Category Archives: Community Manager Breakfast

Looking back on 5 years of Community Manager Breakfast

According to my records, I’ve been hosting Community Manager Breakfast for five years. Wow. That’s a long time, especially in the world of startups! With that in mind, and in honor of today’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration, I decided to mull over the changes I’ve seen since I first launched this little meetup back in 2011.

1) We’re less focused on social media.

That’s huge. When I first started in community management, it was clear that social media was going to be “a thing”. And we all wanted to be part of it. But it wasn’t 100% clear how it fit in with community management. For a moment, we seemed to toy with being content creators, garnering likes and retweets. We had a lot of big discussions around social media during those early breakfasts. But gradually something became clear: social media was a great tool for engaging an audience, but not always a great tool for connecting people to each other. And as many of those channels become increasingly noisy and broadcast-focused, I am glad we didn’t hitch our success to them.

2) Individual specializations are starting to develop within community management.

Five years ago, community managers did a lot of things…but not in a good way. We often were the first marketer, the website copy writer, the office manager, the customer support rep, etc. These days we’re increasingly being actually hired to do what we do: bring people together. And this means we can start to specialize within that general focus. Now we see developer evangelists, event organizers, open source facilitators, support community managers, and more. This gives our discipline more depth and more directions for practitioners to grow in.

3) We’re formalizing our practice.

While five years ago we were merely seeking to bring some sense and definition to community management, now we’re focusing on formalizing, documenting, and improving it. While it’ll forever develop and change and improve, we now are starting to see things like the commitment curve providing repeatable structures that we can build off of, rather than always starting from scratch.

4) Community managers were and are great people.

I’m so lucky to have met every single person who has come to breakfast and for all the support you’ve given me over the years. I’ve met so many of you that, to my great embarrassment, I can’t always remember everyone’s name! But please know next time you see me: I think you’re great, I thank you for coming, and remind me of your name and we’ll have an awesome conversation. 🙂

Here’s to another five years of breakfasts! Hope to see you at one if you’re in SF or NYC!

The next challenge

In community management, we often reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


First and foremost, it states, humans focus on the need for food, shelter, safety, etc. (Not much of a surprise there.) It’s only once these are met that they can—and will—move up the hierarchy. We’re never content, us humans. It’s what makes us great, and leads to moon landings and the Mona Lisa and Third Eye Blind’s self-titled album.

I’m lucky enough that I frequently have achieved the “esteem” level of the hierarchy. I feel my work is valuable—I help people connect and accomplish things.

But like many of the lucky people in the first world, I’m always chasing self-actualization. I want my actions to mean something more than a good day’s work, or a promotion, or an award. I want to be changing the world for the better.

I chased this with UserVoice, helping companies treat customers better. I chased this with ZOZI, helping people live more active lives. And I’m very excited about my next attempt: Starting in June, I will be taking the role of Community Lead at Coursera, helping them achieve their lofty goal of providing universal access to the world’s best education. They—soon to be “we”—are truly trying to change the world for the better.

As always, this transition is not without sadness. I’ve learned an incredibly amount at ZOZI from my manager, my coworkers, and my employees. We created some great things—moving our customer satisfaction from sub-80% to 100%, launching the ZOZI Journal—and we’ve helped many people get out in the world. Leaving was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one. Regardless, as with UserVoice, I wish the ZOZI team all the best and will be closely following their progress (and using their product).

At Coursera, I am going to be working with some of the most brilliant people of my career on some very juicy challenges. Community is an integral part of Coursera, and they already have some great community programs. I won’t lie; my excitement sits right next to a very talkative fear, sure I won’t accomplish my goals. But truly, isn’t fear the path to self-actualization?

Thank you to everyone who has ever helped me, from my bosses to coworkers to many community managers I’ve interacted with. I’ll need you now more than ever—expect some emails and coffee dates. 🙂 And yes, I will continue to see you at Community Manager Breakfast.

Wish me luck!


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’m speaking at CMX Summit East!

Audience at CMX Summit
CMX San Francisco 2014 – I’m in that audience somewhere!

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the fantastic CMX Summit in NYC this month!

This will be the third CMX Summit I’ve attended. I can’t recommend the event enough: This is one of the few places where you can actually learn insightful, proven community management strategies and tactics from the pros. And the smattering of speakers from other fields—like this year’s former nuclear submarine captain—bring useful tools and experiences that make them a perfectly compliment to the community professionals.

