MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
I posted my final pic of the Ferry Building from the Salesforce office yesterday – and people have been wondering where I’m going. You don’t have to wait too much longer!
Today I’m announcing that I’m joining Sidecar, (peer-to-peer ridesharing company, if you aren’t familiar) as Head of Community, where my mission will be to facilitate the awesomest community and the most engaging experience for Sidecar drivers. As with all community jobs, I’ll be there making sure that drivers feel supported and resourced, and are working with each other and with us to build a brighter future. But this particular opportunity is even more exciting: I’ll be working in a space that’s new to a lot of people – myself included. I’ll be one of the community practitioners that will define what community means in the peer-to-peer marketplace — where your community is your product, and your product is your community. Mind = blown!
Here are some reasons why I fell in love with this opportunity, and I’m literally on the edge of my seat until I officially start on Monday.
I believe that we are in the middle of a movement. Whether you define it as the Sharing Movement, Collaborative Consumption, or the larger Collaborative Economy, or in any other way — a couple of things are clear. People are sharing skills and assets, creating new things, learning from each other and financially benefitting from excess capacity and the shrinking world that puts anyone and anything at our fingertips. New business models are afoot that can benefit individuals and businesses that know what to do with it. Individuals are no longer waiting for governments and corporations to give them permission to create their financial circumstances. And people all over the world are becoming better and less wasteful consumers – because, let’s face it, we’ve only got this one planet. This is a movement – and a movement I want to be a part of.
Using the words of John Hagel, some communities are Communities of Interest, and some are Communities of Action. All of this sharing, making and learning action needs a solid community platform – and a community manager to facilitate and make sure that the conditions are there for participants to trust each other and thrive. Jeremiah Owyang talks about “Motivate a marketplace” and “Provide a platform” as key imperatives for businesses in the Collaborative Economy – and I think the role of a community manager is evolving to accommodate these new models. And of course, I want to be at the forefront of that.
When your community is so deeply built into your product and your company’s DNA that it can’t exist without it – that’s the highest expression of community management as a discipline. This excites me terribly.
When I was exploring companies in the space, I was really impressed by the vision Sidecar shared with me. Yesterday, the company launched its new marketplace that helps riders choose the car they want to ride, and drivers create the right experience at the corresponding price. This is a really important shift that takes peer-to-peer ridesharing from a commodity service to a true community-driven marketplace.
Fred Wilson blogged yesterday about his investment in Sidecar: “The human touch means not turning car owners who want to make a bit more money into limousine drivers. The human touch means allowing a driver to choose when and where they drive. The human touch means allowing drivers to market themselves in the app with a picture and a little bit about them and their car. The human touch means allowing the drivers to change their pricing whenever they feel like it.”
He nailed it – and I agree wholeheartedly. Where both sides of the marketplace get to choose, everybody wins.
Some companies are sales-driven, some are driven by product, and some are driven by community. These are the companies that motivate marketplaces. It is every community manager’s dream to work for a company for whom community is not just a silo on the side. Among its peer group, Sidecar is the one that demonstrates this commitment by building it into the product itself – and I’m thrilled to work for a company that “gets it.”
It’s still relatively early days of ridesharing, and all companies in the space are covering new ground – and the new Sidecar pivot is a pretty transformative change. I’m incredibly excited to be in this space at this time.
While some people prefer predictability and knowing what’s going to happen next, I’m motivated by uncertainty, chaos, huge dreams and even bigger outcomes. Standing at the precipice and looking out at what’s possible is not enough – I want to help the world understand the art of the possible. And I won’t have to do it alone — there’s a critical mass of peer sharing / collaborative companies, and working with other community managers in the space will be very meaningful for the community and for me personally.
It’s terrifying and extremely exciting to enter a space in hypergrowth, that’s still shrouded in mystery sometimes. Being the face of the company to a community is a fun and terrifying challenge. While being “on display” as a face of the company seemingly gives you little room for error, coming into it without preconceived notions but with a dogged determination to make it work by working together, you eventually earn respect and trust. Navigating uncertainty — a key capability of community managers — helps you become a better leader by constantly being aware of your vulnerability. I did a lot of soul-searching when thinking about what’s next in my career, and decided that I’m ready to start taking steps to becoming the kind of person I want to be.
