Carter Gibson Believes in Community at Google
Sarah sits down with Carter Gibson, an internal community manager at Google. They discuss what a community manager does, the importance of a strong community in a company, and fostering a strong culture. The two have a wonderful conversation about cultivating a strong community with consistency and transparency at the largest tech company in the world.
Speaker 1 (00:10)
Your community online, no matter where you have it should not be Yelp for disgruntled customers. And it shouldn't be a place where the only thing people talk about a feature request. If you're doing that, you're not building a passionate community and you're supporting each other and learning from each other, which is kind of the point. Welcome back. Another edition of our awesome podcast where we talk all things customer experience, whether it's growth or career or support or products. Today is a fun one because I've never interviewed anybody from our community who works in community. And today I chose to have my very good old friend Carter Gibson, who is currently at Google, come on and talk about his role as an internal community manager. I've known Carter since he began his career way back when it feels like an age. But to see him find a voice in this industry and become a really known expert and leader in the field of community management has been such a joy. And I was so excited that he chose to join us today so enthusiastically to talk about community management, what it means, where does it exist in that company?
Speaker 1 (01:15)
What's the future of community? How do you start your own community? These are all big questions I've been asked from people at the Elevate world and even in my consulting world. So let's start with the basics. What is community? What does it look like? What does Carter do all day? Okay, here we go. Carter Gibson from the Google. But you weren't Carter Gibson. Well, you kind of were Carter Gibson from the Google when I met you because you were Carter Gibson, famous on Google Plus. Do you remember that?
Speaker 2 (01:47)
I vividly remember that, even though it feels a little bit like a fever dream at this point.
Speaker 1 (01:52)
I was talking to someone about you. I think it was what I was doing intro a few weeks ago, and I jokingly said to her, this is how long I've known Carter. I've literally known Carter since I was in my late 20s.
Speaker 2 (02:04)
It's funny, I've known you since I was in my very early twenties. Not to date, no.
Speaker 1 (02:11)
But I'm dating myself because it sounds so long ago that we met. You were at and helped arrange the very first Elevate event before it was even called Elevate. Back then, we had no idea what we were doing huddled behind the stage at Fort Mason trying to make something of ourselves. And there you were. You were super famous on Google Plus that no one was using except for you. And you had a million followers on Google Plus in like, 2012, right?
Speaker 2 (02:41)
Yeah. So I had over a million followers. It's actually a funny story. The reason I was on Google Plus at all is because my friend was like, here, take this invite. You seem frustrated at the world right now because you're not able to find a job and you're graduating from College in like two months. So why don't you just go on Google Plus? I guess it's a little bit longer than two months. But I went on it and I was like, all right, well, this is a good way to distract myself. I was having a really hard time finding jobs I wanted while I was in DC trying to be a marketer. I had a film degree and a marketing degree. And for some reason, it just wasn't clicking, which would become evident to me when I got older. And Sarah, I don't think you could ever see me in a marketing corporate office.
Speaker 1 (03:24)
No. In fact, I was going to talk about this, about how the idea of you having a million followers on an emerging social channel and being so young and having all the vibrancy of your voice and just being in that perfect time, I think, is what really sets you up to become the perfect community manager, because you are curating your own community for yourself back then, before you even knew it.
Speaker 2 (03:47)
So that's exactly how it happened. My first introduction to community management at all was Natalia Villa Vos, who was the community manager of Google Plus at that time. And she sort of helped me realize that I was doing community management. I was creating a space with a purpose. I was enforcing my own standards on how people would engage my content. So I was a moderator as well. And I think because I was able to do that and because I was able to learn from Natalie, but also had a natural instinct for bringing people together, which, you know, you saw me at the events. You have the same instincts, right? She was like, this is what you're doing. You're doing community management. And I was like, oh, that's funny. What is that? And then that sort of sent me down this road of finding a new career path, which back then wasn't even there weren't many community managers. Everyone knew what a moderator was.
Speaker 1 (04:36)
We knew what a moderator was because of old BBS boards. Right. I don't even think at the time, like Facebook groups that existed yet. I don't think that stuff was happening at the pace that's happening now. So this is the same thing that happens in customer support, too. When I started my customer support, like Evangelism career, there weren't people talking about the types of careers you can have in customer support now. People weren't thinking of it the same way ten years ago.
