How Spotify’s Rock Star Program Empowers and Rewards Community Super Users
Spotify’s Rock Stars are super users, officially recognized by the company and given tools, resources, guidance and perks for answering questions and starting conversations in their online community and helping users on Twitter, through the @AskRockStars account.
With more than 150 members, the program will celebrate its fifth birthday next month. Each year, Spotify hosts Rock Star Jam, an event at their head quarters in Stockholm. They fly in the top 10 most helpful Rock Stars to meet company leaders, see whats coming next, offer feedback and enjoy the city.
Global community manager Meredith Humphrey has been with Spotify since 2011, starting as a community moderator, and she breaks down the Rock Star Program on this episode of Community Signal. Plus:
- The shift they made in product announcements to protect community staff
- How the Rock Star Jam has evolved over the years
- Meredith’s exploration of what ROI means for community at Spotify
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Higher Logic.
On the start of the @AskRockStars Twitter account: “We had this hypothesis that there were super users that preferred Twitter. … We asked four of our stars to try it out, and we had to do a lot of testing to make sure that we could give super users the tools we use for Twitter. … They loved it. It was really successful. They were sending out thousands of tweets because people will obviously just tweet their thoughts. ‘Having a bad day, Spotify is not working.’ They were finding loads of these tweets. … It’s their preferred medium, but we’re reaching out to the customers that prefer that medium, as well.” -Meredith Humphrey
On surprise and delight moments on Twitter: “We said to the [super users] that prefer Twitter, ‘Why? What is it that you love about it?’ They said that the folks who are reaching out on Twitter are so pleasantly surprised that they’re getting help. They weren’t expecting it. They were just complaining to the world about something, and when they get this really nice, ‘Hey, I can help you,’ they’re so delighted in a way that community users sometimes aren’t. Community users are there because they have a issue and a question, and they expect a reply. The gratitude and being able to surprise people like that, it really makes [our Rock Stars’] day.” -Meredith Humphrey
On the creation of Rock Star Jam: “In 2013, we had this user, he’s no longer in the program, but he made an incredible amount of posts in the community. I think when he left, he was at 50,000, but he had this really amazing system of macros and templates that he used. Super knowledgeable, really friendly guy. Our VP of customer service just said, ‘Let’s fly him out to Stockholm. He’s contributed so much. Let’s introduce him to the founders and the community team.’ We did. He was based in the UK. We flew him to Stockholm, and it was such a great experience on both ends. It was so great to chat with that star and get great feedback and talk to him one-on-one, face-to-face. We said, ‘This was so successful, let’s expand this. Let’s launch a full event for the top 10.’ That’s how it started in 2014.” -Meredith Humphrey
On how different departments view community ROI: “My goal as the global community manager is to have a model or multiple models lined up side-by-side that I can show to anyone at the company and they will say, ‘I can get behind these numbers.’ Because I think some teams look at the impact survey and say, ‘This is spot on.’ Other teams say, ‘I have a lot of questions.’ I want to be able to go to any team, any department and they say, ‘These are undeniable, solid numbers.'” -Meredith Humphrey
About Meredith Humphrey
Originally from South Carolina, Meredith Humphrey received a BA in English with a Journalism minor at Clemson University. She then went on to get a Master’s degree in International Journalism with a Music focus at City University in London. Meredith spent time in the UK writing for various B2B live music industry magazines such as Live UK, Audience and IQ.
In 2009, she heard about a new exciting company on the horizon called Spotify. Meredith started with Spotify in 2011 and, since then, has filled many roles in the UK, US, and Sweden – most recently becoming the global community manager in Stockholm.
Meredith is passionate about the music industry and helping artists reach new audiences around the world. She’s also equally passionate about trivia nights, tacos, and her cat, Murray.
- Sponsor: Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers
- Listen to Community Signal on Spotify
- Spotify, where Meredith is global community manager
- Meredith on LinkedIn
- Spotify Community
- Retirement of Our Running Feature, Meredith’s announcement in the community that led to users seeking out her personal Twitter account
- Spotify’s Idea Exchange
- @SpotifyCares, the company’s official support Twitter account
- Spotify’s Rock Star Program
- Community post announcing the creation of the Rock Star Program
- Spotity Community’s help boards
- Spotify Community’s music chat
- @AskRockStars, where Rock Stars answer tweets sent by Spotify users that don’t tag the brand
- Rock Star Program points and rewards
- Community post about the 2018 Rock Star Jam
- Lithium, the software that Spotify uses to power their community
- Rorey Jones, former global community manager at Spotify, who helped set the tone for the Rock Star Program
- Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, Spotify’s co-founders
[00:00:05] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:29] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for making Community Signal a part of your day. You can listen to the show on Spotify and we’re fortunate to have been included pretty early back when podcasts were mobile only on the platform. Spotify is also where today’s guest works. Meredith Humphrey is a global community manager for the music streaming service and we’re talking about protecting moderators, their community super user program, and what community ROI looks like for them.
We’re truly grateful for our Patreon supporters, a group of listeners who have found the show worth supporting financially. This includes Serena Snoad, Maggie McGary, and Katherine Mancusco, who I recently had the chance to meet in person. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for details.