I’m excited at the opportunity to depart from my comfort zone, to create something amazing from the ground up, in a space that’s changing the world. I asked friends who know me well, observe my reactions when I talked about various career directions I was considering. Without a doubt, and almost unanimously, my friends told me that I was most excited when I talked about Sidecar.
I did a lot of research while exploring the ridesharing movement. Of course, there are the deep studies of economic impact by Jeremiah Owyang. And then there are the very real stories of lives that are being changed by Sidecar.
I’ve met people who for one reason or another had to leave their jobs – or their jobs became not enough – and who could now replace or supplement their incomes, all while driving about town. A few days ago, I met a guy who left his job because he didn’t love it, and with the flexibility that Sidecar affords him, he doesn’t have to go back to work – or at least he can take his time figuring out what he really wants to do next. This is individual empowerment at its best – and what I believe is the purpose of a Community of Action. Through my work with Yammer and Chatter, I’ve seen people’s careers change in front of my eyes; I’ve seen people become meaningfully engaged with their work, and I’ve seen companies transform as a result. With Sidecar, I’m looking forward to continuing to experience this magic. Transformation is never easy, but the result always moves me.
I also listened to drivers’ stories – it’s pretty amazing what can happen when you put away your phone for 10 minutes. From one Sidecar driver, I learned about a Russian cultural festival, which happens this weekend nonetheless (some Russian I am who didn’t know this!) I met a tango instructor, who told me about an amazing local Tango studio. I’ve been dying to learn since I visited Buenos Aires with my hubby. Peer-to-peer marketplaces place us face to face with people we would’ve never met otherwise, and that’s pretty powerful. I’ve been learning about cool jobs I didn’t know existed and getting to know parts of the city I’ve never noticed before.
It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine, going between work and home, caught in the echo chamber of people who are just like you. The opportunity to meet someone new for 10 minutes each day– driving from place to place – is that human touch that Fred Wilson talks about. It’s a big world out there – and every single person has a story to tell. These small, serendipitous glimpses into the lives, experiences and dreams of others are meaningful and strangely intimate. Yet the experience confronts you with the idea that you don’t really know anything and that the purpose of life is to learn and experience. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to communities…
I can’t wait ‘till Monday! You have 4 days to download and use Sidecar – you’ve been warned
This post is a love letter to my fellow community managers, as well as a brass-tacks discussion on the practice of community management – the dark and the light side of it. It is also a call to action for community managers to take a proactive stand against burnout — while working all the time may seem like the right thing to do for our communities in the short term, burnout renders us useless to these same communities.
They say that community managers are CEOs in training, and I think that’s partly because of how truly cross-functional we are, but it’s also because of the passion we carry for our communities. Personally, in order to be effective, I can only work for communities I believe in, and must be passionate about the product and the company’s mission.
For most, community management is more than a job. I’ve had to actively give myself permission to disconnect – physically and mentally. Truly disconnecting has been a challenge — even if I’m not working, I’m still thinking about it.
I didn’t realize how thin the line between passion and obsession really is until John Hagel helped me shape my thinking. Passion is your guiding light, your life’s purpose that helps you run a marathon – it’s sustained action over an extended period of time that helps you reach your goal. Passion is your moral compass in times of adversity. It helps you get things done by pulling other passionate people and resources towards you. Obsession is an unhealthy fixation, at the expense of other things in your life — most often overcompensation for a shortcoming. Obsession burns you out; you can’t run a marathon at the speed of a sprint. At times, I’ve let my passion consume me and become obsession, but I’ve gotten better at recognizing this pattern and controlling my thoughts and actions.
There’s been some discussion — not nearly enough — about the mental tax that founders feel and how it leads to mental problems. I think community managers aren’t far behind. The highs are exhilarating, and the lows are soul-crushing. If we, as community managers, can master living and breathing our passions, without letting them consume us, we will be able to run our life marathons and change the world as a result.
A community manager is everyone’s support and advocate – advocating simultaneously for the customer and the company. In times of conflict – for example, when customers aren’t too thrilled about a product release that’s important to the company — we are the ones caught in the cross-hairs. As the first line of defense on both sides, we deal with every conflict and fallout and are the peacemaker and a problem solver — everyone is looking to us for answers.
