With more than 16 years of experience, Susan Tenby heads up community efforts for the organization, bringing app developers and non-profits together to serve communities in need. She is also the founder of #OCTRIBE, the biggest online community meetup in San Francisco, which turns 10 years old this month. Plus:
- How Caravan Studios determines which issues to dedicate resources to
- The history of #OCTRIBE
- Mentoring in community management
“I found myself in this very difficult position of having to bridge the community of app developers with the non-profit community, and figure out a way that they would talk to each other, because I was really noticing that app developers were building stuff at hackathons that they thought was cool, but the things that they were building were not actually things non-profits needed or could use.” -@suzboop
“The main thing with mentoring is to create a space that gives them unique access outside of just being an ordinary community manager. Give them your time and answer their questions. And above all, help make connections for people that you’re mentoring, so that you aren’t just telling them to do stuff for you, you’re actually providing them with value and access to your network.” -@suzboop
“I want to make sure that I remain relevant by learning from [the person I’m mentoring], because she knows stuff I don’t know, and I’ve learned a ton from her. It’s a really rewarding exchange.” -@suzboop
“A lot of people make assumptions about what the users want, but we’re the ones that actually know what the users want, and there’s a really great responsibility in that. I love the challenge of being able to be the outward-facing voice of an organization and the ear from the people to organization. I love having my ear to the community.” -@suzboop
About Susan Tenby
Susan Tenby has worked in online community management for 16 years and has been active in social media since 2006. She is the original founder of the TechSoup Community Forums; managing, running, and founding online communities since 1997, when she launched her first online community for young women with cancer.
As TechSoup’s online community and social media director, she was responsible for the strategy behind the community team’s promotion and management, as well as direction of the TechSoup Community Forums, interactive events, brand evangelism, digital storytelling and social media channels. TechSoup works specifically with nonprofits and libraries to provide useful technology interventions.
She is a founding member of Caravan Studios, a new division of TechSoup. There she develops strategic partnerships and increases social media engagement through their online community efforts, including a new community for Caravan Studios supporters that bridges app developers and nonprofits to create tech solutions that solve real-world problems.
Susan is the founder of the biggest online community meetup in San Francisco, #OCTRIBE, where community managers meet to learn best practices and network with each other.
Finally, she founded the Nonprofit Commons in Second Life, a community of nonprofit leaders in the virtual world of Second Life, where the avatar-members are the creators of all the content in the sim (or the location within the community). This community has over 2,000 members, and has been holding weekly town hall meetings for more than 6 years. In her free time, Susan consults on social media.
In order of reference:
- Caravan Studios
- Deep Datta
- SafeNight, an app developed by Caravan Studios
- Blue Shield of California Foundation
- Range, an app developed by Caravan Studios
- 4Bells, an app developed by Caravan Studios
- Bill Johnston
- Scott Moore
- Crystal Coleman talking about her experience with #OCTRIBE
- Crystal Coleman
- Dorothy Ponton
- Second Life
- Nonprofit Commons in Second Life
- Willie Kuo
- Rebecca Newton
- Sue John
- Caravan Studios on Twitter
- SafeNight on Twitter
- Susan on Twitter
- #OCTRIBE on Facebook
00:04: Welcome to Community Signal: the podcast for online community professionals. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:15 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for tuning in to Community Signal. Our guest today is Susan Tenby. Susan has worked in online community management for 16 years, and has been active in social media since 2006. She is the original founder of the TechSoup Community Forums, managing, running, and founding online communities since 1997, when she launched her first online community for young women with cancer. As TechSoup’s online community and social media director, she was responsible for the strategy behind the community team’s promotion and management, as well as direction of the TechSoup Community Forums, interactive events, brand evangelism, digital storytelling, and social media channels. TechSoup works specifically with non-profits and libraries to provide useful technology interventions. She is a founding member of Caravan Studios, a new division of TechSoup.
00:57 Patrick O’Keefe: There, she develops strategic partnerships and increases social media engagement through their online community efforts, including a new community for Caravan Studio supporters, that bridges app developers and non-profits, to create tech solutions that solve real-world problems. Susan is the founder of the biggest online community meetup in San Francisco, #OCTRIBE, where community managers meet to learn best practices and network with each other. Finally, she founded the Nonprofit Commons in Second Life, a community of non-profit leaders in the virtual world of Second Life, where the avatar members are the creators of all the content in the sim, the location within the community. This community has over 2000 members and has been holding weekly town hall meetings for more than six years. In her free time, [chuckle] and I can’t see how there’s much of it, Susan consults on social media. Susan, welcome to the program.