Originally from South Carolina, Meredith Humphrey received a BA in English with a Journalism minor at Clemson University. She then went on to get a Master’s degree in International Journalism with a music focus at City University in London. Meredith spent time in the UK writing for various B2B live music magazines such as Live UK, Audience and IQ. In 2009, she heard about an exciting new company on the horizon called Spotify.
Meredith started with Spotify in 2011, and since then has filled many roles in the UK, US, and Sweden, most recently becoming the global community manager in Stockholm. Meredith is passionate about the music industry and helping artists reach new audiences around the world. She’s also equally passionate about trivia nights, tacos, and her cat, Murray. Meredith, welcome to the show.
[00:01:49] Meredith Humphrey: Thanks. I’m really excited to be talking with you today.
[00:01:52] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s great to have you on. You mentioned to me before the show that in the past year, you have been taking steps to protect your moderators from abuse, from anger, from unhappiness from members. What was the tipping point for that?
[00:02:05] Meredith Humphrey: Often we make announcements about things that we’re deprecating. Features are getting deprecated and we learn about that. We post on the community. There’s a really transparent message so that when people get in touch, we can point them to a post that we’ve worked on with our PR teams and we’ve all coordinated about these announcements. We deprecated our Spotify Running feature and I made that announcement through my account, just as Meredith, but it didn’t take long for folks to figure out that I was Meredith Humphrey on Twitter. I got a lot of feedback to my personal Twitter handle.
A lot of people, they were frustrated. They were upset, and of course, the right channel for that frustration is actually our community. It’s in our idea exchange. It’s in a lot of processes that we have set up to get that feedback back to the product owners, but people are really passionate about it. People are passionate about music. They’re passionate about exercise.
They were passionate about the feature. There was just basically a lot of attention directed to my personal Twitter pages and I think some other staff’s Twitter pages.
We realized that when it comes to community messaging if it has your name at the top, some users think the message is literally coming from you, that you’ve made this decision, that Meredith made the call to do this and that isn’t exactly accurate. We have a dream and I have to-
[00:03:23] Patrick O’Keefe: [laughs] You’re not making all the feature decisions back there at HQ?
[00:03:28] Meredith Humphrey: I know.
[00:03:28] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re not to blame for this? That’s funny.
[00:03:30] Meredith Humphrey: It’s shocking. I know. My biggest concern was my team. I wasn’t so much concerned that I was getting it on Twitter, but we have moderators and we have other managers on my team. I didn’t want it to be something that went down to them. We have a local community manager and she spends all of her day updating the ideas board. We have a really active idea exchange where people are requesting features, other users are voting. Sometimes we have to give bad news like, “Hey, we’ve brought this to the internal teams. It’s not something on our timeline.” I didn’t want this pattern to continue.”
As Spotify grows, our community grows which is fantastic, but that means that the sentiment behind certain changes is also growing and there’s going to be a really small percentage that are unhappy with what you’re deciding. I sat down with my boss and just said, “Look, this has never been an issue in the past which is great because we’ve been around for a long time, but we should go ahead and take some measures because this isn’t going to be the last time we announce something that users aren’t going to be happy with.”
It’s just not. We need to protect the teams, the moderators and the managers that are making it and it shouldn’t be affecting other areas with their life or their other social media channels. It needs to be directed in the right ways. What we’re going to do is we are going to create a staff community account and that is going to be the account that we are making big announcements from.” Big deprecations. The account that we are updating, the largest ideas, with that account, but we don’t want to lose the personal feel of the community.
It’s not going to be a situation where all the moderators, all the managers are using blank staff accounts, we don’t want that. It’s going to be used in really select purposes just to avoid the kind of storm that we saw when we deprecated the Spotify Running feature.
[00:05:14] Patrick O’Keefe: What I find interesting about that, one thing is that when we talk about abuse for moderators and community professionals, it’s often tied to moderator actions, right?
[00:05:26] Meredith Humphrey: Yes.
[00:05:26] Patrick O’Keefe: Inappropriate posts, things that had to be removed, things that aren’t allowed but Spotify had a community for a while and has certainly been moderating their community, your community for a while. This really wasn’t an issue in that arena, like people seeking out people because they didn’t like the response from support or the response in their community.
What really triggered this was responses to feature changes, which I think is really interesting because I’m sure there was abuse received infrequently or sporadically based upon all the things that we do to build good communities, saying no as much as we say yes sometimes, but it was the reaction to the changes, to the software. I can’t speculate with your community but it’s almost like it brought out a different group of people than would normally be in the community when you announced the feature change, or some sort of as you say, deprecation of a feature.
Different people came out and raised their hand and used their voice than you would see on an average day in the community. That’s what it seems like from an outside perspective and I wonder if that’s true at all.
[00:06:25] Meredith Humphrey: We obviously have a thread around this, and I have not personally digged in to see, were these users that made their accounts the date that we announced this or were these users that had been active in looking around the community for a long time, definitely. My guess is not everybody is a passionate community user or comfortable with communities and some people prefer Twitter.
