Online Community Building Lessons From Collaborative Board Games

When was the last time that you trusted your community with the responsibility of collaboration? In this episode of Community Signal, Matt Leacock shares lessons he’s learned while designing popular collaborative board games like Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, and Forbidden Island.

Matt also discusses how he leans on the board game community for his own games. In the pre-launch stages, he has rallied supporters to pre-order his games and prove demand. In the development stages, he’s openly shared rules documents, inviting feedback from fans. After a game launches, he also discusses the role that players have when it comes to helping one another as questions and loopholes arise.

Having a shared goal –– winning the game –– is perhaps what motivates players to come together at all stages of the game’s development. Knowing that your community members also have a shared purpose or goal, are there ways that you could trust them with collaboration opportunities that could lead to positive outcomes for everyone? That’s winning! 

Matt and Patrick also discuss:

  • Competition within collaborative games
  • Establishing norms within games and communities
  • The importance of establishing straightforward nomenclature
Continue reading “Online Community Building Lessons From Collaborative Board Games”

The Elder Scrolls Online Community and the Power of Guilds

What metrics and indicators of success are you, your colleagues, and community excited about for 2022? Whether you’re hoping to better demonstrate the impact of the community on your business’ bottom line, foster safer experiences for your members across the communities they are part of, or want to focus on establishing better boundaries for you and your team, this conversation with Jessica Folsom, lead community manager at ZeniMax Online Studios, may provide some inspiration.

Even without perfect end-to-end campaign attribution, Jessica discusses the impact of being a participant in the Elder Scrolls Online community and how certain attributes may lead to different outcomes for community members and for the overall community. For example, Elder Scrolls Online players may participate in official forums, they may be content creators, they may stream the game, or participate in player-run communities on Discord or Reddit. Jessica and her team have learned that the players that can find their connection to the community retain better and drive investment in the game, too.

With such an expansive group of players, Jessica also has to be prepared to help community members deal with toxic behaviors outside of immediate Elder Scrolls Online spaces. While it can often feel like we can’t do much in these circumstances, Jessica explains how she listens, offers guidance on how to block and report the behavior on these parallel platforms, and in some cases, contact local authorities. Do you have a plan for helping your community members handle toxicity on other platforms? 

Jessica and Patrick also discuss:

  • How Jessica’s team sets success metrics
  • Helping community managers prevent burnout
  • Why community members are not your friends
Continue reading “The Elder Scrolls Online Community and the Power of Guilds”

Bettering Health Outcomes Through Peer Support at Mayo Clinic

Do you have a 60-second pitch for your community? In this episode of Community Signal, Colleen Young, community director for Mayo Clinic, raises the challenge of being able to deliver a concise and impactful pitch to other leaders at the nonprofit. “I’m just imagining finding myself in the elevator with this leader by happenstance and being able to finally say something just in two floors that we have. It’s really hard to be able to know what is going to motivate them to be excited about the community. I’m really struggling with that,” explains Young. Many, if not all of us, have been in a situation like this, whether we were helping to onboard a new leader or in an impromptu meeting. 

This conversation is a bit longer than 60 seconds, but in it, Colleen delivers a very compelling case for Mayo Clinic Connect. The community’s moderation practices and active participation makes it less of a haven for misinformation. And when misinformation does appear, expert testimonials and active participants within the community help inform and correct. The community also comes together to help people understand their options for care and to manage their symptoms. “Peer support can better health outcomes,” says Young. The community also has a direct impact on Mayo Clinic’s livelihood – as it can be a direct driver of appointment bookings and visits.

So, the next time you’re thinking about how to pitch your community to another colleague, think about the value that it brings to your members and how that value leads to positive outcomes for the business. And as Patrick says, don’t be afraid to ask for more time to advocate for the community and your work!

Colleen and Patrick also discuss:

  • Why Mayo Clinic Connect measures appointments as a metric
  • Has medical misinformation actually gotten worse over the last 15 years?
  • Developing your 60-second community pitch
Continue reading “Bettering Health Outcomes Through Peer Support at Mayo Clinic”

Embodying Work-Life Balance as a Community Professional and Manager

Are you able to step away from your community for days at a time? When you return, are your team and the community still running smoothly? If you answered yes to these questions, then congratulations! Whether it’s documentation, systems, or setting proper expectations with your boss and colleagues, those boundaries and structure are crucial, not just for yourself, but for the people around you and the community itself. 