Speaker 2 (05:02)
Yeah, it was completely bizarre. And I was like, you can get paid for this. I think that for as much as Google struggles with social platforms, Google Plus, an example wave, et cetera, occurred. But they had this very prominent community manager, and Natalia, who is really leading the charge forward with it, who was very lucky to be my sort of unofficial mentor at that point, that introduced me to Evan Hamilton, who hired me as a community manager site unseen, by the way, because our cameras were broken and we couldn't see each other over the Skype. Interview we did flew me out from DC to San Francisco, and I just started a job as a community manager. And as you know, Evan went on to do incredible things, being a director of community at Reddit. So I'm very lucky that I fell into finding both of those people to sort of like, jump start the career that I had and to learn from people who were at the forefront of it. And, I mean, you included.
Speaker 1 (06:00)
Well, thank you. I'm so glad that I'm among those illustrious few who helped you along the way, but I would just say I think credit is due to yourself as well for having this weird moment in time that you really kind of took hold of an organizational control of and said, I'm doing this thing and then creating a career out of it. I did the same thing with customer support. I started working at a shitty software company in 20 04, 20 05, answering people's feature request emails. And I think if you're really passionate about what you do and you have a purpose behind, it ends up becoming a great career model for you and you end up finding the right fit for you, which seems to be at Google. You've been there quite a while now, right? What is it, eight years? Six years?
Speaker 2 (06:41)
Oh, gosh, no. It's only been I started as a contractor for a year and then I've been there for four and a half. So I guess five and a half years going to corporate offices.
Speaker 1 (06:50)
Oh, my gosh, yeah. I guess it's just I feel like you've always been a fixture there because of the Google Plus thing, but you started as a contractor working in Kennedy and tell me how you built the role that you have now and exactly what it is that you do. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (07:02)
So it's a funny story getting there, and I'll just talk about that briefly, which is that Google recruited me to lead content and community management for Google Plus, which was our entire consumer facing thing. And the easiest way to describe it is we retained users for the company, we kept them happy, and we generated content. And if you saw recommended content, it went through one of our processes. So that was like machine learning. It was algorithms, it was human Raiders as well, to categorize things by topics. We just tried to show people awesome stuff so that they could build followings and communities themselves. And that was an awesome job. I had a team of like 22. We were everywhere. We were engaging with the community. It was a really awesome place to be, and I'm Super grateful for that experience. And we started as a contractor because I don't know if they knew that content and community management would be a full time job my manager did, but I think it had to be proven first. I think they thought that we would find content, and then that would be it. We found the content, and then it would be self sustaining because we could do machine learning and algorithms.
Speaker 2 (08:04)
But you always see the human factor when you're talking about quality and quality of what people find interesting. So after transitioning through that full time role, Google Plus became an enterprise product. And at this time, I was having sort of like the classic Google Imposter syndrome. You're not a good engineering program manager unless you go work on this massive technical tool. So I tried to do that. And Sarah, I was so bad at it.
Speaker 1 (08:31)
I'm not joking. I can't even think of a job that you would be worse at than having to sit in a cubicle and think about technical bullshit all day long. Infrastructure, account infrastructure, that's soul killing for someone who thrives on their extra version, but also thrives on people and helping people and seeing people. And you have such an innate curiosity for what people are thinking and saying. And I love how you're able to really feed that back to them with information and education about how to do better and how to think higher and all that kind of stuff. That is really, I think where a thriving community gets its spark is when they have a leader or someone who is assuring them into further education and being thoughtful about how we're talking. And I think you just do that naturally.
Speaker 2 (09:18)
Yeah. I think it's just like such a I mean, it's humbling on one side, but I think the most genuine answer is just frustrating to leave your area of expertise where you used to be a thought leader and know nothing and not even be curious by it. It's just a painful, frustrating place to be. And so that's where I was when this role sort of, like, came up and the role didn't come up. I invented the role and I invented the function of the team, and I pitched it and I found the executive sponsorship. And what it was was at this time, Google was going through a whole bunch of cultural crisis. There's this Wired article called Three Years of Misery Inside of Silicon Valley's happiest company with our logo on it. It's just our logo on the front page. And it is damning about all of the ways that Googlers were communicating with each other and how they made other people feel unsafe and actions the company was taking and internal conversations going awry. And I looked at this and I was like, well, this feels like a community management problem if cultural problems compound the scale.
