Community Manager Breakfast Notes – July 9th – Event Management

We had our very first Community Manager Breakfast of the new season last week, on the topic of event management. It was a great discussion and a fantastic group of people – thank you to everyone who came out!

Many thanks to Kat Otto of Galvanize for taking notes (and a big thank-you to Galvanize for hosting the event)! These represent only part of what we spoke about – you’ll have to attend for the full shebang. Interested in joining us next time? If you’re a community manager, sign up here. If you’re not a community manager, I’m so, so sorry.


Have clear goals for your event

  • Go to other events, and note what you like…but more importantly, what you hate.
  • The very smallest things are the things that people remember the most; attention to detail is key
  • No-brainer: create really relevant content that focuses on helping people do their job better
  • Make sure human connections are happening – giving people an experience that they remember
  • Don’t forget the fun factor!

Drawing an audience/scaling future audience:

  • Make sure relevant & key people are there – give out free tickets! (and ask them to tweet about it) :)
  • Show who else is going to be there – “if they’re going, I have to go”
  • Take the star of the conference/event & follow through with more content, events
  • Lean on real-time social data from the event

Struggle: online events/forums/platforms – not as interactive as hoped
How do you pose questions/give instructions in a way that guests/attendees feel that their input & participation is needed & valued?

  • Need first followers/active participants to start the conversation
  • Pathable – interact with other attendees, articles by speakers, discussion boards, etc. – pre & post event – a private community – added an additional layer of community
  • Take interesting content & push it out to social media
  • Get speakers to seed content – other topics surrounding the topic they are planning to speak on  (you don’t want to ruin the talk)
  • CMX Summit does this really well
  • Logistical discussions may not be sexy, but can get people interacting prior

Event Series
How do you keep people coming back?

  • Ask what they want to see, why they’re not coming back (though probably ask more than once to get an honest answer)
  • Reach outside & beyond the pool/database of people that you’re given. What adjacent events/communities can you promote to?
  • Relevant recurring content vs diversity of content
  • Find your focus. Parisoma has been successful in bringing their own members to events – specialize in business content, which is hyper-relevant to their members

Revitalizing a stale event

  • Try new locations
  • Consider hosting less frequently
  • Make it more exclusive
  • Re-brand – new name, new tone, etc.
  • Take a break – 6 months – make people miss it!
  • Be strategic about messaging, though. You haven’t failing, you’re “taking a break to plan exciting new things”.

Structuring an event team

  • Content managers: background in the arts & design can be good
  • Do you separate logistics and content?

Looking forward to seeing folks at the next breakfast!

You’re so vain, you probably think this (support) is about (acquisition)

“When your [customer support] representatives start seeing themselves as marketing staff instead of troubleshooters, they can turn questions and problems into opportunities. They can listen to what the customer wants or needs and:

1) Educate customers about your company

2) Upsell your products

3) Build buzz for upcoming product releases”

From Turning Support into Marketing

I promise you if my support team focused on this, our customers would hate us.

I agree with the premise that support should not just be damage control. I agree that the people on the front lines talking to customers are extremely valuable to the company. I even agree that the occasional upsell can make sense (Warby Parker’s support team just upsold me thinner lenses the other day – after doing an amazing job solving my issues.)

"Notice - prices subject to change according to customer's attitude"But putting the support team under sales or marketing is dumb. Those departments are focused on acquiring customers. While some support work can contribute to acquisition & sales, the goal of support should always be on retaining customers. (And if you don’t think that’s valuable, read Jamie Quint’s post on how it can be MORE valuable than acquisition.)

I’m not trash-talking Sales or Marketing – I’m just saying support goals don’t generally fit into their paradigm. It’d be like moving Sales under Engineering. Does the Sales team have value to the Engineering team? Sure: they can provide customer feedback and find beta testers. Does that mean they should work under Engineering and focus on those tasks? Of course not!

It’s distressing to me how acquisition-minded the tech industry continues to be, despite the waning effectiveness of acquisition channels (see Richard White’s UserConf keynote for a great overview of all of this). Retention is hugely important, and the sooner companies realize this and build departments and executive roles around it – encompassing support and community – the sooner they’ll be poised to survive beyond their early success and buzz.

Full Disclosure: I previously worked for UserVoice, a Desk competitor. I’ve got nothing against Desk though…they were always nice to us. :)

ForumCon teaches us that strategy and tactics are both essential

Although I missed CMX Summit last week and was forced to survive on tweets alone, I got to attend ForumCon this week. I attended ForumCon two years ago and honestly thought it was rubbish. It speaks volumes about Lucy Bartlett that this year’s ForumCon had an amazing lineup and was overall excellent.


Photo via Vera Devera.

I’ll let others collect their favorite ForumCon tweets, but I wanted to capture two major thoughts. They might seem contradictory, but they’re not.

#1) Go in with a plan and goals. I quipped about this during my moderation segment, but it’s true. So many communities are thrown together because a CEO says “we need a community”. As the incomparable David Spinks and Richard Millington attested, perhaps the most crucial part of creating a community is making sure you should. They tout the Minimally Viable Product (or Community) model, as well as the 5 Why’s: ask why someone wants a certain community or has a certain interest until you understand their base motivation. The guy who wants a Giants forum actually wants a place to relax and trade baseball tactics…which is not at all what he’ll say when you ask the first why.