I’ll be speaking about the massive importance of measuring the ROI of community management efforts efforts. No matter how scary or difficult you find it, it’s time to make ROI a priority. I’ll walk through the things you need to accomplish this mighty goal, provide some examples, and hopefully leave you with some useful info and a good chunk of courage.

I’ll also be hosting my Community Manager Breakfast in the morning before the official talks start…which should be very different with hundreds of attendees instead of a dozen. 🙂

Hope to see you there!


Community Manager Breakfast March Notes – Ambassador Programs

At last month’s Community Manager Breakfast, the group chose to focus on a juicy discussion topic: Ambassador Programs. The fantastic Meredith Black (Who is looking for a community role, FYI!) took notes. Check out the high-level bullet points below, and join us at the next breakfast to get the full experience!

What is an ambassador?

Users who are active, engaged, show up offline, spread the word (evangelists).

How do you build an ambassador program?


  • Have a strategy and plan
    • (Do you want ambassadors to be pre-beta-testers? Are you looking to recruit? Etc.)
  • ID the ambassadors, then reach out with money/resources/support
  • Show tons of love to early participants
  • Have barriers to entry for selecting ambassadors (see NextDoor)


  • Make too many rules – instead, let the users have some say
  • Build the relationship around money – instead, make it authentic
  • Ramp it up too early – instead, determine ambassador milestones before the call-to-action

How do you develop a sticky ambassador program for a product/service with a 1-time use case? (Example: a site where you research which grad school you want to go to)

Top issues:

  1. Users have unequal experience (novice vs. expert)
  2. Users aren’t motivated/interested to stay engaged
  3. Product/service is hedged by legal/compliance issues


  • Have tools in place: community blog, great platform, user profiles, following capability
  • Prioritize motivating and retaining key segments that disengage
  • Bucket and grow different segments BEFORE merging them
  • Customize attention to build real relationships
    • Get 1-on-1 = Hangouts, 15-min phone calls scheduled by users, etc
  • Source content from users
  • Research successes in similar programs


  • Expect your community to solve its own problems
  • Force different segments to merge too early
  • Ask for company resources without a plan for ROI, milestones, or metrics
  • Forget to advocate with users for your/company’s needs
  • Hesitate to use exclusivity, if it adds value
  • Use an ambassador program if there are legal/compliance issues – instead, find other ways

February Community Manager Breakfast Notes – Metrics, Offline Community, and more

At February’s San Francisco Community Manager Breakfast, we eschewed the pre-set topic and chose topics as a group. The result was a fantastic, varied conversation with folks from all different experience levels, business types, and focuses. Although you won’t get the full context from the notes – you’ll have to come to breakfast for that – there are some great observations and suggestions below.

A huge thank-you to Meredith Black for taking the notes! If you’re looking to hire someone very intelligent with events skills, check out her LinkedIn!

1. Launching a community from scratch

  • Choosing community focus
    • Test with Minimum Viable Communities – do things as simply as possible (Facebook groups are easy) and see what sticks. Less risk.
    • Consider that you may have more than one community – especially if you’re a two-sided marketplace. Don’t treat them the same.
  • Research
    • Go to Twitter chats, forums where market exists.
    • Hang out, follow, engage in conversations.
    • Note what engages people, where gaps are.
    • Once your community has started, these places can be perfect for sharing about your CMTY organically.

2. Engagement

  • What is a real, loyal CMTY member? Sticky, engaging, and offering value.
  • Do user testing for ways to push interaction.
  • ID the evangelists (Customer Support can be a great source):
    • Figure out how you can help them.
    • Give them responsibility – they want it, and it’ll help you.
  • Personalize:
    • Be the face of the brand: sign social media posts with your name, be the face/voice of the brand.
    • Use a personal email (ie – if you can’t handle the volume, have the rest of your team help with it.
    • Do the things that aren’t scalable (a la Paul Graham)
      • Phone calls, emails, friendships, 1-on-1 asks

3. Platform

  • Hard to launch a CMTY without a platform/ways for members to communicate.
  • Facebook Groups definitely work – but FB has a tendency to interrupt/pull functionalities. Move off it as soon as you can.
  • Platform suggestions:
    • Mobilize (built by former CMTY mgrs.)
    • Jive (can segment, has gamification)
    • Mighty Bell
    • Discourse
  • Mobile community platforms still pretty rare.
  • When moving a CMTY from one platform to another: do it in buckets, introduce users to forum, measure activity.
  • Moving has risks, challenges, so it’s necessary to get the CMTY more engaged.
  • Platform architecture can be overwhelming – don’t underestimate.