01:40 Susan Tenby: Thank you. And actually, the Nonprofit Commons has been around for over 10 years.
01:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Oh, over 10 years? Wow.
01:46 Susan Tenby: Reading an old description or something, but yeah, they just had their 10-year anniversary.
01:50 Patrick O’Keefe: Wow, that’s amazing. So, let’s talk about Caravan Studios.
01:52 Susan Tenby: Yes.
01:53 Patrick O’Keefe: Caravan Studios builds apps that help communities organize, access, and apply local resources to their most pressing problems. These are apps for social good, built along with the community that needs them. Let’s talk about your role in that. How are you facilitating and encouraging that process?
02:06 Susan Tenby: So Caravan Studios, we started… We aren’t actually new anymore. My bio might have said new, but we started three years ago. And what we do is, we talk to groups of non-profits in similar mission focus. So let’s say domestic violence agencies, organizations that help people with autism, organizations that help people who are homeless, and we talk to those organizations and we figure out what problems those organizations are facing. Not what technology problems, but what problems keep them from successfully achieving their missions. And from there, we figure out what technology interventions we can figure out to help them solve those problems. And so my role is really finding the people to talk to us in those idea-generation events that we hold, and finding the community of developers who are interested in working on those problems.
03:02 Susan Tenby: That’s kind of where my work comes in. Specifically more recently, I have been doing, for the past couple years, these Apps4Change demo events. And these are events that are like demo days for app developers that have to focus on social benefit apps. And so I kinda found myself in this very difficult position of having to bridge the community of app developers with the non-profit community, and figure out a way that they would talk to each other, because I was really noticing that app developers were building stuff at hackathons that they thought was cool, but the things that they were building were not actually things non-profits needed or could use.
03:45 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
03:45 Susan Tenby: Similarly, non-profits realized, “Hey, I need an app,” but they didn’t really know where to go to develop it. So I thought that the best way to deal with that problem was to have on-the-ground events that would bring these groups together. So that’s kinda what I do. I also, through that process, get connected with a lot of people doing similar work, doing design thinking for social benefit, people working in similar fields. And I am the person that kinda brings those organizations to my team, and potentially those organizations become partners with us and work on one of our apps. We have three in the marketplace. Or they will work with us on some sort of design process. We are doing a lot of work with libraries, for example, in Brazil.
04:34 Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like you have two communities that you’re bridging together. You have the nonprofits, you have the app developers. Do you find it difficult to convince the app developers to join in? That’s a wide brush, right, but certainly some app developers might be motivated in different ways, maybe not in charitable efforts. And what kind of reception do you find that you receive?
04:52 Susan Tenby: I haven’t really found a problem with them wanting to join in. The app developers are interested in doing good, and they don’t know where or how to use their skills for social good. We don’t always have a place for them with our work, so I’m kind of at the hub, connecting, directing traffic and connecting them to places and organizations where they can use their skills for good. For example, recently I was working and talking to Deep Datta, the community manager of Benetech, and you should bring him on your show, and I’ll introduce you. But he has developed a methodology to help non-profits have an infrastructure for bringing in volunteer developers. So what I’ve been doing is really kind of figuring out if we have a place for them to help out, and if not, where they could help out.
05:43 Patrick O’Keefe: I took a look at the apps that are coming out of your efforts, and really, they’re great. With so many worthy problems in the world, I’m sure it can be challenging to decide which ones to tackle first. How are you selecting the issues that you dedicate your resources to?
05:56 Susan Tenby: Are you talking about the apps that Caravan Studios has built, or the apps that we’re doing in our demos?
06:01 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m talking about the apps that you built and released. Apps like SafeNight, for example, so apps like that where you’re choosing to really focus on a particular serious, important issue. How are you selecting which community of need you serve first?