Speaker 2 (10:23)
And now we have 150,000 people, but we're putting them inside of these internal platforms where they're communicating with each other, where we're saying that you can talk about anything inside of Google, but now they're 150,000, but not 20,000. Of course it's going to fail. That doesn't mean that any one person at Google is worse than anyone else. It just means the chances of something happening in front of more people is so much higher. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (10:50)
And you say something like, of course it's going to fail. But if anything, that failure rate is the opportunity to do something really interesting as you iterate. Right. It's not just that this is not a problem that can ever be solved, and we give up on it. It's like, no, we've actually presented the problem that we can now solve. And that's true. Weirdly. This thing that most people have never even had to deal with or think of. But it's internal community management. Right.
Speaker 2 (11:15)
Completely. And I think even before we're deciding whether or not we were going to do community management. So I'm jumping forward quite a bit here and skipping over some juicy parts. But when we were getting executive sponsorship and saying that we needed to invest in our community platforms, where we needed to treat Googlers, who are online, that we would treat users externally, we were confronted with, why do we even host these conversations at all? Right. Like, why do we even allow people to discuss the things that they're discussing?
Speaker 1 (11:45)
It's not work for them. It's a community. Right.
Speaker 2 (11:51)
Well, the answer is actually like, yes. And how can Google build cameras that see darker skin tones better without talking about the experience of people of color? Right. How can we build pronouns into our tools without talking about the trans experience? How can we talk about misinformation without talking about politics? And it's impossible to sandbox those conversations to the teams working on that directly. And it's not just impossible. It also means that you're not using your diverse workforce, which you've spent so much time to curate and hire as a resource. Right. Like, you're not using your people and their experience to make these products more inclusive and more helpful. And so I think we realized pretty early on that rather than shutting everything down, what we needed to do was actually reinvest in our community again. And so that's how we convinced Google that the function that we were trying to do was mission critical and not just like a nice thing to do.
Speaker 1 (12:50)
Yeah. And you also have the added benefit of almost all of your employees and your community members are also your consumers. Right. I mean, everybody at Google is using Google. They're using elements of Google, some stuff about Google that we can't use as private citizens. So it's like a perfect kind of place to do. Like you said, like, QA. It's a perfect place to talk about features. It's a perfect place to talk about how these products affect our lives in various ways while you're building it. That's a huge advantage. And so that's something that I would think you'd want to be very thoughtful of and protective of, too. And really nurture those types of conversation. Right?
Speaker 2 (13:30)
Completely. And I think one of the first questions we got was, well, we know how to do it with our users. How do we do it internally? And the answer to that is actually annoyingly simple, which is that it's not very different, right. When you think about communities, when you think about how people organize, it's not different when you're hosting them inside of a company than if you're hosting them externally in a product. They still need a purpose for people to feel like they are contributing to something. You still need a certain amount of content and community to keep people engaged. You still have to set expectations with them, with guidelines. You need moderators in there and ownership roles so that people feel empowered to be stewards of their own communities. All of these things still apply even though it's inside of the workplace. The only things that are actually different are that we don't control who enters our community. So we don't have a relationship with marketing or if we're external or with recruiters. If we're internal, we wait for people to be brought to us and they leave for reasons that aren't related to our team.
Speaker 2 (14:33)
And then we also need to be worried about employee Privacy as well. No one's ever done internal community management the way that Google does it. No other company publishes transparency reports about the content that they report internally and the actions that we took to moderate them. There's a lot of new stuff here that's new ground. And so we just have to be very careful of that as well. But the fundamentals of what community management is and how it's useful, it's the exact same because people are so people.
Speaker 1 (15:02)
Okay, you build this whole internal community management thing, thinking of it as best you can. This is a community. People are people. They all have the same needs. We are all going to be facing the same moderation, touch points or whatever. But what were some of the hard things that you dealt with? Was it getting people to engage? Was it convincing them this was a safe place, or was it the opposite, that you were kind of overwhelmed with people wanting to engage with you?
Speaker 2 (15:26)
Overwhelmed, absolutely. Googlers? Oh, yeah. So, I mean, we have internal tools, we have groups. We have a place called Dory where people can ask leadership questions and comment on those questions about their validity. We have other internal social products. We have Currents, which is Google Plus, still new Google Plus, where people can post long form content. There's no shortage of Googlers sharing opinions or engaging with each other. That was actually overwhelming and daunting. The issue was people had a certain set of expectations about Google that Google hadn't engaged with them on for over 20 years. That was hard. So the issue wasn't the amount of content. The issue was how do you reset these expectations one person thought we should do one thing, one person thought we should do the other. And no one was there steering along the way to say, Actually, the way you engage in our communities is this, this is okay, this isn't. And so when we first started moderation and I think that no matter what community you go to, moderation is a good groundwork to start at. It's a good foundation. Before you get into advocating for group or advocating for users needs or amplifying their awesome contributions, you have to make sure it's a safe place first.
