When Your First Day as an Online Community Manager is Your First Day at a Computer

As community professionals, the array of platforms, reading material, conferences, and thought leaders available to us only continues to grow. And if you’ve read or written a job description for a community opportunity recently, you know that there’s often an expectation around technical literacy for everyone in the field.

In a time when a lot of our day-to-day takes place in front of a screen, I felt a little punch in the gut while listening to this episode of Community Signal, when I learned that John Coate, an early community manager, had no knowledge of the tools available when he first started at The WELL. In fact, he says that his first day on the job was the first day that he sat down in front of a computer!

So, why was I surprised? Has our industry placed too much influence on speaking engagements, platform knowledge, and revenue-focused metrics instead of the values and actual community-related experience that should govern our work? As John puts it, “computers are just a way to connect people. Never forget that you’re talking to real people, and it’s good to treat them as if you really are in the same room with them.” Sounds simple, but imagine if platforms like Facebook or Twitter followed this golden rule. We’d have a much different internet today. Patrick and John discuss this exact point and the work that John is doing to get us there. Because not surprisingly, the values that guided his work at The WELL 35 years ago are the same ones we need to call upon today.

John and Patrick also talk about:

  • How tools like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way that we communicate with one another
  • John’s transition from auto mechanic to online community manager
  • The movement to decentralize the internet
  • Metrics based on relationships, sentiment, and factual statements within the community
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LEGO Ideas and the Building Blocks of a Successful Crowdsourcing Community

Every company has the challenge of managing how to respond to customer feedback. But what if you’re managing a crowdsourcing community and actively asking people for their ideas and feedback? How do you make sure that every contributor feels seen and respected for their efforts, whether their idea becomes reality or not? These are the questions that Tim Courtney and the team behind LEGO Ideas have tackled.

On a previous episode of Community Signal, we spoke to Jake McKee, who helped build LEGO’s first community team. One of the early members of that community was Tim, who would later go on to join the LEGO Ideas team. In this episode, Tim shares a history of LEGO Ideas, a space where people passionate about LEGO can submit their own ideas for new sets. And while LEGO has many designers on payroll, Tim explains why the contributions from its community pay back (and pay forward) tenfold.

Here’s more of what Tim and Patrick discuss:

  • How 16-year-old Tim first joined the LEGO community
  • The strategy behind helping all LEGO Ideas contributors feel seen and rewarded
  • Measuring the ROI of the LEGO Ideas community
Continue reading “LEGO Ideas and the Building Blocks of a Successful Crowdsourcing Community”

Going From Shapeways to Northwestern Mutual

Community pro Andrew Thomas was recruited by Northwestern Mutual while working at Shapeways. On this episode, he talks about what it’s like to go from a 200-person startup to an organization with over 7,500 employees that has been around for over 160 years.

With more teammates and internal knowledge comes the added responsibility of continuously learning, introducing yourself to new people, and advocating for your work across the organization.

Andrew and Patrick also discuss:

  • The standardization of knowledge management practices
  • How Andrew thinks about self-care and burnout for himself and for his team
  • Getting buy-in and advocating for your work in a 7,500+ person company
Continue reading “Going From Shapeways to Northwestern Mutual”

Applying Agile Product Management Principles to Community Management

Shannon Emery manages both the external customer-facing and internal employee communities at Higher Logic. With so many tasks to manage and two distinct communities to nurture, how is a community professional to focus?

Patrick and Shannon’s conversation is about just that –– the strategies and resources that she relies on to stay focused and successfully manage both communities. These strategies include:

  • Leaning on dotted-line team members for support and subject-matter expertise (4:19)
  • Adapting the principles of agile product management to her workflow (20:13)
  • Asking about the bigger picture before accepting new tasks or projects (20:29)
Continue reading “Applying Agile Product Management Principles to Community Management”

From Engineer to Community Manager to Engineer to Community Manager

As we’ve shared on many episodes of Community Signal, community professionals come from numerous career paths, educational backgrounds, and areas of interest. In this conversation, Patrick talks with Matt Nevill, customer community manager at Agilent Technologies, about his transition from engineer to community manager. As a one-person community team, Matt discusses how he partners with other teams within his organization to ensure the success of Agilent’s community and gets advice from Patrick on when and how to scale the team.

If you’re thinking about how to justify adding another team member or quantifying your community’s value, the advice is all here. As Matt and Patrick explain it, it’s all about clearly communicating that a more engaged community means happier customers that turn into repeat customers. 