They saw the news but didn’t really want to make a community account, they’re not familiar with this platform. They prefer Twitter or email or chat, which is why they went to Twitter and instead of seeking out our official support channel, which is SpotifyCares, they saw Meredith on the post and found me. I think, what’s really great about our customers is they are so passionate about the features of Spotify and that comes out in our idea exchange. It is incredibly popular.
We have ideas with thousands of votes and thousands of comments and anecdotal stories about why they want this feature, really specific things like, “When I get in my car, I want to do this with my playlist.” We’re able to give that back to the internal teams. It’s a great thing that they’re so passionate because they give us lots of feedback, lots of reasons why they want to see certain things, but of course, at the same time, they’re going to be disappointed if something changes and it’s a feature that they love.
[00:07:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a pause here and talk about our great sponsor, Higher Logic.
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Switching for a second from Meredith at Spotify to just Meredith the person, because what we’re talking about is people go to your personal channels and talk about things that are work. We talk a lot about self-care in the community space, about how people need to have regular hours, it’s not 24/7, people aren’t 24/7, et cetera. What was that like for you? Just as Meredith the person who’s on social media, who’s a human with likes.
Maybe you post food photos, maybe you post pictures of your day, maybe you just post observations, maybe nothing, but just Meredith the person participating online, being present online. When that happens, let’s talk about this specific thing, the Running feature. What was that like for you just as someone who wakes up and goes online or just wants to use your personal profiles? Are we talking about hundreds of messages? Was it just overwhelming your feed? Did it cause you to leave Twitter? What was the repercussion and feeling that you just, as a person, had?
[00:09:16] Meredith Humphrey: It was not hundreds, definitely not. It was a small spike in what I get usually just being the community manager, but it was a big enough rise that I said, “We need to really make a game plan before this becomes too big.” I think this happens with almost every community manager, you don’t have really a contingency plan until something happens. I realized we don’t have a contingency plan for this.
We don’t have a situation where we know what to do, where I know that my managers and moderators are okay. For me, personally, it was okay. I actually said to myself, I personally am not using Twitter that often in my daily life anyway. I don’t have a Twitter account right now. Just for that reason, I realized I wasn’t interacting on it so I was going to put my energy elsewhere. It did make me say–
The users tweeting it didn’t bother me but I can’t speak for everybody else that works for my community. Maybe my managers, maybe my moderators, would not be comfortable with this. Maybe they would not be comfortable with the direct messages and I think leading the community, it’s my job to be that protective advocate that says, “Look, if this is happening to me-” No matter whether I’m okay with it or not, I can’t expect other folks to do this as well.
Like I said, I’ve got a local community manager and she’s taking on the job of updating the ideas exchange. I wasn’t comfortable knowing that, even though I was comfortable with this when I was doing that job of updating idea exchange, she might not be. Therefore, let’s take some measures to make sure that she doesn’t have to figure out whether she’s okay with it or not, if that makes sense.
[00:10:49] Patrick O’Keefe: No, it does and people will do it anyway. As I’m sure you found, you’re reducing, you’re not eliminating because you’ve made which I think is a smart choice and the choice I would certainly recommend people do is the community professionals in community should have faces and names. I think, in general, it works out for the positive because people don’t see you as a heartless robot pushing levers in a windowless room deciding what stays and what goes but actually see you as a human. Overall, it’s a net positive but it does expose our people too.
Just Google searches, right? “I know this person is in the community, let me Google search them and see where they’re at.” I right now do a lot of work in Facebook Groups which I don’t love but that’s just where we’re at. One thing I work hard to try to do is to make sure that my team’s Facebook Messenger is not a professional avenue. It’s not an outlet, it’s not a way to contact our team or our staff or the company. People do it anyway but I make a habit of everything getting taken out of there. I don’t even approve the message requests because my Facebook, if you don’t have a friend, I don’t really accept friend requests from people in the community for the most part.
If you aren’t their friend, you get a request, approve it, then they can see that you viewed it, et cetera. In general, 99.9% of the time I’m not accepting those requests and I don’t want my team accepting those requests. Instead we screenshot it, we take it internally to our CRM and our customer support apps. We respond directly to the member there to reinforce the behavior that you’re not going to get a response directly with Facebook Messenger. This is the best way to go but yes, people will do it anyway and it’s tough because you know that Facebook Messenger space, Twitter DMs, Instagram DMs, Twitter public, whatever. It’s definitely such a personal space.
Even when I get those messages myself, having built communities for so long, I’m always like, “Just not the right place. It doesn’t feel right. What are you doing here?” I always want to get that message out of there as quick as possible. I even take it to not responding to people right away when they do that because I just don’t want to encourage that behavior to say, “You know what? You bothered me or my staff person via some personal account, you got a response right away.” It’s just incredibly frustrating. Now, you can’t eliminate it but as you’ve done you can definitely minimize it.
[00:12:58] Meredith Humphrey: I think that’s so important to not reinforce it, to not respond. You could even direct them to the proper channel but my philosophy is don’t respond. We have so many very public accessible channels for getting help with Spotify that it’s just not an acceptable route to take. I agree.
