When you're starting a community, you kind of have two choices. You can wing it, and whoever shows up, shows up. But sometimes—especially if you want to build something sustainable—you're going to need a bit more of a plan.
Fortunately, today we have Marianna Martinelli, a community builder and strategist who has experience (like Tony!) running community for coworking spaces in New York City. Through her consultancy, Grand Trine Studio, she helps organizations strategize and implement their community efforts.
No surprise, Marianna is a whiz when it comes to community building and helping people create connection.
We dig into a metric ton of great stuff, including how to identify the avatars of your ideal community member and make sure they feel safe. We cover the elusive pursuit of measurable outcomes, so you know what success looks like. We explore the paradox of trying to create a community that's exclusive enough while also being inclusive. We chat about how the Sense of Community Index can help you find what's working in your community. And we even nerd out on interpersonal neurobiology and trauma and how our brains crave connection.
Plus, stick around till the end to find out how Jillian deals with her rodent problem.
Marianna Martinelli is a community builder and strategist. Her superpower is architecting the connective element of magic for communities through human-focused, high-touch experiential design.
Before starting her own community building consultancy, she was the first employee and founding Director of Community at The Wing. Prior to that, Marianna built membership and community programs for Knotel and Neuehouse. She also produced two independent films that no one will ever see, sold handbags at Neiman Marcus and Kate Spade, and was fired from an admin job at a law firm.
Marianna lives in Brooklyn with her woodworking husband, headstrong toddler, and chunky dog. In her “spare time,” she organizes to provide essential diapering needs to moms in Brooklyn, makes zines, and reads about astrology.
In This Episode:
- The culture and curation of coworking spaces
- The “paradox sandwich” of curating a community experience without being too exclusive
- Defining your ideal community members
- How Marianna created her community-building studio, Grand Trine Studio
- Common misconceptions about community that Marianna hears from her clients
- The Sense of Community Index
- Advice for budding community managers
- Facilitating belonging through interpersonal neurobiology
- Neurobiology and trauma in the process of designing community experiences
- What Happened to Yo by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
The CX 017: Avatars, Safety, and the “Paradox Sandwich” of Community Building with Marianna Martinelli
Tony Bacigalupo: Okay, so historically when I start a community, I just wing it. I have a strong feeling and then I go do something and whoever shows up, shows up. And sometimes that works, at least for a little while, but in certain contexts, if you want to build something sustainable, if you want to build something in a corporate environment, you're going to need to come at things with a little bit more of a plan. Fortunately, today we have Marianna Martinelli who is going to teach us about how to identify the avatars of who your ideal community member is and how to make sure that they feel safe, and also how to measure your outcomes so that you know what success actually looks like, which is hugely important for community building and a little bit elusive. So let's get into the conversation with Marianna Martinelli on this episode of The Community Experience.
Hello, everyone. Tony Bacigalupo here. I got Jillian Benbow with me as well.
Jillian Benbow: Hello.
Tony: And we are going to be talking today with Marianna Martinelli, who has experience like I do running community for coworking spaces here in New York City. She's worked at some much higher end ones and has learned a whole lot about how to build community and how to create an environment that's welcoming and accepting for people, creating circumstances that really give people the opportunity to create connection. And so, she now has a consultancy, which is called Grand Trine Studio, which you can look up. She comes at this from a very high level systemic standpoint, which we haven't had as much on the program yet.
So what we're going to talk about today is we're going to talk about first of all defining your customer avatar ... That's a very dry like language to say, but it's important. Define who your audience is. And then, what success looks like in a way that might be measurable and quantifiable, which is hugely important if you're working in a corporate context, and what it means to create an environment where someone actually feels safe in a neurological and biological level so that their brains will let them feel connection.
Jillian: Just running community in general, anybody who's done it knows it's a million different things, 1000 fires that need to be put out. You have your plan for the day and then you have what actually happens. So, we just talk a lot ... we talk shop about the wonderful world of community.
Tony: And you may have heard community gardening analogies as it pertains to community, but I'm pretty sure you've not heard the gardening community analogy the way that we are going to talk about it today. So, stay tuned for that and so much more as we talk to Marianna Martinelli on this episode of The Community Experience.
Marianna, thank you so much for joining us on the program.
Marianna Martinelli: Hi.
Marianna: I am so happy to be here. I've really been looking forward to it.
Tony: So, you and I have a lot in common, more than I think we realized when we started this, but we both have extensive experience building co-working community in New York City. Wow. What a unique experience it is.