Speaker 2 (16:42)
And so when we started our moderation process, people were shocked and they were angry. And we got accused of killing our culture. We got accused of being responsible for ending what made Google special and having a silencing effect on our website.
Speaker 1 (16:58)
Because you're putting guardrails on what we're here to talk about, how we're here to talk about it completely.
Speaker 2 (17:03)
And up until then, I think we assume that Googlers are incredibly smart and they are of course they are, and that they would just be able to self correct. But like we talked about in the beginning, cultural problems just compound with scale. And no one person is any worse than the other. It's just the chance for some shit to happen is inevitable. And it's not just happening in front of ten people where one person can quickly correct them. It's happening in front of sometimes literally, Sarah, 50,000 people.
Speaker 1 (17:33)
I don't envy you at all. I don't envy you at all because I think there's even more. It's such a precious thing to be responsible for this kind of community, not just because of the size, but because of how passionate people are about it. And when you have a passionate community, you have to protect that community more, more and, and more almost by having more guardrails and more moderation and more kind of keeping people in the right Lane.
Speaker 2 (18:00)
And Sarah, it's the world's best work culture. But people make movies about it. They're books, people wear Google sweatshirts because they just think it'd be cool to work there. And when we were getting that criticism early on, it was really tough. But what we did is that we were consistent and we are transparent. And over time, what we saw was that Googlers were increasingly finding our processes fair as we socialize them more.
Speaker 1 (18:34)
This is an example of something that really triggered people to be unhappy and say, you're killing our culture. Give me an example of something that people kind of revolted on or found or thought that it was silencing.
Speaker 2 (18:46)
So I can't talk about an actual specific. But what I can speak a little bit broadly about theme that was difficult. So there are curse words that can be used in multiple ways. And some of these curse words we understand by reviewing them in context that they can be a sex act or they can be used for emphasis is that the F word specific? Well, we're talking about the F word. We're talking about the MF words. We're talking about the F word. We're talking about the B word. We're talking about other V words. Right. And so all of these words were coming up, and I'm using this as an example because we sort of messed it up. We said that one of these words was never okay, no matter the context it was shared in. And the explanation we gave was a little bit unclear to people. And so what we ended up doing was strike hand affecting the whole thing. So everyone started uploading this word to our platforms in every single way that they could think of using it to figure out what was OK or not okay? And we were like, oh, my God, how can you not see that?
Speaker 2 (19:50)
This word was reported to us by Googlers, who felt uncomfortable and now you're spamming it.
Speaker 2 (19:56)
And so that was something where we just hadn't ever addressed it as a company. And we don't have a profanity policy at Google, but we do have community guidelines, which we launched shortly after my team was established. And we do say that we protect people from certain things like harmful stereotypes and gender language that makes people feel bad. And so we ultimately said more about it, and it went really well. But that was a real moment of like, wow, there was a lot of expectation behind that, and people were just surprised.
Speaker 1 (20:31)
I think this is a really good jumping off point into talking about community guidelines. And you said even starting moderation and community guidelines, it really should be your foundation if you're starting a community of any size for any reason. So what do you think are, like, your key hallmarks when it comes to community guidelines that you think are essential, that should be published and that should be enforced all the time.
Speaker 2 (20:55)
The first thing when people say guidelines, I think that people imagine a list of things that say, don't do this, don't do this, don't.
Speaker 1 (21:01)
Right. I mean, some of those things are like, some of those things we could probably figure out on our own. Like, don't harass people, don't use hate speech. Those kinds of things we would hope that the average, thoughtful, intelligent person would understand is expected of that.
Speaker 2 (21:17)
What we do at Google, if you look at any company that hosts community, like, whether that's Reddit, whether that's Facebook, whether that's, I don't know. Name another one. Quora. Even they have Stratified guidelines. And what I mean by Stratified is they have their overall term of service. Right? Like, we will terminate your account. If you upload copyrighted material, then they have their overall, hey, be a nice human to each other sort of community guidelines. And then after that, you get into these sub communities or even these platforms inside of these giant products where people actually generate culture. And that's what I really think makes guidelines interesting. Yeah. You have set expectations with people where you say hate speech will not be tolerated. You have to put that somewhere and you have to define it and you have to say what that means. But they get really interesting when you get deeper. And the guidelines move from don't do X, don't do Y, don't do Z, and more into. We are here to do ABC. They set community.