06:13 Susan Tenby: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So with SafeNight, SafeNight is an app to help crowdfund hotel rooms for survivors of domestic violence, when there are no available shelter beds. The reason we came to that app was, we have these idea-generation salons that we call “generators”. And the generators, we have them with different groups of organizations, like I mentioned. And the ones that seem to have the most amount of similar organizations with a similar problem that we think we can solve, are the ones that kind of bubble up to the top. So we’ve had 30 generators, and we had probably 50 really good ideas that came out of those generators. So with SafeNight, we spoke to a bunch of domestic violence agencies and we kept hearing the same problem, which was, “When there’s no available shelter bed, we work with hotels. But we don’t have the budget to pay for the hotels.” So we wish there was a way to get everyone involved in helping pay for the hotels when they are needed, and we thought we could make that happen. So that’s why we built that one, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation helped fund the initial build of that, as well as some other funders. Well, obviously, Microsoft helps us a lot. And SafeNight is at safenightapp.org.
07:32 Susan Tenby: And then with Range, Range is an app to help locate free meals for youth in the summer months. And we discovered that one by just talking to some folks down in San Mateo County, some city employees, who said, “There’s all these organizations that give out free food, and they aren’t necessarily talking to each other, they aren’t really networked.” But the FDA has a summer lunches program, and that’s open data that is automatically updated. So we decided to create something that looks a little bit like Yelp, where it opens up a map and it shows you pins of where you can get a free meal right now. Not where you can sign up to get fed on a program, but where can you find free food right now. We came to that one because we found out that there’s a lot of people that we call “first responders,” like librarians, and bus drivers, and after school and summer school program administrators, doctors, dentists, that get asked that question all the time like, “Where do I find a free meal right now?” And so, that’s why we built Range. And Range has been pretty popular among librarians, to help direct youth to free meals in the summer months, and that’s at rangeapp.org.
08:49 Susan Tenby: And the third app is called 4Bells. And 4Bells is an app to help deploy known volunteers for time-sensitive urgent tasks. And we decided to do that one because it goes across sectors. There’s so many different types of organizations that need to deploy known volunteers for urgent situations. We talked to food rescue groups, and we talked to pet rescue groups, and they had same need. And the need was to deploy these known volunteers, either to transport food or transport animals from a foster home to a shelter, that kind of situations.
09:25 Patrick O’Keefe: I really like these apps. I really like, not just the causes [chuckle] which are the most important thing. And I just love them. But I love that the approach to them is almost treating them like… You kind of said Yelp for something, right? The websites for these apps are very nice. It’s almost like you were just going to download some hot app like, I don’t know, Peach was a few months ago. [chuckle] It’s like this is a really cool app, this is this app you wanna have on your phone. I just love the way it’s done, it’s really smart. So, just great work.
09:53 Susan Tenby: And it’s all community-centered design, that’s kind of our mission at Caravan, is really community-centered designed. So designing apps 100%, we have a five-step process. And once we get the ideas together, and we select which ideas seem like they have the best technology interventions that could help the most people, not one bespoked organization but many organizations, then we talk to the organizations and we work with them to design the app. We say, “Would it do this?” And they would say, “No, I’d rather if it did that.” So then we design the app, making paper prototypes, and wireframes, and then we build the app, and then we get it out to the community to use. So the community is very much at the center of our design process.
10:37 Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve heard about #OCTRIBE for a long time. I’m familiar with the group, I’ve seen hashtags and tweets and messages. And the way I learned of it was through people that I respect, mentioning it. People like Bill Johnston or Scott Moore. And #OCTRIBE is going to turn 10 years old in May, and even though I’ve been managing communities for 16 odd years, and I’ve regularly beat the “this is not new” drum. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to some folks that there is a local meet-up for this profession that is 10 years old. So first of all, congrats on that impressive milestone.
11:10 Susan Tenby: Thank you, I wasn’t even aware we’re approaching our 10th birthday.
11:13 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s how you know you’re really in it, and really were doing the work. You don’t even know it’s coming up and it’s been 10 years. I’d love to know a little bit about the history of #OCTRIBE, how it started, how you got involved.
11:23 Susan Tenby: Sure. So, I went to some community roundtable lunches hosted by Bill Johnston. I don’t even remember where he was working.
11:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Forum One probably, right?
