Community Signal is a podcast for experienced online community professionals, including those working in audience engagement, association management, developer relations, moderation, trust and safety, and more. It's released every two weeks and hosted by industry veteran Patrick O’Keefe.
This is a very community-focused program. There are plenty of social media and marketing podcasts out there. That’s not what this is. Social media is a set of tools. Community is a strategy you apply to those tools. Marketing brings new customers. Community helps you keep them.
When an Online Community Pro Retires
Rebecca Newton is a legend of the online community profession. After 30 years, she has retired. But what does it mean when we retire from this work?
Her career began AOL in 1994, building communities and managing a massive volunteer program. Among her numerous stops, Rebecca found a focus in child safety, leading such efforts for Sulake (the company behind Habbo Hotels and Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom), Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters), and most recently SuperAwesome, a provider of tools for safer, responsible digital engagement with young people, who was acquired by Epic Games.
A program manager for community in 1997, a community director in 2001, a chief community officer in 2007: Rebecca has held all of the titles. Along the way, she has paved a path for the community profession, pushing us higher in corporate environments and creating valuable resources for us. Most notably, her 24 year stewardship of the e-mint listserv for community pros, an iconic resource that has helped countless community facilitators.
After such a career, what’s it like to step away from full-time work? What goes through the mind of a retiring community pro? That’s what we’ll discuss, plus:
How do you prepare for retirement, as a community pro? What will Rebecca miss? What won’t she miss? The least and most effective pieces of legislation passed during Rebecca’s career
Big Quotes What will Rebecca miss most about being a full-time community pro? (17:32): “I’m going to miss working with people online the most. It’s a different animal than working with people offline, and I did plenty of that before I started in the online world. … Everybody thought they invented remote working. I’ve had remote teams since 1994, so it’s not new. I’m going to really miss that because there’s a special culture in the online world, as you know, that is really hard to describe, or it’s hard for me to describe but is not like the offline world. It’s like being in a special club, in a secret club. That’s how it feels to me.” -Rebecca Newton
What won’t she miss? (23:07): “I won’t miss … people naively thinking they know better than everybody who built the widget. I’ve heard the conversations. ‘Oh, they can’t let go. They don’t know how to let go. They don’t know how to grow. They don’t know how to do this.’ Then I would think, ‘Okay, well, we’ll see who’s not growing in a year, so I’m going to go looking for another job because I know in a year this thing’s not going to exist.'” -Rebecca Newton
The cyclical trend of online community obsession (31:09): “I remember in 2000 when dentists were [asking], ‘Do I need an online community?’ There was a trend of, “Oh, it’s online community,’ because of the success at AOL. I was like, ‘No. You’re a dentist.'” -Rebecca Newton
Overreaction from government officials who aren’t active online (34:21): “I’m not saying anything about how smart [government decision makers] are, about how great their intentions were, or their abilities in the world. [But] if you’re not [active online], if you’re not a heavy user, if you’re not in the kid’s world using it, how can you possibly [make good decisions]? That’s what we see in Great Britain, in the EU. Something happens to one person under 16, they want to have 27 laws about it. Because this thing happened.” -Rebecca Newton
Kids want to collaborate, they want a job (38:40): “That’s the biggest thing I learned about working with kids. The very first thing when they get online or game in an app, whatever it is, [they say] ‘I want a job. Can I have a job? Let’s do this together. Let’s do that together.'” -Rebecca Newton
When legislation goes too far (39:18): “Over-regulation is detrimental. I think all it does is create a whole lot of jobs for people to do a lot of stuff that nobody’s ever going to look at. That’s a really rude thing for me to say, b
Breaking: Online Community Consultant Discovers Brand New Concept (Again!)
Online community consultants aren’t unlike consultants for any other area of work. Some are ethical, smart, and talented, and some aren’t. Consultants also don’t often make great guests for the show because they view it as yet another lead generational funnel for them to shout generalities into.
But hopefully an exception is this episode with community consultant Jenny Weigle. On it, we discuss how being humble is often at odds with how many consultants promote themselves, as they place a certain importance on appearing authoritative and revelatory, even if that isn’t actually correct in the context of the history of this work.
Can you even be a community consultant or an online community resource if you haven’t taken a concept pioneered 30 years ago and thrown your logo on it?
We also discuss:
An update on past guest Tim McDonald’s quest for a liver donor Self-promotion by community consultants Community professionals do roadshows, but are they ever invited to roadshows by other departments?