Speaker 1 (22:14)
And I always say that they're more directional than they are consequential.
Speaker 2 (22:20)
They're aspirational even. Right. This is what we do. Right. It gives people a sense of purpose and they're additive. They never contradict the broader community guidelines that they're built on top of. And you need to have those. Right. Like, you need to have the don't harass people part at some level, whatever level that is appropriate. But then what about in your community? Is harassment? Define it more clearly. If you're talking about a group of Jewish people, what is antisemitism mean in this community? Is it okay to talk about historical events? Do we exist to share our experiences and support each other or something else? And I think that's what people can be resistant to guidelines because they feel like it's a list of nos, but we can start to think about it instead as like a vision statement for what a community exists for. That's where I think it gets really fun and interesting.
Speaker 1 (23:14)
So what do you think is the best way if you're starting a community? Now I'm starting my brand new community. I've listened to Carter Gibson tell me about how to write my community guidelines, and I need moderators and all this kind of stuff. But how do I get people in it? How do I get people engaged? How do I get people to start becoming my community?
Speaker 2 (23:32)
There are a lot of different ways. And I always find this question kind of funny because my intermediate reaction is to be very snarky and say like, well, if you're thinking about starting a community, but you have no idea who would be a part of it, maybe don't maybe start with content generation first, write a blog and see if people find it interesting. But that's not a very helpful answer as a community builder and the reason I brought this up.
Speaker 1 (23:56)
But I'm glad that you actually gave that answer because people ask me this a lot when I'm doing consulting or coaching or crisis intervention around support things, they ask a lot about community or they have Zendesk allows you to just like by default, start your own community on your help center when you start your Zendesk thing. And some people think it's just the nature of customer experience that you do that, but then they don't have anybody watching every message that comes in it's on Facebook, right. Or something that's just horribly clunky and whatever. And there's no reason for them to necessarily have this or they eventually just become places for people to air their grievances and then product manager. That's the thing. That was the other thing I was going to say is that your community online, no matter where you have it, should not be Yelp for disgruntled customers, and it shouldn't be a place where the only thing people talk about is feature requests. If you're doing that, you're not building a passionate community who is supporting each other and learning from each other, which is kind of the point completely.
Speaker 2 (25:00)
And so I think if you're starting a support community is like one of the oldest communities that have ever happened on the Internet. If the purpose is to get people answers, the things they care about, it's not just getting people in there. It's about finding the support system inside of your own company to keep that going. That's going to take resources, and it can't just be the community manager. It's the product people, it's the support people, et cetera. And then I think if you're starting, like, an interest based community, listen to what people are saying first. Like, are there people who are posting I care a lot about this new electric truck coming out called the Ribbon? I think it's dope. And so there are four different forums that have been started for this one truck, none of them by Rivian, and two of them are successful, and the other two just, like are not. One of them is like a very broadcasting channel where people are pushing their own content, and the other is like a place to come together to actually learn from people who preordered or actual car people about how the company will operate and what to expect.
Speaker 2 (25:58)
And that one is just so much clearer and better and more engaged with. So I think you really have to figure out, like, a first off, that the audience exists, do some extrapolation if you're going to be able to get, like 10% of it and then figure out if it even gets there. One of the first things that I always ask for when I'm interviewing at jobs or when I was interviewing at jobs, I would never take a job if they said start a community from scratch.
Speaker 1 (26:24)
Speaker 2 (26:26)
Speaker 1 (26:27)
That's technically what you did, I guess. You mean by starting from scratch? You mean like actually going out and like a caveman and finding the people.
Speaker 2 (26:35)
We don't have an audience, but we want a community.
Speaker 1 (26:38)
Right. Okay. Yeah. That's terrible. That gets back to my whole point where not everybody needs this place. The people who need this place. I think you're right. The people who are raving fans or who are impassioned customers or who wants to become evangelists of a product or a company, they're going to do that naturally. Right now, do you think that if people have these communities and let's say they're gaining some momentum, let's say I'm a little tech startup and a community has been created and it's active. Do you think that it's my responsibility to be in there every day leading the conversation? Or do you think it's my responsibility to be hands off and just let's see what other people say, because a lot of people have different feelings about that, about who should own it, the customers or the company.
