’s too many people here.
If you want to maintain the same level of quality experience, we need more people because we know that these people generate this amount of revenue, that money should be there for me to hire more people. It was one of the time, but it’s always a fight. It is a fight. I fight every day for proper metrics. I disagree with people all the time about what the proper metrics are. I fight for what I think is meaningful for the community and meaningful for my team and try to protect my team to the very best of my ability sometimes in ways that may not even be in my own best interest and my own self-preservation. I believe in the work that they’re doing.
As you hit on, there’s not necessarily a ton of director of community roles out there. There are some. There are fewer that have people reporting into them. In some ways, it’s very possible to achieve that. It’s also something that I fight for all the time and how I represent the community and the wider company of how I calculate data and analytics and constantly make a point of reminding people of the value that the community creates. It doesn’t come easy. Those three full-timers and four part-timers were hard-fought, people that I had to go and really push for and try to justify in the best way that I knew how. Yes. The answer is that it’s a fight, but you just have to find what convinces the right people that the community matters. That’s easier said than done. I know.
[00:31:13] Matt Nevill: That brings up an interesting question and I’m sorry I’m interviewing you here. [laughs]
[00:31:17] Patrick O’Keefe: No, it’s fine. It’s a conversation.
[00:31:19] Matt Nevill: Because I’m sure a lot of your listeners start out in the same boat where they know that they’re going to start a community. The two choices are, you start out with a team from the get-go and try to build it out and scale it to what your vision is or you start out small and wait until demand catches up with that.
[00:31:38] Patrick O’Keefe: I would start conservatively. If you need one person, you need one person. It’s one of two things. First of all, I always like to set expectations for things. I’m not just trying to lead a team here and blow resources. I just don’t want people to have people. When I start the community, I’m like, okay. Maybe I just need me, but then I’m constantly having on those check-ins with the people I report to.
I’m constantly setting expectations that, okay. If things go this well, if we’re at this point in August, in January, in March, I’m going to want someone. We’re going to need someone to keep the momentum going. If we don’t, then the momentum might plateau or might shrink. I’m just checking in with people and setting the expectation that we have a hire that we have to make in this amount of time so that, budget-wise, it’s being accounted for. You rarely control meaningful budget as a community professional, so you need the people that do control the budget to know that these things are coming so it’s in the budget that you have marked that’s for you if you need that person and you can afford to make that hire. I always like to start small but set expectations for the future. Yes, I think you grow on to the team over time.
When I took this job, one of the things that I wanted was to have the opportunity to build a team. I communicated that in the interview process. I knew the communities they had. I had experience looking at them. I knew what we could do, I guessed what the future might look like based upon my experience. I was like, “Okay. I’m going to want to build a team here. That’s something that I want as a condition of taking this job.”
I was very clear about that and very communicative. I come at it from a different point of leverage though and the experience level that I have and where I was at at that point. If you want to be, then that was something that I wanted. I think part B of that is if you’re good at this, community professionals are stereotypically described as being bad at promoting themselves. The nature of the job is we’re stage managers, right?
[00:33:31] Matt Nevill: Yes.
[00:33:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t like rock star as a community manager euphemism. We’re not rock stars. We’re stage managers. When we take the spotlight, we put it on people that are on stage. The side of that you have to be careful with is that if you don’t look out for yourself and value yourself, no one else will. What you have to do is do great work, be selfless, support others, but always document everything that you do. Always document all of your accomplishments, know how good you are.
If the company doesn’t believe in you, and that can take any number of forms. It doesn’t have to be that they give you a team. It can be raises, advancement, other opportunities in the company. If they don’t believe in you, there are other companies out there that want this experience. Don’t just accept something because you’ve always been there. Don’t accept that, okay, some people have this thought that it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I got a job as a community manager. I might never get this job again.
It’s not that rare. Not right now. Just be aware of your own value. If you get stagnant in a company, if there’s no opportunity for advancement, you get junk raises like it’s no good, look around. Find a company that will give you that opportunity. When you get it, leave. I think that’s the bottom line because no one is entitled to have you. We all love our communities. We all can get connected to our communities, but not at your own detriment. You just have to look out for yourself and wait for that opportunity and then take it. Maybe they’ll realize what they lost and they’ll treat the next person better.
