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In this episode, Katie and Chris discuss the essence of community management. What makes a community thrive? What harms it to the point of dissolution? How do we ensure the communities we’re building are set up for success? Listen in as they diagnose the Analytics for Marketers community and identify things that could be improved.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:02
This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.

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In this week’s In-Ear Insights, we are talking all things community community management, why they exist, what to and not to do So Katie, start us off even having some thoughts about digital communities and communities in general.

But obviously, with your current circumstances, more of our communities are digital than not.

Katie Robbert 1:39
Yeah, you know, we were talking last week about communities and I’d mentioned the peloton community.

So I’m one of the you know, 1000s of people during the pandemic who got a peloton because I just didn’t feel safe going back to the gym, even though they had reopened at one point.

And what I quickly realized is why peloton is such like a cult following and the community.

And a lot of it is around the inclusivity and not be like, hey, you’re one of us you’d want but there really is a something for everybody.

And so over the weekend, I did what they call your century.

And so it’s your 100, you know, act of whatever thing it is you do, whether it’s running or strength training, and so I was on the bike, and they immediately sent me an email.

And they were like, here’s a code for your free t shirt that says you get the century club.

And I was like, you know, this is all really nice, because you get a little badge on your bike.

And so it’s like, it’s that continued motivation to keep you bringing back and then obviously, you can like ride with your friends and you know, chat with people on social media.

But then it also, the other side of it got me thinking that a lot of communities get it wrong, because you at the core of it, the purpose of a community is we’re all just looking for someplace where we belong, and we can fit in and we can find people of our own.

And so, you know, it’s sort of it started me thinking even back all the way to like, you know, high school and middle school and elementary school when you’re trying to find those little cliques of people that you belong with.

And it’s really difficult to do.

And some of us still feel like we haven’t quite found, quote, unquote, our people.

And I’m, I’m definitely one of those people who I’m still sort of like, swimming around trying to figure it out.

I mean, we have our own slack community analytics for marketers, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I feel like I don’t even belong there.

Because I, a lot of the feedback I get from other people is I don’t feel smart enough to ask a question.

So I just lurk.

And so that, to me, says that we’re not doing the right thing, to make people feel welcome and to make people feel comfortable just being a part of the community.

And so it just, it made me start to think about the do’s and don’ts of having a community or even being a participant in a community.

And, you know, sort of what, what is the goal of having community so it just brought up all these questions for me, Chris, what do you think?

Christopher Penn 4:08
It’s interesting because this, there are so many ways to do communities right and wrong, like you were saying, I belong to a huge number of offshoot niche communities.

They’ve got like 20 or so slack instances and 30, some odd discord servers that I’m a member of.

And yeah, some of them definitely more than others.

Have that a sense of Yeah, these are our people that I choose to spend time with willingly, right? Because there’s always those folks that you know, you have to be in a community because of work or something just to just see what’s going on.

But then there’s what you do in your free time.

And the things that stand out to me that well run communities do is there’s a sense of egalitarianism that no one person is more important than others.

There are obviously community managers and moderators who keep the trains on the rails.

The best communities are, I think, almost like benevolent dictatorships, in some ways, there’s a clear purpose.

And then there’s very strong moderation to keep bad actors from being bad actors, you know, the communities I’ve been in that turned toxic, didn’t have that moderation, right? You know, bad actors got away with bad stuff, and it doesn’t take much to cause harm to community, right? It’s like, you don’t need to drink a gallon of cyanide to kill yourself just a little bit will do.

And the same is true with communities, there’s, there’s, it doesn’t take much to ruin one.

It just takes an odd one unchecked bad actor to sort of poison the well as it were.

And it’s interesting, because that need to belong is physically wired into us, like we are, we are tribal creatures.

And that’s just sort of a natural thing we do.

Because as animals, we kind of suck individually, we’re not particularly well armed or well armored, you know.

So our only advantage is that we can think and we act in packs.