Marianna: Yes, it's true. I think that there's a few of us and I think that when you find and meet another one who has that similar experience, it's something special. We need our own community of co-working builders.
Tony: Oh, big time, big time. I don't know if you've been to any of the conferences, but I always enjoy whenever I go to a co-working conference and I'm in a room of people who they're the masters of their domain in their city, but they don't generally know a lot of other people who do the same kind of work and just this feeling of mutual understanding and camaraderie when you're in a room of people that are like, "Oh, you get it. You know what this is like." The sinks full of cups and mugs and the leaky trash bags and the one person in the space that drives you absolutely bonkers.
Marianna: Definitely. Yeah. I mean, community people need community too. And I think that as an entrepreneur now, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I realized for how long that I was overflowed with social connection." And now I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I have to work so much harder to chat and catch up with people because it's not built into my day."
Jillian: That's a happy hour conversation.
Tony: One of the other we tend to have in common as community folks is that there's something that drove us in this direction to begin with. And so, maybe help us get to know you a little bit better and how you ended up in this world and deciding to continue to go deeper in it.
Marianna: Yeah, of course. I would be happy to talk about that. I came to community through a coworking lens and before I landed there, I have a background in hospitality, planning events. I mean, quite frankly, in my 20s, I was really bopping around trying to figure out what I cared about, what I wanted to do, and if you looked at it on a resume, it would probably look like, "What is this person doing?" Working in retail, supporting ... just trying a little test and learn approach, I think, in my 20s. We can make it sound a little bit nicer that way. The through line through all of that was definitely caring about people, definitely on the extrovert spectrum and getting energized by people and the idea of building experiences and building relationships and helping people build their own relationships, facilitating that, was something that was really interesting to me.
And I think, frankly, when I first started working at a co-working space and helping people get a fit to find an office and find a place where they could work for themselves but not alone was pretty exciting to me. At first I felt like, "Oh my God, this can be a job?" I was like, "Cool. I just get to talk to people and see what's up with them and what do they care about?"
I was like, "I have tricked someone. This is really working for me." So yeah, came from a hospitality and event planning background, and the first place I landed where I was building community/in charge of the membership experience was at NeueHouse when they first opened in 2013 in New York City. That was a pretty exciting place to kick off the official community game.
Jillian: That is so great.
Tony: And, NeueHouse has a very specific niche and aesthetic and vibe in the co-working world. Can you say just briefly a little bit about your experience there in terms of the culture and the curation, and then maybe how that experience was different for you at The Wing and things like that?
Marianna: Yeah, definitely. I think that if you think about co-working spaces as to compare it to something like hotels, I think it's each hotel you would go to has a different purpose. You're going to have a different experience, and to me, I always saw NeueHouse as positioned at the higher end ... These are my words, not theirs ... maybe they're the Four Seasons or the St. Regis of the co-working universe. And, I think they do a good job of being in that space.
Yeah, it was a beautiful environment to work for. It was really exciting to watch a space go from construction zone to a place where people could really work and then, be a part of selling the idea to folks and bringing the right kind of creatives into the space, and building that constellation of members to get to know each other and getting to have that spark of, "Oh, you know who you should meet?," because they're building X, Y and Z, and facilitating those connections in real life is really special.
So at NeueHouse, there is definitely a curated aspect, and I think that they're an elevated experience and really focused on creatives, but it was great. I got to meet so many people there and I think that that really energized me to think like, "Wow, okay. I really like this." Of course, it was really intense. You're opening something and trying to figure it out, and every day is totally different because you have 10 jobs altogether. But, I think that it set something aflame inside of my heart and I was like, "I think this is my world now."
Jillian: I'd be interested to hear about just the curation piece because I think that's huge in community.
Marianna: Yeah, definitely. So, I was the very first employee outside of the founders, Audrey and Lauren, at The Wing and they were excited to be building this experience that was going to be focused on women and was going to be a physical space. And I think that in that time, that now of course post-pandemic, post-Trump presidency, it literally feels like 1000 years ago. But, it hadn't really been done at that point to have a physical space where ... Of course, there were women's groups around of folks working together, but there wasn't a landing pad. In the early days, that's really what the focus was, was to bring together people who had different experiences age wise, career wise, interest wise, racial and ethnic differences to bring together this really interesting web and ecosystem of women.