They also discuss:

  • A support staff that was getting crushed by calls until they launched a community
  • The right way and time to scale your community team
  • Evaluating community platform options
Continue reading “From Engineer to Community Manager to Engineer to Community Manager”

Threats to Section 230 Threaten the Very Existence of Our Communities

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a frequent topic of conversation on Community Signal. As Patrick puts it, if you’re a community professional in the United States, “this is the law that places the liability for speech on the author of that speech, not on you as the [community’s] host. It allows you to moderate and remove certain content while not assuming liability for what remains. I like to think of it as the legal basis for our profession in the US, and it is an important legal protection against the wealthy and powerful who would happily take down an entire online community for one post they don’t like.”

Plainly, this is a law that protects our jobs, our communities, the people in those communities, and their right to have civil and safe discussions online.

For this episode of Community Signal, we invited past guests to share how Section 230 has enabled them to foster community and what changing Section 230 could do to the fabric of online communities.

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Crisis Communications for Online Communities

Data breaches, distasteful ads or marketing campaigns, offensive content left unmoderated for far too long… as community professionals, we’ve studied these situations when they arise and many of us have had to manage such issues in our own communities.

In this episode, Patrick and crisis communications expert Kate Hartley discuss examples of micro and macro communications crises and how to best manage them. Kate breaks down the difference between a full blown communications crisis and negative or critical response to a change. “It’s only a crisis if it’s going to stop the community [from] being able to function,” she says. “If it’s not going to stop the community being able to function, then it’s not really a crisis. It’s an issue that just needs to be well-managed.”

Kate and Patrick also discuss:

  • How social media and news feeds fuel outrage
  • Remembering your employees during a communications crisis
  • Setting a strategic intent for handling a communications crisis and knowing how to measure your outcomes
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Moving a Community for Women Over 40 From Facebook Groups to a Paid Subscription App

If you’ve ever Googled a medical condition or a new symptom that you’ve experienced you know that the search results leave much to be desired. When Nina Lorez Collins posted about symptoms of perimenopause on Facebook, she saw that many women in her network were looking for a space to talk about the same symptoms that she was experiencing. The conversation flourished into a Facebook group of over 30,000 women looking for answers and support through all stages of menopause and aging.

As the What Would Virginia Woolf Do? community (now The Woolfer) continued to grow, it tested the limits of Facebook’s product and support and Nina found herself looking for alternatives. She faced the realization that she could not sustain the group as a free community. It needed dedicated resources and income to continue operating at the same level.  If you’re looking to launch or move your community to a paid model or debating changing community platforms, Nina offers lots of suggestions on what to consider as you’re negotiating with new platforms and keeping your community in the loop.

Nina and Patrick discuss:

  • Recognizing the product limitations of community platforms, along with your community’s product must-haves
  • The emotional, financial, and product hurdles that come with moving from one platform to another
  • How Woolfers stepped up to help those that wanted to join the paid community but couldn’t afford it
Continue reading “Moving a Community for Women Over 40 From Facebook Groups to a Paid Subscription App”

Don’t Let “Scale” Get in the Way of Good Community Strategy

Communities are good for business, but are businesses good for communities? This question has come up on the show before, specifically when we spoke to community hosts losing their Yahoo Groups and when IMDb’s message boards were closed and erased. What happens when corporation-led communities are determined to have outlived their usefulness to the corporation, but not to the members? Does this lead to more grassroots-led communities? How will the tools and examples we’ve created serve those grassroots communities?

Bailey Richardson, a community professional that helped build Instagram and recently co-authored Get Together, and Patrick address these questions on this episode, as well as: 

  • The current community software landscape and why there’s still room for growth
  • What happens when you need to demote or ban a community leader
  • Why graffiti is allowed on Instagram
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Attention Verizon Media: Yahoo Groups Deserves Better

Earlier this month, Verizon Media, the parent to Yahoo, announced that users of Yahoo Groups had until October 28th to continue posting in their groups and until December of this year to archive all of their conversations. After December, 18+ years of conversations will be erased from Verizon Media’s servers and the internet entirely.

Obviously, the community is fighting back. Administrators of these groups, most of whom are unpaid volunteers, are working tirelessly to download their data, collect the email addresses of their community members and, in some cases, move people over to a new platform. As community professionals, we know that a migration like this can take months of planning, research, and communication to our communities. In this case, administrators had two weeks to figure things out.

In this episode, Patrick talks to two avid organizers of Yahoo Groups about the next steps for their communities and what they hope will come out of this situation. In both cases, they want the connections and resources fostered in their Yahoo Groups to be preserved.

Patrick and our guests, Susan Kang and Deane Rimerman, also discuss:

  • The new tools that Deane and Susan will use to host their communities and why Nextdoor isn’t one of them
  • What it’s really like to download your data from Yahoo Groups
  • The importance of communities as archives and spaces for political action
Continue reading “Attention Verizon Media: Yahoo Groups Deserves Better”