In the inevitable times of conflict or disagreement (there will always be conflict) our job is to calm others down while they fall apart. We have to do so without internalizing it – much like professional counselors. Not only is the conflict itself taxing, but even more so is the pressure of everyone depending on you. The solution is not to internalize conflict and to look for support from across the organization in helping you shoulder some of the burden. For example, if you know a certain feature will be contentious, make sure you understand it well, and rally your product people to be on standby with you during a critical time.
By being the first line of defense, we amass a huge amount of institutional knowledge. We are exposed to an incredible amount of information and know how the organization runs from just about every angle. We also know just about everyone: we know key community champions and customers, product, marketing, support and customer facing organizations, and the executive suite. Because we understand patterns and behaviors, as well as members’ interests and values, we can often predict a reaction to just about any stimulus.
Because of this, everyone looks to us for answers, and this can quickly spin out of control. Here’s another novel idea that can set you free: we don’t need to have all the answers; it’s actually better when we don’t. Because we tend to be people-pleasers who love to help, our first instinct is to answer questions head on. We must consciously fight this; avoid speaking for everyone and allow (better yet, encourage) people with authority and expertise to take the spotlight. It’s much more meaningful when a customer can answer a best practices question for another customer — but it’s still on you to ensure this happens, and over time create the conditions where this happens naturally. It’s also much more meaningful when your product team can share the product vision, roadmap and answer questions – they have the authority on the subject; you don’t. Of course, it’s incumbent on you to orchestrate this.
Remember: you don’t scale, and just because your community is global, doesn’t mean that you need to be online all day and all night, forsaking sleep and vacation. Trust me, a burned out community manager is pretty useless, so drop the heroics. Your job as a community manager is not to scale yourself, but to create human systems that scale infinitely. Recruit, groom and empower your community’s ambassadors — from all over the world — and relegate control to them. Work with them, nurture them, reward them in the way that they want to be rewarded, and pay it forward.
Stop trying to be the middle-man and let other employees engage directly with customers. Partner with other parts of the organization and have a killer process — it’s always more authentic if various teams at your company can speak directly about their expertise areas. If you tap into your members’ (employees and customers) intrinsic motivations and design the community to self-sustain, you will scale infinitely. The true test of your community is whether or not you can take a vacation and not be worried about shit blowing up.
Because of how deeply involved we are with everything, we see everything that’s right and wrong. It can be jarring and unsettling. Because we are fixers, our instinct is to try to fix everything – oftentimes things that fall outside of our purview. We must fight this instinct — just because we informally influence things doesn’t always mean we are empowered to change how the company works.
We need to shed our idealism and be realistic about things we can change and influence — and how long it may take. Be realistic about the culture you have, pick your battles and understand internal politics. Having a lot of informal influence may lull us into a false sense of security and invincibility. Introduce change gradually, pick your battles and be sensitive to others – you will create a lot more change if you are thoughtful about how you influence and how you introduce change. This is difficult, especially for ambitious individuals like myself – but I’m learning!
Paradoxically, even though we do so much and get involved in so many things, a lot of times people don’t know exactly what we do or what success takes. Our jobs don’t fit into neat boxes like other jobs do, and are oftentimes are hard to quantify — because communities tend to have fuzzier ROI, and because our role as the connective tissue is oftentimes felt, but not seen.
It’s also because good community managers celebrate others, and not themselves. Because of this, we oftentimes don’t get credit for things we do. Our job is to create an environment that self-sustains and thus work ourselves out of a job — people just assume the community works by itself. In fact, all communities that seem to work effortlessly are this way because of the work of a community manager; the community manager is the magical unicorn that spreads pixie dust. When everything goes well, no one notices, and it’s only known how much you’ve really done when you’re gone — community manager attrition causes disproportionate damage, due to loss of relationships and tacit and operational knowledge.
How can we make sure that people know what we do? Talk about it; let people know what you’re working on and share successes. While you need to celebrate and uplift others, but you also need to drum your own drum. Otherwise, you won’t get the respect, or the political or financial capital, which in turn helps you make the community more awesome. So step up, step out of the shadows and take what’s yours.
When people have problems, they go to the community manager. But where does the community manager go? To other community managers, of course! I am extremely lucky to be part of a few communities of practice (such as the Community Roundtable and many others) and have a very strong network of like-minded individuals whom I trust endlessly. We are very tightly knit; we are there to catch each other when chips fall, we laugh and cry together, we hire each other, we bleed our love of community.
