This week, Patrick and Scott Moore continue their conversation commemorating three years of Community Signal, touching on a topic that’s important to the work of all community professionals but that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of attention: the laws and regulations that govern our work.
You’re probably familiar with GDPR and Section 230 of the Telecommunications Decency Act. And for those of us that are paid community professionals working for established companies, we likely have resources internally that help us address legal concerns. But Patrick also raises the point that many communities are small, run by volunteers, and have minimal tech and financial resources. Are the laws protecting community members also protecting communities and community professionals, regardless of their size or backing?
And let’s get real, it’s clear that not all of our government leaders are caught up on the online community landscape, or even on the internet itself. So how are we informing them and letting them know how these laws impact the communities we serve, for better or for worse?
Scott and Patrick also discuss:
- The other laws and regulations that impact the work we do
- The “right to be forgotten” and what it means for communities as a whole
- Patrick’s Community Signal dream guests for 2019
- Our collective responsibility to raise up community as a profession and Patrick’s promise to give a pep talk to anyone who needs one
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.
On being informed about the laws that impact our work: “I really see [Section 230] as fundamental to the work we do and if it changed, the work we do would fundamentally change. How we moderate, how we protect people, what we allow for. It would change in a really negative and bad way. Understanding the laws that impact our work and how important they are is super important.” –@patrickokeefe
On making sure the tech you use doesn’t overpower your community: “There’s always a power in having your data and having it so that you can download it and move it wherever you want, whenever you want and not have that be tied to a contract. … That’s always a question for me when I get pitched on platforms. Where’s my data? How can I remove it? In what format? You can’t answer those questions well, you can’t win me, period. We have to be smart about those things.” –@patrickokeefe
On pushing the industry forward: “We should advocate for those higher roles because each time one of us does that, each time someone insists that they get the director title instead of the community manager title because their job reflects it … instead of just accepting that they can be community manager because, hey, the money’s good and I’m being paid like a director, it matters. … Don’t sell yourself short, really believe in yourself and push yourself forward. If you need a pep talk, let me know. I’ll be happy to do it. … I believe that this work is important and I think that it is partially on us to push it up and find those opportunities whenever we can.” –@patrickokeefe
About Scott Moore
Since 1995, Scott Moore has been helping organizations large and small build solid and successful connected communities and the teams that support those communities. He seeks opportunities to use his experience in online communities to help people help each other to make a positive change in their own lives and those around them. Scott has fostered and directed community at Digital Promise Global, Answers.com, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Communities.com, and Fujitsu. He has also consulted with non-profits to help with a variety of online community needs including Healthsparq, Diabetes Hands Foundation, and Edutopia.
- Sponsor: Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers
- Scott Moore on Twitter
- Scott Moore on LinkedIn
- Retaining Talented Community Pros and What Makes a Great Boss? (3 Years of Community Signal)
- Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act
- DMCA, the SPEECH Act, COPPA, and the CAN-SPAM Act
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation
- GDPR and the Right to Be Forgotten
- California Passes Sweeping Law to Protect Online Privacy
- California’s Eraser Law
- Patrick references his Community Signal conversations with Jason Falls, Jay Rosen, Bassey Etim, Howard Rheingold, and George Kelling
- Patrick’s dream guests for 2019 include Jake Tapper, Senator Ron Wyden, and Amy Jo Kim
- [Note from Patrick:] Special thanks to Carol, Serena Snoad and Bill Johnston for contributing to these last two episodes
[00:05] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. Our last episode celebrated three years of the show with me turning the hosting duties over to community veteran Scott Moore as he pushed and prodded me to talk about the industry. That conversation grew long enough that we decided to break it up into two episodes. This is part two. We’re discussing Section 230 and the legal challenges to online communities in the US, the unrealized political power of community professionals, how to get around a bad community tool, and guests I’d love to have on the show.
Thank you to the wonderful supporters we have on Patreon, including Katherine Mancuso, Jules Standen, and Luke Zimmer. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Scott Moore is back again this episode as our guest host. Since 1995, Scott has been helping organizations, large and small, build solid and successful, connected communities and the teams that support those communities. He’s looking for opportunities where he can use his experience in online communities to help people help each other to make a positive change in their own lives and those around them. Scott has fostered and directed community at Digital Promis Gloal, globalanswers.com, the Charles and Helen Schwab foundation communities.com and Fujitsu. He has also consulted with nonprofits to help with a variety of online community needs, including Health Spark, Diabetes Hands Foundation, and Edutopia. Now, let me pass the show back to Scott.