Look out for yourself and find those roles. Make sure you document your successes along the way and make it a part of your communication with your managers that these things are happening, that these milestones are being achieved, that these revenues are being generated. These things are happening. I don’t love it. I don’t love writing my own bio or anything like that. Also, now that I have a team, I view it as my responsibility to make sure that the company understands the value that team creates. I regularly tell people we’re doing all of these things with this team. We’re doing a lot over here. A lot of good things are happening. That sounds like self-praise, but it’s really the team that I’m trying to praise and lift up and make sure that everyone knows. It’s tough because you have to shed that persona of being always selfless and always not praising yourself and realize that there are cases where you need to step up and just be aware of your value.
[00:35:45] Matt Nevill: Got it.
[00:35:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s switch back to you. I can always talk about these things all day. Everyone has my email address. I’m always happy to chat. [chuckles] Someone else is hosting a podcast about me and all. We could record a conversation separately. I wanted to go back to something you said about the partnerships. What you said, it was kind of funny. You said that they had agreements to help. Almost like it was like a shotgun [chuckles] to get in that forum. I want to talk about those partnerships and how they span and what kind of roles they play in the community.
[00:36:12] Matt Nevill: Yes. I think it depends on the type of community you have. Both communities that I’ve managed were support communities. They’re intended for, basically, customer success. We’re trying to let the customers that have purchased our products self-help, get the most value out of them, figure them out, enjoy them. That turns into repeat business.
In both instances, what we did is we figured out– Depending on the product in the industry and what expertise level and complexity and things like that, you may be able to contract out help for moderators or community managers to actually dive in there and help out. Of course, you always want your users to help other users. Customers helping customers is like a grand vision.
In order to foster that and help it build up people who visit your community for the first time, they need to have a good experience, right? Because if they find your community and they make a post and it’s horrible, then they’re never coming back. You’ve essentially maybe lost your best advocate, your best superuser, whatever. The way the partnerships have worked at both companies is really support had to see the value and what this could do in the long term to benefit them because they’re one of the biggest stakeholders.
Once they realize that, and especially the story we’re talking about with ADTRAN where we saw all this call deflection and we had breathing room, you could turn that into more training time for self-improvement and things like that. In both accounts, it took some communicating and swaying and trying to show people and telling them stories of other communities that have done this and people that have blazed the trail and gone before us.
Once they do, then they all have agreed, “Yes, We think that this strategy makes the most sense where we have somebody.” It’s not full-time. It’s a part-time job, but they are committed to actually put their eyes on this stuff and to help. If users are talking to each other, then they can take the backseat and just supervise that conversation and correct any misinformation and clean stuff up, metadata, and make it easier to find and more promoted, and things like that.
In both cases, I think the partnership has been really critical. Unlike you, so it sounds like you would have maybe that same structure, but they report directly into you versus my role. I’m a facilitator and they’re a partner, where we both have a vested interest in this being successful. The fruit that they see is that it’s going to help in call deflection and reduce their support load. They can take different types of cases, things that are more interesting, things like that.
[00:39:00] Patrick O’Keefe: I get the sense that those people that are parting from other departments have counterparts in those departments who do the same work they do, but maybe not in the community. If it’s a partnership from this part of the business and that part of the business, a really easy example. It’s just like they handle customer service for this thing. There’s like five of them. There might not be, but there’s five of them. That one person agrees to spend a certain amount of their time doing what they do over there, but instead doing it in the forum and helping people in that way.
Those people have their own accountability structure, right? They have their own things. They’re responsible for possibly metrics, possibly goals, possibly other things. Maybe the forums don’t tie into that and it takes them away from it. Is that ever a concern or is it their goals are adjusted for the forum to be a part of those? I’m not trying to say that look at it selfishly, but everyone, as we just said, looks out for themselves, knows their value. Do you ever run into that sort of resistance?
[00:39:53] Matt Nevill: Well, luckily, we’ve all been aligned from the beginning that from their side, they’re like, we’re going to give part of a resource away. We want to make sure that they’re doing on this, not of time but this time doing something different that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. Everybody’s been aligned and agreed from the beginning, even with ADTRAN, that should be a part of what they are judged on for performance. For MBOs that would come out, there’s some level of community participation that’s outlined to say part of your job– and that makes the person that’s doing this work feel better too because they don’t feel like if I help in the community, I don’t see any benefit from it. I’m just doing extra work that other people aren’t doing.
[00:40:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Got it.
[00:40:39] Matt Nevill: That’s been really helpful to have.
[00:40:40] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re a big advocate for openly sharing as much content as possible, which can sometimes be a struggle at enterprise or B2B companies. There’s sometimes can be this desire to keep information in house. Maybe they feel it’s proprietary. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. It’s just there’s a feeling. When I asked you what you consider your biggest accomplishments, getting permission to share content was among them. That tells me that there were probably some fights on your part to get information into knowledge bases and into the public. Talk about that.
