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.

How do you measure the erosion of your brand?

“This one promotion seems successful — but they have no idea how much money they are losing because millions of customers stopped opening their direct mail. How many people don’t trust the brand because they’ve been tricked (lied to?) about ‘important information’ five or six times a year? How many bank accounts not opened, mortgages not applied for, car loans taken elsewhere, business accounts moved away?”

From Are your profitable programs destroying your brand?

I think most community managers have struggled with this. I’ve dealt with this at every job I’ve ever had. If the benefit can be measured and the damage cannot, how do you make a solid case for ceasing the activity?

Any ideas?

Never underestimate the content backlog


I (and many other people) frequently recommend that content creators create a backlog of content before they start any content-creating (or curating) endeavors. I’m pretty sure when I say this people think “oh sure, I suppose that would be nice.” What they don’t realize is that I’m recommending it because I’ve suffered through the pain of not having a backlog. At UserVoice I struggled for almost a year with creating great content on a deadline alongside my other responsibilities. Once I created a content backlog, my stress levels dropped and the quality of my content increased significantly.

First and foremost, a backlog allows you creative breathing room. You don’t have to come up with great ideas on a tight deadline, you don’t have to rush a post out the door before it’s as good as it should be, and you don’t have to use filler (ew).

This also means you can focus on new projects as they occur without your content channels drying up. And you know those new projects will come out of left field and demand all of your time for a week or two.

(Backlog also means you can take vacations, which are pretty cool.)

Vacation - Community Manager Appreciation Day ecard

A backlog doesn’t mean a week’s worth of content. In my opinion, you want a month to two months worth of content. Whatever amount of content you think is enough, at least double it. Things come up, and even seasoned content-creation professionals like myself can find themselves with a quiet blog and an anemic Twitter account. There’s no such thing as too much content backlog.

Has your project already started? Well then find a few weeks (it might have to be next month) where you can temporarily pause most of your other responsibilities and focus on creating that backlog. I did this for UserVoice and I’m currently doing this for my musical project, Kicking Tuesday, which I’ve let run a bit dry.

Take the time to build your content backlog. It’s 150% worth it.

Backlog photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds.
Postcard courtesy of UserVoice.

What we learned (about ourselves) at CMX Summit

David Spinks‘s CMX Summit did something rare yesterday. It gave us the usual community management tips and cheerleading, which are always appreciated…but it also gave us perspective. We learned from seasoned veterans and psychologists. We talked to people from every type of company and every size role. And we discussed community management as a real career, not a novelty.

From Robin Dreeke we learned that empathy, which many of us have considered a cornerstone of community management for years, is not only a powerful way to accomplish goals but so important that it can get you a “head of” title at the FBI!

David McMillan taught is that for a true sense of community there are a lot of elements necessary : shared experiences, complimentary skills, risk, and the much-maligned turnover…a lot more than you’re going to get from simply tweeting cute stuff to your audience a few times a day!

Emily Castor showed how very intentional – and often very tiny – elements can help set the whole culture of a community.

Ligaya Tichy showed us how communities and community management must evolve with a company.

Josh Miller reiterated what even Buzzfeed has admitted: clicks aren’t engagement.

Nir Eyal showed us that getting folks to regularly contribute to a community is not just about good intentions, it’s about carefully building habits.

And Ellen Leanse showed us that none of this is new, that permeability is better than bottlenecking, and that we must persevere.

Who knows what the #%*& Dave McClure taught us.

What I came away with was a much better look at how our skills are more crucial than they’ve ever been…but also a keen sense that we need to step up to our potential and actually hone these skills, use these frameworks, do and read research, push for the right things instead of accepting the status quo, and go kick some ass. We are in such a position to help companies succeed and stay on top…but we need to put on our big person pants. We have the power. Let’s use it.

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day! Here’s what’s next.

When I started in Community Management, it was a bit of a novelty.

As “Web 2.0″ (which it was referred to without irony at the time) slowly gained momentum, here was this relatively new role* that embodied the hope that this second web boom would be more sustainable, and more caring.

Community management was something you had to explain not just to relatives, but to tech folks as well. Even when Jeremiah Owyang started Community Manager Appreciation Day in 2010, not everyone was positive the role would be around in 5 years.

The Google Trends chart below quantifies what we already know: community management has surged in popularity. I like this chart. :)

community management trend

But you can also see that interest has flattened out a bit, and the projection for coming months is pretty similar. The tipping point for community management has already occurred – but that means our work is just starting.