[00:01:48] Scott Moore: Let’s talk about the legal landscape that surrounds, supports, and regulates online social interaction and the kinds of challenges. The first one is Section 230. You and I both love Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act because it’s the law that allows us to host online social spaces without being sued out of existence because of what somebody said. If you know and listeners don’t know, then check it out. In the last year, politicians and activists have been adding special case responsibilities for hosts of online content. How do you think community managers should meet the erosion of 230 protections in the future?
[00:02:28] Patrick O’Keefe: I think we need to defend 230. I won’t say defend it at all costs. I think we need to defend it actively and persistently, as sort of the basis point for our profession legally in the United States, which is not to say, we cease to exist because certainly other countries have laws, especially the EU and Britain have very different laws when it comes to the liability for speech and where it rests.
I really see it as fundamental to the work we do and that if it changed, the work we do would fundamentally change. How we moderate, how we protect people, what we allow for. I think it would change in a really negative and bad way. I think in general understanding the laws that impact our work and how important they are is super important to our work. It’s often a blind spot. I’ve seen in community pros a lacking of the legal understanding.
It seems scary because it’s the law, but there’s not really all that much to know. Section 230 is the big one, it’s important. It basically gives us the ability to moderate without fear of liability. In other countries where things like Section 230 don’t exist, the act of moderation can be viewed as making you liable. If you approve this post and don’t approve this one, they will view that as you having a voice. You’ve chosen, you’re the publisher of those words. Just like the speaker, you are no different from the speaker of the words, because you’re exercising an opinion on what should be on the website. Simply moderating makes you liable. In the US that’s not the case. It’s very, very important. It’s what allows me to say, this speech is okay on my website. This isn’t and yet I am not liable for what I allow, the speaker is.
Now, the reality is that a lot of websites have taken advantage of this to allow things that maybe they should more practically moderate. Ron Wyden, the co-author of Section 230 sounded the alarm on this a while back and said people need to take responsibility for their spaces, or else there’s going to be a moment where this would be a lot of pressure. It’s already there in some ways, but where there’s been a lot of pressure to change this law and take control away from online community hosts.
Of course, within a cluster, this isn’t us necessarily, right. It’s not communities that people are targeting or thinking about, its Facebook, Twitter, and huge platforms, because that’s what they write laws for. They’re not thinking about the millions of online communities this would impact tomorrow and the one person who runs that community because most communities are run by maybe one person with a small group of volunteers.
I’m not talking about community pros who are paid to be community pros. Sometimes we forget, most online communities are run by people who are interested in that topic. That’s still the case today. They’re not run by people making millions of dollars, they are not run by people being paid to be the community manager or the director of community. They’re being run by people who started the community or passed it off to someone else. When we think about legislation, we often don’t account for those people who don’t have the resources of a Facebook or a Microsoft, or whoever and yet we write it and it still impacts them, so we always need to look out for those people and Section 230 does that indiscriminately and so it’s super important that that be protected.
There’s also other important laws out there, the DMCA, the SPEECH Act, which prevents foreign judgments about liability from being applied and enforced in the US. COPA, the Can-Spam Act, I think is important to know about. There’s so many more but, you’re right, Section 230 is the key thing and we just need to stand up and be aware of it and talk to our representatives and write letters and make calls. At the end of the day, it is sort of a fringe issue, there are a lot of things going on in the world and so it might not feel like it’s that important, but to us it is very important and it’s a job creator and it impacts the work that we do as community pros.
I’ve definitely called and spoken to my representative about Section 230, about laws that impact online speech and said, “This is my career, this is what I get paid to do, I am a constituent and this would impact me in a negative way.” I’m not saying it’ll change anybody’s mind, I’m not saying that people care what online community managers do or say, there might be more of us than there are coal miners in this country and coal miners certainly receive a fair amount of attention from our President, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but community management professionals obviously this is not a voice that will be heeded by a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up, make noise, and make it count. If people understand how it could impact the platforms they love and use, if our users and members understand, and they call their constituents and they talk about this issue, just maybe we can have an impact.
[00:06:29] Scott Moore: I don’t know of any organizations that are politically organizing community managers, and maybe we should or maybe we should start tapping into the EFF and see if there’s room for that.
