If you’re wondering how you can more actively foster safety and belonging for LGBTQ+ folks in your online community, there’s precedent to learn and borrow from. In this episode of Community Signal, we’re joined by Samantha “Venia” Logan, the CEO and founder of Socially Constructed. Venia shares lessons from her decade of experience building community for LGBTQ+ individuals, which started when she began sharing her transition journey on YouTube.
Patrick and Venia discuss tools, policies, and practices that can help build queer friendly spaces over time. For example, how easy is it for someone to edit their profile information within your online community? What specific policies do you have in place to protect LGTBQ+ people? And a big one – how are others in your organization (outside of the community team) contributing to diversity and inclusion?
At this point you might be asking, “how do I measure or communicate progress?” To this we ask, what are community-based outcomes that indicate someone feels safe contributing and like they belong? As Venia explains (15:23): “As a person feels more and more comfortable self-disclosing, they’re going to use more organic language, they’re going to talk a lot more, their rate of inclusion is going to increase, but so will the length of their posts.” Work with your community to figure out which behaviors relate to their sense of inclusion and measure those over time.
Patrick and Venia also discuss:
- Making pronouns part of everyday conversations
- Twitter’s policies and handling of a recent high-profile deadnaming case
- Being intentional about your metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
Make space for everyone to share their pronouns in everyday conversation (08:48): “Pronouns are not just a segment that you’re going to put on your profile. … At every meeting, [if] you invite people to share their pronouns – cis, trans, doesn’t matter – it essentially says, pervasively speaking, this is a queer-friendly, queer-safe space. … Oftentimes, you want to implement these rules so that you’re not looking for explicit consent, you’re looking for implicit acceptance.” –@SamanthaVenia
Focus on tracking the behaviors that matter most to your community (14:23): “[With behavioral metrics], we need to return to a notion of simplicity, where we are recording things that people actually want us to listen to. When people engage in our online communities, they are leaving behind comments, behaviors, artifacts of conversation, and they want us to pay attention to those things, so why are we recording every single move they make in a community and not recording anything about the nature of the comment they left?” –@SamanthaVenia
Perfectly accurate data reporting does not exist, instead, try replicating your results (18:06): “Instead of worrying about gross amounts of accuracy in your data … [measure] it again. The exact same thing that you did, in a second spot, in a second scope, just do it again, and again, and again. Once you repeat the same process and you have four corollary actions that are all telling you the same thing and one that’s different, what is the resolution of your action? It just skyrocketed without you ever having to be accurate. Social science is not about causation, it’s about enough correlation to infer causation.” –@SamanthaVenia
Keep spaces safe by upholding the commitment to exclusivity (20:50): “Don’t expand what’s working for a safe space because keeping an exclusive space is what made that place safe. Instead, go over to the other place, reproduce your success, diversify it. The phrase that I use is ‘Don’t expand, diversify.’ Exclusivity breeds inclusivity.” –@SamanthaVenia
If you’re creating a space for everyone, you’re creating a space for no one (23:56): “When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one, and you end up having no one because no one feels particularly special, or catered to, or welcome in those spaces.” –@patrickokeefe
Focus on your role of setting precedent, building momentum (24:59): “I will boil down any community management job from architect, coordinator, moderator, facilitator… it doesn’t matter what you do in community. Your job is to set precedent, to do a thing, then build momentum for that thing until the community is doing it on its own.” –@SamanthaVenia
About Samantha “Venia” Logan
In 2010, Samantha “Venia” Logan transitioned from male to female and shared her entire 10-year journey on YouTube. Over the next decade, that decision snowballed into an active and healthy career in community management, diversity, education, and measurement in anonymous community health. In 2012, Venia founded RESCQU.NET, a nonprofit organization that simultaneously marketed to an invisible audience and catered to their anonymity. In 2017, she graduated with a degree focused on community management and became a full-stack marketer at DigitalMarketer.
For the past five years, Venia has built quantitative and qualitative data measurement tools for brand communities online. Through SociallyConstructed.Online, she is committed to helping businesses build robust, self-sustainable communities.
- Samantha “Venia” Logan on LinkedIn
- Venia on YouTube
- Venia on Twitter
- “3 Takeaways From a Decade Building Queer Community”
- Educational resources from Safe Zone Project, PFLAG, and Campus Pride
- 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer
- Chris Mercer
- Twitter’s hateful conduct policy
- Socially Constructed’s Discord and YouTube channel
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and welcome to the show. We’re talking with Samantha “Venia” Logan, a community pro who happens to be transgender about her decade’s worth of experience building safe, inclusive spaces online for LGBTQ+ folks, and how we can do the same. There’s also plenty here about anonymous community health measurement as well.