Big Quotes When consultants and resources claim general concepts (3:57): “I’ve seen plenty of [community] consultants and resources pop up over my 25 years and throw a logo on something. The commitment curve, the activity ladder, the mountain of progression… how many different upward-facing shapes can we throw a logo on? I’ve seen a lot of that, and I’ve seen people claim something that has either been claimed decades ago or no one should be laying claim to.” -Patrick O’Keefe
How much of the talk in community work is brand new? (6:01): “There are very few things that happen in our field today that make me pause and say, ‘Wow,’ either to myself or out loud. When I’m putting out my materials and what I’m personally working on, I’m just doing what’s top of mind and mainly it’s influenced by what my clients need at the time.” -Jenny Weigle
The danger AI poses to community creativity (15:19): “[With ChatGPT and similar AI tools,] I’m worried about elements of communities where creativity is usually needed. An easy example is the writing of content, the writing of posts, the writing of conversations, and how those things start. I’m worried about everyone sounding the same. I’m worried about everyone getting the same prompts. I’m worried about everyone rewriting their posts using the same tool that learns on the same data set, and will all move them closer to the same center. Ultimately, that’s the death of community.” -Patrick O’Keefe
Why community pros should read hospitality books (26:05): “There were so many things [that community builders can learn from the hospitality industry]. I was in awe as I turned each page of Danny Meyer’s book because he paid so much attention to wanting to know his customer’s preferences, their likes, dislikes, what was relevant going on in their lives at the moment, what would bring them in the door, and what would keep them from coming. These are all things that community managers are concerned about with their online communities, as well.” -Jenny Weigle
About Jenny Weigle Jenny Weigle has been creating, executing, and reviewing strategies for online communities for more than 10 years. She’s worked with more than 100 brands on various aspects of their community strategy and implementations, including launch, migration, programming, and planning. These brands include, Airbnb, Google, HP, Intuit, Pinterest, REI, Samsung, Sephora, Splunk, Stubhub, and Visa.
When she’s not geeking out on community strategy, Jenny spends time in Los Angeles with her partner, John, and stepdaughter. In her personal life, she is a proud member of a number of communities, including Southern California Gator Club, Spiritual Sisters of Los Angeles (which she founded), Oak Park LA (for CrossFit), Sofar Sounds, and D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.
Related Links Jenny’s website Tim McDonald on Community Signal Good news from Tim! Ti
Kinks vs. Crimes and Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation at Grindr
Bodies aren’t moderated equally on the internet. Content moderation efforts, especially those at large, mainstream platforms, can suffer from policy-based bias that results in moderation centering a cisgender gaze. This reinforcing of heteronormativity can leave some of your most vulnerable community members – and potential community members – feeling alienated, ostracized, and simply unwelcome.
Last year, in her role as CX escalations supervisor at Grindr, Vanity Brown co-authored a whitepaper, Best Practices for Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation. Insightful, with a straight forward approach to making content moderation just a bit better, I found that it was also a validation of good, thoughtful moderation that has been going on for a long time.
Vanity joins the show to talk about these efforts, which are tempered by a realistic acknowledgement of the limitations of this work, and how our need to be in other places (like app stores) can often slow down the progress we’d like to make.
We also discuss:
Why it’s not our job to guess the gender of our members The state of AI trust and safety tools ChatGPT, Midjourney, and how much to worry about them
Big Quotes How bodies are moderated differently online (2:16): “We want folks to express themselves and their sexuality joyfully, without judgment. Of course, without any harm. But what does that look like? … There traditionally are [community] guidelines for females and guidelines for males, but the world is changing and folks are becoming more in tune with who they are, and we want to be able to treat them equally and let folks, especially I emphasize our trans users, who are uploading photos … and if they are showing the top, then they’re considered a woman if they have female-presenting breasts versus male. There are just a lot of nuances there that we saw as we were moderating content from a community who is very fluid with their gender expression.” -Vanity Brown
When do kinks create a moderation issue? (6:38): “[Kinks vs. crimes get] sticky when the kink looks like a crime. … Everything is about sex and kinks at Grindr. With this mass of kinky stuff, which of these things are harmful? I often echo that, in my work, I’m always driven … to do no harm. At the end of the day, are we harming someone? … Do we have a responsibility to protect them and keep them safe? As we continue to build trust with the community, we have to realize that folks are adults, too.” -Vanity Brown
Empathy sits at the core of good moderation (14:38): “If you can’t be empathetic for the things you are not … then you’re not really doing good thoughtful community moderation, trust and safety work. … Ultimately, if you want to be truly great at this work, you have to protect the people who aren’t you.” -Patrick O’Keefe
What can community pros learn from dating apps? (24:23): “[Community, moderation, trust, and safety pros] can learn from dating apps on the level of how personal and sensitive dating apps are in the content you’re sending back and forth. Folks using dating apps, a lot of times their heartstrings are attached, and their heartstrings are attached on a dating app, but not necessarily Amazon or shopping at Macy’s. … It’s just important to look at folks with a microscope and treat them with kindness as those in dating apps hopefully are doing when they’re handling their customers.” -Vanity Brown
About Vanity Brown Vanity Brown is the CX escalations supervisor for Grindr, where she has worked in trust and safety for over 2 years, following more than 7 years at eHarmony. Vanity manages an escalations team of specialists devoted to handling the most complex cases that come through Grindr’s support channels.