[00:06:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I think the EFF is a good example. We get a little hyper-divided in certain things, so agreeing or not agreeing with everything one group does, like the EFF. You might not agree with everything they do, but that’s certainly an issue where they are a champion and so it may not be community managers, it might be online workers, digital professionals- whatever it is- people who use these spaces and want responsible use of them. There’s a voice that we have. We sometimes take it for granted because we don’t want to use it in a way that is self-motivated, but if Section 230 is actually threatened all online communities, or as many as possible, should stand up and make a statement to their users, post announcements, dedicate areas in the header or whatever it is, however you make information known, and let their users know just how it will change if Section 230 is impacted and let’s mobilize our users. If we have to.
We could be talking about the life and death of our online community, at the end of the day, as we know it as our online community members know it, and so it’s not inappropriate to let them know that this will change, maybe it will close, maybe something will have to give way if things like this are changed. I think right now, it’s a lot of bluster, the President talks about this vague conspiracy to silence conservatives on social media and how things need to be looked at. Is he actually doing anything? For most things no, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant and aware and if Ron Wyden says something, as he has, I think that’s the clue that we need to stand up and just be aware.
[00:08:06] Scott Moore: Absolutely, fantastic. Let’s stay with law, take a slight diversion over into Europe, but since you have a global audience and I know that I recently worked on a community that did have to pay attention to European Union law. One, I’m specifically going to talk about here is European Union has their general directive privacy regulation which has a whole lot of regulations about privacy and personal information. It went into effect and it caught a lot of people off guard. People are scrambling for it, but the specific part I want to talk about with you is there’s a portion of that which is the right to be forgotten. The way it’s worded in the GDPR is vague and people are still trying to interpret it, but it’s pretty onerous in terms of, it includes the user-generated content even if that content was publicly posted and I know you’ve expressed strong views about the negative impact of deleting users complete content from a community. Given that we may see similar regulations in the US, now California just passed something similar but it didn’t have anything like that Right to be Forgotten quite as strongly worded as it is in the EU GDPR. Have you thought differently about your stance and how to meet the challenge of being legally required to delete a user’s posts?
[00:09:32] Patrick O’Keefe: In California, you’re talking about the Eraser Law right?
[00:09:35] Scott Moore: No, actually there’s two. The Eraser Law is from 2015, and that only applies to minors, which was really just codifying something that already existed. No, they just passed something that’s a little bit more about opt in-opt out requirements that’s a little bit more modeled, but it doesn’t have the Right to be Forgotten quite as strongly worded.
[00:09:56] Patrick O’Keefe: When it comes to EU law, you very well might be more well-spoken than I am. I know a little bit, not a ton, but I think in general with these Right to be Forgotten laws what I think is important and this is more really on the legislative side, is just that we narrow and push for narrowing up what is identifiable information, exactly what needs to be required and removed. I’m not for removing all information or giving a blanket button, I am for removing things that are personal or sensitive. Again, that comes down to responsibility similar to Section 230 taking the responsibility and how you use those powers. For me that’s like pictures, pictures of people’s children, identifying characteristics of that user, something personal, etcetera, If someone asked me we removed that stuff for the most part like that’s not a problem.
I think obviously the problem is when you have someone who makes 10,000 posts which means, they impacted 7,000 conversations, they’ve received 50,000 replies made by 7,000 members, if you remove all that stuff, all those contributions now become worth less, I don’t know if that’s fair in a community setting, that varies with Facebook, Twitter, etcetera which I think should just allow blanket deletes. That said, I think that obviously, you have to comply with the law, I think it’s important to understand it, I’ve seen people look at these things in different ways, I’m not familiar with the thing that just passed, but the idea of how these laws define personally identifying information and understanding that legally is important, I’m not an attorney and I wouldn’t advise anyone who’s really serious about this to get the advice of an attorney.
For me and my reading of it, it’s just making sure I follow it to a tee, but also making sure I don’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that’s tough for a lot of smaller communities of people who don’t have the tech resources or the money, or the resources to hire people to craft specific tools, but I think it varies and this could change. I don’t have a problem with the principle, I just have a problem with how onerous it is to online communities and to small-time operators especially, and the practicality of it, because it’s written for big things and going back to Section 230 and who caused us Section 230.
It’s not me, I’m not going to cause Section 230, it’s not you, it’s Facebook, it’s Twitter, it’s somebody massive who let things get too far or who did something wrong and they cost us to section 230, that just going to blow it for us. This is for big things and edge cases, someone, this person in this case that their life was ruined by this, maybe it’s the platform’s fault, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s just the legislators don’t understand how these things work well enough, which is a big problem unto itself.