Thank you to Rachel Medanic, Serena Snoad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley for supporting our program. If you’d like to join their ranks, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
In 2010, Samantha “Venia” Logan transitioned from male to female and put her entire 10-year journey on YouTube. Over the next decade, that decision snowballed into an active and healthy career in community management, diversity, education, and measurement in anonymous community health. In 2012, Venia founded RESCQU.NET, a nonprofit organization that simultaneously marketed to an invisible audience and catered to their anonymity. In 2017, she graduated with a degree focused on community management and became a full-stack marketer at DigitalMarketer.
For the past five years, Venia has built quantitative and qualitative data measurement tools for brand communities online. Through sociallyconstructed.online, she is committed to helping businesses build robust, self-sustainable communities.
Venia, welcome to the show.
[00:01:04] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Hello, thanks for having me.
[00:01:33] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. I want to talk about your origin story in community. How did you get your start in online community?
[00:01:40] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Sure. Everyone has a coming-out moment.
I actually started in community because I was forced by my local community college at the time, I was getting a fancy-schmancy art degree, I wanted to be a gallery artist. I came out as trans at my school at my university back in 2010, and it did not go well, so I really had to advocate for myself. I was thrown into this public speaking role. In for a penny, in for a pound, I started a YouTube channel about my transition, and over the course of the year, in my first year of that YouTube channel, I had amassed about 4,400 people, and I also became a user and then leader for this YouTube channel, a collaborative channel called Trans Youth Channel.
What had happened was, I had inadvertently – this is always the case with community managers. I had inadvertently created a community of LGBTQ people, primarily trans people, who weren’t out yet, who were closeted in their personal lives, who had a completely separate online life from their physical life, but they needed resources. They needed people to give them what they needed to transition to change their lives, to design their lives in a better way, and they didn’t know how to do that. There was this huge emotional fear hurdle and then, in addition to that hurdle, there was a notion of is this really right for me, there’s these self-doubts. Then, after that, came the things that you would normally think of access to queer-centric health care, access to physical brick-and-mortar institutions, local communities. I found myself with 4,400 queer individuals who simultaneously wanted me to connect them to resources but also wanted to remain anonymous, and I’m like, “How do I do this?” That’s how I started in community.
My partner, at the time, worked for Canonical Ubuntu, a open source software. Jono Bacon was working there at the time, and I went up to him and I’m like, “Hey, listen, it looks like you’re doing this thing, and in a completely different vertical, got any advice for me?” He’s like, “I’m not going to lie to you, I’m flying by the seat of my pants too.”
I decided to go to college, and college is just like, “We have no idea what this work is … in journalism, maybe communication, anthropology. You know what? Let’s just do them all.” Then I spent a whole bunch of time in college learning how to build online communities that catered to safety, anonymity, but still also could prove their value, and that’s been the underlying pattern of my career.
[00:04:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks for sharing that. It’s interesting to hear anthropology come up because that’s come up on the show before, people who have studied anthropology or anthropology majors, I forget, someone was on the show with that background, and they work in community, so there you go.
I enjoyed your article, “3 Takeaways From a Decade Building Queer Community,” and we’ll link to it in the show notes. In it, you make a really interesting point about privacy, which you just sort of alluded to. A lot of folks want to talk about how diverse their community might be, with perhaps the best of intentions, but we sometimes forget that online communities, for the most part, are pseudonymous, in that members choose what they provide us with information-wise. We allow members to choose how much of themselves they share with us. In your piece, you talk about how important this is for LGBTQ+ folks. I’m going to quote you here, “As community leaders, we have to build a community conscious of privacy, security, and anonymity without even seeing the community members you’re impacting. You don’t get to have data on how queer your community is, you just have to assume that’s the case and do what you can to provide for them.”
Can you talk about that a little bit more, expand on it, and just why it’s so important?
[00:05:24] Samantha “Venia” Logan: When I wrote this article, I was asked to speak at a conference. It was June, it was a queer-centric conference by HR PowerToFly I think is what the company was based on. DEI was all the rage for the entirety of the conversation, and a lot of conversation was, how do you prove DEI to your C suite so that they’ll actually do the thing?