Related Links Vanity on LinkedIn Grindr, where Vanity is CX escalations supervisor Best Practices for Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation whitepaper, co-authored by Alice Hunsberger, Vanity, and Lily G
Safeguarding a Diabetes Charity Community and Knowing if You’ve Done the Right Thing
Safeguarding is a term used in Ireland and the United Kingdom that covers efforts to protect the health, wellbeing, and human rights of people, especially children and those who are otherwise vulnerable.
At Diabetes UK, four people alternate by week as the safeguarding lead, helping to protect those that the charity comes in contact with. One of them is Josh Poncil, the online community and learning manager. Among his responsibilities is Diabetes UK’s online forum.
On this episode, we talk about safeguarding and knowing if you’ve done the right thing at the end of the day, plus:
What is considered “too technical” for the average member to answer in a diabetes community? How Josh writes for a vulnerable audience Moderation decisions that could trigger a meltdown
Big Quotes When veteran members go bad (18:39): “[After 25 years in content moderation,] I really believe that the most stressful situation is when an experienced member takes a turn for the worst. … It’s painful because they are an example to other people in the community. Especially new members who see their posts and say, ‘That member has this number of contributions and has been in the community this long. If they [post] that and it’s up still, that’s probably how this community behaves.'” -Patrick O’Keefe
An example of safeguarding in an online community (23:43): “I had someone on the forum saying, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed a couple of weeks ago. I’ve barely eaten.’ That’s like an alarm ringing bells in my head. I’ll take the lead and private message them. … ‘Is everything okay? Could you please contact the helpline or tell us what’s going on?’
“Let’s say they got back to me saying, ‘Yes, I haven’t eaten anything. I don’t feel well. I feel dizzy.’ Then I’ll contact back, ‘Do you need me to call an ambulance?’ Sometimes they’ll go back to me, ‘Yes, here’s my address, my telephone number.’ I’ll ring [the emergency service] 999. I have to be careful what I say at the beginning because of my accent. I’m American, but I live in London. I have to make sure I’m not coming off as a scam. I’m calling from a charity. I have a safeguarding concern.” -Josh Poncil
With safeguarding, you regularly are questioning if you did the right thing (24:53): “I’ve had someone on the forum saying, ‘My mom is in quite a worrying state. She’s scared to go to the hospital. She’s dizzy, she’s not coherent. I’m scared she hasn’t been testing for blood sugars.’ On my end, I’ve contacted the daughter, ‘Please get your mom to [Accident and Emergency]. It sounds like she needs medical attention.’ They’ve got back to me, ‘Thank you for getting in touch, but my mom didn’t make it.’ This affected me, and it hit me quite hard not knowing if I did the right thing. I have to just take a moment of, ‘Did I make the right choice? Is there anything else I could do at this time?'” -Josh Poncil
About Josh Poncil For the last 4 years, Josh Poncil has been the online community and learning manager for Diabetes UK, after a stint at Blood Cancer UK. He went to school for creative writing and journalism, before transitioning to community by way of social media management.
Related Links Sponsor: Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers Josh on LinkedIn Diabetes UK, where Josh is online community and learning manager Diabetes UK’s online forum Transcript View transcript on our website
Your Thoughts If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment or send me an email. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.
Empowering Employee Resource Group Leaders With Your Internal Community Platform
Employee resource groups (ERGs) can do a lot to create a greater sense of belonging at your organization. But the folks who volunteer to lead these groups may find themselves in need of help when it comes to utilizing perhaps the greatest tool at their disposal: Your internal employee community platform.
As a community strategist within large organizations, Lori Harrison-Smith has trained employees to help them get the most out of these platforms.
She has also managed two large migrations, both from Jive, and that has led her to have a (in her words) cynical perspective on the resources made available for these migrations, by both companies and the software vendors themselves.