For me it’s really narrowly defining what qualifies and then removing it, because I think obviously have to comply with the law, I think don’t panic, just get an understanding of what it is, narrowly define it as much as possible and then follow it, that’s the best we can do and then ask if it’s too tough or it’s hurting our communities, let our legislators know, let our users know, let them advocate and make some noise about it, that’s really all I guess I have to add on that, it’s tough when the law changes in a way that is may be viewed as a greater good and a positive, but actually is not thought of conceptually and how it impacts online communities or small-time operators, or smaller organizations, I think that’s one of the great negative things that comes out of these laws.
There’s another law to draw a comparison, not the same thing but the laws that impact volunteering and how much responsibility you can hand off in the United States, that’s like the Fair Labor Standards Act. What is included in there is an exclusion, if you don’t generate a gross annual revenue of 500,000 or more, then you’re most likely not going to qualify. There are some other things for schools and most of us wouldn’t qualify or a public agency most of us don’t qualify that, but if you’re a small organization and you make 500,000 or less then you don’t even have to think about it.
That helps when you think about smaller organizations because most communities do not make that much. I think it’s easy to forget that. Most online communities are still small and run by other people so we need to think about those people at all times. I don’t know if that’s a particularly satisfying answer because the law is not necessarily particularly satisfying but those are my thoughts.
[00:13:47] Scott Moore: In talking about this, one of the things that stands out for me is that one of the challenges we definitely face is that we are not politically organized as community managers and we are at the whim of as you say, the big behemoth, there’s saying that when elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled. I see that that’s a challenge that neither of us have an answer to this minute, but I think that calling that out and raising awareness, not just here on this podcast, I’m getting fired up about pushing some of these other online community organizations and saying, “How are we politically organizing?”
[00:14:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Happy to hear it.
[00:14:31] Scott Moore: I think that’s really important.
[00:14:32] Patrick O’Keefe: I think the more people we have that can be legally minded and motivated to educate themselves on the laws that impact a profession, the better off we will be. It’s not to say like we are operators in a larger ecosystem, we have our members, we have us, we have the companies that support us and we all need a space but we all have to be heard and respected. All legislation isn’t bad and members do need to be protected from bad actors but you’re right, it’s not necessarily our voices that are considered oftentimes are viewed as important, even though if you really broke it out, the number of jobs impacted by Section 230, it’s not a small number. It’s not just community pros, it’s not just moderators. It’s a lot of people behind the scenes that work at these sites on the tech side or sales side or executive level or all these sorts of things, HR. If you’re really added it all up, it would be a substantial number of people.
[00:15:20] Scott Moore: Absolutely. Indeed.
[00:15:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a moment to talk about our great long term 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.
[00:15:57] Scott Moore: Let’s take another left turn. Let’s think a little bit differently of the future. Based on recent podcast episodes and also just talking with you privately, it seems like journalism, the news industry is really seeing a value in investing in a community. What other industries do you think are poised to make similar strides?
[00:16:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting question. The news industry is interesting because there are a number of high profile people making strides with the New York Times leading the way, but also the Guardian is doing a lot of good things. I’m sure the BBC is too since they hired Mary Hamilton from The Guardian. A lot of the big organizations are doing good but the small ones, the local ones still struggle because they struggle for resources, they struggle for assigning that one person.
I don’t know. I’m trying to think of a specific industry where I think there’s a really strong case where they’re really going to move in that direction. I think that any number of industries could benefit from a greater understanding about community because I think that’s where our greatest impact can be made. I don’t really do much active speaking these days because I’m knee-deep in work. Then my other time I spent on this podcast and other things. I’m excited to talk to community pros, but like I’m also excited to go and talk to the association of construction companies or the fly-fishing consortium or whatever it is, right? I think the industries need that knowledge and need to understand who supports their brand, how they can maximize that relationship because I think in industries there are specific champions that raise up.
Again, I feel this is maybe a cop-out answer but I think that it takes a champion in an industry to be recognized and other companies to say, “You know what, we need that too.” I think about my friend Jason Falls I had on the show recently. Who’s really big in the bourbon industry and in helping bourbon brands to understand social media, online conversations where things are happening.
He’s been a big champion in that space. I’m sure he has made other bourbon brands which is a category within a category within a category, right? Beverages, spiritist liquor, bourbon, right? He has really had a big impact in that space. Helping those brands to understand, “You know what, yes we do need to do these things.” We do need to have a good relationship with our supporters and the people who buy our stuff, we do need to give them spaces to interact, talk with one another without us controlling that.