Stop putting on a brave face and ask for help — it doesn’t make you incompetent; rather, it makes you thoughtful and a leader. Be intellectually honest with yourself and others, and push them to do the same. Share your trials and tribulations with other practitioners, but be careful to not indulge in a toxic bitch-fest.
Awareness is the first step. If any of the above describes you, leave a note in this blogpost or join the conversation on Twitter with #CMDarkSide hashtag– let’s find a solution together. Off the top of my head, peer support is probably the most important thing we should all invest in. There are tons of communities and unconferences for our kind — in fact, I’m helping out with Online Community Conference 2013 next week – you should join!
I first had an idea for this post months ago, and to calibrate my thoughts, I posted in the Community Roundtable community. It’s been heartening to see that I’m not alone. In fact, there was so much response, that we collaborated on this e-book about “The Dark Side” — check it out here:
To sum up, here are things you can do today. They aren’t always easy, but you need to shift your thinking:
Photo credit: Dark Jedi Tumblr
Since I announced my departure from Yammer a few weeks ago, people have been wondering about my next steps. Today, you don’t have to wonder anymore! Cue drumroll… This week, I’m joining Salesforce, where I will be helping companies create excellent communities of their own, and working with the Salesforce organization to develop internal excellence around communities. As we all know, successful community building fully depends on culture and execution, and is supported by technology.
My career goals
When thinking about my next opportunity, I took some time to really consider what I’m passionate about and how I can make the most impact in the world. I am personally and professionally extremely vested in helping companies do better with their communities. As interest in business communities reaches a fever pitch, execution still lags, as businesses struggle to understand how to make their communities strategic and successful.
While business leaders understand on an abstract level that communities are important, there’s a lot that happens between that realization and having a thriving community that meets business objectives. For business leaders, it’s critical to understand business value of communities and know how to support it – beyond giving a stamp of approval. Executives and heads of business need to have a working knowledge of what a community is and isn’t, what it takes to be successful, and the ongoing organizational and cultural commitment they need to provide. They also need to understand the role that they themselves play in modeling the right behaviors that help communities succeed.
For community managers and strategists, it’s not a trivial task to drum up executive support, map to business goals (and consistently measure against them), get heads of business on their side, work across the organization and not in a silo – not to mention community design, adoption strategies, engagement building, and eventually changing the culture of the company. As businesses are trying to figure out the why of communities, community managers are working on the how. Many community managers are in roles, where they don’t have the support and the tools to be successful. I’ve been working hard at helping companies address these challenges, by leading communities and by openly blogging and speaking on the subject. There’s clearly a hunger for this kind of information, as evidenced by how deeply the Community Management Playbook resonated. I’m excited to continue doing exactly this, at a much bigger scale and with greater impact.
What I’ll be doing
I will be joining the Chatter product team, working on the Chatter Communities product, the community platform that enables customer companies to reimagine how they work with customers and partners — combining the power of social networking with business processes (check out this video for more).
While my official title is Director of Product Marketing, my job will be a hybrid role between a community coach, developer of best practices and product marketer — helping the company take the right message to the market and support its customers in community excellence from a strategic and executional perspective. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll focus on developing written assets, such as playbooks, e-books, blogposts, as well as publicly speaking, working with analysts and industry, and working with the Salesforce customer community to increase adoption. Working on the Chatter product team is the best of both worlds: the backing of a large, world-class company with an enduring reputation and iconic customers, while working with a really smart, flat, entrepreneurial team. We are still defining the role, and it will continue to morph and change – which is just the way I like it! And who knows, maybe I’ll come up with a new title that will more accurately describe what I do.
Why I’m excited about it
This is a big deal; it’s a huge opportunity that’s consistent with my goal of really making a huge difference in how businesses think of and execute on open collaboration inside and outside of company lines. The opportunity in front of me is twofold: help guide how Salesforce as a company talks about communities, as well as develop the tools to help customers and the business world at large. I’ll be talking to a few key audiences: I will be helping executives and business leaders to understand communities, which is super important for the reasons I listed above, as well as working with community managers (the tribe I love!) to help them take their craft to new heights and get the support they need within their companies.