What I’ve noticed, this is what seems to be happening by and large, and I think that DEI representatives and community managers get the unfair stick in this. Oftentimes, the company will be very forward-facing for the brand, saying, “We want amazing workers, we’re going to give them amazing rights.” They’re very proactive about creating these policies.
Then they’re just like, “In addition to these policies, we’re going to take this one person who’s responsible for doing all the things, and we’re going to centralize the conversation of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re going to centralize the conversation about online communities, onto this one person,” and then the rest of the company gets to ignore.
One of the big issues with that, you’re not just looking for that one person to build infrastructure. Harkening back to that concept of communication and anthropology, there’s a theory, since 1980s, it’s actually a sociology theory, this socio-ecological model, this is a model that essentially holds that there are specific scopes of society that you can study. Each scope requires that you do something in order to change an overall culture. Your scopes include your intra-personal self, who you are inside, and then your interpersonal self, how you demonstrate yourself to your friends, to your family members.
Then the next step up after that interpersonal is small groups, your friends and your family members interacting with one another. Then after that, you come into an inner community, this is like a familial unit or an organizational unit. Then you have an organization, this is where your company is. Then after that is your outer organization, and then how your organization will interact with one another, trade deals, that kind of thing. Your greater community, and then up at the top, you have policy and internet stuff.
The socio-ecological model essentially holds that you can’t focus on any one individual scope and expect something to get done about it. The organization is building this policy and saying, “Yes, we’re a DEI centered.” The managers building the small groups also need that infrastructure. You have to build that infrastructure, assuming that in order for you to carry that policy down, and in order for you to actually benefit a queer person who does not want to come out but would really like their rights, please, you have to build a socio-ecological approach to building queer-friendly policies.
[00:08:17] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a lot of big-picture stuff. I want to bring it down to a micro level because I’m leaning into the idea of, do what you can to provide for them.
Jenny Weigle, one of our Patreon supporters picked up on this theme as she had a client who was unsure, and I’m sure this is a very common story, unsure of how they could best serve their trans community members when they don’t know how many of them there are or who they are. On that beginner micro level, where should they start?
[00:08:43] Samantha “Venia” Logan: I think the lowest hanging fruit and probably something she’s already thought about doing is the pronoun conversation. Pronouns are not just like a segment that you’re going to put on your profile. It’s something where, at every meeting, you invite people to share their pronouns, cis, trans doesn’t matter. It essentially says, pervasively speaking, this is a queer-friendly, queer-safe space. You’re not asking, “Hey, are you trans?” By asking for a person’s pronouns. Because you’ve already stated, “My pronouns are she/hers, I’m inviting you if you want to talk about it.”
Oftentimes, you want to implement these rules so that you’re not looking for explicit consent, you’re looking for implicit acceptance.
[00:09:25] Patrick O’Keefe: It sends a signal just by asking the question without actually calling out any particular group that, this is a space where you can feel comfortable to do that.
[00:09:33] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes.
[00:09:34] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting to hear that because I’ve definitely heard from people that I know that have had a meeting start with the question of pronouns, and then they’re surprised by an answer they received from one of their colleagues or one of their co-workers, and they didn’t realize how that person felt or how they identified or where they were. It is an interesting question to start a meeting with.
[00:09:54] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes, agreed. One of the other things that I would say – because I’m sure the pronouns conversation came up for your Patreon member.
One of the other things is discussing actual certifications and third-party awareness, making sure that you have a Safe Zone training certification that is available on your offices if you have a brick-and-mortar door, or a closet-friendly certification, Backpack and PFLAG have both provided that, but it’s effectively asking, are the spaces and is the technology that you’re expecting your employees or your community members to use, are they actively showing that they are safe?
[00:10:32] Patrick O’Keefe: On the pronoun thing, I was just thinking about real quick. It’s so incredible to me that Twitter let Instagram, LinkedIn, and so many other platforms and communities beat them to defining pronouns on your profile without using bio space, as it’s so limited and valuable. They had that in the bag, in my view, people were already there leading them to that very clearly across the user base of Twitter, and yet they fumbled it completely.
I just don’t understand how LinkedIn, Instagram, and I run an online community on ancient software that I’m working on migrating. One of the things we’re going to do when we bring in this modern-day software is I’m going to just add a custom field for pronouns. It’s optional, and you can put it there if you want, don’t put it there, do what you want. I’m going to beat Twitter. I can’t figure it out.
