12-min read
May 13, 2021

11 Powerful Learnings from the Community-Led Summit

Kirsti Lang

A birds-eye view of a the fascinating insights and strategies to have come out of our summit.

After three energizing days at Community-Led: The 2021 Community Club Summit, we're still digesting some of the fascinating insights and strategies to have come out of the sessions.

If you joined us, thank you — we loved having you along for the ride. If you missed the summit, fear not: we've summarized a few key moments below, to give you a birds-eye view of just some of the brilliant, Community-Led learnings from our 30+ speakers.

Of course, there was whole lot more going on, and we don't want you to miss the opportunity to take a deep dive into the talks that resonate with you if you couldn't make it to the summit. Recordings of every session are now live on our YouTube channel, so you can absorb everything at your own pace.

Here's a peek at some key learnings from Community-Led: The 2021 Community Club Summit.

1. Purpose is the key to our shared future

In his talk, Reddit's Head of Creative Strategy at Will Cady unpacked how community can catalyze culture. It all comes down to a shared purpose, he said. "It's an incredibly powerful tool in communities, he added, citing the wallstreetbets and GameStop phenomenon. "When a community believes in shared purpose and comes together around it, nothing can stop it."

This is how communities create culture. "When you have millions of people conveying the importance of one idea, it becomes something that changes the conversation for everyone."

2. A community platform is a shared resource

Andy McIlwain, a Senior Community Manager at GoDaddy, walked us through his process for choosing the right community platform — but he kicked off with some crucial points on how an organization should be using theirs. "All too often, I've found that community gets lumped in under support, and then we look at community with a siloed, blindered view. If it falls outside the realm of support, it doesn't fit the community." What happens then, he added, is that different parts of the business start creating different destinations where they meet their members — "and it's a real waste".

In a Community-Led organisation, a community platform is a shared resource for your entire organization, he explained. "Instead of spending money and time and resources on building these duplicate platforms, what we should be doing is extending the capability of our central community platform. If our objective is to get in front of our members — whether they need to be customers, employees, stakeholders, donors — it should happen in one single, place."

Which is why choosing the right platform is so important. Andy's kindly posted his step-by-step guide on our forum.

3. Try the dumb thing

Community heavyweights Li Jin, Alexis Gay, Lenny Rachitsky, and Josh Constine had a fascinating chat on the power of community within the creator economy, and it was packed full of gems. One of our favorites had to be comedian and host of the Non-Technical Podcast Alexis Gay's advice for taking the leap. "If you have a dumb, fun, or creative idea that you're on the fence about trying, try the dumb thing."

She cited a fun Instagram story that has become a fun cornerstone of connection within her community. "I put up a dumb story of me putting a cookie on a wine glass, and I said, 'This is wine hat'." Silly, but it struck a chord. "People reacted with such confusion and joy that I turned it into a full day of content." Now, almost two years later, Alexis is still being sent pictures of 'wine hats'. "It was just this little dumb thing and, I hope that there are many of those in the future. It taught me that if you have the impulse, you should try it."

4. Create your value story

In Before the Lock hosts and Community Consultants, Brian Oblinger and Erica Kuhl, left no stone unturned in their talk Signing The Offer: Connecting Hiring Companies and Community Pros. They gave advice to recruiters and hiring managers on the hunt for top talent, and community pros looking out for their next opportunity. There's no doubt that the industry is booming — as Erica put, "community is finally sexy" — but professionals and companies are struggling to find each other.

The podcasters gave advice both to recruiters and hiring managers on the hunt for top talent, and community pros looking out for their next opportunity. Their most poignant guidance for the latter had to be the idea of crafting your own value story. "Being able to speak to your value is a very tough thing for us, but we need to get better at it," Erica said. This starts with creating a clear, concise, impactful value story about how you've created value at the places you've worked.

Once you've got that down, it's important to pay attention to what the market is telling you about your story, and adapt accordingly, Brian added. "Pay attention to the signals you're getting from companies and recruiters and how they think about your skills, because your perception is your reality, and their perception is theirs. And even if that feels unfair, theirs matters."