I couldn’t be joining a better company at a better time. Salesforce’s ethos of a Customer Company is greatly in line with my own thinking and set of values. I believe that today, the single biggest opportunity for businesses is to help their customers have experiences worth sharing, and activate employees and partners to work towards that same goal. By helping customers, partners and employees work together in an open way, companies become adaptable and make better decisions, making themselves better in the process. The Salesforce technology stack allows all these parties to connect in a truly meaningful and intelligent way, and connected to business processes — and communities are front and center to this strategy.
Today is my last day at Yammer – it’s bittersweet as all last days are. I’m blown away by the experience of the past two years, sad to leave, and excited for the future. It’s been the craziest and most fulfilling experience of my professional life. A bit over two years ago, I had no idea what I had just signed up for. Through the past 2 years, I’ve seen the company go from 100 employees to 500, and to being acquired by one of the largest companies in the world for a whole lot of cold, hard cash. I’ve seen Yammer go from being seen as a social toy by analysts, to becoming a household name, much to the credit of DeeAnna McPherson, Kevin Young and the most amazing customer army.
I’ve gone through every emotion you could think of – to say that every day was a new adventure would be an understatement. I can honestly say that it was a very full and fulfilling experience. You see, it’s very hard to put all of these things into words, but I will try.
I will start by thanking Yammer for this amazing opportunity. Thank you to David Sacks and Adam Pisoni for creating one of the most special companies and cultures I’ve ever seen. It’s been and continues to be a place for talented people to thrive and feel connected to a huge, mind-boggling mission of changing how people work together.
It all started for me when Steve Schnell scouted me from a talk I gave (I’m living proof that getting out there matters much more than writing a resume or a cover letter). When you and Steve Apfelberg took me to lunch that one day, I had no idea I was being interviewed Thank you for that, and thank you for not giving up when I told you this opportunity wasn’t for me (what was I thinking?!?).
Thank you to DeeAnna McPherson for being the best boss ever – you are the reason I was successful here. You gave me autonomy to learn, develop, grow and act – and you never questioned my judgment. You trusted me implicitly, supported me, removed roadblocks and defended me in front of others. I’ve learned what leadership means from your actions. Kevin Young: same goes for you. You were only my boss for a few months, but you did much of what Dee Anna did for me. Thank you for being awesome all the time.
Thank you to the amazing team of Molly Bugler and Matt Jensen. You made me look good every day. Someone once said to me: “Wow your team is great; you are really good at hiring.” (See, you made me look good here too!) And yes, it’s true — I found the most amazing team when I met you. The Community Playbook – my favorite piece of content I’ve been a part of – would never have happened without you, your commitment and your patience when each night I stayed up till 1 a.m. to add more slides because I just had to have them . You probably thought I was nuts, but you rolled with it anyway. You filled in where I lacked, and that was awesome (yep, I’m looking at you, Molly, with your Ninja Powerpoint Skillz). I will miss you guys the most.
Thank you for the constant inspiration and thought leadership from Matt Partovi, Steve Hopkins, Matt Ontell, just to name a few (wow, so many Matts!). Matt P, I’ll never forget how you pushed me to think bigger – beyond community, to building movements. I am better because of you, our brainstorming sessions and your support. Steve Hopkins, Matt Partovi, Stephen Danelutti, Kate Forgione and many others — I will be forever grateful for you making me feel right at home across both oceans and including me in your lives.
All of you will always be my Yamily (yes, I went there).
I’ve learned so much, I can’t list it all, but here’s a small sampling …
Not only did I learn a ton about enterprise social, wants and needs of users and buyers – and the art of understanding which one is which, and how buyers and users need each other. I also learned a ton about innovation and organizational design. No awesome platform will help you if you aren’t set up to deal with change, and technology only amplifies the problems that you already have. Yammer the company is an embodiment of what Yammer the product helps its customers do, when product becomes one with the organization.
I learned the importance of shipping and then iterating. I learned that MVP is not limited to engineering. It’s the only way to get anything done in a world that’s constantly changing. I learned the importance of analytics to not only product, but to everything in life. Oh sheesh, now I’m going to be A / B testing everything. O hai there, Fish!
I’ve also learned a ton about community management and how the right community design may make or break you. I learned how to work completely in the open, and that being vulnerable doesn’t expose your weakness; it’s actually a leadership strength.