We need to do these things because it builds brand loyalty and they give us more money at the end of the day. I think every space needs that champion. I think the reason we see a lot of news people on the show is because I think a lot of them are doing really great interesting work. It’s always a business that has fascinated me and how they apply community work because it makes so much sense that you get that get in their own way, as we talked about with Jay Rosen on the show.
I don’t know if I talked on the show or off the show with him about that but they get in their own way by requiring people to have a journalism degree to be there audience engagement manager, right? They don’t attract the best talent for that work. They attract the best talent that wants to do that work that has a journalism degree. Which can often be great people? I’m sure it often is, but there’s a lot of opportunities there to even be better and to dedicate more resources to that work as well.
[00:18:58] Scott Moore: Not to pick on journalism but many other industries do exactly the same thing.
[00:19:03] Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
[00:19:04] Scott Moore: They look for somebody who is in that particular industry first and foremost, not looking for the skill sets of people who can build communities and organize people. As somebody who has organized a community far away from being part of the community in the past and I know a lot of other people who have done this before. Hey, you’re an example, aren’t you? When was the last time you were in a dojo?
[00:19:29] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, exactly. I’ve never practiced martial arts, correct.
[00:19:31] Scott Moore: Right.
[00:19:32] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t hide it.
[00:19:33] Scott Moore: Yes, but I think it says to the strength of you don’t have to be a subject matter expert in order to foster a community around a particular subject.
[00:19:42] Patrick O’Keefe: Definitely.
[00:19:44] Scott Moore: In the last few years, we’ve seen community platforms get bought and sold to holding companies, organizations that didn’t start off as community organizations. They just buy up software. We’ve even seen platforms divvied up and sold off to different companies. How do community managers make sure that these kinds of huge changes and platform and the support of their platforms don’t undermine the actual communities?
[00:20:11] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s tough because not to go back to the well again on this, but part of this is out of control because, when I talk to people in this space like Maggie McGary for example and because a lot of these acquisitions you’re talking about are impacting enterprise, internal community, and association communities. When I talk to people in those spaces, one of the things that they tell me is that the investment in these platforms is so great that if it doesn’t go well, it can cost someone their job.
What makes it worse is that the people who are making those decisions are not often the people who have to live and die by them right. A lot of it is made at trade shows executives, cocktail hour meetups and higher level people who don’t have to deal with the community on a daily basis and are simply wooed or get an offer they think is good or whatever and in some cases the person who lives with it and dies with it isn’t even consulted which is just ridiculous but it happens. It’s such a tough thing and it’s such an unfortunate situation with a lot of these acquisitions, because the acquisition is often because the company that had the platform is things aren’t going well and they’re not going to go much better on the new company who just wants to siphon off their users and maybe get them to try to buy something else.
How do you stop your community from being undermined by it? I mean, for me I go back to kind of a simple thing which is how you stop your community from getting undermined by anyone is always to own your data. I know that that’s probably the case with a lot of these platforms, but there’s always a power in having your data and having it so that you can download it and move it wherever you want whenever you want and not have that be tied to some contract or something that simply you know, your data is locked somewhere and they won’t let you out because you have an agreement.
That’s always a question one for me when I get pitched on platforms is, where’s my data? How can I remove it? In what format? You can’t answer those questions well, you can’t win me period. We have to be smart about those things. You know again it’s not a decision oftentimes, so again that’s maybe not the case for a lot of professionals now. If it’s not your decision, you get stuck with this platform changes are happening. I mean, you have to do the best you can. There’s no easy answer there. I mean you have to keep doing the work which means you have to work around suspect platforms, poor implementations, things that don’t work as well as they should.
Workflows that are broken, whatever it is. You have to kind of hack it together and make do and have that community be as good as it can be like. We’ve all been on platforms we didn’t love before and we’re still on for any number of reasons. We didn’t know how to get it out of it. We were stuck there, or we didn’t have the resources to move it, we didn’t have the technical know-how, it wasn’t a priority. Whatever was, we’ve all been stuck on platforms that we viewed as not ideal and in those cases we’ve just done the best we can with what we’re given. I mean that’s the simple kind of answer is that we just have to keep pushing and doing the best we can and offering the best experience we can, no matter what is thrown our way and take pride in that work and know that we’re going to be able to at least for ourselves and our careers hang our hats on their relationships, and the things that we generate through that work.
[00:23:00] Scott Moore: All right, thinking really broadly kind of going back to the bigger level and all aspects of online community. Is there any aspect of online community building that we’ve solved, that in the last three years we got something figured out and we’re good, we’re going to keep getting that thing right moving forward?