5. Bring the cookies

Cookies have featured quite prominently at the summit so far — and we're on board with it. CEO of Devocate, Tessa Kriesel used them in her great analogy for building community relationships with developers. "Developers are naturally untrusting individuals," she said. "They can see through your marketing jargon, and look right past your sales gimmicks." So connecting with them requires something special — a process Tessa likes to compare to the strategy titular character in the series Ted Lasso uses to coax his tough-as-nails boss Rebecca, out of her cold, hard shell.

"Ted brings Rebecca biscuits every day. No matter how cold Rebecca is, Ted continues to be kind to her. What Ted is really doing is starting a cadence for touchpoints with Rebecca. He is ensuring there is a designated time every day where he can slowly, over time, continually build their relationship. Rebecca is clearly hesitant and onto what Ted is doing, but when someone is bringing you yummy biscuits every day it's pretty hard to ignore that."

Not sure what the proverbial cookies might be in your dev community? Tessa has built her strategy out into a three-step process for turning them into superfans.

6. The value of the value cycle

In her session, Kathleen Hamilton, Partnerships Director at Force of Nature, brilliantly helped us visualize the community value cycle — by likening it to middle-school science class. Turns out, the value cycle and the water cycle have a lot in common**.**

"Like the water cycle, the community value cycle infinitely feeds back into itself. It's also based on natural principles of growth, which means it's sustainable to grow. It also depends on everything that happens before it — none of these things can happen in isolation."

In Kathleen's value cycle model, which bears similarities to our own Community-Led Model, open community forms the outer layer, and kicks off the cycle. "It's the start of your product pathway, but also the start of a relationship." From there, engagement opportunities like workshops and events introduce your community to product, she explained, which then feeds into the customer community, ultimately closing the loop with your community leaders. "The relationship with someone doesn't stop when they buy a product. It actually becomes infinitely stronger, because they trust you — you have the opportunity to deliver something really transformational."

7. Culture empowers belonging

Jessica Reeder, Carter Gibson, and Chris Herd so enjoyed their remote work and internal communities panel discussion that they continued the chat privately when the clock ran out (don't worry, we have plans to get them back!). There were so many fascinating nuggets from their experiences of the shift to remote work in their orgs (GitLab, Google, and Firstbase respectively) — but what really stood out was their discussion of how culture can shape an org, particularly those following a remote or hybrid model.

Carter shared a misstep from his early days at Google, when he told a VP that culture should be preserved. His response was, "You preserve things that are dead". At Google, culture is not preserved, Carter went on. "We advance our culture and we evolved it. There's no way for it to stay stagnant."

Jessica agreed — especially because employees will have the need to add to a company's culture, rather than just be assimilated into it.

"A really good culture empowers belonging," Jessica said. "It allows people coming into that culture to become part of it, rather than having to conform to it, they add to." Culture in business is ultimately a framework of behaviors, she added. "Those behaviors create patterns, which ladder up into business objectives. If you want your business to be successful, you have to institute some really powerful patterns. For that to work, people need to be bought into it.

8. CMs should be paid more

If you've been in community for a while, this likely isn't news to you — but Commsor and The Community Club Chief Community Officer Alex Angel has the data to back it up. In her session, Alex walked us through the numbers collected from our 2020 Community Jobs Survey.

"There's a pretty big gap in compensation for Community Managers," she said. "Our data reflected this, and it's something I know from my own job searches for CM positions over the years. It's traditionally been a struggle to find anything remotely in the range of what could be considered fair compensation for the amount of work and range of responsibilities that fall under the Community Manager umbrella."

There are a plethora of reasons for this, but Alex outlined the most likely culprits:

  • The role of a Community Manager is poorly defined and understood at most companies
  • It is typically seen as a 'soft skill' position
  • It's frequently difficult to quantify the value of community, both with respect to the community itself as well as the work that goes into building and maintaining a healthy one.

Want all the numbers? You'll find the salary data and a few more insights on our blog.