Our guest, Allison Able, senior manager of community at Sisense, explains that creating and upholding these boundaries is a constant work in progress. “There’s great power in … being able to step away and have things go okay. That speaks well for you if that’s the community you build, that it doesn’t need you to exist,” explains Patrick.

Having a supportive team goes a long way in setting work-life boundaries, so fittingly, Allison explains what her approach will be to building the community team at Sisense and why their community is currently in beta.

Allison and Patrick also discuss:

  • Adding the community content manager role to the community team
  • How to embody healthy boundaries for you and your team
  • The right order of community programs for Sisense
  • Community Signal’s sixth anniversary –– thank you listeners, supporters, and guests!
Continue reading “Embodying Work-Life Balance as a Community Professional and Manager”

Are You Gardening, or Are You Managing Waste?

Earlier this month, blogging pioneer Jason Kottke tweeted that “social media would be a better place to connect with people if the folks building and using these services had spent formative time on and taken inspiration from Flickr and MetaFilter instead of 4chan and Reddit. Gardening vs. waste management.”

That tweet spoke to Patrick who retweeted it, and that retweet elicited a reply from Lydia Fiedler, community manager for Splitcoaststampers, leading to this episode of the podcast.

What do your community members want out of their community? Are you tending a garden that is actively growing toward those goals? Or are you tolerating noise and managing waste that gets in the way? Having a clear sense of what brings the community together helps Lydia Fiedler keep conversations on track, set expectations for community members, and come up with inspiring challenges.

If you’re planning programming for the coming year or just in a creative rut with your own work, this conversation with Patrick and Lydia offers some great inspiration that can help you create great experiences that will bring your members together and enable them reach their own goals. 

Lydia and Patrick also discuss:

  • Operating in the “gray areas” of community management
  • Features that people clamor for on social media platforms that hosted online communities offer routinely
  • How challenges align with the Splitcoaststampers community’s goal of becoming better artists and crafters
Continue reading “Are You Gardening, or Are You Managing Waste?”

Cohort-Based Online Communities: Exploitation or Real Connection?

If you threw a random group of people together, united primarily by a shared educational goal that they can accomplish with or without the group, and had two weeks to build a sense of community among them, what would you do?

That’s what Alex Witkowski spends time thinking about. He’s the community lead for Section4, which offers business courses they call sprints. These sprints are typically around two weeks long and then the experience is over – if you want it to be. If you don’t want it to be, you can continue to benefit from and collaborate with the students that took the same course.

Alex oversees a team of four community managers that guides this growing number or cohorts and hopes to bring then together through an upcoming alumni membership program. He also believes that cohort-based communities often exploit community rather than build it. We chat about that, plus:

  • Alex’s transition from English teacher to community pro and the condescension he felt when making the move
  • How he determines when a community manager simply has too many cohorts
  • Why Slack may not be the right tool for their alumni product
Continue reading “Cohort-Based Online Communities: Exploitation or Real Connection?”

Building a Database of CSAM for AOL, One Image at a Time

If you work in content moderation or with a team that specializes in content moderation, then you know that the fight against child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is a challenging one. The New York Times reported that in 2018, technology companies reported a record 45 million online photos and videos of child sexual abuse. Ralph Spencer, our guest for this episode, has been working to make online spaces safer and combatting CSAM for more than 20 years, including as a technical investigator at AOL.

Ralph describes how when he first started at AOL, in the mid-’90s, the work of finding and reviewing CSAM was largely manual. His team depended on community reports and all of the content was manually reviewed. Eventually, this manual review led to the creation of AOL’s Image Detection Filtering Process (IDFP), which reduced the need to manually review the actual content of CSAM. Working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), law enforcement, and a coalition of other companies, Ralph shares how he saw his own team’s work evolve, what he considered his own metrics of success when it comes to this work, and the challenges that he sees for today’s platforms.

The tools, vocabulary, and affordances for professionals working to make the internet safer have all improved greatly, but in this episode, Patrick and Ralph discuss the areas that need continued improvement. They discuss Section 230 and what considerations should be made if it were to be amended. Ralph explains that when he worked at AOL, the service surpassed six million users. As of last year, Facebook had 2.8 billion monthly active users. With a user base that large and a monopoly on how many people communicate, what will the future hold for how children, workers, and others that use them are kept safe on such platforms?

