It’s hard to imagine a great community professional lacking empathy. And yet, it’s a skill that’s worth talking about, understanding and refining. Higher Logic community manager Lindsay Starke is passionate about empathy and the impact it can have on your community and your business. Plus:
- Why Lindsay cares about the history of our profession
- What feature she’d like to see Higher Logic add to their software
- Can empathy be taught?
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Higher Logic.
“If you are working with people, and you can’t get into their headspace and figure out what it is that’s motivating them, what their needs are, what they’re struggling with, then you’re never really going to be an adequate community professional, because you’re not able to see things through the eyes that you are trying to serve.” -@lindsaymstarke
“Empathy isn’t just interacting one-on-one with people. You can also be generally empathetic in terms of big move-the-needle initiatives. Doing a survey of your members where you really get down and dirty into what their motivations are, and maybe even build out personas of the different sorts of people whom you serve, that’s a huge marketing initiative that will absolutely change your community for the better, but it is also empathetic in the sense that you’re just trying to understand people.” -@lindsaymstarke
“The moments that you have where somebody, an actual human being, is thanking you for something that you’ve done for them, helps keep you from getting burnt out and inspires you to keep doing things and trying new awesome things, and just makes the job a little bit more enjoyable. I think that if it means that you produce one fewer spreadsheet, so be it.” -@lindsaymstarke
About Lindsay Starke
Lindsay Starke has been involved in online communities for almost 20 years, working full-time in the space for 5. She kicked off Higher Logic’s community management team in 2015, which has since grown to six full-time CMs.
Lindsay has worked with dozens of communities to develop their strategic and tactical plans, calling upon a background in science and psychology writing to help guide users toward greater organizational goals. She has been interviewed in ASAE Associations Now and teaches and speaks on community monthly in the DC area.
She is also the community manager of communitymanagement.org, a platform-agnostic discussion community for community managers at every stage in their journey.
- Community Signal on Twitter
- Higher Logic, a provider of cloud-based community platforms, where Lindsay is community manager
- communitymanagement.org, a platform agnostic community for community managers that Lindsay manages for Higher Logic
- Hunter Montgomery, chief marketing officer at Higher Logic
- Andy Steggles, president and co-founder at Higher Logic
- Community Signal episode with Venessa Paech
- Venessa Paech, director, content & inbound at Green Hat, who, like Lindsay, counts an X-Files fan community as the first online community that really got her attention
- Wikipedia page for Usenet
- Community Signal episode with Howard Rheingold
- Howard Rheingold, early author on the topic of online community
- Derek Powazek, author of Design for Community
- Creative Commons, a content licensing scheme that provides an alternative to full copyright
- Being Legally Right Doesn’t Always Mean You Are Doing Right by the Community by Patrick, about Flickr selling canvases of community photos
- Community Signal episode with Jenn Pedde
- Celebrating Member Birthdays on Your Community by Patrick, about automated birthday emails from communities
- Professional Photographers of America, where Lindsay was previously the online community coordinator
- Higher Logic Super Forum, a conference in Arlington, Virginia on November 14 and 15
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals, sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, hello, and thank you for joining me for this episode of Community Signal. Did you know that the show is on Twitter? Follow us @communitysignal. Where else should we be? Send me an email via the website or a note on Twitter as I’d love to know what you think.
00:38 Patrick O’Keefe: Empathy is a big topic on today’s episode, where we’re talking with Lindsay Starke. Lindsay has been involved in online communities for almost 20 years, working full-time in this space for five. She kicked off Higher Logic’s community management team in 2015, which has since grown to six full-time CMs. Lindsay has worked with dozens of communities to develop their strategic and tactical plans, calling upon a background in science and psychology writing to help guide users toward greater organizational goals. She has been interviewed in ASAE Associations Now, and teaches and speaks on community monthly in the DC area. She is also the community manager of communitymanagement.org, a platform agnostic discussion community for community managers at every stage in their journey. Lindsay, welcome to the show.
01:22 Lindsay Starke: It’s great to be here Patrick, I’m a huge fan, as you know.