9. Communities, scale and what leaders don't yet understand

Our investor panel chat, hosted by CEO and co-founder of Late Checkout Greg Isenberg, was packed full of fantastic insights — unsurprising, given it featured the likes of Alexis Ohanian, Lolita Taub, Elaine Zelby, and Mac Conwell.

One moment that really resonated with summit attendees (and us folks at Commsor and The Community Club) was, as Seven Seven Six Founder Alexis pointed out, there's no doubt that VCs are more and more bought into the idea of community — but there's one thing leaders have trouble wrapping their heads around. "People are throwing community at everything, but I think venture firms, in particular, have a lot of trouble understanding that there's a lot of work that goes into building a community that is, almost by definition, not scalable."

"The work that it actually takes to build up these things is real, it is intensive, it is emotional, it is requires empathy and creativity. I'm happy everyone's hyped about it, what they're going to next then get confronted with his actual work."

His comments had everyone on stage grinning and nodding as Mac, Managing Partner at RareBreed Ventures added, "I want to pick on one thing that Alexis said — follow down this thread from an investment standpoint: the work it takes to build your community initially are things that don't scale."

And investors, he added, are always talking about scale. "Billion-dollar valuation, that's what we want you to get to. But if you're going to have a product that is very community-focused in the earliest days of your company — and this happens for a lot of startups, but I don't think we talk about it enough — you're going to do a lot of things that don't scale. You're going to get really good at things that don't scale.

But eventually, you'll hit a point when you're going to have to start thinking about growth. "And that's when it gets really really hard. You want to stay connected to that community, you need to scale, so you need to be really thoughtful about the processes and things you put in place to keep it."

10. Find your purpose (statement)

After some great big picture stuff, Community Strategist, Consultant, and Author and Carrie Melissa Jones zoomed into purpose statements — and why they're an absolute must-have for your community.

"This is my favorite thing to work on with my clients, because it is the piece that cements everything else in your community," she said. A well-crafted purpose statement is the linchpin of everything else. When used correctly, is a crucial and clarifying decision-making tool.

What is purpose, exactly? Carrie likes to use Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center's definition. "It's an intention to achieve a long-term goal that is both personally meaningful and makes a positive mark on the world," she said. However, it's important to emphasize that purpose is not destiny. "You're not 'meant' to achieve your purpose one day — it's not a goal in that sense. It's a journey and a practice. It's something that must be put it into practice."

From there, Carrie gave us her "lean, mean framework" for crafting a unique and practical community purpose statement. Here's the skeleton: I gather _____ to _____ so that _____

  1. I gather: "Who is it that you gather? You need to articulate a strong identity that your members share," she explained.
  2. To: "This is the 'in order to' or the 'what' — what do we do together?" Carrie asked. "These are three verb statements that make it really clear how members are going to make progress in your community."
  3. So that: "Is it big enough to matter?" she clarified. "Why should someone show up for this?"

Another hot tip fro crafting yours: it doesn't necessarily have to be pretty — it has to be practical. "People also think that the purpose statement has to be perfectly written, but when I write purpose statements, no one ever has to see them, except for the community manager and internal teams," Carrie said. Unless you want to share yours, of course. It's your call.

11. Ops are the Top Dogs

In her doggo-themed presentation (how could she not?), VP of Community at Venafi Holly Firestone converted us all to believers in the cult of Community Operations.

There is so much an ops team can do for community — which Holly broke down into this easy-to-remember acronym:

Observe, Plan, Scale, Track, Optimize, Platform, Documentation, Operational budget, Guidance, Special projects.

After unpacking exactly went into each of those missions (spoiler: a lot), Holly asked, "Can one person do all of those things?"

The unsurprising answer is no. Absolutely not. Which is why Holly predicts that specializations in this field are on the horizon. "Like you have seen specializations in community management, this will happen in community ops.

"It's going to become more and more important as we're making data-driven decisions in our communities and we're thinking about scale, and communities are finally getting resourced. I see I see this growing significantly."

📺 Want more from the summit? To watch full recordings of these sessions and more, head over to our YouTube Channel and watch them at your leisure.

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