[00:13:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Spotify’s super user program, the Rock Star Program. I went back and did a search to see what I could find the earliest mention of it was. It looked like it was publicly announced to the community five years ago, next month.
[00:13:24] Meredith Humphrey: Yes.
[00:13:24] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a very mature super user program. These are especially helpful community members who answer questions from Spotify users and are officially recognized by the company. I want to talk quite a bit about the program, but first, what are super users tasked with? What do you ask them to do?
[00:13:41] Meredith Humphrey: In general, we just ask that they are active. We ask that they’re posting a minimum of five times a month but that they’re helping generate discussion or helping other users, that’s really it. Either they are helping out in the help boards or we have a very active music area and they are starting the conversations, engaging people, talking about music, talking about playlists.
We also have stars that are active in our idea exchange and they’re helping point people in the right direction if they’ve posted a duplicate of an already existing idea, but we don’t require that they are sticking to one board. They can move around the different sections. Really our only ask is that they’re making helpful discussion driving posts every month to stay in the program.
[00:14:23] Patrick O’Keefe: How does that tie into the @AskRockStars Twitter account?
[00:14:27] Meredith Humphrey: The @AskRockStars Twitter account was an idea that started morphing in 2015. We said to ourselves, “I know everybody is not a fan of communities, not everybody is comfortable with forums. It’s not a social media channel that they know and maybe there are folks that really love Spotify that are helping their friends out with it but they’re doing it through Twitter and we don’t know. We’re not tapping into those users that don’t prefer community and we’re not giving them premium. We’re just not rewarding them for the time they’re spending on it, completely different social media channel.”
We kind of had this hypothesis that there were these super users out there that preferred Twitter. We decided, digging into it, because we’d had the program for two years, and it was going really well. It was really successful. It had a lot of growth. All we did is we asked four of our stars to try it out and we had to do a lot of testing to make sure that we could give super users the tools we use for Twitter.
Make sure that that was a safe tool to give them that we could restrict the things they could view because they weren’t staff, et cetera, keep everything private that needed to be private, but we could still give them tweets through this tool that they could use to find and tweet users and they loved it. It was really successful. They were sending out thousands of tweets because people will obviously just tweet their thoughts. “Having a bad day, Spotify is not working.” They were finding loads of these tweets.
We only let them answer tweets that are not tagging a handle for help. If you’re tagging @SpotifyCares, that’s staff, staff is going to pick that up. If you’re just tweeting to the Twitter universe, “My Spotify is broken.” That’s when our Rock Stars are going to jump in. We have a queue that gives it to the Rock Stars and they’re answering via Twitter. Like I said, we piloted it with four users, gave them their own accounts.
It was called AskJohn, AskMary. It worked really, really well and so we developed AskRockStars. Now, stars when they hit a certain trusted rank in the program, they can join, we onboard them into the tool. They have access to this queue and they really enjoy helping out in Twitter as well. We just have stars that prefer it. It’s their preferred medium but we’re reaching out to the customers that prefer that medium as well.
[00:16:43] Patrick O’Keefe: You answered the question I was going to ask because Spotify has support people. You’re not lacking. It’s not like you’re shoving this off, responsibility-wise. You have a dedicated support team, social support units, SpotifyCares has sent 1.2 million tweets. Very active support channel. This is an additional channel that goes out and finds mentions that aren’t tagging a handle. More than anything else, it’s sort of a surprise and delight opportunity to catch someone at a moment where they didn’t necessarily expect that they would receive a reply.
[00:17:15] Meredith Humphrey: Yes. That’s so interesting because that is actually not something we had even considered. We survey our stars on a pretty regular basis just to get a pulse of how they’re enjoying it, if there’s something wrong, and we said to the stars that prefer Twitter, “Why do you prefer Twitter? What is it that you love about it?” That’s exactly what they said was that the folks who are reaching out on Twitter are so pleasantly surprised that they’re getting help.
They weren’t expecting it. They were just complaining to the world about something and when they get this really nice, “Hey, I can help you with that,” they’re so delighted in a way that community users sometimes aren’t. Community users are there because they have a issue and a question and they expect a reply. They just said the gratitude and being able to surprise people like that, it really makes their day and we hadn’t even considered that extra element of lovely surprise that they get in that part of the program. That was kind of a really nice undiscovered gem that we didn’t even think would come out of that in this arm to the Rock Star Program.
[00:18:11] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned that you onboard them into your CRM. I wanted to ask you a little bit about- I know the requirements are minimal. It’s a volunteer program, obviously. What sort of tools, guidelines, resources, do you provide Rock Stars with, both in the Twitter context and maybe in the generic community context? Tools, guidelines, resources to help them be their most helpful.
[00:18:34] Meredith Humphrey: It’s obviously been a big learning process since we started. When we launched the program, we did not have all the tools and the questions that would eventually come up. We’ve really slowly been building a knowledge base for them. They have private knowledge bases in private sections of the community that only they have access to. Over the years, we’ve just really built it out and expanded it and as they rank up in the program, we direct them to certain helpful knowledge bases. We have a lot of ranks in the program.