I also learned about letting go of certain things and being flexible. As a very passionate person, I tend to dig my heels in and stand my ground. I learned that this doesn’t always work, and working with other passionate people, you need to figure out how to move forward, without getting stuck at an impasse. I learned about operating at the intersection of standing by what you know is right, but with enough humility and openness to let others take a chance on you. I learned that trust trumps everything. And probably most importantly, I learned to give myself permission to pace myself, so that I don’t get injured running a marathon at the speed of a sprint.
My favorite part: Community
And my favorite part of my Yammer experience: the customer community (this is the part where I cry). You all mean more to me than you will ever know. It’s been an honor and a priveledge to hang out with you every day – online and offline. You are true heroes, breaking down silos, coaching and educating, putting your careers on the line for what you know is right. You are really changing your companies – and the world!
Thank you for not laughing me out of the room when I first came to Yammer and had no idea how to marry the two worlds of consumerized social software and enterprise buyers. I made some mistakes for sure, but you were always patient and open to learning together. I feel like I got an MBA from the school of hard knocks and a front seat to the best and most meaningful change in how humans work together.
Thank you for teaching me so much and for being patient while I gained a true appreciation for complexity and nuance of what it takes to be you. You moved and continue to move mountains with unwavering commitment. I have even seen some of your careers change, as you became evangelists of enterprise social – and that’s been extremely gratifying to watch. Thank you for always being honest, helping and trusting each other, and really being a community. Thank you for your enduring passion – it dwarfs all other customer passion I’ve seen yet. Flashmobs, Yammer cupcakes, and even a Yammer dictionary? Oh my!
I will miss the cheerful optimism and helpfulness of Miguel Zlot, Ashley Gross, Scott Kelley, Andrea Berry, Josephine Murfey, Nicky Hayward-Wright – and way too many names to name. I will miss discussions and whole blogposts coming together in front of my very eyes — wait, did Simon Terry, a CEO of a financial company in Australia, really write a blogpost over the weekend, sparked by a conversation between a bunch of really smart people? Did this really happen? That’s pretty special, if you ask me. Simon Terry, Andy Hedges, Jonathan Anthony, Kai Riemer, Lawrence DeVoe, Phoebe Venkat, Roland Hulme and the list goes on and on and on – you are a rare breed: thought leaders and practitioners, and I look forward to seeing you on the cover of the New York Times.
Until we meet again
I hate goodbyes, and this is certainly not one. This is a love letter and a celebration of what we experienced and built together. We will always have the social web connecting us, and I’m not worried about losing touch – my digital door is always open, and you know where to find me. While I will miss all of you on a daily basis, I am looking forward to a lifetime of keeping up with you, because I know you will change the world.
But the building of the future doesn’t stop here. I leave behind an immensely talented and committed team of Molly Bugler, Matt Jensen and Bryony Cole. These guys can take what we’ve built together to the next level. It’s been a priveledge to watch all of you flourish and grow. I am very proud of what we have built together.
I sometimes can’t believe that I get to do this for a living – I must have done something right This experience will be hard to top, and now I have developed an appetite for working towards changing the world. So that’s where I’ll be – starting movements and changing the world — one mind and action at a time. But first, a European holiday to recharge my battery!
(P.S. that’s me in the Yammy suit!)
“How do I make content go viral?” Every time I hear this question, I want to scream and shake the person who asks it. If that’s the question you ask, you’re doing it wrong. What you should be asking is: “How do I create something that people value and thus want to share with others? And why would they want to share it?”
This last week, my team and I published this amazing Community Playbook that went absolutely bananas on Slideshare. It was one of a three featured presentations for a number of days, and got over 50,000 views in under a week. Have a look here:
I knew it was going to do well — otherwise, I wouldn’t have invested so much of my own and others’ time — but this was beyond expectations. It also made me think and analyze precisely how this thing went so viral, so I figured I’d publish my thoughts here. This is by no means a bible of viral content; it’s just my views from my experience.
1. Make something remarkable that can massively help others.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but try to forget your own reasons for making something and ask yourself what others need. I saw a need in community management education for new community managers, lack of understanding of the strategic importance of community management by businesses, and a massive confusion between social media marketing and community building, which continues to hurt our field. I listened for months — if not years — to the questions people were asking and ways in which they fell flat. I also knew I had to scale, because the sheer number of questions I was getting was starting to get out of control. This book was singularly focused on the goal of helping community managers advance their careers and raising the literacy level of our profession — nothing more and nothing less. It was exactly what was needed, with the right dose of inspiration and tangible advice. People needed this, and we gave it to them.