[00:23:23] Patrick O’Keefe: In the last three years, I am not sure, I mean, I think that those of us who build actual online communities, not just you know Twitter profile that sends tweets on but actual online communities. I mean I think that the work that we do and we know how to do has in general been proven to be worthwhile for those who want it, right. I think that there was right in the cyclical nature of things, this pendulum swing of things going back and forth, so these platforms come up oh things are dying, forums are dying, community is dying.
We have to be here, we have to be there but it’s not really death, it’s just diversification based upon need. You know people on this platform are different from people on this platform. They’re looking for different things, that they spend their time differently. They value things differently. It’s not death. It’s not inherently bad, it’s just that behaviors change and needs shift and people find the platforms that work best for them and that really in some cases works better for the community because you get rid of the people who maybe aren’t there for the reasons that community exists. Have we figured this thing out? Have we really sorted it?
I mean, I don’t know. I mean I think that a lot of the things that we do in community we have figured out pretty well because we’ve been doing it for 20 30 or more years as a space, we talked about moderation. I think the idea of moderation of good moderation looks like is fairly well understood. Like when companies say I don’t know what moderation. I don’t know how to do this. I just launched a platform. Now, I have a hundred million users, what’s moderation? That’s nonsense.
Scale is the question certainly but we know how good moderation works. Right. We know that it’s about having standards and about applying them fairly and consistently to each piece of content and then taking action based upon that. That’s the bare bones of moderation. Now, how we get there when we scale that mix of people and tech and resources and small groups. That’s kind of the thing that we all have to make decisions on, but we know how it works. I think that’s true for a lot of community, a work, and understanding. Again, if we say things are cyclical and we say the same problems occur over and over again, it’s not necessarily because we don’t know how to address those problems. It’s because we’re all going through these things at different life-cycles.
It’s almost like a big cohort study. The people who are in year three are different from the people who are in year 10 and we all are learning things at a different scale. I think we understand a lot of the work we do. Then much of the other stuffs comes down to scale and our approach and how far long technology is coming. I think the better that we get with things like machine learning or AI or just better software that works better that is smarter. Like we talked about measurement.
A lot of what measurement is can and really ideally should be done automatically by your software. Platforms haven’t necessarily prioritized a smart enough dashboard to look at the things that we need to look at or to be customizable enough to work well for us. How we use technology and software, I think that’s getting better. Again, the episode with Bassey Etim and the New York Times. I’m encouraged that he thinks that those tools are getting better and are working well in a lot of cases. I’m also encouraged by the fact that he sees the problems with them and that they’re working to correct them and it’s taking humans to correct them and we’re not just throwing this into the void and hoping it fixes everything. I think the areas where we’re improving are not necessarily our understanding of communities, but I think the tools that we have and how we use our understanding to make those tools better. That’s a place where we’re getting better.
The last three years figuring new things out, having things sorted down. I really think that online community building has a particular format that makes a lot of sense and works pretty well for most people. The real question is how dedicated they are to it. I was talking to someone a while back and he was like, well, here’s the thing, you have a community, you have a few people in it, you have a few posts. Every single post that’s made is an opportunity to invite three people. Are you doing that? No. Okay, then you’re not doing everything you can. [chuckles]
You can start a community and get one going if you look at every piece of content as an opportunity to bring in three people qualified to speak and respond and answer that content. You just have to be willing to grind and put that working. It’s not the community is this 100-year-old, I mean community is right on some level. That idea bringing people together exists online or offline. We’ve been doing this for a long time. The online community side of things, I actually think we have fairly well-figured out at least on the small to mid-level.
I think where we struggle a lot high profile wise is when we try to apply a community understanding to something that has a billion users and we expect them all to be in the same space or similar spaces. I think that’s where it gets a little tricky.
[00:27:48] Scott Moore: Today we’ve talked about the challenges that community professionals face. What are the distinct opportunities that you see in the near future?
[00:27:59] Patrick O’Keefe: I believe that this work won’t go away. I believe it’s important. What I mean when I say that is that social media management as a profession and I’m talking about this for a while, but still have to. The people have heard of it, sure that they’ve listened. Social media management as a profession exploit. There are social media managers everywhere.