We have about 50 levels that you can achieve. In each level, we often point it to a KB. “Now you have access to as Rock Stars if you want to join it, here are some KBs about the guidelines, about tone of voice that’s used on Twitter and some do’s and don’ts.” If they’re interested, they jump in. They read them and then we monitor both their posts and their tweets just to make sure that something hasn’t really gone awry. We do that every month for every star which is something our moderators help us with extensively.
They obviously don’t have to read every single knowledge base article we’ve written to be in the program but if we say, “Hey, at this level you can help us in the idea exchange or you can help us in the ongoing issues board or you can help us with Twitter, here are those knowledge bases, jump in if you’re interested.” We offer up an encyclopedia, if you will, of knowledge bases and they can jump into whichever one interests them.
[00:19:55] Patrick O’Keefe: How big is the program now?
[00:19:58] Meredith Humphrey: Right now we’re at 155 stars. Those are stars that are actively posting and tweeting every month. Like I said, you have to be making at least five posts or tweets per month to stay in the program.
[00:20:12] Patrick O’Keefe: Cool. That’s a funny number. I didn’t know what to expect, high or low. It’s a big community, you can apply via the website, there’s an application. How hard is it to qualify for the program?
[00:20:22] Meredith Humphrey: It’s really easy. This year we made some changes to automate the process of onboarding because it was quite manually heavy for our manager team, and we realized that it needed to be a much smoother onboarding process. Essentially, you click a button on the website saying that you’re interested. If you make 10 posts in the help boards, we send you a Google doc, a couple of questions just to make sure you understand the program.
We’ve had people in the past join thinking it was literally a program for musicians as it’s called the Rock Star Program. We just do a bit of a survey to make sure you know what the program is, you understand what Spotify is. Like, this isn’t a way to promote your band or to become a musician, this is about helping people that are interested in this community.
Yes, as long as you understand those questions, you’re added automatically as Rising Star One, and you start getting notifications and ranking up the more you participate. Like I said, we do check out all the new people in the program every month to make sure that they are indeed being helpful, that they are indeed making great contributions.
A big part of our program is the fact that the more you post and the more you tweet, you gain points. They’re essentially the same system with airline miles, you win these points and then you can redeem them for different prizes. That can be headphones, or premium, or Spotify swag, things like that. We do have to check out the post and make sure that they’re legitimate, that they’re making valid contributions and not posting the word pizza 100 times and getting posts.
We review it and we take a look to make sure they understand the program. They’re not posting a link to their band’s website, things like that. It’s pretty easy to jump in and get started and start ranking up, start getting new permissions in our community and start joining just the steps to rank up to Rock Star. Then once you hit Rock Star, you’ve got a lot of more privileged permissions and things you can do in the community, and that’s really for our trusted stars, you have to contribute quite a lot to reach Rock Star.
Once you reach Rock Star, you’re eligible for our annual event, the Rock Star Jam. That’s where we invite the top 10 contributing Rock Stars of the past year to Stockholm where they get to meet product owners and beta test features, and see the city, see where Spotify originated for three or four days. That’s kind of the ultimate achievement when you join the program. Joining is pretty easy.
[00:22:46] Patrick O’Keefe: That 150-odd number you mentioned, is that people who had qualified for Rock Star level?
[00:22:50] Meredith Humphrey: No, that’s everybody in the program.
[00:22:51] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s everybody. Okay, cool. One of the things I was curious about as you were talking through this, because it all makes a lot of sense, is there analytical component to this? I know you run Lithium. Let’s say they make a post and it’s reported, the moderator sees the post, is that like a trigger like, “Uh-oh, maybe we need to take a look at this member and see how they’re doing or if they’re actually qualified for the program”?
[00:23:10] Meredith Humphrey: You mean in the sense that if somebody flags one of their posts or something like that?
[00:23:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, or any kind of analytical thing that might show. Obviously, there’s a positive analytical side – voting up, helpful votes. They say like, “This post is really helpful.” That allows someone to rank up, and you see like, “Okay, they’re obviously contributing value here.” Then maybe they make a post that’s not- just speaking from experience, 20 years as a moderator, is like sometimes you get people and they fall a little bit down on the wayside and they may not participate the way you want. I was just curious if there are any tools on the analytical side, a clue in that can help you manage a program of this size and help you flag certain issues.
[00:23:44] Meredith Humphrey: Actually, right now we are leaning pretty heavily on the “flag as abuse.” If you see something that you think isn’t quite right, you can flag it as abuse and we’ll take a closer look. We actually have, instead of analytical tools, what we do is our moderators every month, they have the list of our Rock Stars and they pick a random five posts by each star, and they take a look. They’re just doing like a really brief QA to make sure that everything looks okay, that something terribly hasn’t gone wrong, things like that.
That’s a really dedicated part of moderating on our community is they take time out of every single day to go through the Rock Star list and make sure that five random posts are looking good. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the program for four years, we’re still going to look at your account every single month. We, obviously, need a dedicated team of moderators to help us both with that, moderating the community, and just queuing the stars. Most importantly, our moderators are really available to the stars as like educators if the stars are ever stuck on a question or they don’t really understand a new aspect of a Spotify feature, they lean on our moderators.