As Twitter, the Atkins diet, and Pauly Shore know, just because you’re popular doesn’t mean you’ve built something good and sustainable. In fact, it’s at these points of mass popularity that the holes start to show: fragmentation in the definition of the role, community managers doing negative things, and a worrisome lack of ROI.

Let’s not let our tipping point be the beginning of the end – let’s take it as a challenge. Let’s make it a springboard. If we’ve succeeded in making community management popular, let’s now succeed at making it amazingly effective, respected, and sustainable. Let’s push our craft forward and live up to all the hype, shall we?

Here’s a few recommendations for you and me (I forget these all the time):

Dream. Dream of what this role could be. Dream of where you can grow to from where you are now. Stop complaining about people not listening to you, or things not getting run past you, or things being done wrong. Instead change them. Become a more core part of the organization. Show your value and leverage that. Think about building a department (or even a company, like Thomas Knoll). Be ambitious!

Learn. Go to CMX Summit and UserConf. Read Buzzing Communities. Read the many amazing blogs that are available (like this OPML file of the blogs of the 2014 top 100 community managers) . Don’t take anything for granted.

Share. At a recent #CMGRchat on Twitter, many community managers were lamenting the availability of key studies and data. But few of them share any of this information! If you want more information out in the world, you have to lead by example. Although it can be a slog to get your company to agree to that push to release this data, do it. Share anecdotes. Start a blog and share thoughts, even if they’re small and seem dumb. Make our craft better and you will be better for it.

We have so much opportunity sitting here waiting for us. Let’s take advantage of it!

*A few folks, like the excellent Randy Farmer, had been doing it for years…but only a few, and they didn’t go by community managers until the 00′s, I believe.

The hidden cost of overwork

man sleeping at desk

Frequently I hear startup CEOs & managers boast (and even front-line employees complainbrag) about how they or their staff work endless hours. I’ve done it myself in the past. But building a culture of burning the midnight oil is bad for your company, for two major reasons.

#1: Burnout & Replacement Cost.

If your employee burns out and has to be replaced, it costs money (some say 20% of that person’s annual salary)…not to mention it makes them unlikely to recommend your place of employment to others.

#2: False Positives.

The more hidden and insidious cost is false positives.

amp to 11You have X amount of work each day and your Y employees are able to complete it within 24 hours. Success, a sustainable business! If it turns out, however, that in order to accomplish this baseline work people are consistently working very late hours, you have a false positive.

If your staff were really only using ~9 hours a day to complete this task, it would mean they have flexibility in case of a increase in workload. Because they are actually working their maximum number of hours, it means that any increase will be disastrous. Your employees wouldn’t be able to accommodate this new work, even temporarily, because they’re already past capacity (and there would likely be lots of burnout).

An increase in workload could come from any direction…something bad like a major bug or an issue with one of your partners, something good like the New York Times covering your company and creating a rush of customers, or something random & unexpected like an employee pregnancy or a hurricane knocking out your servers. One change and boom – you’re unable to meet demand.

If you create a culture of overworking you’ll only succeed until you are blindsided by something…at which point you will suffer. Promoting a culture of hard work balanced with realistic hours may cost you more up front because you’ll have to hire more, but it’ll save you a lot of employee turnover, bad reputation, and disastrous situations.

(Obviously – if you’re an early-age startup, this is probably not applicable. If you are a founder or CEO, sadly, this may not be applicable. Insert other necessary caveats here.)

Sleeping photo courtesy of Svein Halvor Halvorsen.
Amp photo courtesy of This is Spinal Tap. If you haven’t seen this, then we can’t be friends. Go watch it now.

The Secret Structure of Great Talks

Like most good advice, Nancy Duarte’s TEDx presentation on how to give a great talk is both obvious and enlightening.

In short: talk about the status quo, then the possibility of the future. Repeat as much as possible. End with the new status quo that you’re proposing.

The repetition is very key, and her example of the classic Martin Luther King Jr speech is especially relevant: pastors know how to use repetition!

I know that I too often I build presentations with the three-act model; I state the current situation, what I’d like to change, and what the results will be. I’ll be keeping this in mind next time.

I also  love her point about making the audience the hero. It’s easy to make yourself the hero…but as a community manager, I should know that you’ll get a lot farther making someone else feel special!



Uber’s community management isn’t doing them any favors

Update: I appreciate everyone’s feedback on the title and first line of this post and I’ve updated it to more accurately reflect my views within. It was admittedly link-baity, but my intention was never to trash Uber (as I state multiple times). The rest of this article remains unchanged.