Community management, community managers, while it was a trendy role, it didn’t have the same explosion when it came to the number of roles, the number of job postings. Social media manager, there was way more of that. There was way more noise around that for a while. To me, that’s more of a tool thing and less a strategy thing. To me, community is not a tool thing, it’s a strategy that you apply to tools where a lot of other roles are going to apply strategies to social media. Marketing applies a strategy to social media. HR applies a strategy to social media for hiring. Customer service has theirs. Biz dev has theirs. Product and tech have theirs. To me, social media and communication online is a bit like answering the telephone and we all do that differently and have a strategy in how we maximize that.
I believe that the idea of community strategy being tool agnostic is important because I think number one, it’s a worthwhile skill set that I think translates well long-term. Number two, it doesn’t pigeonhole into something that will go away. I do think there’s a lot of opportunities there as things continue to shift in that direction and as these online tools grow. More and more, there is this pendulum swing of things going back and forth. We have good times and bad times.
Again, we talk about Facebook and Twitter. A lot of people went that way instead of investing in an online community or a hosted community. I had Jason Falls on this show like I talked about recently. One of the things he said that was funny on the show was that, “If he could go back 10 years 15 years and say to people, you should start an online community that you host. You’re going to talk about your industry, you going to talk about the work you do, go ahead and do it. 15 years from now, you’re going to have so much search strive from that community and conversations that lasted 10 years, 15 years that people are still coming back to that you are going to dominate voice sharing in that niche. I would have said let’s do that. That’s hindsight.
I think that we see that pendulum swing coming back as especially with Facebook because Facebook has done so many things to push away the consistent connected nature of a community relationship. Because people use Facebook pages for that thing for a while. Facebook cut their reach and Facebook has done this thing multiple times and now Facebook over the last year has really been pushing groups for brands right? Connect your page to a group, have a group, have a community of your customers and so on and so forth. I can’t understand why some people don’t see that for what it is, which is they know you’re a verified brand corporate page. They know this is your group. Of course, they’re going to cut the reach to that group. You already don’t reach all the people in the community. They’re going to cut that reach one day and make you pay for it. How many times does someone have to punch you in the face before you stop going back?
At the end of the day those changes the need to monetize, the need to make people pay for access to something, they feel like they’ve already built. That thing has already and will continue to push people back to things that they control, back to community spaces or social media spaces wherever they want to call them of their own making, hosting and ownership. That creates opportunity for people to have that experience who have that knowledge to get those jobs and manage those communities.
I think that’s only going to continue more and more here in the next whatever however many number of years in the short term. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there and I think there are opportunities for advancement. I think over time I certainly see more senior community roles now. Is it at the rate that I would like? No, it is not. Yes, they are far less frequent than more junior roles. When I was looking for a job for a few years while I figuring out my next move, there were several jobs that I applied to that I was interested in, that I would have liked to have.
I think that we are getting there and I think it’s on us to some extent to create those opportunities to continue to push up to not, you talked about our political power and not recognizing that. I mean a lot of people, and I was talking to someone who is super experienced and really a good professional awhile back. Just the idea of them seeing themselves as valuable can be tough sometimes and you should reach up a little bit. It’s okay to ask for this. It’s okay to ask for a raise. It’s okay to ask for a new title. If someone is at a job right now doing a great job and getting pressed for that job and they get offered a job somewhere else, they should be pushing for a higher salary, more responsibility, more autonomy, a better title. They should do it for themselves, but when they do it for themselves, they also do it for our industry.
All of us within the space should not settle if we really believe in this work for the job we have, should not settle for moving to a new department because we want to advance to the director level but we should advocate. We all do what we have to do, we have families to support whatever, but where we can, we should advocate for those higher roles and pushing ourselves because each time one of us does that, each time someone insists that they get the director title instead of the community manager title because their job reflects it. Not because they just want it but because their job reflects it. Instead of just accepting that they can be community manager because, hey, the money’s good and I’m being paid like a director. What does it really matter? It matters. It matters to you and your profession and how you progressed. It matters to the industry. Don’t sell yourself short, if you have the experience, if you have a good job now, if you have something to bring to the table. Don’t sell yourself short really believe in yourself and push yourself forward. If you need a pep talk let me know. I’ll be happy to do it. Happy to give it, gave it to a lot of community pros before. I believe that this work is important and I think that it is partially on us to push it up and find those opportunities whenever we can.
[00:33:31] Scott Moore: That’s great. That’s really well said and I hope that everyone listening takes that to heart. You’ve interviewed a lot of great community professionals since Community Signal started. Who’s your dream guest for 2019?