And so biologically we have that needs to belong.

Katie Robbert 6:09
Well, and think about, you know, all those different communities you belong to you.

So there’s, you know, no shortage of slack communities, or Facebook groups or discord communities, or, you know, Twitter, those chat rooms, or exactly, but, so there’s no shortage of places.

So what you could say to someone like me, like, you know, why do you feel like you can’t find your people? You know, why do you feel like you can’t, you haven’t found like that right group.

And I think one of the things that, at least from my perspective that communities get wrong is Yeah, I can join any slack group I want, I can join any discord group I want, that doesn’t mean that I belong there or welcomed, you know, they might have that automated bot that says, you know, welcome Katie, please introduce yourself.

But then if nobody engages with me, if I ask questions, and nobody responds, if I’m trying to jump into a conversation, and I accidentally kill the conversation, like, I no longer feel like I belong in that community, and it’s kind of that sad experience of like, okay, am I just sort of being like, ignored until I leave this group because I don’t belong? Or is it really just a function of how the community is set up and run that there’s really no good moderation, nobody continuing to engage all the all of the people some way or another.

And I think that I’ve seen it, you know, both sides, and I’ve definitely had both kinds of experiences.

Christopher Penn 7:37
A lot of the things that when you’re talking about the, the essence of community in a lot of ways, you’re talking about emotional fulfillment in some way, right? This, this community gives you something that you’re missing in your life.

And, or it also reinforces the things that you value about yourself, right? If we look at, you know, I hate to drag us there, but if you look at politics, right, and just how strongly people feel about their group, whatever their group is, it is that it’s so strong, that has become part of their identity.

Like that is where that’s that’s sort of like the, the apex of community when you’ve done such a good job that this becomes part of your identity, it’s been very difficult to dislodge.

You know, as someone who’s an avid peloton, fan, right, you know, when you start wearing the swag, you start, you know, having the the the, the jargon or the lingo that only other people in the community have, you have that this shift in who you are, and who you believe yourself to be.

And that sort of is the pinnacle of community expression.

Now, the challenge is obviously, that gets very dangerous as we saw, I’ve seen the last years years really with politics that can become very toxic if it’s mismanage unintentionally or intentionally.

But yeah, it’s it’s that emotional fulfillment, that sense of connection.

And one of the things that, you know, what, let’s point the finger at ourselves.

One of the things that I think that we get wrong with analytics for marketers, is that there isn’t a water cooler, there isn’t a sort of a general let’s just, you know, have BST on what music you’re listening to, and things like that.

It’s a very focused community.

So it has utility, but it doesn’t have emotional connection, because there is no place for people to just talk about fluffy stuff.

Katie Robbert 9:24
I was thinking that exact same thing as I was thinking through this idea of, you know, what communities do right and what communities do wrong and we really have limited people down to what they’re allowed to do within the community and that that is probably a big reason why we don’t get more engagement or people who are continually asking questions.

So that’s something I definitely want us you and I to explore, you know this year is to how can we strengthen our community and make people feel a little bit more welcome and you know, our conversation last week about peloton What made me think of this because you had made, you know, sort of the tongue in cheek comment of you know, cults are really hard to build.

But in some ways, you know, peloton is a great example because it does have a cult following.

And there really is a little bit of something for everyone you have, you know, your strength, your bike, you’re walking, you’re running your meditation, your yoga, like, sort of any level of fitness.

And even if you go into a class with a more advanced instructor, the first thing they do is talk through, if you’re a beginner, this is how you can also participate.

This is for everybody.

So the messaging within it is all very, they try really hard to make sure everybody feels like what they’re doing is achievable.

And I feel like not, you know, we in slack groups don’t do that same thing.

And so it was that idea of how do we take this model that obviously didn’t spring up overnight? It’s been grown over a number of years, and start to replicate that in other places, because it’s obviously working for them, and what can we learn from that.