01:25 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s awesome to have you. And as a point of disclosure, I have to mention that Higher Logic is a current sponsor of the show, and this is the first time that we’ve actually had someone who works for a current sponsor on the program. And you know I’m super grateful, we’re super grateful for Higher Logic’s support, but at the same time, I also want to say that Lindsay is a guest today on her own merits and it really has nothing to do with Higher Logic sponsoring the program. In fact, Lindsay, as you sort of alluded to, you’ve been listening to this show since before Higher Logic decided to sponsor it, right?
01:51 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, actually, I get so much of my information from podcasts because I go on long walks with the dog very frequently, and so quite a while back, I was searching Google for community management podcasts and very little was out there, and when yours popped up, I think I listened to the very first episode. So I love what you’ve been doing, I love the whole concept of really raising up community management into a more discussion-worthy area and not just have these little blurbs here and there. And yeah, in terms of working at Higher Logic, I’m not on the sales team, I don’t believe that our platform is the right platform for everyone, so I will not be talking about the platform because I actually manage customer communities on our platform. So it’s what I use, but it’s not the be-all end-all of my life.
02:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, no problem. So if you listened to the first episode, that would’ve been December 14th, I think, of 2015, so we’re coming up on a year in about a month and a half, and I’m thinking that if… We need to do something or not or if we should just release another episode that week. So if you or anyone has any thoughts, just feel free to contact me via the website or via Twitter. So as I mentioned in your bio, 20 years participating in online communities, that may even be a little longer than me. What caused you to make that very first post in an online community?
03:05 Lindsay Starke: Well, I jokingly say, and this is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but that when you grow up the weird, geeky kid in suburban Atlanta, you really need whomever you can reach out to that has anything in common with you. So I remember when my folks, we got our first computer and we first got that… I think the AOL CD and dial-up and all of those beautiful things back in the early 90s that feels like a lifetime ago. So I started looking at different chatrooms and different forums and groups, and I can’t even really remember what they all were called or looked like on AOL, but I was a huge fan of The X-Files so joined an X-Files fan-group that was all women, it was sort of David Duchovny-centered, which is a little bit creepy when I was something like 12 or 13 years old, but just got there, started to make friends on the internet, and actually there is somebody that I’m still friends with on Twitter, we’ve never met in real life, and we first met in that community 20 years ago.
04:04 Patrick O’Keefe: Wow. Do you think you’ll ever meet in real life?
04:06 Lindsay Starke: I don’t know. She lives in the UK so it would require a little bit more travel than I’ve had time to do.
04:11 Patrick O’Keefe: I can see Higher Logic sending you over there.
04:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, it’s funny you mention The X-Files because, as you may remember, there was an episode I did with Venessa Paech, and she said that the first online community that grabbed her as a participant was called XPA: The X-Philes Anonymous BBS. So there’s a little something in common there. For some reason, you and Venessa were both drawn to online communities first through The X-Files, and then later became people working in the industry. Kind of funny.
04:42 Lindsay Starke: Yeah. I’m wondering if there’s probably some sort of a thread there that I could suss out if I played with it long enough.
04:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, maybe The X-Files were just really good at that. Her BBS was supported and set up by Fox, yours may or may not have been, who knows? But maybe they were… The X-Files, the show itself, obviously it lends itself very well. I never watched it, but I know a little bit about it. The content of the show lends itself very well to discussion and to community and maybe… I don’t know, maybe it was just the right timing, right? The right time for the internet, the right time for such a program, and maybe it brought a bunch of people together. Maybe The X-Files, maybe we need to look into that as far as the history of community, where The X-Files factors in.
05:18 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, you can add that to the great macro-cosmic story that we write at some point. “And then The X-Files happened.”
05:25 Patrick O’Keefe: And it’s interesting because no matter how long I’ve been in this space, I pride myself on being a student of the game, if you will, a student of the profession, and on knowing about the origins of our profession and the people who came before me, and from our interactions, it seems like you’re the same way. Why is that important to you?
05:42 Lindsay Starke: Well, there’s the nice answer and the true answer. So the nice answer that I usually give is that, in general, I’m just somebody who is interested in the “whys of things.” I’m sort of incorrigible in terms of not accepting just “that’s the way it is” as an answer. I wanna understand everything that influenced things to be the way they are. So I love history of all sorts and seeing how things evolved.