Speaker 2 (27:22)
It's got to be both, to be honest with you. Right? So if people don't feel ownership some ownership of that space, if they feel like they're only supporting the company, it will fail. And community management. And this is where we sort of get into an interesting argument with marketing people. Community management is giving more back to the community than you receive. Always. You always have to be giving someone more than they're giving you back. Otherwise you'll get burnt out. Otherwise it's not fun for them to be part of this community anymore. And what I mean by what you give them, I don't mean like pay them $10 and their ROI is like $11 back or $9 back to you. And it's bad all the time. Sometimes you have to give them ownership and control and subspaces and the ability to carve out their own niche so that they feel dedicated and they keep coming back and they keep bringing more people in, et cetera, et cetera. You can't just have them doing favors for you all the time. Sometimes you can give them a big event at the end of the year where you invite them in and they can come and talk to everyone.
Speaker 2 (28:20)
And for some people, they feel like they're getting more out of it than they're getting. And that's great. You just have to figure out what your community members themselves would want. But if you leave that community at the same time and nothing happens, if there are no posts and it's dead, that's not a community. You had a captive audience as the CRM. So you always have to give up some level of control and let people in to build their own space, which is actually pretty scary.
Speaker 1 (28:46)
So the next question I want to talk about is the future. And I've been asking a lot of people on this podcast and even in person. Well, not in person because of COVID, but in pretend person, which is like Zoom calls, right? I always think of it as fake reality because it's real, but it's not being on a Zoom call. I'm on Zoom calls all day long and I'm sick of it. I'm never going to join the Zoom community group, by the way.
Speaker 2 (29:09)
No, I tell my reports at work. I'm like the kind of manager I am is not. We're having fun on Zoom. I'm the money manager and I'll send you a gift. I am not.
Speaker 1 (29:20)
I can't do it. But this is the thing. This has become a future that we didn't anticipate, right? The Zoom life. Who knows if this would have happened eventually. I mean, back to future. Two told us it was going to happen eventually, so I guess we should have been prepared for it. But in the future of customer experience, this umbrella has widened from just answering emails reactively to now becoming customer support, customer success, community Management QA. Sometimes it involves products, and every company does it differently. Every company's umbrella or organizational umbrella kind of fits differently. And I believe that community management fits under the umbrella of customer experience as a whole. But where does it sit inside? Where should it sit inside a company or organization? If I'm building a start up or if I'm an agile growth stage company, let's say I have one to 200 employees, and we're really kind of getting our groove on how we organize all of our people. Where do you think community management falls under? Responsibilities and objectives and all that fun stuff.
Speaker 2 (30:29)
Let me describe how I did it at Google really quickly, because it'll lead into how I think people should think about it, because I don't think there's just one answer for it. At Google, we had a problem where our internal products weren't connecting to our policy makers. And this was really frustrating for the company. Our policymakers were like, why aren't our products enforcing our policy? They're our policy. And our products were like, we have no idea how to interpret that. What does this mean? What do you even want the program for this to be? We don't even have technical features to detect what you're asking us to detect, which would be objectionable content. And so when I saw that, I realized that the internal community management team, our job was to connect our products to our policies to make our community guidelines enforceable. That's what we do. In a nutshell, that is our charter. That's what we do. We limit reputational harm to the company while helping Googlers create these amazing spaces to help them feel psychologically safe. And we actually sit inside a product. And the reason we sit inside of product at Google, product is engineering.
Speaker 2 (31:31)
So my official title is Engineering Program Manager, which is still kind of funny.
Speaker 1 (31:36)
That's your title right now.
Speaker 2 (31:39)
If you ask for my employment verification, it would say Engineering Program Manager. Yes.
Speaker 1 (31:43)
That doesn't even sound like a real title. That doesn't even sound like that means what it is that you do inside my title is program lead, internal community management.
Speaker 2 (31:52)
But I'm under a certain job ladder.
Speaker 1 (31:54)
And that's your community management. What you specifically are doing falls under a product category is what you're saying. Yes.
Speaker 2 (32:01)
And the reason why is because we needed the literacy of someone who understood community management, which is essentially policy. Right. It's called our policy team. They wrote our community guidelines and we work with them, someone who can have that literacy, but also the technical know how to build things like a centralized module for reporting content across all these different tools. That's what we have the literacy to do. So we get to do both of these things as program managers, having the technical literacy to build the stuff out, but also, like the people skills and the programmatic skills to make these things work when there isn't code behind them. And so I'm using a very specific example at Google, but I think it applies to any organization. Which teams are you connecting to do what? And this is an unpopular opinion, and Holly Firestone will probably throw something at me for saying it.