I mean, to be somewhere from the beginning, or it feels like even pre-beginning all the way to when I departed in June of 2020 ... There were 12,000 members. So, being a part of opening the very first and then all the agony and ecstasy of a growing, scaling startup that is in the public eye, yeah, it was a huge, huge learning experience for me. The curation was all about honestly making sure that different groups weren't overrepresented. And, I think that that's one of those things, if you are a Priya Parker fan, like I am ... actually, my microphone is actually propped up on my copy of The Art of Gathering. It has lots of Post-it notes.
Jillian: That's perfect.
Marianna: Yes, respectfully posted up on the book. She talks a lot about creating these lines in the sand, so to speak, around who's invited and who's not. It's a really interesting lens to reflect back on, particularly now through the 2021 lens saying who's invited, who do we say yes to and why? I think that in some ways, that model of membership and exclusivity can be appealing and also reflecting back, can it be damaging? And, also as Priya talks about, sometimes that's need to protect the group.
It's a juicy topic.
Jillian: It is a juicy topic.
Marianna: There was certainly a level of curation in the beginning and I think that as we grew, there continued to be, but it's a tough one because also if you are for everybody, then you're for nobody.
Jillian: How did you all decide, going forth ... Obviously there was this idea of we want it to be for women. So that's the first category that is like, "This is who it's for." How did you then keep niching down to figure out … to be exclusive without being too exclusive? If that makes sense. I don't want to be like, "You can't sit with us."
Marianna: It's a paradox for sure, this exclusivity while also being inclusive. And I think that there's not really an easy or clear cut answer. But, I think that we thought about it as a bit of a matrix, that it's like, "Okay, well if we have 50 nonprofit folks or 50 activists, maybe it would be okay if we didn't have some more for a minute."
But yeah, it's a nuance and because it's humans doing it, of course it's going to be imperfect. Hard to make a totally perfect system when you're balancing those things. But, we certainly did our best and I think as you grow, it also adds additional complications to how that math works out, especially if you've got VC money. It's like, "Grow, be exclusive but also inclusive." It's a real paradox sandwich I'd say.
Jillian: It really is.
Tony: Maybe we can talk a little bit about just how does a community organizer approach curation when they're getting started or maybe even after they've been doing something for a while, because it's an extraordinarily tricky thing and it's hard to get right and there's a lot of nuance to it. And Jillian, I'm looping you in as semi-guest on this one, since we do this with SPI Pro, as well.
Jillian: No, I'm here to learn what Marianna has done and what trials and tribulations so I can better do it myself. This is turning into a coaching session.
Marianna: Yes, All right. OK, team.
Tony: You know what? While we're collecting our thoughts, I will also add that where I'm coming from, the co-working space I ran, which was called New Work City, back in the day we were very emphatically open to everybody.
And, that was really great and there were people who were very grateful for that attitude, but it definitely came with its own trade offs because we did not attempt to curate in a more direct and deliberate way. So, there's definitely a balancing act to be had here. There's a curation happening, whether you're controlling it or conscious of it or not implicitly, just in the way that you market, in the way that you price something and the colors you use, the language you use. So, maybe we start with that as a starting point is how do you take control of the curation that's happening?
Marianna: Yeah. It's interesting. And, to build on what you say, I mean, all those puzzle pieces do transmit unconsciously, who is this for by is it really an amenity focused place? Is it, "Okay, we have house rules here where it's take your own damn dishes to the sink and clean them up or you take your own trash out." Or, is the expectation that you take the trash out for me, you're going to come give you a shoulder massage, whatever. So yeah, I completely agree with what you said about how the marketing and the physical space is laying the groundwork for that story. And really how I thought about it in the beginning, particularly at The Wing is thinking about folks as little seeds, right?
So, I think that your founding members when you're starting something will end up having a really out-sized impact on the way your community grows, if that's what you're hoping for, which I think most people do hope for that. And I think it's like, "Okay, well if you want to have a little garden ..." sticking with my gardening metaphor here, it's like, "What kind of seeds?" You don't want it to only be ... Okay, maybe you want it to only be roses or whatever, but you got to have roses. You need some ground cover. You need maybe some height in there. So, I think the tricky thing is of course it's people, so it's like, "Oh God, we're talking about people." I'm talking about people like they're plants right now, but I think by curation, you can try to work against the system of it being totally homogeneous.