11:34 Susan Tenby: Forum One, yes. So he had these meet-ups that were roundtables, sometimes they were dinners, but they were roundtable discussions. And then he switched jobs and they kind of petered out, the meet-ups, and I really realized, this was probably seven or… no, longer. This is probably eight, nine years ago, I realized that no one else is doing a local community managers’ meet-up. I wanna talk to people and I don’t have a group of people to actually talk. And also, I’d like to show off the great work that my colleagues are doing, and have someone organize a way for them to demonstrate their different tricks and tips and tools that they’re using. So I decided to do it, and I asked Bill if I could just take over. I noticed that the meetup had gone stagnant, so I just asked if I could take it. He said, “No problem.” So we took it over, and we started having them at TechSoup’s headquarters a long time ago, probably eight or nine years ago, just monthly. And the reason people keep coming back is because we keep doing them. We haven’t really stopped. And they are monthly meet-ups.
12:40 Susan Tenby: There’s always a speaker who’s a community manager talking, not only about their individual community, but usually about best practices that will help other organizations and other companies succeed in community management. So that I try to have them make it universally applicable. And then there’s Q&A, they’re always live-streamed, so we actually got some nice sponsorship from Salesforce and from Lithium and from Higher Logic, to do some live streaming.
13:08 Susan Tenby: So, it’s pretty professional live streaming. If you go to YouTube, you can see the #OCTRIBE channel. The name #OCTRIBE came… We had an unconference and we had a hashtag that we used during that unconference which was #OCTRIBE, because we were the online community tribe. We decided to keep the conversation going after that conference via that hashtag, and then somehow that hashtag became the hashtag for our… Ours was just called the San Francisco Online Community Meetup. But #OCTRIBE is shorter, and everyone just started using that hashtag at our meet-ups, and then that became the unofficial name. And then it became the official name. So there you go.
13:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it has a nice ring to it. Now I’m sure there’s just a lot of different things that come to mind over the years, being involved in a project like this for so long. But what are some of your personal favorite #OCTRIBE stories from over the years?
13:58 Susan Tenby: That’s an interesting question. Favorite #OCTRIBE stories? Well, I can tell you one that is actually on Vimeo now. Crystal Coleman came as a volunteer. She was working, selling yoga clothes in a mall, and she was interested in doing online community as a job. She was a member of online communities as a gamer and as a, just online community participant, and was interested in it as a profession. She started coming, she asked if she could volunteer. I said, “Sure.” She got a community job as a result of our meet-ups. There were some community managers from Ning. She networked with them at the meet-up, she got a job with them. And it turned into another job which turned into another job, and now she’s a director of community at Google. She landed herself a pretty cream of the crop online community manager job. It’s basically because of, and she talks about it, because of #OCTRIBE. So she kinda took it upon herself to mentor a young community manager in the same way that she felt like our community had helped her. So that was an example. There are many other stories like that, where people didn’t even know that community management was a thing, and they found out about the meet-up and they joined and they were interested.
15:15 Susan Tenby: Dorothy Ponton’s another one, who’s one of my best volunteers as well. Crystal is as well. I have a kinda core group of volunteers in that community. And Dorothy was a chiropractor, and then she decided she wanted a career shift and she started coming to #OCTRIBE and volunteering. And she started volunteering doing the Storify after the meetup, and then she got a non-profit online community management job. She volunteered for them first, and then they hired her, and that’s her career now.
15:41 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s awesome. And it’s funny you mention Crystal, because I know Crystal, she’s wonderful. And I’ve been trying to get her to come on the show. So if our friends at Google will approve that request, [chuckle] we’d love to have her on at some point. Because she’s just a wonderful professional. But I hadn’t heard that story before, and didn’t know the origin of her entering the space, so that’s really amazing. I wanna talk about Second Life. It’s rare when I hear that name these days, but it still has a loyal group of active users. And people are still using it to find community. Nonprofits in Second Life, the group you founded, is still hosting weekly meetings all these years later. In 2016, how would you describe Second Life as a platform for building community?