Speaker 1 (32:52)
I cannot wait for Holly's clapback on everything you said in this whole she's going to clap back hard.
Speaker 2 (32:57)
And I expect it.
Speaker 1 (32:58)
Well, she's going to be on the next episode, so we're just going to prep you for it now. Sorry.
Speaker 2 (33:03)
Okay. So she gets the last word.
Speaker 1 (33:05)
I don't know if that's sorry. Hey, I'm a moderator. This is my community.
Speaker 2 (33:11)
Exactly. But I think they could fit in marketing. I think they could fit in customer success. I think they could work in engineering. I think what they need to do is figure out the needs of the organization. What is the key performance indicator that you're trying to drive? Sometimes it could be retention, other times it could be understanding users better to do product development. Other times it could be name something. I think that when you're looking to start a community management team, how can you use community to boost that KPI? And who hosts that KPI? That's where I think it's actually a little bit more flexible. I know every community manager has a chip on their shoulder saying, I'm not marketing, and maybe I'm cheating a little bit because I have a marketing degree. And in general, I don't think we should always be in marketing, but I think we could. And I think that when you talk about customer success, it's a much more natural fit. Of course, I just want us to think a little bit more open about it, a little bit more creatively about how can we support the product in addition to keeping people happy in addition to retaining them.
Speaker 1 (34:19)
This gets back to what I was talking before about what is the point of having your community? And you said it perfectly. If the point of it is user research, if the point of it is customer testimonials, if the point of it is we don't have the bandwidth to scale our support team. So we need to engage customer evangelists to help each other in problem solving. When it comes to troubleshooting, that's an opportunity there, too.
Speaker 2 (34:45)
Or if you're Duolingo, if it's user generated content. Right.
Speaker 1 (34:50)
I didn't know that Duolingo was user generated.
Speaker 2 (34:53)
Oh, my gosh. So much of it is. I think they have really they have this amazing case study online about how through community management, they were able to generate all this user generated content and take their languages from like three to 20, all for free.
Speaker 1 (35:07)
Speaker 2 (35:09)
Just like in the community. And so that's one of those moments, Sarah, where it's like is that customer success for marketing? I don't think so. That feels like product to me. Right. And they probably had a KPI to say we want to expand the number of languages that we get and the KPI above that was probably number of users. How are you going to boost that? You're going to get more languages. How are you going to get more languages? There's a community aspect to that. There are so many ways to keep community relevant and interesting that isn't just customer satisfaction to retain them longer. You can use community to be an integral part of whatever products you have.
Speaker 1 (35:46)
I'm not a community manager, but I understand community as it relates to customer experience. And I know that what makes a good community is not unmonitored place where people complain about things. It's not a place where we're soliciting through other comments, people's gripes and complaints and bad stories and bad experiences. It is not and should not be a place for people to use like Yelp, where they just only go and post negativity. Right. And it's not a place that I can just slap up on a Facebook group and expect to run itself. Right.
Speaker 2 (36:23)
I love that.
Speaker 1 (36:24)
That's true. This is what I know. But what I want to know from you sort of like final thoughts on the matter is what are the hallmarks of a successful community? When do you know your community has succeeded? When can you look at it and say, we've done a great thing, we should continue doing it? We're proud of what we've built.
Speaker 2 (36:42)
When the community manager can walk away from it and it self sustains itself, meaning that people keep generating content. If you are able as a facilitator to have created a space that people understand that is contributing to the KPI, that you created the community to drive on its own and you did your job as a facilitator, you gave people purpose and you gave people roles that they follow and they understand what they're there to do. That's success. If you can walk away from that because what you're able to do is scale yourself, you're able to say, we have this driving this KPI. You'll always be a little bit involved. You'll go back and say, Hi, you'll miss them, but we have this community who's driving this now you're free to go off and figure out how to use community to solve the next KPI. That's really where I think that it's like watching a kid grow up. You're like, all right, you're self sustaining and we'll still talk and you'll still do your thing and maybe we'll have a babysitter for you sometimes, but let's go and do the next thing as well. If you're able to step away from your community, you've really done a good job.
Speaker 2 (37:50)