[00:11:18] Samantha “Venia” Logan: You’re not wrong. Harkening back to that socio-ecological model, the higher up that model you go, the more risk there is in your company brand or your community brand or making more people angrier. What a lot of people who have that power tend to do is they tend to say, “Well, in these smaller groups, yes, sure, why not, we’ll totally do that, but we are scared to write the policy and put it into action when it could have something to do with our organizational brands, or our community’s brands.” They feel like it says something to them.
I feel like we also had this happen with Nike and Kaepernick, where for the longest time, discussions of racial equity and inclusion in businesses was so difficult to have. Then Nike happened, Kaepernick and the NFL happened. The NFL went one way, Nike went the other way, and suddenly Edelman’s Trust Barometer, the most recent report to come out is literally saying that it is now the CEO’s job to be the face of diversity and inclusion, and that’s almost entirely Nike’s fault.
I think if we can just learn and teach people who have a stranglehold on their brands to release it a little bit and recognize that the collective brand they’re building down here is the same as the one they’re building up here cohesively, we’ll get a little bit more of that.
[00:12:44]Patrick O’Keefe: I like to say you can’t moderate scared.
[00:12:47] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Exactly.
[00:12:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk about anonymous metrics, something that you brought up in our pre-show questionnaire, measurement in anonymous community health, and how it’s just a constant theme in your work and in your career. From your conversation so far, it’s obvious the inclusion of anonymous is very meaningful. Conversations with clients, conversation with people who demand ROI, or at least are headstrong on that path, and they want to measure the headline and know everything about every person. What does that mean, anonymous community health, in terms of how we look at the data, or how we should look at the data?
[00:13:23] Samantha “Venia” Logan: I have a tendency to be a little bit up in the air but I think that this one’s going to really come to ground pretty hardcore.
[00:13:28] Patrick O’Keefe: I’ll take it.
[00:13:30] Samantha “Venia” Logan: We have a tendency to be metrics obsessed. That’s Jono Bacon’s word for it. We want all the things. We want all the metrics. We, since 2012, have grown in the marketing industries and in the business industries, to want to know all of the things, big data all of the time. It’s no wonder people are just like, “Hey, this is very invasive.”
Obviously, the approach that we’re taking to metrics isn’t working because, on one end, the marketer and the community manager are pulling their hair out going, “Why isn’t this data accurate? Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Oh, no,” and they’re getting frantic and they’re picking like 20 KPIs.
Then on the other end of the screen, is the customer or the community member, equally frustrated clicking, “No, I don’t want your cookies.” The notion is, we need to return to a notion of simplicity, where we are recording things that people actually want us to listen to. When people engage in our online communities, they are leaving behind comments, behaviors, artifacts of conversation, and they want us to pay attention to those things, so why are we recording every single move they make in a community and not recording anything about the nature of the comment they left?
[00:14:48] Patrick O’Keefe: When you say that, I hear actions. Is that a fair way to hear that? You want to know what people actually do, what they act upon, how they choose to interact.
[00:14:57] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Behaviors and sentiment are the two things that you can record just in general. I follow a amazing measurement marketer, Chris Mercer. He goes by Mercer. One of the big things he says is, “Truth is in the trend, power is in the pattern, and you are measuring the trend of behaviors over time in marketing.”
In community, you are measuring the trend of sentiments over time. What is that going to look like? Well, as a person feels more and more comfortable self-disclosing, they’re going to use more organic language, they’re going to talk a lot more, their rate of inclusion is going to increase, but so will the length of their post. Can we use that? Then there’s going to be the amount of social glue that we have between individuals.
Is one person talking to achieve three people in the community only, and is that a lot of engagement, or are they talking to 30 people and not really as much, and what does that mean for your community specifically? There’s a switch happening here. One of the fun things about that is that these are not marketing metrics, they’re cultural metrics. You are playing the anthropologist in your community, and you’re using social scientific processes to measure a social scientific community.
[00:16:17] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m sure that you’ve had some interesting conversations as you work with clients, and you build out analytics dashboards that they might be a tough sell, to say the least. Give me, I guess, a counterargument people give you. I’m sure they’ve given several, but give me one, a popular one, then how you address it.
[00:16:38] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Sure. Correlation does not equal causation. Hear that all the time, all the time. It’s a social science problem. Don’t get me wrong, it is a problem, but a lot of people are just like, “Right, but how do you know?” Here’s the way that I view this. There is a pyramid of accuracy. You can have all of the data coming in, it’s just spilling through. Someone just went and recorded all of the things, or wrote down all the things, or did all the interviews, and there’s raw data, just all over your table.