4. Offline CMTY-building

  • Offline is a trend (vs. 4 years ago).
  • Development is the same (set the tone/rules, power-user program, scale it).
  • How do you find your initial members?
    • Relationships are built face-to-face: get out there, tailor, make it personal.
  • Collaborate/empower users so they initiate events for the brand.

5. Offline Metrics

  • Know what the actual company goals are (often, management isn’t sure):
    • Brand recognition/association
    • Member-to-member interaction
    • Retention
    • Goodwill
    • Etc
  • Don’t have ROI measured yet? Provide management/C-suite with tons of general data:
    • Activity level
    • # signups
    • Engagement volume
    • Etc
  • Tell both stories – metrics and personal:
    • Emotional: interviews, feedback, Yelp reviews, etc.
  • Share successes pre-emptively:
    • Data
    • Learnings (shows you’re not just flailing)
    • Roadmap that can be quantified
  • These are the same challenges as for other soft departments (like PR).
  • Tools:
    • Google Analytics
    • Sprout Social
    • CRM
    • Good ol’ spreadsheets

6. CMTY+ (cross-functional integration)

  • Make friends internally and externally – get buy-in of tech team, C-level, support, finance, etc.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – partner instead.
  • CMTY+Sales:
    • Community can help retain, make repeat sales more likely.
    • Leads are more qualified/shared.
    • Deals close faster.
    • Benefits maybe aren’t apparent through regular CRM data.
  • CMTY+Marketing
    • Leverage current customers for leads to new growth.
    • Track evangelist movements, put in a bucket, use for PR/marketing (collateral, landing page quote, great story, reference for potential investors, etc).

Hope to see you at the next breakfast!

Community Manager Breakfast Notes – August 12th – Internal Communication

August’s Community Manager Breakfast focused on Internal Communication, a challenge that many departments face but particularly vexes community departments. We had a fantastic group with a lot of similar challenges and some great suggestions (I’m implementing at least two of them). A selection of them are below, but for the full shebang you’ll want to attend our next breakfast.

Thanks to Krista Gambrel for taking notes! You can finger her on Twitter @kristagambrel and  her company @mindieapp.

Biggest Challenges

  • Getting Info: Many struggled with getting insight into roadmaps, what other departments were doing, etc.
  • Participation: Getting team members to participate on an intranet, give them images for social, just give feedback.
  • Brand Disconnect: On a similar note, a lot of CMs got negative feedback on certain posts but didn’t get any directional feedback about the brand to help shape those posts. Sometimes, even the general mission statement was a bit of a mystery.

Getting Info

Why is there a disconnect? Perhaps because people don’t understand the role of Community Management.

Show metrics if you can:

    • Do customers spend more? Are they more loyal? More satisfied?
    • What is the average case cost? The community answers questions for you and saves company money.

Not all products have metrics to report – some people don’t have sales goals. In that case, ask questions: What are the top 3 things your boss needs to have done? Come in with ideas and recommendations. Be diligent about following up.


Pro Tip: “What’s Up Wednesday?”

Four questions:

  • What are you excited about this week?

  • What are the challenges you face?

  • What is something you have read?

  • (One question cycles through)

Then follow up with public thank-you’s (people notice if their name isn’t in there, and feel bad). Helps set a habit for participation.

Is it spammy? Sure, but if it’s a small enough team and you have buy-in from management, it works.


  •  Ask for Forgiveness and not for permission – you gotta publish something
  • Try not to be defensive- feedback is really important
  • Ask them to describe the brand voice as a character – it helps!
  • Asking what did the person liked is more useful than what they didn’t like.

General Tips 

  • Forgive, forget and move on. It’s easy to get passive-aggressive. New day, new game.
  • Make time for direct communication. Make time for a “standing-meeting” and have direct communication to talk about main points.
  • Be empathetic to what your colleagues are looking for and elicit empathy.
  •  Know your motivators, and internal audience.
  •  Communication isn’t about what you say, but about how you act and how you say it and also how you listen.
  •  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen. Its so important in extracting information.

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!