2. Give people a reason to share.
Your content will never go viral if people don’t want to share it. My buddy Angus Nelson said this best: “People share great content because it makes them look ________ (fill in the blank)”. If your content is crap, people won’t read it because it’s crap, and they won’t share it, because they’ll look like crap. The Playbook made people sharing it look well-informed and smart, and I’m sure (or at least I hope!) that it helped many community managers get more support for their initiatives.
Believe it or not, steps #1 and #2 are the easy ones. Here is the hard part.
3. Have a reputation.
This is the hard part. I don’t think the Playbook would’ve done as well as it did if I wasn’t a somewhat recognized practitioner of the subject. I realize that it sounds self-absorbed, but if you are someone people have come to trust, they will be more likely to share it. Again, see #2 — people want to look good by sharing it. What does this mean in practical terms? Release something that’s meaningful to you, that you’re good at, and where you have authority and thought leadership. Your content has to align closely to your craft. You have to work on this for years and you have to start building your brand today if you want to be a viral success tomorrow.
4. Have relationships and involve others.
This is also the hard part. What is not obvious to the success of the Playbook is that I had seeded the table of contents with many people, a few months in advance. A lot of these people are influential in the field of community management, and their endorsement matters. I asked them to provide input and did a quick sanity check. I asked everyone: “What am I missing? Am I completely off base? How would you make it better?” I started talking about it months ahead, and it was a lot of work. Working in the open is also risky, because, what if someone steals your idea? But whatever risk you run is heavily outweighed by the reward you will most certainly get.
When you ask others to participate, they feel closer to the project and will advocate for you. When it was time to publish, I let people know in the backchannel that this was happening, at the same time. People started sharing it, and it quickly got on the “Hot on Twitter” section of SlideShare. From there, it became a Featured Presentation, and the views happened from there. Had I not seeded it, people may have missed it, and without the tightly orchestrated tweet storm, we may not have trended on Slideshare. In most of social content sites, you have to trend with a certain velocity to get lifted to featured status, so timing does matter.
5. Gut check to make sure people still want to read it.
I also seeded it with our customers and our colleagues, for a gut-check and a well-rounded view, so that we could make sure that it was something that would help our customers. It’s so easy to get lost in your own brain in an attempt to codify your knowledge, that you may forget about making your content useful (step #1) and shareable (#2). The week before we published it, I had led my team too far down the rabbit hole, and with sound advice from my colleagues, we were able to tame it back to a manageable size. I learned a valuable lesson that what you want to publish isn’t necessarily what others want to read. When you think you are done with your content, gut check it against step #1 and #2 and ask others for their opinion. If you don’t like what people say, don’t get hurt and defensive; take it as an opportunity to improve, while also assuring that you are getting good advice from a reputable source.
Her name was Velita, which roughly translates to “have seen it” in Italian. After a lifetime of hardship and life that had taken away everything, but given her faith, Velita was on her way to the top. Sitting on a bus, Velita was coming back from her class with a Master Chef at Cordon Bleu. “I’m writing a book about the coming of age of a young girl. Its last chapter ends with her going to the Cordon Bleu.”
I met Velita on the 19 bus last weekend, as it slowed to a crawl because of a demonstration downtown San Francisco. I was trying to go to a movie and missed my regular bus. I usually hate the 19; it goes through Tenderloin and oftentimes riders are strung out on drugs. One time this one dude kicked the door so hard it shattered. But I digress.
It was a weird confluence of events that led me to that bus, seated next to Velita that day. With roads at a standstill, it crawled along its detour. While I’m usually annoyed when public transportation’s inadequacy blows my plans, this time I was secretly wishing the bus would take longer. I was listening to Velita as she told us her story. I wanted to absorb her, feel her, hang onto every word. There was something so poetic in her quiet strength, such wisdom and forgiveness of everything and everyone who’d done her wrong. Eventually, we parted ways, but I have a feeling I’ll be seeing her book in a bookstore very soon.
As I got off the bus, a peaceful melancholic lightness wrapped around me like a blanket. I felt at peace with the world, Velita’s strength having rubbed off on me. I was melancholy because my time with her was over, and I wanted more. I felt a light with inspiration to write again myself. With tears in my eyes, I shuddered at the thought that I almost missed this brush with inspiration. I could’ve missed it if I didn’t take the bus; I could’ve also missed it if I was listening to my headphones.