It’s very broad and it’s not very useful, it’s not being used to answer any problems or questions. You sift through it, and now you have less data, you’re in the middle tier of that pyramid, but it’s more useful now. You’re starting to get a sense of the trends and the patterns, you’re starting to throw out what’s not useful. Then, as you climb up that, you get the specific pieces of data that are really, really important to you, and you’re pretty sure there’s something about this, there is a trend, there is a pattern.
Everyone goes, “Okay, I’m going to go to my CEO with this information.” The CEO says, “Right, but it’s not causation.” The next thing they do is they say, “Okay, well, I need to figure out something more concrete, I’m not measuring it well enough. I need a higher level of resolution.” That’s not actually an answer because once you get so high that you are metrics-obsessed and you’re worried about the accuracy of your data, you have lost the thread on what you’re trying to do completely. You are trying to answer a question that has an action.
Instead of worrying about gross amounts of accuracy in your data which doesn’t exist, you’re talking about measuring people, do it again. The exact same thing that you did, in a second spot, in a second scope, just do it again, and again, and again. Once you repeat the same process and you have four corollary actions that are all telling you the same thing and one that’s different, what is the resolution of your action? It just skyrocketed without you ever having to be accurate. Social science is not about causation, it’s about enough correlation to infer causation.
[00:18:42] Patrick O’Keefe: This could just be my own bias, I guess, given my work, but I find that community work is often held to a stricter set of standards when it comes to data and measurement than some other fields or other areas of the company that operate and also cost money and have other goals, or do different things that aren’t always just sales-driven or as clean as like, “I called Barry. Barry told me on the phone ‘I’ll take 50 widgets.’ Therefore, I’m going to claim the 50 widgets.”
Forget the fact Barry might have Googled it, looked at the community already, read about it, then talk to you, but okay. Community just seems to have a hard standard sometime, and that can make it tough and it’s something they push back on. Because you don’t want to sound like a whiner, you don’t want to sound like someone who’s saying, “What about us?” You’re going to be like,” Well, you let Barry get off the hook on this,” or, “You let Barry do this.”
I think one of the things that I’ve tried to do in the past is just to agree on core ideas. You talked about 20 KPIs. Let’s hone in on what’s important here, what we’re trying to measure, and let’s see how the community ties to that. Of course, in my case, I had some people change the core metric three times in like a year. That didn’t help me decide how to handle it, but yes.
[00:19:49] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Going back to that same conversation about stop trying to prove causation because causation is an end result of doing correlation over and over again. If you keep changing the metric every quarter because it’s not working, you can’t benchmark current processes off of a prior data. That means there’s no longitudinal study happening in your community, you can’t determine whether something changed, and therefore you can’t see if the line is going up into the right, so benchmark.
[00:20:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Still going back to your article again, and something you brought up, the idea that exclusivity is an important part of building inclusive communities. In your article, you shared a story that brought you to that revelation but I just like to hear about maybe the story, maybe the lesson, just the thought behind that exclusivity being necessary to inclusive communities.
[00:20:37] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes. The way that I tend to define it, and a lot of people look at me like a little bit weird when I say this, but the reality is, the job of building a safe space and expanding it is not to expand it. Don’t expand what’s working for a safe space because keeping an exclusive space is what made that place safe. Instead, go over to the other place, reproduce your success, diversify it. The phrase that I use is “Don’t expand, diversify. Exclusivity breeds inclusivity.”
Because if you have two highly specific exclusive groups catering to specific audiences, you are not reducing the level of safety in either space but you are catering to more people. If you expand it, on the other hand, now you have two target audiences in the same space. That’s not feeling all that safe. I think this also applies to marketing strategy as well.
If you consider support groups, for instance, this is where it came out of, you have a transgender support group specifically for trans women and there are seven people showing up and then three or four trans men come by and they’re like, “Hey, we really, really need a resource, we need a group,” and you’re just like, “Yes, come in.” Now the trans women and the trans men are now sharing the space to talk about their own conflicts, which is good, don’t get me wrong, but trans women and trans men experience different problems fairly frequently.
Maybe it is better to do the same thing you did with the trans female group with a trans male group, and then have them go to a social hour together and rely on grapevine on structured communication to be that cohesive glue and keep it exclusive to keep the safe spaces friendly. If you do that with target audiences, let’s take it out of the perspective of DEI and into actual product and service and work, you could build an e-course that caters to all your audiences.