06:07 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
06:07 Lindsay Starke: But also, part of it is a little bit of that, and I hate to say it, sort of stereotypical hipster thing of, “I was into this before it was cool.” I was on Usenet when I was a teenager, learning how to make funny goth fashion accessories and all these other ridiculous things, and there’s a little sense of pride in terms of I was involved in internet and online communities when it was still somewhat more of a fringe area for maybe geekier people or people with more sort of alternative interests. I feel like in the early days of online community, that was… Maybe served a little bit more and it’s only really within the past maybe five to 10 years that we start seeing it expanding into the popular culture as a common thing for everyone.
07:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, that’s interesting and just two weeks ago we put out an episode with Howard Rheingold, which was a big episode for me and I know you like that I did that too, and it’s funny because it’s interesting to see who knows who that is and who doesn’t. It’s not a slight because I think anyone who’s new to the space… I encourage anyone to look back and to read these things because if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the symmetry, you’ll notice a lot of the same things being discussed and talked about whether it’s Mr. Rheingold’s writing in the late 80s, early 90s or it’s Derek Powazek, who’s been on the show. He wrote a book at the… I think it was the start of the 2000s or late 90s called Design for Community. I think it was early 2001, actually. And in that book, Amazon had a director of community who’s doing exactly what we did, that’s 16 years ago. So there’s just so much symmetry, so much interesting things to go back and learn, and I really do think it’s worthwhile.
07:49 Lindsay Starke: Absolutely, and especially with Howard Rheingold. I think you and I both share just an intense admiration for him and his work. I actually had the opportunity to interview him maybe, gosh, like six or nine months ago and unfortunately the interview, for some reason, the sound didn’t record. So that’s probably one of my biggest regrets in my life was…
08:09 Patrick O’Keefe: That stinks.
08:10 Lindsay Starke: Having the opportunity to interview one of my all-time heroes and having technology ruin it. So lucky you, you got to beat me there.
08:20 Patrick O’Keefe: I was so paranoid about that too, ’cause it’s actually the first show I’ve ever recorded outside of my home studio. So I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be the day where something goes wrong,” ’cause I’ve never actually done a show from my laptop, even though I bought it with the show in mind. But it worked out, thank goodness.
08:35 Lindsay Starke: Yes.
08:36 Patrick O’Keefe: So I do wanna ask you a Higher Logic question because you use the Higher Logic software as much as anyone, and as a community professional, you have been working in this space before you joined the company as well. So you are well suited to identify features that you need in your community software. What’s a feature that you want Higher Logic to add?
08:52 Lindsay Starke: Well, I’m really lucky because, unlike many of our clients, I get to see a little bit of the back-end of how the sausage is made. Ever since I started using Higher Logic, because I was actually… Like the hair club for men, I was a client before I became an employee, I’d always wanted a more robust notification system. I think the software is really strong in so many areas, but it is very dependent upon sort of an e-mail centered messaging, which is very cool because you can respond to the community directly from your inbox and it will put the reply in the thread in the appropriate place so you don’t even have to go and log in to the community. But in terms of that the notifications are a little bit more email centric and so I’d like to see some more options in terms of notifications, either in browser tabs or on the profile page. That is, I think, just become kind of a standard feature of most community software and so I know that that’s something that our team is working on, but it is a big undertaking. I know they’re also having to do it in parts.
09:58 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a good answer. I would like to take a moment to recognize our excellent sponsor, Higher Logic.
Higher Logic is the community platform for community managers. With over 25 million engaged users in more than 200,000 communities, organizations worldwide use Higher Logic to bring like-minded people together, by giving their community a home where they can meet, share ideas and stay connected. The platform’s granular permissions and powerful tools, including automated workflows and consolidated email digests, empower users to create their own interest-based communities, schedule and manage events, and participate in volunteer and mentoring programs. Tap into the power your community can generate for you. Higher Logic – all together.