Inspiration can come from the weirdest of places, and from the people with whom you have nothing in common. All you have to do is give it a chance and listen. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to listen. I forgot how to open my mind and just let go. Somewhere, somehow, life became this race to do things. These things demand to be done and thought about, cluttering my brain, leaving no room to process what it is I’m doing and why. Mental clutter, much like physical clutter has backed me into a corner, making me lose the feeling of freedom I had when I was younger, when my mind wandered, and a new possibility was around every corner.
Everybody’s got a story tell, and if they want to share it, I want to hear them. Stories inspire me. Stories are the molecules of our world, of our humanity. They are both an outcome and an input into what we do. They color and are colored by the prism with which we look at the world. I want to hear more of these stories and fall deeply in love with humanity. I want to let my brain wander, free of clutter and “what ifs.”
Perhaps I can do different things every weekend, immersing myself in things I never knew were there. Perhaps I can talk to more people I know, but never bothered to really know – and see where that takes me. Maybe I give myself a goal of having a lunch or a coffee with a new person (or someone I lost touch with) every weekend and just talking – with no agenda. What do you think? Want to grab a coffee? What are the things that give you inspiration?
While we expect words from loved ones to have the most resonance, sometimes it’s the words of people you don’t know well, that impact you in ways you couldn’t foresee. We give more credence to people who know us best, as their words align to our self-concept. But sometimes it takes someone with a fresh perspective to make things as clear as only someone with no preconceived notions could.
Thinking about this unexpected impact, I oftentimes think about a time years ago when I went out to grab a drink with a friend — not a particularly close one — we used to be closer but lost touch over the years. I was in an a relationship that had potential, but somehow was just wrong. I told this to my friend, to which she said: “I’ll tell you something that my mother told me; you never want to be with someone for their potential. They need to be what you need them to be today, right now.” While not particularly earth-shattering, these simple words, coming from a source I didn’t come to seek wisdom from, were exactly what I needed. I had been thinking that already subconsciously, but I needed words to activate my thoughts and move me to action. These were real thoughts in my head now; ones I could act on. I ended up exploring the relationship I was in, getting some answers for myself, and moving on. Soon thereafter, I met my husband.
A few weeks ago, i was talking to my colleague Matt Partovi. I was struggling with bringing an initiative to life. It didn’t feel right. “Why don’t you think of it as starting a movement?” he said. Bam! That was exactly the word that brought to the forefront the nascent thoughts that couldn’t quite take shape. That was the word I needed right then, right there. Just one little word, which now laid on the page and summed up what I intellectually and emotionally knew, but couldn’t say. This one word is permeating a lot of my plans for 2013 – personal and professional.
The word movement means something to me, and when I say it to others I can see in their reaction that it means something to them too. It was my colleague’s words that tapped into the dormant words in my head and activated them. They sprung me into action, and now the movements we create can spring others into action.
So what? I know I, for one, will be more mindful of the impact simple words I say can have on others — people I know and people I don’t even know well (or at all). So let’s be thoughtful and deliberate about words we put out there — you never know when they may make an impact.
How have simple words, coming from an unexpected direction, changed you in unexpected ways? Have you yourself been able to make an impact you didn’t expect to?
I am an introvert. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me, but turns out I’m just an introvert. This doesn’t mean I’m shy or meek or don’t like people. Just the opposite, I love people – I just love them in a different way. When I tell people I am an introvert, they look at me and say “wow, I had no idea, you are so engaging and communicative and not shy!”
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are a socially awkward shut-in; it just means that you get your energy from different sources than extroverts. Being at large networking events where I am “always on” exhausts me. Being in small purpose-filled groups, talking about things I’m passionate about with like-minded people energizes me. Being able to spend some time with myself and my own thoughts re-energizes me daily – it’s my ying to the yang of spending my days with extroverts.
I am not shy. I have very strong ideas and I stand by every one of them. I enjoy lively debate, exchanges of ideas, and meeting people with those ideas. I do not enjoy communicating for the sake of filling silences and I rarely start conversations with people for the first time. It’s funny how awkward first conversations are for me – unless we already have some kind of a common connection or a common purpose. Social media and online communities has actually helped me tremendously in this regard, by allowing me to have the first meeting online, asynchronously and on my own terms.