16:20 Susan Tenby: Second Life is a great platform for real-time community. It’s not a very good platform for archived… We tried to archive a lot of what goes on there by having all of the text transcripts saved and uploaded online. But it’s not really a platform where you can sort through and search for different topics. So it’s a very great synchronous online community, as opposed to an asynchronous online community. It’s a great community, because it makes you feel… It has an embodied sense, so it makes you feel like you’re really there with those people. And because of the sense of identity, that people can really choose and display their identity, rather than just text and a handle, like Twitter, or any other platform, that you can actually move through a space, and dress in a way that it will make your body look however you want it to look, or not even have a body, just be like a cloud or vapor, or whatever you want. Because of that, people get really, really involved in it, and it becomes a much more personal space. All sorts of incredible real-life interactions have happened in there.
17:27 Susan Tenby: People talking about people dying or falling in love, and all of those aspects, you can really experience real-life emotions in a way that you can’t in other online communities. And another benefit to it is, because it’s just so simple to just jump on your laptop and type into a client, in real-time, there are people from all over the world. We have these weekly meetings that still are going on. And even today, there are about 30 people in there. Every Friday, between 8:30 and 10:00, 20 to 30, maybe up to 50 people show up, and give an hour and a half of their time, just to kind of connect with each other. And they’re from all over the world. They are people that are bed-ridden, who are disabled, and use the platform to connect with people. And they are people that live in really isolated places, and people that don’t have anyone that does what they do. Like some guy, he’s up somewhere in northern Europe, and doesn’t have other technical friends. It’s great for that. It’s good for organizations with small budgets to be able to share what they’re doing without having to go to conferences. It’s like having a virtual office space, so you can sit there and man a desk and answer questions. But it’s really great for a live community.
18:45 Susan Tenby: What makes it different than other online communities is that, there’s three different ways that you can communicate at one time. So there’s verbal, like people talking on their mics like a webinar tool, but there’s multiple people talking at once. And then there’s text chat overlaying that audio chat. And then there’s DM, direct message, kind of back-ended or backburnered behind the text chat. So you can have one-on-one conversations, you can have one-to-many conversations, and you can also have many-to-many conversations, all at the same time. And that’s why I think it’s unique.
19:22 Patrick O’Keefe: So, speaking of smaller organizations and using it as like a virtual conference, do you feel like… I don’t wanna say it’s hard to learn. But I guess, versus other tools, is there a learning curve there for people to get into Second Life? Is there certain organizations who might be more apt to explain or help people with that learning curve, and might have an audience that was more receptive to it?
19:39 Susan Tenby: There is a learning curve, and I think that’s why it hasn’t really… it hasn’t taken off, it hasn’t tanked. It’s kind of stayed stable, but it’s definitely not growing. And the reason why is because they keep trying to make the tool more intuitive. But if you’re not somebody who’s technically inclined, you are less likely to be able to do much in the community other than talk. Having said that, all you really need to do is talk. It’s also, the client itself, you have to have a computer that can handle the client. It’s not as web browser-based as it should be, and I think that’s why it’s been less successful as other online communities like, let’s say, Facebook.
20:17 Susan Tenby: Having said that, they’re in the Nonprofit Commons. If anybody’s interested in learning, there’s lots of people there. There’s a mentor group who will help you with the first steps. I would say people that are more technically inclined, not afraid of technology, would be the right people to use the tool.
20:34 Patrick O’Keefe: Brands have used Second Life, especially back in the mid-2000s. As you kinda hinted at, they moved on to the next big thing. I went on the Second Life home page today and I was looking at the website, viewing different things, and I noticed that they’re highlighting the Oculus Rift on their homepage. As VR moves toward the mainstream, do you think that’s gonna be a really good opportunity for Second Life? Could it lead to serious growth or even a renaissance of sorts?
20:56 Susan Tenby: They’re actually planning to re-brand and focus on augmented reality. I think that they will still maintain the actual Second Life community, but they are planning to re-brand and move more towards augmented reality versus virtual reality, so that would be interacting in real space as well as in the virtual space at the same time.
21:17 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting.
21:18 Susan Tenby: And I do think there’s a lot of potential, especially for organizations that are doing things, like medical organizations. I see a lot of potential there for health-based medical organizations, science-based organizations, who are experimenting with augmented reality. But I’m not really an expert on that. What I wanted years ago was to have live events online that were interactive, where we could play media and have people talk to each other in real-time. And that was the only tool that you could do it at, and it was very easy, and it was free.
21:51 Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve mentored numerous community professionals. And how many build their careers both through your work at #OCTRIBE, but also working under and with you at TechSoup. What do you think makes a good mentor in our space?