Let’s say more than analytical tools, it’s just really hands-on with our moderator team. They’re jumping in there, they’re reading their posts, and then if something’s a little bit off they’re talking to them one-on-one and saying, “Hey, just so you know, that’s not the way that feature works but don’t worry here’s a knowledge base article on how it does work.” That’s how we’re monitoring it and making sure it’s a healthy program and that they’re providing accurate information.
[00:25:18] Patrick O’Keefe: How do you ensure that Rock Stars see themselves as a team? Because that’s what you want at the end of the today is you want a team. We’re all pushing in the same direction. Sometimes when you add elements of points or things you can accumulate, time, points that can be turned into speakers or headphones or premium access. Sometimes those programs can get competitive. Where there’s only a limited number of questions, obviously, you get a ton of questions but I want to be the first to answer. I want to be the first to get those points so that I can rank up faster. So that I can get that item or pay for my Spotify this month, or whatever it is.
Where’s the balance there? I’m sure it’s something that you’re thinking about or have seen probably in at least some instances, but where’s the balance between encouraging people to be a strong team and to all be working in that same direction with that great sense of camaraderie? Then also saying, “The points are here and they’re here for the taking, [chuckles] go for it.”
[00:26:10] Meredith Humphrey: It’s a really good question that we think about all the time. Whenever we make a change to the program, we ask, is this going to make it too competitive of a nature and things like that? Before my predecessor, the former global community manager at Spotify, his name is Rorey. His philosophy was just setting the tone and I think we’ve done a really good job of that. The stars use Slack to talk to each other and to talk to staff and whenever someone new joins the program and we add them to Slack, we just started this tradition of everybody welcomes them.
They get the slew of just like, “Welcome. Welcome. If you need anything, we’re here to help.” That’s just the tone we had from the beginning. People would join and we expected everyone to welcome them and join and say, “Welcome to the team.” That’s been our tone and our philosophy from the beginning. Like, “This is a team and we congratulate one another.” We have a post of the week every week where we highlight a new star usually that’s joined and we say like, “This was a great post. We want to give you some premium.” Then the stars that are in the program all comment underneath and say like, “Good job, way to go.”
I guess we just really fostered that. Whenever a star posted under a blog saying, “Good job, way to go.” We liked it, we kudoed it, we acknowledged it. Anything of that nature, we just encourage. We aren’t running out of posts on the community and we were really lucky, we have a really active community. We haven’t had that problem yet where someone has said, “I feel like there’s a competitive nature to get in the boards first so that I get the questions.” That hasn’t happened yet.
[00:27:42] Patrick O’Keefe: “My trips to Stockholm are at stake here” [chuckles] with that top 10, but wouldn’t it stink to be number 11? That’d just be the worst to give you number 11.
[00:27:51] Meredith Humphrey: Yes, it’s true but I think the fact that we have this side Slack chat where they’re all talking and they’re talking about everything. They’re helping each other with their resumes or their homework or their whatever the topic is. It’s become much more of like a friendship central team than a competitive, “We want to get to Stockholm.” I think that’s something that community managers, in general, can really help to set that tone.
I think that the less you have contests or situations that encourage them to be pitted against each other and the more you have that tone every day in the boards, in the private boards, in the private chats. We managed to foster it for the past five years.
[00:28:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to back up a little bit because you mentioned the Rock Star Jam. You were promoted to global community manager in March but before that, you were a local community manager and one of your responsibilities was organizing and hosting that event. It’s a three-day event in Stockholm which is where Spotify is based, for the top 10 contributors in the Rock Star Program.
Just take me through that in a little bit more detail. It’s an all-expense paid trip, it sounds like. They’re paid, they’re brought out, they’re put up, in recognition of the amazing contributions they’ve made to the community in the past year and sort of like three days. What is the three days? How do you fill it? Where are you taking them? What are they doing? What are they seeing?
[00:29:07] Meredith Humphrey: Yes, I can give you a bit of background. In 2013, we had this user, he’s no longer in the program but he made an incredible amount of posts in the community, just thousands. I think when he left he was at 50,000 posts, but he just had this really amazing system of macros and templates that he used and he was super knowledgeable, really friendly guy and our VP of CS just said, “Let’s fly him out to Stockholm. He’s contributed so much, let’s fly him out. Let’s introduce him to the founders in Stockholm, let’s introduce him to the community team.”
We did. He was based in the UK. We flew him to Stockholm and it was such a great experience on both ends. It was so great to chat with that star and get great feedback and talk to him one-on-one, face-to-face that we said, “This was so successful, let’s expand this, let’s launch a full event for the top 10,’ and that’s how it started in 2014. It’s evolved.
[00:30:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Were you there for the first year?
[00:30:03] Meredith Humphrey: I was, yes.
[00:30:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Cool.