And I think you’re right, we need to think about like, Are people coming there because they want to be around similar minded people are people coming there because they only want to talk about analytics and marketing, or people coming there so that they can sort of like blow off some steam and share some puppy photos with people who might also enjoy them.

So I think that there’s a lot of work for us to do in order to make this a more welcoming and friendly community.

And, you know, it’s it does kind of, it’s kind of a bummer that right now with the pandemic, you know, most communities are kind of forced to be online, because I’m someone who doesn’t want to be online more than I have to be.

But it’s the only place where I can find other people to connect with.

Christopher Penn 11:52
And I think one of the things that at least the better communities I I’m in the ones I spend more time and have is, you know, they have a tremendous number of channels within that community.

You know, even if you look at the Trust Insights, the our internal Slack, there’s way more channels than their quote needs to be for a business, right? We have now playing the stuff you were watching and listening, you have random quotes board, we have you know, where am I, you know, social good stuff.

So there’s a lot of things that are expressions, essentially of ourselves in my one of my discord servers, there is, you know, a watch party channel, there’s music games, pets, you know, this, this is a channel just for pets photos, because people were sharing them so frequently in other channels that the moderators like I look, I can you put this into like one spot.

So this created a pets channel.

And the advantage of that is not only a chance for members to self Express, right, emotionally, but it then helps you build those strong Common Ground links, oh, you have that a dog just like mine, or Oh, we listen to the same kinds of music.

Well, I didn’t even know that this kind of music was the thing.

I found this, this odds with metal alternative rock group in one of these communities like, Oh, that’s actually a pretty cool group.

And the more contextually appropriate, you know, values, appropriate opportunities you have in a community for somebody to connect, the easier it is for people to forge those strong connections because they see, oh, this is something I’m interested in, you know, and another one of my discord servers, we have a fitness channel, it’s just like, here’s, you know, the things we’re trying.

I’m currently leading an eight week sort of yoga thing, with help with some apps and stuff.

So there’s all these different things that you can offer, particularly in a pandemic, right.

And in a digital age, where it gives people a chance to, they’re there for that central purpose, whatever the stated purpose of the community is, but then it gives them the ability to learn more about their fellow community members and find those common grounds.

That’s when you ever you look on LinkedIn, there’s always those jerks who are just like, I’m here to add you to my professional network and this,

Katie Robbert 13:59
meet those, please stop pitching me those things.

I don’t want to just randomly show up in your network.

I know that that that didn’t happen.

Christopher Penn 14:10
But that’s sort of like that very shallow level of of networking.

Whereas when you talk to somebody about your dogs, or the music you listen to or the the cryptocurrency you’re investing in, you have the opportunity to learn about real network net real Oh, I want to get to know this person.

They seem like they are an interesting person I want to hang out with.

Katie Robbert 14:33
So let me ask you this question, Chris.

Because it’s sort of it’s not that it’s counterintuitive to the work that we do, but I don’t think it’s what we’re known for is sort of that human to human connection.

Where does automation fit in? And where does automation get in the way of building a community?

Christopher Penn 14:52
Um, the easiest way I would say is that there are certain things that are processed based like well Messages, rules, things like that, that are important that the automation serve to make sure everyone has the same consistent onboarding experience, right, just like any any company.

And automations real advantages in the monitoring, right? community moderators cannot be on 24.

Seven, they shouldn’t be.

And in some of the largest communities, they actually do have shifts, like moderators have shifts to make sure that somebody is always around case a member needs help.

But automation can help with a lot of that if you have a known list of terms that you prefer not see mentioned in your community, right Yo, bots can monitor for an alert a moderator immediate, like, hey, somebody just said, you know, this racial slur, even in jest, it’s still one of those things like app now can’t out here.

You know, that’s, that’s not okay.

And really giving you more insights and collecting the data about your community, one of the signs of a, I think of a very healthy community is that it is around the clock, right? It’s, there’s somebody always on people always talking about something, sometime, one of my discord servers, there’s 400 people in the community.