[00:33:48] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a fun question. I have been fortunate to have a lot of great people on this show that I really did want to talk to, and I honestly get a lot of yeses which I’m always thankful for. I mean when I had Howard Rheingold on this show. That was a really great episode. I really liked having George Kelling on the show for whatever you might think of the broken windows theory positive, negative and how people use it in this industry and more importantly in policing. I think that’s a really interesting conversation to have and I was thankful to have him on.
There’s different people. I could talk about to people in different spaces that aren’t in community work to talk about how we can learn from them. I’d love to have Jake Tapper on the show from CNN. I’m actually a big fan of Jake Tapper and I think that there is a lot of really interesting stuff that he does and how he approaches his job and and tries to sort fact from fiction, and how he approaches his online presence on Twitter. I just feel like it would be a really interesting conversation on– again, you pulled on it. I do have an interest in news media and information gathering. I think one thing that we’re confronted with these days as community pros is and we talked about this with Bassey last episode, it’s just once upon a time, moderation meant behavior and mostly is it spam and are they being respectful or whatever we expect for a social norm in this community.
We’ve always had people trying to abuse our communities to push information at this term sock puppets been around forever, but now we have conversations about, they’re influencing elections or they’re spreading information. If you think about a local online community, I feel any of us could register a million accounts, and influence the politics in that local community. How do they deal with that? What do you think about that these days? Is that moderation? Do we educate our community to not take things at face value, which they obviously shouldn’t anyway? I just think Jake Tapper would be fun, and it’d be a fun conversation.
Another one that I’d love to tab on that email, and I need to just call I think and try, is and if anybody wants to make this happen, please feel free, but Senator Ron Wyden, one of the co-authors of Section 230, and I think he would be a great guest to have on to talk about how they went through the development of Section 230, what they saw at the time, because when I talked to Ed Markey, a senator from Massachusetts about this because think he was involved in the CDA, in some regard. We talked about this, and I said, “This is the work I do, and without this legislation, I wouldn’t have this work.” He said, “We didn’t really see what would happen, we didn’t foresee any of this, obviously, we just want to create a platform for people to be able to create things.” I just love to talk to him as being a co-author of Section 230. It’s just, where we are? What’s happened since then? What’s the threat? What do we need to do now?
I’d love to have that conversation and to have one community pro in there. There’s a lot of different community pros that I’m talking to ongoing that I hope to have on that take a long time. I emailed Amy Jo Kim a while back, and we just couldn’t make it work for whatever reason, and I think that she did a lot of and does a lot of really great, interesting work. Her book that she wrote about community, I think it was back in the early 2000s, was one of the few books that was really serious, and really focused on the work, like Community Building on the Web, that when I was writing my book, there really weren’t books. I wrote my book without reading anything else, but that was one book I looked at. This is cool. This exists. There are other books like this. I’m going to write mine too, and I think that would be a fascinating conversation as well. We have a lot of mutual connections, we’ve talked before, we just need to find time, and hopefully, I’ll come up with an interesting show, and she’d be willing to come on. That one’s more realistic and probably going to happen, one day.
The other two, I tweeted Jake Tapper and I emailed the comms office for Wyden. Those are more in the sky ones, but I eventually, hopefully, all three, I’ll come to fruition.
[00:37:21] Scott Moore: Well, if any of those happen, we’ll hear it on Community Signal. [laughs]
[00:37:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Sure thing.
[00:37:26] Scott Moore: That’d be great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. Thank you for letting me do this to you.
[00:37:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you, Scott. You’ve been great. I need people to do this to me, and push me to talk, and think about things, and I think it’s good to hand things over, for a show, that’s fun and interesting and different and scary, but also to have someone like yourself, who is just someone that I respect, and has such a great depth of experience, and can actually credibly ask questions, with the foresight in the knowledge of what those questions mean. I feel really fortunate. Thank you.
[00:37:55] Scott Moore: Absolutely. Before we go, I have some acknowledgments that I need to make. I didn’t do this alone, and I want to thank some special people, who contributed to the questions that I asked Patrick today. Carol Benovic-Bradley, Community Signal’s editor, for offering questions, and structure suggestions. Serena Snoad, community manager for Alzheimer’s Society’s Talking Point community, and Community Signal Patreon who answered Patrick’s call for questions for this episode, and a special thanks to Bill Johnson, who brought his broad insight of the online community business to for, and offered me some special questions as well.
[00:38:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Carol. Thanks, Serena. I appreciate it.
Our guest host on this episode was Scott Moore, formerly of Digital Promise Global, Answers.com, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and Fujitsu. To connect with Scott, find him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ScottMoore and on Twitter @scottmoore.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.