[00:41:11] Matt Nevill: Yes. I wouldn’t call them fights. Probably reservations and concerns.
[00:41:15] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s what happens in hockey. One player has a reservation or concern with another player and then they throw the gloves down and they start fighting over their reservations and concerns.
[00:41:25] Matt Nevill: [laughs] Right. As a consumer, to me, I don’t know. This just makes common sense that the more that you have out there that people can find, the more they’re going to help themselves. Nobody ever says, “Oh, I just bought this new GoPro camera and what I really want to do is call technical support and ask them how this thing works or how to do X, Y, Z on it.”
People want to self-help. We’ve trained ourselves. Now, the first thing we do is we go to Google. Back years ago, and I know that you can relate to this, you used to download every manual for everything you ever had. You created your own library. Sometimes even printed this stuff out and then you kept it in your office or in a filing cabinet or something like that just in case you ever needed it. Now, there is so much content out there that it’s so much easier to let that go and just say, “I’ll just Google it.” Whenever I have a problem, I’ll go to Google and I’ll find my answer.
[00:42:20] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s funny. I thought you’re going to go farther back than that because I had it. There was a video game Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on Super Nintendo when I was a kid. I could not figure out how to beat it, so I actually wrote a letter to Nintendo. [chuckles] I post the letter, wrote it to them. They sent me a letter back that was like a page-long and I used to play. I still have it. A page-long from one of the game counselors and it explained how to beat the game and I beat the game.
[00:42:43] Matt Nevill: That was awesome.
[00:42:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Now, of course, you Google it and have it in two seconds. Back then, I actually wrote a letter and waited.
[00:42:49] Matt Nevill: Wow, that’s awesome. They didn’t tell you just subscribe to Nintendo Power.
[00:42:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I was a subscriber, to be fair. That was a great magazine.
[00:42:57] Matt: [laughs] Yes. I think when companies are first starting out, and this doesn’t just have to relate to community, this could be your user manuals or whatever you have to document how to do things in your products, I think there’s sometimes concerns where, “Oh, there’s going to be a competitive advantage of somebody knows too much about our products.”
I think the reality is those people could go to Google and search for whatever you’re afraid of. If you’re not the one providing it, someone else is. Somebody else has made their own YouTube videos. Someone else has made their own document or something like that. As part of launching the community, you can decide, “Do we want people to be able to browse around and find things or do we want to force them to create an account?”
I think part of providing a good experience is less hurdles to jump over, right? If you have an open community, then people can, number one, find the content because it’s indexed by external search engines, Google, Bing, Baidu, whatever. Not only that, but if they just visit your community, they can poke around and read the content without feeling like they’re trapped into, “Oh well, now, I have to create an account. Now, I have to type the CAPTCHA form like five times and listen to the audio for it to finally work that I can’t hear.”
Some people don’t want to do that. What my theory is, and I’d like to hear your take on it too, if you have a good community site that is easy and people like to use, people are going to be more willing to create a meaningful membership in that community. You don’t want a membership just to have a membership just to see your numbers go up. You want to have a membership of people that actually see this as something that’s interesting, valuable, helps them, and that they will contribute to and consume.
[00:44:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, for sure. Also, one thing that helps you in those cases is having people that you report to that actually understand what the path looks like for people like someone who comes to your community. Of course, multi-channel attribution is a dream for a lot people where you say someone comes to the forum or a community for the knowledge base to find this piece of content. Maybe they go away. Maybe they come back a month later and then they register. They sign up and they give you $50,000. If you can track that, that’s the Holy Grail like, there you go. You got the business based upon that original search result entry to the community’s knowledge. The fact that this was there, at least part of the attribution belongs to that. Where some people who are short-sided make it say, “Okay. If we get them into our system, we get them to register, we can start emailing them now. We can get them into the drip funnel now and start emailing them every three days until they respond.”
That might make sense to some people. To others, it’s shortsighted and it’s now playing a long-term game and it’s losing the people that never bothered to register. You’re only getting that small group of people who sign up, give you an email address for as long until they unsubscribe from your emails.
[00:45:45] Matt Nevill: [chuckles] Exactly.
[00:45:46] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a really shortsighted way to look at it. If you have people who understand that there is value to doing this and maybe you can track that sometimes, that helps a lot also.
[00:45:55] Matt Nevill: Agreed. Awesome.