[00:30:04] Meredith Humphrey: It’s evolved since then, we learn a lot every year. The first year we had a lot of Q&A sessions. We fly everybody in. We all had dinner. I was so excited to have the first one and just have all these people in one room that I had been talking to for years. It was a just surreal feeling to be at dinner with the community managers and these stars from all over the world. That was just such a really cool day. To fly in, we have a completely packed schedule of meeting different product owners, having Q&As, having lunch and dinner, and doing sight seeing around the city.
They get to meet Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, our co-founders. They get to preview features and they have things that haven’t come out yet. As the program and the event has evolved, we’ve been getting great feedback and they’ve said, “We really love the beta testing sessions. The Q&As are great, but we’re really loving trying new things.”
We’re shifting now to try to get more and more of that in each Rock Star Jam but yes, it’s about hanging out and meeting product owners and then we always have a big night in the city, where we either go to a concert or a theme park and just relax at the end of the day, celebrate that we’re all together. Saturday, it’s usually a Saturday event. On the Saturday, do more sightseeing and everybody flies back.
It’s a short event, it’s two days but it’s jam-packed with meeting each other, which I think is one of the most important parts. Meeting folks at Spotify and seeing Stockholm.
[00:31:31] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s awesome. You mentioned how it’s really an international thing. When you have those 10 people, I have to assume you have anywhere from three to seven countries represented by each Rock Star Jam because Spotify- I remember a day, it sounds like an old timer here but it wasn’t that long ago, when Spotify was not in the US. I remember the day when you were fighting for invites. It’s got to be interesting to bring all those people together because I know in my experience using communities I have made friends in communities, online communities.
Most of my actually good close friends that I count in this world are people I met online and met in online communities just like this one. In that case, you’re bringing probably some of these people together that have these very real friendships and they’re meeting in person for the first time and I think that’s just really fun.
[00:32:17] Meredith Humphrey: Yes, absolutely. Actually, the more that I get to meet them face-to-face at Rock Star Jam, the more I realize that these connections exist that I didn’t even know about. Stars are saying like, “Oh, yes, me and Max, we Skype every other week. We’re just really good friends. We’re hanging out.” Seeing those relationships evolve, it has been really, really cool. Some of my favorite, just memories of Rock Star Jams, were seeing stars interact and not even in the office. Just be out in Stockholm enjoying that friendship and meeting face-to-face. That, has been really cool.
We’ve had some great moments at Rock Star Jam though. The developers at Spotify and our user research teams are truly coming to these Rock Stars for their honest opinions on things that haven’t launched yet. They’re sitting down with them and saying, “Test this out, try this. What do you think?” I think the first couple times that happened, it was fun to watch. I think the stars were really surprised that our user research team, developers, designers were sitting down saying, “What do you like? What do you think our customers are going to like? What is going to frustrate them? What are they going to love?”
They got to bring this vast amount of knowledge they all have that they see every day in the community and bring it directly to people at Spotify. In addition to seeing these friendships that are international, getting them the chance to show their Spotify expertise and bring that back to Spotify is equally as rewarding at these jams, for sure.
[00:33:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Realistically, these 10 people interact with Spotify customers more than probably most people in the company. Right? At some level, they’re interacting one-to-one, except for maybe some support people and community people, the people who report to you and who do the work that you do. Of course, there’s user testing and things like that but just on sheer volume, they are dealing with more Spotify customers than probably most people who work at Spotify, which is funny to think about.
[00:34:07] Meredith Humphrey: Absolutely. I think they have a really great grasp of what customers love, what customers really want to see, what frustrates them. We have a star that is really dedicated in our idea exchange and he could talk to you forever about what customers really want to see. What features are they passionate about and what feature themes just keep popping up in the idea exchange day after day. We’re constantly getting duplicates of the same idea because people are really, really passionate about it. Absolutely, and they also know Spotify inside and out.
They are familiar with the product, they get all kinds of perks for being in the program and one of them is getting these features first and then if there’s anything that needs to be reconsidered or re-looked at, they’re going to find it really quickly. They’re really knowledgeable bunch. We’re really lucky that they’re so passionate and willing to give us their time and their feedback for sure.
[00:34:57] Patrick O’Keefe: You are in the process of thinking through community ROI at Spotify. I love to talk to people who are in the moment and hear kind of the rough thoughts before they’re fully formed. I know it’s sensitive and it’s still thinking it through. I’m going through the same things at my day job but I was just curious, what direction are you heading in, what are you working on? What are you thinking about? Anything you want to share, just to hear where you’re going with it?
[00:35:26] Meredith Humphrey: I want to say we’re kind of in the beginning phases of really a deep dive into this in a way that we have not done before. Right now, we do have an impact survey that’s live on our community. If you’re on the community for, I believe, 90 seconds, you’ll get a pop-up and it’s five questions, really basic, “Did you come here for support? Did you find it and if you hadn’t, would you have reached out via chat, e-mail, Twitter or other? How did you find the experience?” That has been running not that long, maybe six months. We’re still getting thousands of responses every month so that’s a really good chunk of data, but that model alone.