10:37 Patrick O’Keefe: In your pre-show questionnaire, you said, “More than anything else, you’re passionate about empathy.” Let’s talk about empathy. What does empathy mean for community pros?
10:47 Lindsay Starke: When I explain empathy to other people in the community management context, I really use that classic example of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel some semblance of what they’re feeling. To me, if you are working with people and you can’t get into their headspace and figure out what it is that’s motivating them, what their needs are, what they’re struggling with, then you’re never really going to be an adequate community professional because you’re not able to see things through the eyes that you are trying to serve.
11:22 Patrick O’Keefe: And I think empathy is part of it, “You’re going through a tough time right now, I emphasize with that,” whatever. But there’s a value that comes from understanding the perspective of your community. That seems like the most Captain Obvious statement of all-time right there, but there’s a value in seeing things from their perspective in more than just feeling or making them feel comfortable, which is so important, but also in making decisions for the platform, in deciding what your next priorities are gonna be, in deciding how you might communicate about a specific sensitive issue, or maybe your company just had a recall or some sort of major problematic issue. Understanding how your community will react to things, understanding where they come from, understanding how they feel has a lot of impact in a lot a difference areas of community, and also in how the business responds to the community.
12:07 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, absolutely, and as much as it’s difficult to juggle different communities with different clients who have different needs, it does really open your eyes to how there isn’t one right way to talk to people, to onboard people, to get folks to engage because every group of people and every individual within that group does have unique needs. And I like that process of talking to members and getting a feel for what their real motivations are, what they’re struggling with, and figure out, “What is it about the platform that you hate? What is it that you want solved more than anything else, and how can I help you?” It’s one of the reason why I think so many really successful community managers are community managers in a field that they’re already passionate about, these sort of classic raising up a member of the community to be the head moderator. It’s often so successful because that person is already in the headspace of the rest of the membership group.
13:10 Patrick O’Keefe: And I think you make a great point about the differences in audience, in people in the community. I like to believe that I can go into any community, pretty much any community, and then manage it effectively. But what that doesn’t mean is that I do the same thing for all of them. It doesn’t mean that I apply the same exact principles, standards, norms, guidelines to every community I enter. Easy example is to say… Look at something like Flickr. Flickr has this really specific audience of photographers and one thing they’re very keen about, one thing they know very well is their rights because that’s their creative work. They’re sharing it with Flickr. So when Flickr does something, like they sell canvasses of photos from the site, even though they might have the legal right because Creative Commons, the images are licensed through Creative Commons; in spirit, the community feels violated because they weren’t asked first and because they’re so protective of their work. Whereas, I manage a martial arts community and the members of that community, for them, the rights to their words on the community, how they view that stuff is just a foreign post to them. They don’t care about that as much, but they do care about other things. They care about McDojos, which are belt factories in the martial arts. People can buy a belt.
14:17 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s something they care about. They care about that topic more. So each audience is different, they have to be spoken with different… Treated differently. Empathy is one of the most valuable traits that I think a community manager can have. Jenn Pedde is a previous guest of the show, and not long ago I spoke to her class at Syracuse about community and one of her students asked me to name the two most important traits that a community professional should have, and I said empathy and attention to detail. [chuckle] Those are my two favorites.
14:42 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, I think I usually go with empathy and curiosity.
14:45 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
14:46 Lindsay Starke: But maybe that’s ’cause I will admit sometimes I can struggle with attention to detail. [chuckle]
14:50 Patrick O’Keefe: Can empathy be automated? Is it really empathy if it isn’t a human understanding another human, if it’s just a message that is meant to sound empathetic but is really sent the same to hundreds of thousands of people?
15:03 Lindsay Starke: I don’t think that that’s empathy. Those sorts of automated messages are really effective time savers, and start the empathy process. I have worked in a community where I sent every individual member a truly personalized welcome message saying, “Hey, I learned from your profile you like to do high school sports photography, you might wanna meet this other person who is in that field and just won some award,” or things like that, versus these massive communities where that’s not possible and you’re sending out an automated message. But the thing with automated welcome message is that even with the personalized welcome messages, there’s going to be a pretty significant percentage of people who won’t respond to it. Maybe they’re never gonna either really be active in the community, never moved beyond lurking. These are communities where people are automatically added into it, so you don’t have people opting in. So if you automate the initial welcome message, you’ll find that some people will respond and then that’s where you can step in and have a little bit more individualized empathy so that you’re not kind of, I hate to say it, but wasting your effort on people who are never really going to meet you in that place.
16:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It’s always hard for automated emails to mean a lot to most people. I think the birthday email is a great example. Online community software has killed sending an email for your birthday. I think I wrote a post a few years ago that was like, “How to save this,” and I think the answer is just that you have threads on your community, and people actually share birthday wishes for members they care about and then email that. Because there’s some feeling there, there’s people who actually care enough to personally wish you a happy birthday, and they have to like you in some way or they wouldn’t do it. So it’s hard because it’s an easy step, but it’s also, as you sort of alluded to, it’s gonna be effective with a certain amount and maybe that’s good enough in some cases, but overall it’s not what we’re talking about, it’s not true empathy. If there’s a sentiment there, I don’t wanna cheapen it. It’s the same sentiment that I get in the mail box from the mass mailer that was sent to everyone on my block.
17:03 Lindsay Starke: Oh yeah, I totally agree. One of the ways I really like the birthday question being handled is the way that Reddit does it with a little piece of cake next to your name, that it’s your cake day, because then you’re not getting that message, but everyone who interacts with you on the platform during that day does know it’s your birthday, and so maybe in replying to whatever you say, they might wish you happy birthday. And so it’s less of a message just to you, but something, again, that helps with the internal building of community between members. I like those sorts of signifiers, whether it’s on a profile or attached to your screen name, that give people information about you that then gives them another jumping off point for interaction.
17:47 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a great idea, prompting people. It’s a prompt for other community members to know that this is your birthday, and if they are moved then they will take action, and it will be genuine because they have to do it manually, they have to actually want to do it.
17:58 Lindsay Starke: Absolutely.
18:00 Patrick O’Keefe: I like to say that my Mom taught me empathy and to question authority, but you told me empathy can’t be taught. So are people just doomed to be thoughtless jerks?
18:09 Lindsay Starke: No, I don’t think so. I think that empathy can’t be taught, but it can be learned, and I think some of that is you can’t teach someone empathy but they can have life experiences that help them grow in empathy. I’ll freely admit that when I was younger, I was not nearly the empathetic person that I am now because when you’re a smart-aleck teenager, you maybe don’t have that degree of empathy for people and it’s only until you start to have life experiences that you realize that other folks do have things going on beyond what you can necessarily perceive. It’s one of the reasons why I’m one of those folks who thinks everybody should have to work in the service industry or retail for awhile. I mean, you wanna train people in empathy, all you need to do is do that and see how tiny little variabilities can really have ripple effects into how people behave with one another.
19:01 Patrick O’Keefe: So maybe empathy can be modeled.
19:03 Lindsay Starke: I think so.
19:04 Patrick O’Keefe: But it can’t be taught, so maybe I could learn empathy from watching someone who’s being empathetic. That’s an interesting way to put it. And it’s interesting that you note the example of retail and those sorts of maybe service industries because, as I think I mentioned on the show, my family, they all work in hospitality or the service industry. My dad is an executive in the industry, worked his way up. He’s been in that industry my entire life. My mom is a hospitality trainer. My brother has worked as a busser, server, bartender. My youngest brother is a busser. I’m the only one [chuckle] in the family that hasn’t worked in the service industry in some way. But a lot of my beliefs, a lot of the ways that I think are highly influenced by my family and growing up around that and really understanding that industry and how you provide first class customer service and just a great customer experience.
19:51 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, I think that that’s a great example. And I suppose talking about your family and your brothers sort of absorbing those same concepts from somebody else, and maybe part of it is… You’re talking about your Mom taught you empathy, maybe part of it is how you’re raised. I’m gonna sound like the southern stereotype I am, but did your folks bring you up right or did they not bring you up right?
20:14 Patrick O’Keefe: It doesn’t hurt. That’s the thing. We can joke about it, but it doesn’t hurt to have parents or figures in your life who showed you that behavior or showed you that way to treat people. I think it makes life a little easier.