#2) While #1 may have convinced you that the big strategic elements are important, the second-most important part is the daily work. Richard’s presentation (and his book) are full of this goodness. How do you addict someone to your community? Through minute, daily work. Through responding within 5 hours to your new members’ contributions (which will result in a 53% chance they’ll contribute again, according to Richard’s studies). Through living with your community, rather than treating it as a task, algorithm, or line item.

We get very obsessed with tools, be they forums or social media. But at the end of the day, nothing beats a great strategy and fantastic interpersonal engagement with your community. Thanks to everyone who helped educate us on these points today!

Update: for more in-depth coverage, check out this collection of ForumCon tweets.

My favorite tweets from CMX Summit

It gives me so much joy that we now have such a fantastic conference dedicated to the craft of community management. I learned a ton and had a blast at the first CMX Summit, so I was disappointed to not be able to attend the second in NYC this last week. If you also missed it, here are some of my favorite tweets so we can live vicariously together.


You can find more here!

Ryanair is failing, and I couldn’t be happier

 Ryanair CEOThe problem with the balance between marketing and caring for customers is that marketing is often immediate. You can put an ad out and immediately see people visiting and signing up and spending money. You put effort into customer service, community building, or just basic user experience and you don’t see an immediate result. But us community professionals swear that you will see a long-term benefit.

That’s why I’m so pleased to note that Ryanair is seeing its worst annual revenues in five years. I’ve been saying for years that Ryanair’s tactics were going to explode in their face, but people kept saying “they’re selling tickets, so apparently is not an issue”. To me, this is fantastic validation that caring for your customers does make a difference and treating them badly does affect the bottom line.

But really, what would you do if there was no email? Thomas Knoll’s drastic experiment

We’re building the next generation of companies, and they look nothing like the previous ones. Right? Email is dead? Meetings are stupid? Companies should be flat?

I hear a lot of people talking about these subjects and some trying to implement them, but nobody as drastically and definitively as Thomas Knoll. His writeup on the email-less culture at Primeloop is both terrifying and exciting. Definitely worth a read!

Research and the Minimum Viable Community

Ever start a Facebook group where no one participated? Ever craft an ambassador program that no one applied for? Ever spend hours coordinating an event and only have a few people show up? I have.

Communities, like products, fail when we don’t develop and understand the members first. We go heads down building and when we pick our heads up for air, we realize no one needs what we’ve built.

Customer Development is about checking our theories against reality to make sure what we plan to build is actually valuable. And it matters just as much for communities as it does for products.

Danya Cheskis-Gold on CMX Hub

Love love love love love this. It’s so true, and so hard to do. It’s much easier to sit at your desk and write up plans and create Facebook groups and do things nobody actually cares about.

I probably spent 1/8th of my time at UserVoice talking to customers & community in person, and another huge chunk of time looking at forum data, survey data, visitor data, etc. And I probably should have spent even more time doing it.

UserConfCustomer Service Breakfast Happy Hour was our MVC, and after it was clear it was valuable to people, my boss Richard White pushed me to do something bigger. I’m extremely grateful for that…it can be easy to fail in the opposite direction, where you don’t scale the things that are going well because it’s SCARY.

The result was UserConf, which is now approaching its 5th event and just had its first that was fully sold out. I no longer work at UserVoice, but I already have my tickets for the next one.

As we mentor and support each other, let’s keep ourselves honest: do the interviews, do the research, do the diligence before you start solidifying any plans.

“Community is a discipline”

“When community is your discipline, the core of your work is focused on understanding and putting into practice the development of communities. You might also understand and apply marketing, support or other practices but they’re traits, not your core discipline.”

David Spinks, as he often does, describes succinctly what I rant about regularly: Community is a discipline, and the more you try to make it a subset of other departments the more it fails. Other departments can adopt community-focused strategies (please!) but it will never make sense to say that the Community team is part of the Marketing team.

Interviews with me

A few very pleasant folks have interviewed me in the last couple of months, so I figured I’d share those here.

Support-Driven Podcast – Scott Tran interviews me about kicking off a community effort, finding your community niche, and combining customer service & community. Also available on iTunes.

Big Door – I discuss why customer loyalty isn’t marketing, the community management trends I see, and metrics one should look at.

Startup Product Summit – A little bit older, but arguably one of my best and most widely-accessible talks. I cover customer feedback, customer-focused product design, and how to understand when data or customers are misleading you. Slides available here.

Hope you find these helpful, useful, or at least entertaining! :)

The future is not #%*&ing smartwatches

“The Internet carries a surprising lesson for Intellectual Property theory. Despite the prevalence of infringement and the teachings of IP theory, people are creating and distributing more content now than ever before, by at least an order of magnitude.

The future of technology is likely to look quite a bit like the Internet. Lots of people will create lots of designs, code, and biobricks. Other people will use, repurpose, and improve on those things, often without paying.”

-IP in a World Without Scarcity, by Mark A. Lemley

This is one of the most elucidating things I’ve read lately. It’s worth the time investment.

The punchline? The future isn’t #*%&ing wearables. It’s not some neat new social network. It’s literally changing how economics work when suddenly almost everything can be generated at home. It’s people printing replacement body parts and artificial genes at home. It’s about the change in interactions and communities when we no longer have to commute, go to the store, etc. It’s freedom & chaos & community & creativity. And it’s absolutely something you can picture as utopian or distopian…though probably it’ll be somewhere in between. It’s going to be a fascinating century, and smartwatches will be less than a footnote.