So about a third of the size of analytics for marketers, there’s literally five or six people actively talking anytime a day, because you log in first thing in the morning, like the only you missed 900 messages, like holy crap, you guys, chill.

But people in Malaysia, in Japan and Australia are going on to their day, and they have their, their group.

You know, when you look at analytics for marketers as our example, it’s pretty quiet outside of working hours.

Is that okay? Yes, right now.

But if we want to, you know, this is one of the things to weigh in your community strategy, if you want to build that strong community, you also have to acknowledge that it’s going to be something that bleeds outside of work hours.

Katie Robbert 16:49

I agree with that.

I also think in terms of automation, you know, I think that there are ways to keep people engaged, where you include some of that automation, you know, hey, we haven’t heard from you in a while, everything, okay, just sort of like those automated check ins or, you know, you’ve been a member for 100 days, congratulations, here’s a little, you know, 100 Day gift, or something, you know, for you, you know, just to sort of remind people, like, we value you, you’re part of this community.

And it in some ways, it is a little bit like just that participation trophy for showing up.

But sometimes showing up, you know, is half the battle.

And I think that some of the thing with communities is there’s this expectation of, if you join, you have to do all the work to become part of that community.

And I think communities need to sort of meet people where they are and help draw them in.

So if I join a community, and the only message I ever get from it is, you know, welcome from the welcome bot, and nobody else or like, Hey, we saw you stopped in or anything like that, then it’s sort of a flat, you know, great experience.

Whereas if there is a community member, manager, or a team, or even just sort of ambassadors in there who are like, hey, it looks like we have a whole bunch of new people.


You know, just like, Hey, I haven’t heard from you yet.

Do you have any questions like anything like, you, you’re doing half the work, so don’t expect your members to show up, and do all of the work to become engaging members, like you have to pull them and give them a reason to continue to be there?

Christopher Penn 18:28
Yep, you know, and some other obvious things in one of my other servers, there’s a channel just for biographies, like people who put their biography and then, you know, as you interact with somebody go into the biographies channel, and go, Oh, you know, if the person’s posted a bio, you can read more about them, you know, get a sense of who they are, where they spend their time and things like that.

But you’re right, communities, and really no different than any other human relationship, right? It’s give and take has to be an equal partnership, if you want to be successful in the long term.

And, you know, as we’ve been talking, no shame on us for not making it more like that in our own slack group.

So we have some work to do there.

I want to dig in a bit more, though, on this idea of, we’re not necessarily known for human human stuff, how do we unpack that and, and pivot like, so I would argue we’re half known for that, namely, you know, for the machinery.

Katie Robbert 19:20
Well, you know, I think part of that is that you’re known and I am unknown.

And so I think there’s this also sort of public perception.

And so, you know, the other sort of, you know, and this quis with a grain of salt is not an Oh, woe is me, like, here’s my childhood traumas, you know, commentary, it’s more of the, you know, when I walk into a room, the first thing people ask is about you.

And so it’s, we could be known more for the human if there was more of an opportunity for me to engage within communities and promote that and that’s, you know, that’s on me to find those communities to To spread that message, and it’s something that I’ve been working on and trying to do I, anyone who knows me really well knows that I am very much an introvert and very much like the shy kid, I don’t want to do a lot of talking, that makes it really difficult, when the only thing you really have to work with are digital communities.

And if the community is not set up in such a way that you feel like it’s a, you know, safe, positive space for you to not immediately be judged, or immediately get backlash, if you misstep and say something that’s even slightly the wrong thing to say, then it’s really hard.

Whereas I think the other side of that, Chris, is you’re a very well known entity in the digital space.

And it almost feels like you can walk into any room and people like, Oh, it’s Chris Penn, I know exactly who he is what he stands for, nobody has to really question that.

But you’ve also been working really hard at that for the past 1520 years.