20:27 Lindsay Starke: Oh, absolutely. And it makes it just nicer. It’s so much nicer to go through life assuming that everyone is generally a decent human being. If that makes me a little bit of a ridiculous optimist or having rose-colored glasses then I’m fine with that ’cause it makes life just less miserable.
20:46 Patrick O’Keefe: There was a VHS tape that we had growing up, and I think it was The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers, and I learned… Definitely learned not to talk to strangers. So it wasn’t all just go out to the world, but it’s funny because even then, I look at how I approached online communities as a teenager like you. My parents didn’t understand it really, but they had equipped me. I was fortunate that they had equipped me with an understanding of, “These are things you don’t tell to people, these are things you don’t do. You don’t go to meet someone. These are areas of your body where other people aren’t allowed to touch. These are things you don’t say.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so when I went online, those lessons really translated very well for me. So even if they didn’t understand it, they did keep a general eye on me, but we didn’t have filtering software. They didn’t stand over my shoulder all the time. It was those principles that helped me become, I wanna say, a safe internet participant and a good citizen of the internet.
21:42 Lindsay Starke: Yeah, and oh, man, the Wild West days of the ’90s when your folks just didn’t really realize all the things that could be going on there. We’re lucky if we made it through without any bad experiences, and I think today, there’s so much more awareness on the internet around the sort of potentialities of creepy behavior. And though you still see it happening on Twitter and Reddit and other places where people, maybe women get harassed, there is more of an awareness about that being part of the culture and at least some resources for dealing with it.
22:18 Patrick O’Keefe: It can be difficult to justify empathy, I think, in some cases. And in fact, some thought leaders in this space will tell you that dedicating too much time to individual members is not an efficient use of your time. It’s time spent in the weeds rather than accomplishing your long-term goals. How do you answer that?
22:37 Lindsay Starke: I definitely think there’s truth to that, and that’s one of the areas where automation can step in to help to automate some of the simpler tasks so that you can focus on things that do require personality and that kind of brain. But I also think that empathy isn’t just interacting one-on-one with people. You can also be generally empathetic in terms of big move-the-needle initiatives. Doing a survey of your members where you really get down and dirty into what their motivations are and maybe even build out personas of the different sorts of people whom you serve, that’s a huge marketing initiative that will absolutely change your community for the better, but it is also empathetic in the sense that you’re just trying to understand people. So I think that I agree. Spending too much time on individual people is definitely spending time in the weeds, especially if you’re spending time on the proverbial squeaky wheels, the folks who just are never gonna be happy.
23:37 Lindsay Starke: I know I’ve been there where I’ve spent way too much time on somebody who would never have been pleased by whatever we did, so there’s some truth there, but there’s also on the other side, dealing with individuals at least somewhat does remind you why you do what you do, and again, maybe I have a little bit of an overly… A warm and fuzzy approach to things, but I do think that the moments that you have where somebody, an actual human being, is thanking you for something that you’ve done for them helps keep you from getting burnt out and inspires you to keep doing things and trying new awesome things, and just makes the job a little bit more enjoyable, and I think that if it means that you produce one fewer spreadsheet, so be it.
24:27 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a good line. And we talk about cases where it doesn’t work out, where you invest time in people who just won’t be happy. But again, one area where this kicks in is with members who are particularly disruptive, where you invest time with them in the hopes that they can turn it around and some do. And you have a story about this from your time at the Professional Photographers of America.
24:46 Lindsay Starke: Yes. So I love this story because it is my great changing someone’s mind story. When I first started working at Professional Photographers of America, it was about six months after they’d launched their community on Higher Logic, and they did such common thing of just creating a community, but not really distributing community management tasks through the rest of the organization, so nobody really had ownership of it, and they didn’t really have a very strong launch plan or a unique community voice. And so by the time I started working there, the community was a little bit… I wouldn’t say it was struggling, it was very busy, but there was not any sense of internal cohesion. People were in-fighting and the photographic industry, as you might imagine, right now is already in a lot of internal strife because the increased accessibility of digital photography, not having to go and process things, not having to have a whole studio, has made working as a professional photographer more accessible to people. So you have folks coming into the industry and un-cutting people who’ve had a studio for 20 years, and so there’s a very old school versus new school dynamic, and that was really playing out on this new community.