[00:45:57] Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve been using Jive for many years at two different companies going back to 2011. You were in the Jive Champion program, so you’ve used Jive a lot. Jive has changed hands over the years and gone through some changes. How comfortable are you with Jive right now?
[00:46:15] Matt Nevill: Oh, super comfortable. I feel like I know the platform very well. I would even like to look at different challenges and creative ways to not hack the software, but there are things like there’s a URL redirect engine and you could do fun things with it. I know the databases and I’m an analytics nut. I love getting deep in metrics. It’s really fun, especially when you’ve got people that are experts at SQL queries to help you create the right queries and things like that where you can basically find out anything that you want to.
It’s been a really, really great platform and I’ve just loved all the features. I was a little apprehensive and sad. I’m sure all customers were when they decided to sell and then it went to Aurea. Aurea later took a knife and cut it in half and kept internal Jive for themselves and the external Jive went to Lithium. Lithium has their own communities product. That was a little scary [laughs] to say the least.
I think once Lithium took it over and they’re now Khoros, once they merged with Spredfast, but they’ve done a great job of still supporting the product. Whenever issues or bugs would come up, they’ve just been excellent to work with. It’s a really, really good platform. I’m sad that I don’t think there’s going to be any more development for it per se because there’s another community product there. It was such a good first platform to start on for me anyway.
[00:47:43] Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like they’re slowly trying to migrate customers over to Khoros. That’s what I take from that. Jive is an interesting platform because, obviously, a lot of people have used it over the years. It requires a substantial investment and people made an investment. I don’t know what the expectation is on your end. When you chose Jive initially and committed to it, how long do you see that relationship as being tied to that initial investment? How long do you expect to use Jive and have it be actively updated and maintained? Is that a three to five-year window? Is it longer? Is it indefinitely? What are you thinking when you make that choice?
[00:48:21] Matt Nevill: I think no one can look into a crystal ball and say it’s going to be around X many years. When you’re weighing your options, you want to look at what seems to be the most stable, what has a good support structure when we need help, what has a good partner network? If it doesn’t do what we want to do, what can we customize, things like that. Once all the boxes are checked, then, of course, if you’re catching wind of acquisitions and mergers and things like that, you’d probably stay away.
I think when you first just evaluate different platforms and pick something that you’re comfortable with that you’re going to expect to be able to use it for at least probably three to five years. To me, it wouldn’t be surprising if the whole landscape changes because software and technology, it changes all the time. There’s new people coming up. There’s other people where if they don’t innovate, they die. Anything could happen.
It’s interesting because enterprise software, like to your point, it’s so expensive and it takes so much to actually launch it and get all this stuff in place and then you rely on it. I don’t know that there’s any system you can trust to be around indefinitely. In the back of my mind, no matter what it is, whether it’s CRM, whether it’s community, whether it’s website, anything like that, I think you run that risk, but three to five years feels like a good answer.
[00:49:43] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, nothing’s forever. If it’s like two to three years, that feels like a short window given the amount of money that some people spend on these platforms. Khoros certainly falls into that category as well. That enterprise, tens of thousands, six figures, in some cases, investment went to these platforms.
The sad thing, I think, sometimes is that when it doesn’t go well or when those platforms fall short, it’s the community professional that ends up taking the blame even if they were not part of the decision that much when it came to the platform. A lot of these deals are made at a conference schmoozing somewhere else by an executive who doesn’t feel like he needed to consult the person who will actually use the tool, which is always a recipe for success. It’s always good to give people tools that they didn’t ask for. They’re always going to work out. Sarcasm.
It’s interesting because even Khoros used to be Lithium. Jive used to be here. Jive used to be there. Higher Logic has bought a couple of people, I think, because there’s so much consolidation. You said something interesting, which is that if you get wind of acquisition, you’re– [chuckles]
[00:50:50] Matt Nevill: It makes you nervous, yes.
[00:50:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, very nervous because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know if “plague” is the right word, but it plagues the high investment community software market. You don’t so much worry about what the lower-end cost options or open-source options just because the investment tends to be less. Depending if you have to pay people to develop it, it can creep up too. It’s interesting.
Matt, thank you so much for the conversation. I really enjoyed it. It was great to have you on.
[00:51:19] Matt Nevill: Absolutely. It was a great pleasure and an honor. Thank you for having me.
[00:51:23] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Matt Nevill, customer community manager at Agilent Technologies. To connect with Matt, find him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/matt-nevill. Nevill is N-E-V-I-L-L. To see the Agilent community he’s responsible for, visit community.agilent.com.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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