Ralph and Patrick also discuss:

  • Ralph’s history fighting CSAM at AOL, both manually and with detection tools
  • Apple’s announcement to scan iCloud photos for NCMEC database matches
  • How Ralph and other professionals dealing with CSAM protect their own health and well-being
  • Why Facebook is calling for new or revised internet laws to govern its own platform
Continue reading “Building a Database of CSAM for AOL, One Image at a Time”

Shifting Revel, a Community for Women Over 40, from In-Person to Online Overnight

As community practitioners, we often serve communities that we don’t necessarily belong to. But how would you approach designing a community platform, events, and policies for a demographic that you don’t belong to? Alexa Wahr, the COO of Revel, a community for women over 40, says that she and her co-founder build by putting their community first. “We absolutely listen to our members. We don’t try to pretend like we know what exactly our members are going through or what it’s like to be a woman in their life. That doesn’t mean that we can’t help to build the community and build the tools that help them connect.”

In this episode of Community Signal, Alexa shares how the policies that govern the platform, Revel’s approach to safety during the pandemic, and Revel’s acquisition of The Woolfer, are all grounded in putting their members’ needs, safety, and experiences first.

Alexa also discusses how Revel, an in-person events-based community, shifted entirely to virtual events in light of the pandemic. Through this model, Revel members have continued to have meaningful interactions, build friendships, and support one another through COVID-19.

Alexa and Patrick also discuss:

  • How Revel is encouraging their event hosts to stay safe now that in-person events have resumed
  • Revel’s plans to introduce paid events into their community
  • The differences between the Revel and Woolfer communities and how they’re balancing the needs for both
Continue reading “Shifting Revel, a Community for Women Over 40, from In-Person to Online Overnight”

How Telehealth Provides More Efficient Healthcare for Patients and Providers – and the Role Online Communities Can Play

How did the pandemic impact your relationships with your healthcare providers? Did telehealth enable you to continue seeing or connecting with your providers to receive the care that you needed?

In this episode of Community Signal, Denzil Coleman, a telehealth coordinator, developing and maintaining digital health interventions at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Center for Telehealth, discusses how the adoption of telehealth interactions and practices during the pandemic may lead to continued and more long-term improvements and efficiencies in our healthcare system.

Denzil explains that telehealth is “anything where healthcare is being impacted by a patient and an actor that are not in the same location. That includes a video, that includes transmissions of information, asynchronous messaging, [and] remote patient monitoring.” Telehealth can create efficiencies for both patients and providers –– giving patients flexibility to see their providers without the burden of travel and with the option to invite more caregivers into these interactions.

Whereas in the past, patients may have received pamphlets with details about in-person support groups or other care options, today there are online communities and support groups and insurance companies themselves even offer telehealth options. With these options come more opportunities for patients to be more engaged in the care that they receive and for providers to thoughtfully care for patients.

Denzil and Patrick also discuss how:

  • COVID, the shifting landscape of the healthcare profession, and the fact that folks are living longer, healthier lives all impacts the healthcare system
  • The flexibility of telehealth allows a patient’s support system to become more involved in their care
  • Creating efficiencies in the healthcare system should not equate to patients receiving less care
  • Value-based care could resemble a community-like investment in overall care
Continue reading “How Telehealth Provides More Efficient Healthcare for Patients and Providers – and the Role Online Communities Can Play”

While Making a Mixtape, Asher Roth Built an Online Community

Photo: Drew Dennis

In between his three albums, rapper Asher Roth has released several mixtapes, including 2011’s Pabst & Jazz and his The Greenhouse Effect series. The third entry in that series, The Greenhouse Effect Vol. 3, hit streaming services on September 3, 2021.

But there’s something about his latest mixtape that makes it unique from every album, EP, and mixtape he’s released so far: It was a collaboration with his online community of fans and supporters.

As Asher contemplated making music during the COVID-19 pandemic, he came up with an idea: What if The Greenhouse Effect Vol. 3 was “entirely produced by fan/friend/follower submissions?” He set up a Discord, and off they went. He’d post acapellas – audio clips of only his vocals – and community members would produce song submissions, which Asher would review live on Twitch. The project would adopt a narrative story, adding guest verses from the community, too.

With the mixtape out, Asher stops by to talk about the collaborative process behind the release, the tools he used, and the community building lessons he learned along the way. One of the great things about this story is that the creation of this mixtape has helped birth an active online community, which Asher hopes will foster further collaborations between members.

Asher and Patrick also discuss:

  • How guardrails help encourage sustained creativity
  • Why Discord?
  • Now that it has achieved its first big goal, what’s next for the community?
Continue reading “While Making a Mixtape, Asher Roth Built an Online Community”