26:01 Lindsay Starke: And so my first week there, I had to talk to some people who were reputedly being mean, and I’m using little air quotes here, mean to other people and one of them that I talked to is this guy who said, “I just am trying to help people become better. If you just compliment other people’s photography, they’re not gonna become more talented photographers. I’m offering constructive criticism, I think that’s what this community is best for.” And I agreed and said, “Some people are just never gonna be receptive, and so I just ignore those people.” And this guy really… He hated the idea of the community, he didn’t like the software, he thought it was confusing, and he was an older gentleman and we kept talking from time to time ’cause he still stayed really active on the community, even though he said that he didn’t really like it and he didn’t like the people who were active on it. But he stayed active and he participated in really valuable ways, offering this great input on his areas of expertise.
27:00 Lindsay Starke: He’d won all these awards. He’s been around for a long time, and slowly, slowly he transitioned from one of the biggest, loudest community detractors who would go into these committee meetings and say, “I just don’t see the point of this, I think we should get rid of it,” to saying, “This is really one of the most valuable things we have right now. This is a great way for us people who’ve done our time in the industry to help younger photographers and newer photographers understand why they need to charge more to be sustainable, how they need to actually pay taxes and other things related to owning a small business.” All of those different pieces, he started to realize it was this educational tool, to the point where when we finally met at our annual conference in 2015, he just gave me this huge big old hug and said, “Thank you so much for putting up with me all this time. I know I was a… ” He used some nice, salty language to refer to how he’d been and said, “I really appreciate you working with me and helping me to understand the value of this community and I have all these ideas on what we can continue to do in the future.”
28:05 Lindsay Starke: So having the community watch this person take that journey from being, “This is terrible,” to, “This is amazing and I support it and I actually evangelize it within the profession and the organization,” that says so much more about the community than anything I could ever say because it is really concrete proving of value.
28:27 Patrick O’Keefe: Lindsay, that’s a great story. I love stories like that because it’s a long-term payoff type of story. I think anyone who’s been around long enough and cares enough, which is important, has a story like that because there are people that we talk to where it’s not all just spammers and nice people, it’s not all just racists and Honest Abe. There’s a huge gray part in the middle and sometimes people are on this other side where they’re not quite sure or they’re not quite comfortable or they’re not quite getting it, and they’re doing things, and they’re sliding down a path, but they’re not there yet. You can’t just kick everybody off the community, you don’t wanna ban them. Like, there’s something there. They’re trying. Deep down there’s something there, you’re trying so you keep investing in them and sometimes it goes the wrong way, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but then when it works out, like this story here, it’s just so rewarding.
29:18 Lindsay Starke: Absolutely, and then this comes back to the value of empathy, is sometimes I see other people working in this space who don’t necessarily have the same approach to it, automatically writing people off if they’re not 100% positive early on they decide, “Well, this guy is just grumpy.” People will write folks off as just being generally grumpy and that they’re just gonna ignore them for the rest of time and not take the effort to try to understand, “Well, why does this person not understand? Or why does this person object?” And sometimes they have really great reasons for saying, “I don’t love this,” and I am supposedly an expert and a professional and yet sometimes I learn things from people who… Maybe this is the first online community they’ve ever really participated in and they opened my eyes to a perspective that’s just very different from somebody who’s been playing on the internet for the past 20 years.
30:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Lindsey, it has been a pleasure to have you on the program. Thank you for joining us.
30:21 Lindsay Starke: It’s such a pleasure, Patrick. I really appreciate this opportunity.
30:24 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Lindsay Starke, community manager at Higher Logic, a provider of cloud-based community platforms. Visit their website at higherlogic.com. She manages communitymanagement.org, a platform agnostic community for community professionals. Higher Logic is also having their annual Super Forum Conference on November 14th and 15th in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, go to hug.higherlogic.com/sf. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we’ve mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. We’ll see you next week.
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