Now, is it easy to hold onto that as an organization scales really quickly? It is not easy. And is it possible? I'm not sure. I think in ways it can be. But, curation is about starting it. If you want to talk about it from a persona level, it's like, "Okay, we maybe want someone who's on the go and would maybe use this spot to drop in here and there." And then, we might want someone who wants a permanent office. So, that's great. I think in some ways, too, if you're thinking about co-working, it could even tie into how you're designing your membership tiers. How are you designing the amenities and offerings? And, how is that going to play into what you're transmitting? And, I think that, yeah, there's maybe a little reciprocal nature to people who are going to find themselves there because it's what they need.
And then also, the proactive strategy of saying like, "Who can I recruit?", who represents an on-the-go person who's going to use this for meetings or to drop in, and how can we talk about bringing them into the loop to participate in this experience? So I think it can be a two way street, but yeah, I definitely always recommend with my clients to think about, even if you want to do it as like, "Okay, who would I want here?" You could think of a celebrity. It's like, "I want Michelle Obama. I want Oprah. I want like Brene Brown and my mom." Okay, so what are their qualities and how do you narrow that down to reality and then try to parse out those qualities and think about what that represents and then maybe look to your own networks to say, "Okay, I can think of somebody who represents this, who represents that persona. I'm going to make a list. I'm going to ask my friends if they know people who are like this."
And then, begin to do some outreach. It can be a slow and plodding process, for sure, but I think that if you want to build something that's going to have a thoughtful, considerate foundation, it is going to be slow and plodding. You can't start scaling right off the top.
Because then from there, it's they tell two friends and they tell two friends, and you have to invest in those people because they're also going to be giving you feedback about what works or what doesn't, or what they like, what they don't like. And, sometimes I think ... Tony, you probably know this, too. The double edged sword of folks who will come to you because they don't like it, or also because they do like it, I think there's a line between the love and hate when it comes to experience, which you know what? If people are telling you they don't like it, that's great because if they're telling you nothing, it means they don't care.
Tony: Absolutely. I think the curation from early on is so important and it merits over indexing, right? That if you want a garden that's full of roses and lilies and turtle heads or whatever, then you got to start with one of each and then they will propagate and other roses will find your rose ... The analogy doesn't last forever but the idea is that it's got to start with that initial ...
Jillian: Got to get those pollinators in. Save the bees, y'all. That's the bottom line.
Tony: You need bees. We need bees and butterflies.
Jillian: Get them pollinators.
Marianna: It's true. Community is building an ecosystem. So, you need all the things, and mostly I'm very appreciative that you joined me on my gardening metaphor. Thank you.
Jillian: I was all in at the beginning. I was like, "Yes, I see it. I visualize it."
Marianna: Yes, we are plants.
Jillian: But I'd love to jump ahead in your timeline, for lack of a better word. I was trying to think of something garden-y and I couldn't think of it, but anyways, fail. So tell us, you left The Wing in June of 2020, you said, and you very quickly started ... and tell me if I'm pronouncing it right ... but Grand Trine Studio. So please, tell us all about this, because it sounds amazing. It's super cool. I want to know everything.
Tony: Especially about the name.
Marianna: So after departing The Wing in June of 2020, it was a tumultuous summer and I took a little breather to reflect on all the things I had done at The Wing. I wore many, many hats and also my time at NeueHouse and Knotel. I hadn't really had a pause, and so I paused to reflect on what pieces of the community building puzzle was the most invigorating to me. And, I realized, I'm a builder first, which is I like taking a concept from air to water.
So pretty quickly it became clear that launching, building and coming to or working with organizations that maybe need a jumpstart or they say they're doing community, but maybe really at this point it's just events, and they're like, "Oh, we actually need someone knows what they're doing to build a really overarching strategy." Yes, events is a huge part of community, but it does go beyond that. So, I started as a solo consultancy and pretty quickly, thankful to some wonderful clients, I've grown the team a little bit and now it is a studio.
Grand Trine Studio is a community building studio, and really what we do is design strategic, thoughtful, human focused experiences to sustain communities. So thinking about teaching a man to fish, so to speak, and beyond that, we're really on a mission too, to create a more caring and a more connected future one community at a time. So, that's the philosophical bent that we have that feels pretty good. So, I suppose I am a business owner now.
Jillian: Yes you are. That's amazing. Well, and in a way you have curated a community-community. You're-
Marianna: Wow, the ultimate compliment. Thank you.