Uber seems like they don’t care about this week’s tragedy. But of course they do. To suggest that the Uber corporation is a bunch of monsters is silly. I’m sure the people within Uber are as horrified as the rest of us that this happened.

That said, you wouldn’t know it to look at their official response to the New Year’s Eve tragedy:

“UPDATE: We thank law enforcement for the quick release of information. We can confirm that the driver in question was a partner of Uber and that we have deactivated his Uber account. The driver was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident. We again extend our deepest condolences to the family and victims of this tragic accident.”

Is Uber to blame for this death? Seems unlikely. Is it Uber’s responsibility to do something here? No. But this isn’t about responsibility. This is about perception and relationships with their community and the larger communities they operate in.

Don’t get me wrong: I give Uber immense credit for making a massive business out of something that many investors laughed at. But Uber has shown over and over that they don’t get community. They seem to think of their customers as a cog in their business.

The biggest example of this has been their price surges, which have been discussed ad nauseam. Are these surge prices based on the economics of supply and demand? Yes. Is Uber trying to gouge customers? Probably not. Is most of the money going to Uber? No, it’s going to the drivers. But that logic doesn’t matter, because Uber has done a terrible job messaging when and to a lesser extent why they initiate surge pricing. A recent article said:

“Although Uber posted a blog to warn people in advance, customers were still pissed to see rates increase. Uber hadn’t perfected its in-app messaging system yet, so some customers accepted rides for two or three times the normal rate without realizing.”

Hasn’t perfected?! Here’s a free tip from someone who builds community for a living: if a key part of your business that you’re unwilling to change is infuriating customers and creating massively bad PR, you need to focus all your energy on “perfecting” the messaging so nobody feels surprised.

Uber's in-app feedback attemptMy former boss, Richard White of UserVoice (and a frequent Uber user) recently wrote a post on the lack of feedback mechanisms within Uber. Another item they’re still “perfecting”?

Meanwhile, a quick look at the Uber News blog shows a focus on expanding to new markets and doing marketing stunts. The only product-related update is about Uber for Blackberry. Oy.

Again, I don’t think Uber means ill will. I just think they are terrible at showing that they care and have no idea how to build a strong connection with their community. I’ve met community managers from their company and, while perfectly nice people and solid social media marketers, I see very little community building or community management in their job description. Uber thinks community is some tweeting out some cute stuff.

If Uber had a Chief Community Officer (see a slightly dated rant on this position here), they would tell Uber that they need to take the time, money, and – yes – potential legal liability to address these frustrations, issues, and circumstances head on. They need to be better at gathering and acting on feedback. For things like surge pricing, there will need to be actual product changes. For tragedies like this week’s, there needs to be a more human, emotional response.

Lyft surge pricing interfaceWant some great examples of this? Look no further than Lyft (arguably an Uber competitor) who focus intensely on community. Lyft’s blog has plenty of marketing content…but it also has customer-focused videos, fun games for their community, new features based on customer feedback, transportation safety info, and more. They, too, are introducing surge pricing…but they’re doing so in a very transparent, slow way. And as you can see, their messaging is very clear about how much you’re being charged, why, and whom the money goes to. They sure “perfected” that fast.

Or howabout Airbnb, who dealt with Airbnb renters destroying hosts’s homes? While they had some missteps early on, they realized it wasn’t worth destroying their community connection in order to save some money and make some lawyers happy. They doubled down on insurance for their members and 24/7 customer service. (There’s some great insight on that decision in this article.) And it worked out – Airbnb is long past these issues and still has an immensely strong community.

It might sound like I hate Uber. I don’t. But I think Uber is a perfect example of a modern company that is suffering because they never built community into their DNA. I think they’re decent people with a cool product and a good business model who are hurting themselves.

Will Uber fall apart because of this stuff? Probably not. But I suspect we’ll see community-focused companies like Lyft leech a lot more Uber customers because of it.

“Let’s make it official”

It’s amazing how much wording and tone can change something.

If you were in the trial period for a service – maybe on the fence – and you got the following message, how would you react?


I imagine you’d be pretty turned off.

Compare that to this message that Sprout Social gave me:

sprout social trial ending message

It still catches my eye. It still reminds me I need to pay. but it does it in a fun, positive way that doesn’t make me feel pressured. It makes me like them, and want to give them my money.

(And I did.)