You could say, “Hey, if you’re a community manager, if you are a data analyst or an influencer, this course applies to you.” You could build that, or you could build a course that says, “Once you finish this introduction, we’re going to have three different veins. Purchase the vein that most applies to you” and then you can build it. Now you have three separate products, charging it three separate times, guaranteed to nail your target audience better. Don’t expand your services once you find success, just do the service again with a different target audience.
[00:23:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. That’s a really good lesson and it’s worth thinking about and repeating in small groups, in growing communities. When people ask me, it’s a tough question, “What’s your number one thing for building community?” It’s like, “That’s really not a good question. I don’t have a number one thing.” I’ll tell you, here’s that thing that I tell people, which is that just understand who you exist to serve and then allow your decisions to cater to those folks.
Because I think one of the things that plagues like new community hosts of someone starting a community for their passion, whatever it is, because out of need, like it sounds like you did, is to not worry about pleasing everyone. I think that’s another way to say that is to not worry about pleasing everyone, because when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one, and you end up having no one because no one feels particularly special or catered to or welcome in those spaces. It’s such a good lesson to repeat and think about.
[00:24:09] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes, I agree. On that as well, one of the other big lessons that I learned, I’ve learned that I build my life on the back of like short mantras that are connected to like larger concepts.
[00:24:20] Patrick O’Keefe: Whatever works.
[00:24:21] Samantha “Venia” Logan: In addition to the don’t expand, diversify problem, one of the lessons that was really, really hard fought for me in the community is you feel like your job is to cater to all of these people who find value in your community and get them to communicate and talk with one another. That is a part of your job, yes, but if you try and do that all at once, you’re going to burn out faster than your CEO will. In a lot of ways, if you can just boil down your action as a community manager to these two things, you can more easily solve this problem This is what – stepping on a soap box. I will boil down any community management job from architect, coordinator, moderator, facilitator. It doesn’t matter what you do in community. Your job is to set precedent, to do a thing, then build momentum for that thing until the community is doing it on its own.
Once you’ve set a precedent for one, maybe two, possibly three things, you’re going to build momentum for those things. You’ve committed. You’re not touching anything beyond those three things and once you’ve built momentum enough and you’ve built infrastructure enough, for the community to do it on its own, you have now implemented a precedent into a culture, and now you can go on and do your other things. Don’t focus on twenty different things. Set precedent, build momentum.
[00:25:47] Patrick O’Keefe: I like that description. I like how you said set precedent because a lot of people, when they start out, especially, or they feel a pressure from a higher up is it’s more like let the community dictate to you, which is valuable at a certain stage and within parameters, within the precedent. Within the goal of what we’re here to do, the community can surprise you, delights you, find other ways to use the thing that you’ve made within this understanding, this base level precedent that we’ve set where we’re like, “This is where we’re going. This is where we’re marching to.”
It’s not that you’re going to be stuck in your waist. It’s not that you can never shift or change your mind about something, but the best way to have a community that is really rewarding to me, the best community hack or whatever and it’s the joke is to just manage the community, put that level of care and detail into it, set a precedent, maintain consistency, then do it for a long time.
If you do that, then you come back and I mentioned the community I run that I’m migrating it, just a small community of martial artists. I’ve run it for 21 years this year. I love it because they self-reject bad things. They need me, but they don’t. That’s a beautiful thing because I go away, I don’t worry about that community, there’s moderators, there’s me. It’s cared for.
[00:27:01] Samantha “Venia” Logan: That’s the dream space.
[00:27:02] Patrick O’Keefe: By the time we see something and then we take care of it, they’ve likely already self-rejected, ignored it, reported it, and moved on to something else. It’s just a really great thing but you can’t get there, to tie it back into this, without setting precedent and focusing in on the people that you exist to serve and not trying to please everyone. You’ll never get there because you’ll just reset the audience every two weeks or every month or every year and you won’t build that long-term consistency. It allows you to have members who have been there for a while who know what it’s about and who keep an eye out without actually you needing to keep an eye out.
[00:27:39] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes, exactly. I also think that there’s an additional hidden benefit to this as well. Oftentimes, going back to our ROI conversation where there’s an undue amount of pressure for community managers to report metrics beyond other departments, to prove the ROI of their community. They’re being asked to perform on metrics they have no control over. One great example is we need you to do more support deflection in the community by interacting more on the forum and having more people ask questions on the forum.