Lori and Patrick discuss:
Doing something for an employee vs. showing them how to do it themselves How much the ERG leaders she’s worked with have dipped into moderation The short timeframes given to internal community migrations
Big Quotes What’s really driving an internal community migration deadline (22:59): “When [an internal employee community] migration is happening, [companies are often] trying to save some money while they’re at it, and they’ve got this deadline. It’s usually a contract signature that is driving that deadline. There’s never enough time. It’s like, ‘We need to get off of this because the contract expires in November.’ It’s May when we’re having this conversation because that’s when everybody started looking at the balance sheet.” -Lori Harrison-Smith
Instead of adjustments to their platforms, vendors can push “change management” (31:52): “With the different [internal community] vendors I’ve worked with, I’ve always had great relationships with them. The people have always been great and nice, but there’s just these struggles as a community manager because I’m hearing what the employees are saying. I’m hearing them talk about the pain points they’re experiencing. Then you go back to the vendor, and a lot of it is, ‘Well, change management. You just got to get them used to this new system.'” -Lori Harrison-Smith
The downside of big dollar value community software contracts (33:57): “Maybe [the consolidation in the community software space is] a case for lower-cost platforms and open source solutions that may seem a little harder upfront but ultimately allow you to be a little more nimble internally as opposed to the sunk cost that makes you feel like you’re in a relationship you could never leave because you need to get that money back out of it.” -Patrick O’Keefe
About Lori Harrison-Smith Lori Harrison-Smith’s career began in advertising, where she worked as a copywriter and editor. She found her real passion, though, when she transitioned to a role where she launched and supported an 8,000-strong employee community. Since 2011, Lori has held community roles within large organizations, leading platform updates and migrations, developing content and engagement programs, advocating for user experience, and guiding and supporting employees around communication and knowledge sharing.
She is currently the collaboration network manager at VMware, following community roles at Motorola Solutions and Steelcase.
Related Links Lori Harrison-Smith on LinkedIn VMware, where Lori is the collaboration network manager Employee Resource Groups Create a Sense of Belonging, Foster Engagement by Stephen Miller for SHRM Transcript View transcript on our website Your Thoughts If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment or send me an email. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.
The Chief Community Officer Hype Machine
As we celebrate Community Signal’s 7th birthday, Patrick takes questions from Community Signal listeners and supporters in this first ever “Ask Patrick Anything” episode of the show.
If everything had worked with CNN+, what would community look like for the platform? Would you rather be a working community professional or a community consultant? Will we ever see community leaders in the C-suite as the norm? 2023 will be Patrick’s 25th year of community work, so this is an opportunity to reflect on that passage of time. A lot has changed and, surprisingly, some things haven’t.
Joining Patrick to ask the questions and dig deeper is previous guest Jared Smith. They also cover:
The early promise of CNN+’s Interview Club How community moderation tools have changed over the years Why community isn’t special when it comes to the C-suite Big Quotes You have to commit to be successful with D2C products (11:55): “If you build interactive products and kill them after three weeks, it’s hard to prove out anything. It’s hard to build out loyalty. It’s hard to build out a D2C product if you’re not willing to commit.” -Patrick O’Keefe
The magic of the unexpected in media products (13:04): “I think there is something magical that can happen when you take some of the expected nature of television or media, of what we expect is going to happen, and you throw the consumer, the community, the members, the subscribers into that. You give them the freedom to make other things happen.” -Patrick O’Keefe
Operators drive moderator tool development more than platforms (22:24): “[When it comes to moderator tools], it’s often the community of people who need something driving it more so than the platforms themselves.” -Patrick O’Keefe
Developers still focus on the frontend more than the administrative backend (23:35): “It’s a cliché to say that software developers focus on the frontend and the user experience and not so much the admin and moderation experience. That’s a cliché in our business. I think that is largely the case with some exceptions. Those exceptions tend to be people who have run communities themselves or who have a really good foundational understanding of the web from being in it for so long.” -Patrick O’Keefe
If you want to make a difference in moderator tooling, start with the communities that don’t have money (23:58): “I get pitched by developers, and I always tell them that the way to make change in this industry is to make your product available to the people who don’t have anything. The Fortune 500s of the world are always going to have money, and they’re always going to have engineers. They can figure their way around problems and pay for solutions. Most communities, 99.9% of people, don’t have any money. That’s where you make change.” -Patrick O’Keefe
Artificial intelligence isn’t a moderation panacea (24:36): “If you think about it [going back 25 years], forums are not dead and the mod tools are basically the same that we had. Remove user, close thread, things like that, a lot of that stuff. It’s the same. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One of the things about these AIs is sometimes they get it really, really wrong in really offensive ways. You still need that human element to counter that.” -Jared Smith
Banning Andrew Anglin is not brave, it’s obvious (27:09): “When [Elon Musk decides] to unban Andrew Anglin, who’s arguably the most prominent real nazi on the internet, the founder of The Daily Stormer, the most prominent nazi publication on the internet [that makes Twitter a place I am less likely to engage]. … Andrew Anglin can join any platform I own and he’ll be banned. That’s not a brave thing. That’s not a talking point or like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ It’s obvious. It’s not an amazing thing.” -Patrick O’Keefe
Thank you for sharing your experience.
I came for a recent episode and I’ll be subscribing because this will make me a better community moderator. Thank you.
A must-join community
I love this podcast and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about cultivating a community with their marketing tactics. Every single episode is filled with actionable tips and insights, so you can't go wrong in choosing one!
Lots of great interviews with online community managers. Come away from every episode with new ideas