Jillian: Yeah, well and I'm curious, going back to the idea of a coworking community or SPI Pro, thinking about who you want in it, does that play a role at all with your clients? And I totally respect when it's I just need to pay the bills so I will take the clients that show up. Totally respect that, not dogging it, but do you have a focus, or at least your ideal clients? Who is it you really want to work with?
Marianna: Yeah, I think organizations that are culture centric, and by that, I mean they've heard of the word community, they understand that of course you're pushing community experiences out to your members or your users, but also understanding that that is a cyclical thing. It's a circular thing where you also have to apply those community values and experiences back to your team. So yeah, the ideal is somebody who understands the value and importance in that.
And, I suppose also people who want to trust me, who think trust is cool. I've been lucky to work with some amazing clients this far, so more of that is what I'm after. I've worked with startups but also other organizations. So, really industry agnostic. It's more juicy to me what is the problem? What are we trying to create together and how can we figure that out is how I think we navigate if it's a fit.
Jillian: Yeah, for sure. I'm also curious if you found, just with working with all these different organizations, but also in co-working spaces and whatnot, is there a common misconception that comes up a lot when you're working with someone to build community that you have to explain or guide them through?
Marianna: Oh yeah. Oh, definitely. I think that it's cool and I feel lucky that sometimes people ask me to help them understand what community is, but I mean, I think that a common misconception is that community is just Instagram or community is just events. And I think that it's not not those things, and it also is something that is bigger and more strategic and weaves its way through operations, marketing, brand, product. It is weaving its way through all of those verticals within a business, and it definitely can be glitter and magic, which I love glitter and magic, and it also requires real strategy and thought and a lot of operationally minded things.
And, I would also say that folks get pretty confused or curious about if they're investing in community, how would they measure that? How do they know that it was successful? Which, I'm always like, "Bring me your CFO. I will explain to them how we do that."
Jillian: That's a really common thing. In my past roles, especially for larger companies that have community, there are several times where you had to say, "Hey, your whole product is around the community, but you don't value it at all and you keep cutting our budget or cutting our staff." It can be really frustrating, too ... to put it super mildly. Yeah, and—
Marianna: Yeah, I would relate to that big time.
Jillian: I think it's so easy for especially a company that ... Well, any company that they invest in community and then they're like, "Okay, we're done." And it's like, "No, no, no. You can't just launch it and walk away. You have to have people in place and policies. It's an ongoing thing." And, in my experience, people, they just don't like that. They're like, "Wait, what? It's a recurring cost?"
Marianna: Yeah. It's an ongoing thing. Yeah, it's an organism and it's going to change and evolve always. I appreciate the challenge of trying to explain that to someone and help build the case of why it's something that they'll be happy that they invested in.
Jillian: So, not to put you on the spot, but I know other community managers may be listening and would love to know what are just a couple big picture things that they can say, if they feel like they need to fight for their budget or their staff or their just community importance in general, to a CFO or to a whoever they have access to?
Marianna: Yeah. I love this question. First of all, hey, community managers.
Jillian: Love you community managers.
Marianna: Yes. I would look to the spaces model, which I know that David Spinks was on your podcast, big fan of his. And I think that Carrie Melissa Jones also to contribute to create that. That's a very practical worksheet that I keep in my office and use it as reference material a lot. I would also say if you want to get more social science-y, nerdy, which I would love to talk more about social science nerd-ery with you all here in a minute, but the Sense of Community Index is something that's really cool. That was first written in 1986 by this guy, McMillan, and it talks about ... It's a survey, so you can send it to the community, but I also think you can use it as a bit of an inventory, which I often do with clients, around different aspects of the community.
And then if you send this survey around, then you have something tangible that you can benchmark and come back to to say, "Hey, this is working," because you're measuring across four different pillars of which there's membership, influence, meeting needs and shared emotional connection, which is nuance. There's eight or ten questions across those pillars that you can set it up to see on a scale, and that's real data that you can hand over to someone and say, "Hey, here are some numbers. Here's a story." That's grounding it in data, plus saying, "The vibes are good or the vibes are bad." Grounding it in some data.
Jillian: That's so smart too, because metrics, love them or hate them, are such a huge part of community. Personally, I hate collecting them, but I like looking at them.
Marianna: Yeah, no, I love data. I love data too, but I feel you there.
Jillian: But it's definitely, especially a CFO level, anybody that is making budgets, they want to see numbers and that's their love language, so you just got to do it.