To the CEO, this is totally sensical. Support deflection means more posts on forums. Community managers aren’t sitting next to the frustrated person going, “Why don’t you post that to the forum? They’re not doing it. Because they’re not capable of controlling how many support tickets are coming in on the forum, it’s not a viable metric for them, but it is a viable metric for the greater community. Instead, just focus your metrics through your community team, separate it intrinsically from the culture of your community, and just have metrics that say, “Did you set the precedent for the three goals this quarter, and what momentum metrics are determining your success?”
[00:29:03] Patrick O’Keefe: Alright. I want to shift subjects, a subject we talked about before the show related to creating safe spaces for transgender folks. I want to talk about dead naming. Dead naming is when you refer to a transgender or non-binary person by a name that they no longer use. The subject recently received some mainstream attention when Jordan Peterson – I don’t want to describe who he is or what he does. He’s just a guy. You know him, you know him. If not, don’t go down that rabbit hole.
He insisted on deadnaming and misgendering Elliot Page on Twitter. Elliot Page simply exists. Just here. Not talking to him, not provoking him, just existing on Twitter and online and in the world. Twitter has a hateful conduct policy that forbids “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” They banned Peterson, allowing him back on once he deleted the tweet in question and he made a big color blue “I’ll die rather than delete the tweet.” Of course, he ended up leading it to come back.
All that bad actoring aside, and the need for attention that I think Jordan Peterson has, I want to discuss how we can build our communities to combat deadnaming, which maybe some people listening to this show have never heard of, or they heard it for the first time when this happened or whatever. I guess before we do that, before we talk about community design community building, I wanted to create a space. Do you have a take on the story that you want to share?
[00:30:20] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Is that really the hill he wants to die on? Of all of the things in the world.
My only perspective, and I had the same perspective with J.K. Rowling, I think I’ve had the same perspective with virtually any person who likes to make a fool of themselves online for another person’s identity. By and large, it’s more or less like, “Don’t you got bigger fish to fry? Let’s be real.” The thing about that is like, I’m over here going like, is it really, to them, it genuinely is a big deal because, to them, it feels like this dilapidation of how they understand the world and they just want to keep it where it is instead of accept that the world doesn’t appeal to your structures.
How you think of the world has to change, the rest is immutable. To me, I just feel like the discussion isn’t really about identity so much as it is like, “Oh, why are you letting your rigid thought maintain yourself?”
[00:31:19] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s funny. I was talking to my wife today about Patrick’s lessons as we age. That sounds silly, but I have a couple of thoughts about like, as you age, how you should shift your thinking or how I should shift mine. One of them is about collecting stuff, physical objects. As you get older, there’s a point at which you should probably stop collecting things because at some point, you’re not going to be able to move all those things.
The other one was just like being so stuck in your ways that people will go, “Oh, that’s just grandpa.” That’s not where I want to be. That’s not the spot. Is you need to maintain an open understanding of some kind to be flexible, to hear people out, learn where they’re at, and shift your understanding and shift your thinking. It’s funny you say that.
All that stuff aside, I want to talk about community design. People listening to this show are not like Jordan Peterson. They are caring people. They manage their communities, they’re detail-oriented. They want to create welcoming and safe spaces. From a community design and management perspective, how do we make deadnaming not an issue? Are there any particular things you’d like to see in a platform?
[00:32:21] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Here’s nothing about deadnaming. We have had queer communities on the internet since forums started, like web 1.0, we’ve had queer forums. They haven’t necessarily shared the same views we do now. They were like a 1990s version of it, but we did have a super, super, super simple way for anyone to express their own identities and tour an identity that they wanted to explore freely and openly and available. Get screen names. MMOs and guild games that allowed you to change your avatars. This has always been a thing. For a long time, it’s been called identity tourism where it’s just like, “Oh yes, my avatar is a woman because she’s more attractive to look at,” but in your brain, it’s just like, I’m trying a female identity with this random guild that I’ve just joined. It’s identity tourism. It’s being able to try on your identity and move forward.
If you allow for that freedom in your current communities and you return to that notion of an online identity being a fluid avatar that allows people to tour and understand and express however they wish, you will have effectively created a space that has all the machinations you need for it. The difference being, in the modern world right now, we have this clash of identities. This physical notion of this is who I am in representing myself online, and this is who I actually am as a person.
Catfishing is the most obvious example, but Instagram envy is another really perfect example is that actually their lives that are all really, really nice on Instagram, or are they depicting the wonderful, powerful parts of their lives because they want to express an identity of happiness when they don’t necessarily have that themselves?