22:03 Susan Tenby: I think that in order to be a good mentor, you’ve gotta figure out who’s good at what. You can’t expect everyone to be good at everything. So someone might be really good at live tweeting an event, and someone else might be really great at welcoming people online, and someone else might be the person that loves to answer questions. So you just have to listen and see who’s good at what, but you have to remember that there’s a role for everyone. What I find people do that’s a mistake, is getting angry when something isn’t working. Let’s say you wanna have a quarterly call with your volunteers and they’re not doing it, they’re not showing up. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it’s better to kind of work with your community and figure out, “Okay, this isn’t working. Maybe we should use Basecamp instead. Maybe we should, instead of having a phone call, maybe we should do this on Skype. Maybe we should have just an email thread.” But you’ve got to create a space.
22:57 Susan Tenby: The main thing with mentoring is to create a space that gives them unique access outside of just being an ordinary community manager. Give them your time and answer their questions. And above all, help make connections for your people that you’re mentoring. To give them value, so that you aren’t just kind of telling them to do stuff for you, you’re actually providing them with value and access to your network. And I guess, I mean, I’ve been a mentor for so many people. It’s kind of like, it’s what I love to do. I currently mentor a young woman named Willie Kuo, and she met me actually at a conference. I was speaking about online community and then she came up to me. And this has actually happened many times with young women at conferences. It’s a vibe I must give out that I want to mentor young students. But she came up and said, “I really wanna do what you do for a living.”
23:48 Susan Tenby: So I just started showing her and starting out really easy. I’m actually mentoring a young man from Berkeley right now, similarly, like, starting out with, “Here’s how you create a Twitter list.” And instead of just giving instruction, you give them something to do. So I said to him, “Can you help me find organizations like this type of organization, and put them on a Twitter list? And this is how you do it.” And then you check back with them and give them feedback, and grow their task list. And if you can, if you have consulting budget, throw some money at them so that they aren’t always working for free. And I usually work people up a ladder and then they end up working for me, and then working for me for several years, and then moving on to another organization. That’s happened many times, and all, actually, from student mentorings. It’s definitely a great way to hire people, and it’s really rewarding to see them progress and move on.
24:43 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, I love that. And I’m a big fan of, like, the people that you helped going on to do great things. And I think to be a great mentor, I guess it goes without saying, but ego is like the enemy of that. Right? So, if you’re not comfortable with the idea that the person you mentor might become as good or better than you, right, you might mentor the next greatest community professional in the world, right? You have to love that idea that you wanna fill your room and surround yourself with people potentially smarter than you are. And so, when I have someone who was… In my case, I’ve only worked with volunteers, but when I have volunteer moderators who go on to do amazing things, like people that I met when they were 15 or 18, or young, young students, and so it’s like one of those things I take pride in. I think if you look at it any other way, it’s tough to be a really great mentor if you’re thinking that, them succeeding is somehow taking away from you, or if you don’t want them to leave you because they’re doing great work. So you really have to appreciate and love the idea that one day they will leave you.
25:45 Susan Tenby: Right. Yeah, I’m actually experiencing that right now with Willie. So I have a consulting business on the side, a social media and online media community consulting business that I actually do in my spare time, you’re making jokes about.
25:57 Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t know how much there is, [chuckle] but whatever you’ve got left.
26:00 Susan Tenby: I have a system going, maybe I have meetings at 9 PM at night, you still have time to go out for dinner. We meet every night, or a few times a week between 9:00 and 9:15, 9:20, just check in. So she’s helping me with some consulting stuff, and she’s better than me, and she’s better than me at a lot of stuff, and I love that, actually, makes my job easier. Now she checks in with me, checks in on… Her instinct is to do something, do I agree, versus before, it was a lot more hand-holding. And now, it’s funny ’cause I’m actually… For one of the organizations, I’m doing the day-to-day publishing and tweeting, and she’s doing the hard stuff. She’s doing the difficult reporting stuff ’cause she’s better at it than I am.
26:41 Susan Tenby: So I think it’s great. I wanna just make sure that I remain relevant by learning from her, ’cause she knows stuff I don’t know, and I’ve learned a ton from her. So it’s a really rewarding exchange.
26:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Flipping that question a little bit, if you’re someone who’s looking for a mentor, what would you look for? I tell people to find someone who’s been where they want to go, and try to find someone who really gives them the sense that they want them to succeed. But those are kind of general thoughts. How would you advise someone to find the right mentor for them?
27:13 Susan Tenby: Well, you have to look at somebody who not only works at a kind of place that you think would be suitable for you, but also who has a personality like yours. Like for me, I wouldn’t want to be mentored by someone who’s really, really heavily into stats and analysis. I think it’s really a soft pseudo-science with community, people can report to make their executive team feel good. But, honestly, you have to have good instincts with online community. You have to be responsive, you have to have it in your DNA to wanna connect people, to remember where somebody said something that you’re gonna connect them with about something else. You have to have kind of a good mental Rolodex in that way.
27:53 Susan Tenby: You have to figure out people that are like you. For example, for me, there’s a woman who runs a PR firm in Manhattan, and she is more of a community manager than she thinks she is. She doesn’t even know that that’s a thing, so I actually looked to her as a mentor ’cause I thought, “I’ve kind of done what you need to do. I’ve been a community director, I’ve been in online community for about 17 years, professionally.” So there isn’t that much more that I can do in terms of managing online communities. Being a head of a community, I could run a team of community managers, but I was more interested in… Because I don’t have a team of community managers to work with and have worked with me.
28:35 Susan Tenby: So I was instead interested in looking at a field that was parallel, that didn’t seem like an exact match, but had very similar skills. So that’s what I was thinking, and so I talked to her and she didn’t even realize she was managing a community by running this PR firm. And I saw what she was doing, and her personality’s like mine. So I think that’s something to look for, to look for somebody who has a similar personality, who does what you want to do well, and kind of seems interested in their job. I think those are all good qualities.
29:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Now as you mentioned, you’ve been building community professionally for 17 years. Building online communities has been longer than that since 1997. I’ve been involved in this space for a long time, and I looked at your LinkedIn profile and found that we had a bunch of mutual connections, many of whom have also been in this space for a long time, people like Scott and Bill and Rebecca Newton and Sue John. This made me think about community professional burnout because it’s a constant topic. What do you think it is about… I don’t know, people like us or people who have been around in this space for a long time, that we seem to stick around for so long, like cockroaches, I might say, but hopefully not. [chuckle]
29:41 Susan Tenby: It’s a pretty fun job. You’re on the frontlines, you’re the person talking. A lot of people make assumptions about what the users want, but we’re the ones that actually know what the users want, and there’s a really great responsibility in that. I love the challenge of being able to be the outward-facing voice of an organization and the ear from the people to organization. I love having my ear to the community. And when I went to Caravan, I really missed that from the TechSoup side of things. But now I basically have the challenge of hearing what developers are looking for in terms of doing social benefit work, and hearing what non-profits need in terms of having apps developed. And then I also have my other community management stuff that I do through managing the community of managers, the OC Tribe meta-community, and other online communities that I manage on the side and for fun.
30:38 Susan Tenby: And I just think it’s a pretty interesting job to be… Being able to connect people is… You have to be really into connecting people. I’m even a community manager of my own kind of Facebook and Twitter community.
30:49 Susan Tenby: I just can’t help myself. I’m always trying to introduce people and connect people. And it’s really interesting to kind of learn right from the user’s perspective. And then I guess the other thing would be, it’s a very fast-moving job that shifts a lot. There isn’t a set way of doing things; you invent it as you go along. So there’s that. And that’s to me, really part of the fun.
31:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Susan, thank you so much for coming on the show and for sharing your experience with us.
31:15 Susan Tenby: Thank you so much for having me.
31:17 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Susan Tenby, director of social, community and partnerships at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup. Follow Caravan Studios on Twitter @caravanstudios. Among their projects is SafeNight, a mobile app that allows individual donors to fund hotel rooms for survivors of domestic violence, when local shelters are full. For more info, follow @SafeNightApp on Twitter. You can follow Susan @suzboop, that’s S-U-Z-B-O-O-P. Or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last but not least, if you’re in the San Francisco area, check out # OCTRIBE, the online community meetup, at meetup.com/octribe, or facebook.com/groups/OCTRIBE. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. You can find me on Twitter @patrickokeefe. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. We’ll see you next time.
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