We want to have lots and lots of models side-by-side to compare that data and confirm that data or challenge that data. We’re looking at, like I said, our very popular idea exchange. what value does that add to the company? There are great user research insights there alone. We have a really active help board that also hands surface incidences really quickly, if there is a live incident. What value is that in our community that it gets surfaced so quickly through our community and through our Rock Stars? What data can we get about a customer journey if someone’s signed on and they browse the community, do they then keep going to our support site or to our emails? How can we check that?
User journey was finding users on a website, we’re brainstorming everything out-of-the-box about things that we can try as models to measure. What does the average community user, just like life on Spotify, look like? I don’t have the answers to any of those things yet, but we’re definitely in this phase of like, “What are all the different ways the community contributes and how can we measure them?” Another one is we have a beta program and the beta program is housed in our community. You sign up through our community, then, once you join, you’re invited to this private beta boards and our developers are talking with the beta members, the beta members are reporting the user finding.
What value is that to Spotify? Anything like that, we’re mapping out and saying, “What ways can we measure this? How can we work with our analytics teams to measure it and how can we start those conversations really early?” Like I said, the only thing we have right now is this impact survey. Obviously, our page views and then our best guesses at that customer journey and what deflection that may have resulted in our community. My goal as the global community manager is just to have a model or multiple models lined up side-by-side that I could show to anyone at the company and they would say, “I can get behind these numbers.”
Because, I think, some teams look at the impact survey and say, “This is spot on.” Other teams say, “I have a lot of questions about XYZ.” I want to be able to go to any team, any department and they say, “These are undeniable, solid numbers.” I don’t know that anyone’s been able to figure that out in community, like have the perfect model for this because it’s kind of a gray area. We’re in the beginning phases and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned as far as impact the community is having on Spotify.
It’s not just about customer support, deflection and inflecting away from contacts at all. It’s about what information and knowledge our stars are giving us, our data users are giving us, our customers are flying things to us quickly and what our Spotify role look like without that community of users. It’s beginning phases but it’s definitely I’d say the biggest challenge that we’re working on right now.
[00:38:58] Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like you’re chasing down a lot of promising leads which is a great thing because gray area or not, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, regardless. You touched on it at the end there but I think one of your challenges is just not falling into the typical call deflection category. Spotify, actually, looking at the community outwardly, I would think you have something that’s really valuable and I’m sure you can’t talk about this one way or another but just the biggest problem called deflection is unification of data. People think a deflection happened, they don’t know.
If you don’t have unified data, meaning contact customer data, email, phone, community log in, ideally like Twitter and social but that’s the tough, tough part. Is sort of, how do you know that someone didn’t call you, [laughs] if you don’t have their phone number? How do you know if they didn’t email you if you don’t have their email? But, Spotify looks like they have a pretty tied in, smooth customer support experience.
On your end, I assume you have a lot of those answers and there’s value there but something that you said that I thought was really smart and something that everyone should think about, and I should think about this at my day job too is community ROI is one thing to report to your superiors, to get more resources, to hire more people, and to get more things.
That’s one thing, but the other side of that that you touched on is sort of the ROI to this department because the value survey might be useful for this team and they might love it but like you said the team might say, “That doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t care what that’s about.” Just like we have different departments at my day job whether that’s experiences and events or customer support or sales, they don’t necessarily care about the same metrics that I care about, which my metrics that I care about right now are active users and how those users tie into giving us more money, retention.
Those are the two things that I look at, the community health type and the business metrics, the bottom line. For other departments and their value of how they see the forum, events may not care about that. They want people to go the events. Customer support might not care, they just want to reduce the emails. Sales might be a totally different thing, they just want a perk to offer. It’s really interesting to think about that conversation. I think the really amazing thing there is just the idea that the conversation in the way that you’ve put out there to each team as far as what value the community represents.
It’s almost its own mini-prospectus. It’s its own thing. This is what it means to you. This is what it means to you. This is what it means to me and my team. You can be custom in that and come up with approaches just because call deflection might mean something to support and that’s valuable and useful, then you look at the dev side and you think, the ideation is where this is really helping you or something else. It’s really good to think about that conversation and have it be a different conversation with each team.
[00:41:35] Meredith Humphrey: Yes. I don’t yet know the direction that those measurements are going to come from yet. That’s what we’re looking into and like I said, talking to analytics experts and folks with different ideas about different models. I do think it’s valuable that every team finds the end result, like you said, valuable and relevant to them. Your hope is that you have so much data from different models that correlates to the same end result that is irrefutable. That’s obviously your hope. I don’t know know what the result is going to be in the end, but I know that it’s definitely a big goal for us for 2018 and 2019.
[00:42:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Meredith, that’s a super useful thought to end on. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. I think, there was a lot of really great things that you shared with us and I appreciate you taking the time.
[00:42:21] Meredith Humphrey: Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure.
[00:42:24] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking Meredith Humphrey, global community manager at Spotify. Visit spotify.com and check out their online community at community.spotify.com. We’ll link to the Rock Star Program in the show notes and you can follow them on Twitter @AskRockStars. If you’d like to connect with Meredith, you can find her on LinkedIn at linkedn.com/in/meredithhumphrey. 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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