In a modern community, it is probably a good idea to set precedence for more open identity negotiation. Let people role play online, let people have fun, little identities, and avatars, and also encourage the conversation of what it really means to be a member of your community beyond those identities, you will have architected an environment that naturally accepts it.
[00:34:38] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a great tip. As I thought about this before the show, cause I wanted to give you the spot and hear your perspective first before I said anything. The one thing I thought about was just this idea of having the flexibility to change your profile and being able to change your username or your display name. I think some people listening might be association managers who have an association where everyone uses their real name or their headshot, and it’s like, “That’s cool. People can change.”
How do you facilitate that change? How do you make it easy or hard. If you don’t let them do it directly, is it easy to request it? Is it easy to get it done? It’s such a simple thing. It was baked into platforms, and it is still baked into many. The ability to change might not be from the user perspective, but the ability to change from the admin perspective certainly is. How easy is that process? How can you make it easier? That goes a long way.
Then the other thing I would just throw out there is policy. I would personally roll this up into policies about respect or inflammatory comments or those sorts of things. If you want to throw it under that big umbrella, that’s one thing. If you want to write it out and define it as a specific policy, Twitter’s policies, I’m a policy person. I write long policy docs. I don’t believe in short docs. I don’t believe in phrasing like, “Don’t be a jerk.” I believe in details.
Even for me, Twitter’s policy docs are long. You might not need to go that long, but you can go ahead and define, here are examples of how we expect you to treat people in this community, and this is what you should not do. You can put this in there for the cases where you need to apply it and then go out there and enforce it.
Take action. Oh, my goodness. You could search for my username on Twitter and the word Twitter and find me criticizing Twitter up and down, left and right, which is ironic, of course. They banned him. I support that ban. At the end of the day, you have to give people a consequence of these sorts of things and loss of profile, loss of followers, these people want their followers, okay? Call it vanity, call it whatever, but creating a consequence for them makes them behave differently.
Privately, they might say, “I’m still a bigot. I’ll just say it.” They may still be that person, and they like they are, but on your platform, they have to behave. That’s the bare minimum. You can do that. You can write a policy. You can enforce it. You can allow people to change their profile, avatar, username, et cetera. Maybe this sounds scary to some folks, for the first time, but it’s really not that hard to do it and to be empathetic in this way.
[00:36:57] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes. Even if you think that that’s rigorous in some way, shape, or form, if dear listener, you think that full banning someone isn’t viable, just consider the fact that if you get a speeding ticket, you don’t have to pay the ticket, you can also go to a traffic school. You can implement alternative methods of reinforcing this.
For instance, if you do get banned on Twitter for doing something that is tremendously insensitive, you could, if you wanted to, within your Twitter group, for not following those guidelines, you could actually say, “If you submit a video or something like that, explaining that you’ve researched the whole topic and you bring it to us, book report style, you can get your account back.”
Just showing that you’ve actually done the work to look at the other side of the story and attempted to understand the people you’re talking about.
[00:37:49] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a big platform that bent over backwards to keep people issue. One thing I love about independent communities and I love about running my own outside of a corporation like that small one, is like, I can just make a decision and be like, “Hey, you know what? I don’t like it. I’ll see you later, have a nice life.” It’s not to say they couldn’t reach out to me and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve learned. I’ll adjust,” and give them– I’m not saying that there’s no way back, but the thing about people like that, like Jordan Peterson, and the reason I wouldn’t want them in my own spaces is because they replicate. Every day that you allow that person in your platform or in your community, your community, your platform becomes more like them.
[00:38:28] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Precedent and momentum. It’s not just for community managers. Any one individual can come into your group, set a precedent among a small group, have a slightly larger precedent among a group, and then just continue to build momentum. If you want that to stop, then you set precedent for it being resolved in a healthy, measurable, viable way from the nucleus, the core stakeholders, and then you build momentum to combat it.
[00:38:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Venia, as a precedent, I thank our guests when we’re at the end of our show. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed it and I appreciate you sharing with us today.
[00:39:02] Samantha “Venia” Logan: Yes, absolutely. I’m absolutely ecstatic that I was able to come on and have an amazing conversation, and I would love to hear the extended conversation from all of you and your viewers if you comment or connect with me.
[00:39:14] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Samantha “Venia” Logan, online community architect and consultant at SociallyConstructed.Online. Visit sociallyconstructed.online for more info. Socially Constructed also has a Discord and YouTube channel that we’ll link to in the show notes.
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. Thanks for listening
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