Whereas I am newer to the space.

And so I have a lot of work to do.

And so it’s easier for you to walk into a community and say, Hi, I’m Chris Penn.

Here’s my five books.

Here’s my 200,000 blog posts that I’ve written, you know, and people immediately know who you are.

Whereas you know that, and that’s more of the AI data analytics side, whereas more of a human Organizational Behavior connection side is the stuff that I do.

People like, cool, I don’t know who you are.

Oh, you work with Chris Penn?

Christopher Penn 21:27
Yeah, so how do we how do you pivot that? Okay, you know, obviously, I think the easiest place to start is in a community that you own right? There are 1500 some odd people in analytics from markers.

What’s what do you think our game plan is a to bring that balance to the human in the machine side? And, and how do we achieve those that those different goals that we have with the community and also make the community more valuable, make it more vibrant?

Katie Robbert 21:57
Mm hmm.

I think some of it has to be consistency.

And so more consistent posting more consistent sharing of information from authored by both of us authored by me, authored by you, authored by Trust Insights, collectively, I think that there needs to be more of that consistently so that people can start to see both voices.

You know, a lot of the questions we get in the community are more technical.

So maybe there’s an opportunity for a less technical channel, more of that, you know, not humans and marketing, but more of that human organizational behavior, side of marketing that isn’t strictly about which algorithm should I be using to analyze my data? So I think that there’s a lot of different ways to approach it.

And, you know, yes, you know, I own the community, you own the community.

We also don’t want it to be such that only you and I can ever ask questions in the community.

And I think that that’s something that we haven’t done a great job of, is letting other people know, like, hey, it’s okay for you.

To start those general questions.

I think a really good example of a community that does kind of run around the clock is our friend, Gini Dietrich, she has the spin socks community.

And you know, you can see that it’s fairly active all day long, from a lot of different voices.

Even on weekends, even you know, overnight, people are asking questions.

And it’s not just Ginny, who owns the community, who’s asking these questions, most of the time, she’s responding to questions, she’s, you know, introducing other people.

And I think that that’s an example of a smaller community that’s done really well, where people feel like I can talk and engage all the time.

Christopher Penn 23:43
I think another great one is the content marketing world, the CMI, slack.

You know, they have daily questions that are asked to the entire channel, Jeremy bednarski.

Does that, you know, some some questions get a lot more responses than others.

But there’s no backlog of questions you can ask people, and they have regular scheduled activities.

They have a Twitter chat every Tuesday at noon.

And it’s actually a really good way for them to attract new members to their community, as well as get their existing communities involved.

They have book chats with noted authors and things.

So again, it always reminds me of like my parents retirement community, like you know, there’s bingo on Tuesday nights.

But those consistent practices, like you said, consistency and activity.

As much as I despise the phrase in the sales context, I believe it’s true to community management, context, activity begets activity, doing stuff gets other people to realize it’s okay to do stuff.

And I think having a lot of those different hooks in creating opportunities for people to engage is definitely one of the things that can be helpful.

You know, we’ve talked, we’ve talked a lot about things we’ve never actually fully defined the community management role, it might be time to do that.

Katie Robbert 24:56
I think it might be

Christopher Penn 24:58
so to wrap up community’s not just yet another marketing buzzword and much more like a relationship you want to build with a whole bunch of people.

And as with any relationship you give as much as you take, if you want to be successful in the long term.

If you got questions about this stuff you want to have suggestions about, hey, here’s something that would like to see in the Trust Insights community, pop on over to dot AI slash analytics for marketers, you’d like to somewhat gently tell us everything we’re doing wrong.

That’s the best way we

Katie Robbert 25:30
can take it.

Okay, and

Christopher Penn 25:34
as always, no matter where you’re listening to or watching this episode, please stop by Trust slash ti podcast, you can subscribe to the show in all kinds of different places.

I will talk to you folks soon take care.


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