Marianna: Yeah, that's true. So, that's what I would say to budding community managers is get interested in data, play around with Excel, learn how to do a pivot table just to help ground what you're creating in some things that can be universally translatable across an organization. I think once I strengthened that muscle for myself, I think that helped to unlock an ability to strengthen my case when you're asking for budget or strengthen your case when you're saying, "This is valuable and here's why." It makes it a little bit more provable beyond just the good vibes, which of course we're there for anyway.
Jillian: Right, that's the fun bonus.
Marianna: Yes, exactly.
Tony: I feel like just the issue of trying to quantify a community in a way that can be translated for others is such a tricky thing to get right. So, you've got the sense of community index, which is a really great ... It gives you something. It just gives you some way of starting to say, "Look, you want numbers? We've got numbers. Here's some numbers." And, it gives you something to aspire towards too, as over time you can probably refine what that story is and come up with better ways of describing it. But it seems like community just is so resistant to quantification sometimes. It drives me nuts.
Marianna: I think there's ways that you can even think about leading indicators of like, "Okay, how many people RSVP'ed? How many people said they were going to RSVP and then didn't show up?" Or, if and when we posted about this event, did we see a bump in social? I think that that's what the deal is with community in a lot of ways is it is this ... You have to look at the universe of it all to think about are the various puzzle pieces working, and if one is a little bit lower, one piece of the puzzle isn't working as well as you would like. People aren't chatting in Slack. People aren't posting on the forum like they used to.
I think you can take this big thing of community and try to find ways to drill it down into more concretized pieces that then helps you build those mini strategies and mini actions that lead to change and then lead to your beautiful PowerPoint that you're presenting to the CFO that proves that the community is succeeding, et cetera.
Jillian: That we need more money, okay?
Marianna: Yeah. I love CFOs. I love CFO people. Thank you for your brains.
Jillian: And your money.
Jillian: That you let us use. It all goes to good things. There's definitely something to be said. I think we come around to this a lot in these conversations, but identifying those super users or just those people that are just a delight in your community, the people who represent what you want and having those one-on-one relationships and being okay, having it be the norm in your community to reach out and be like, "Hey, what's up?"
Because certainly we all have life things, so someone who might post all the time, for a while, if they all of a sudden disappear, if they just have a lot of life stuff going on, or maybe they went on a trip, or whatever, and we just didn't know about it. I think it's really special for them too, to get that message to be like, "Hey, we miss you. We've noticed your absence. What's going on? How can I help?" And, it can be hard for sure, especially depending on the size of the community.
Marianna: Yeah, I agree. It brings up a point in something that I'm actually pretty obsessed with lately, which is in talking with potential clients or clients that I do have, or past places that I've worked, this concept of belonging of course, is I feel like it's entering buzzword territory. People want to talk about belonging. Then, if you're responsible for a community, how do you build it? And I think in my own personal journey, particularly through the sadness and tumult of last summer, it really presented this opportunity for me, as I was thinking about what did I want to do to of course make money and have a living, also examine some other puzzle pieces of the responsibility of community building and the responsibility of being a leader within an organization and also a leader of teams, especially have the decision making power to build the things or build the strategy to make the things.
And so, it has me thinking about going deeper beyond just saying belonging. What I've really recently become obsessed with is the idea of our brains and trauma and healing and thinking about environments, whether digital or in person and how we can create more safety in those environments to facilitate belonging. So, it's some nerdy stuff, but it's actually called interpersonal neurobiology ... interpersonal neurobiology. So basically what I've learned is, all right, we've all had various things happen to us that are scary. Different communities and folks have had more of that compounded over years and over various generations, and literally our bodies are wired for connection. Our brains want to connect, and that's the ultimate goal of communities, right? So in all of this nerd-ery that I've been doing, reading Dr. Bruce Perry, reading Dr. Nicole LePera, reading Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.
It's learning that our bodies remember these things that happen to us, and our bodies need to feel safe in order to get to the part of our brain that's involved to be able to actually connect with other people. So, it's just got me really thinking differently about ... Or, to bring it back to what we were talking about when you think of who are you inviting to the community, who wants to come here and thinking about "Wow, isn't it a fun thing to think about? Or, isn't it fascinating to think about?" What could this couch transmit to someone? What colors make people feel safe and tell them you're welcome here. What feels inviting? What feels cold? What feels like actually you don't belong here? So thinking about that as something to just, at least for me personally, continue to dig into, because I think it's so important when you look at the ramifications of what loneliness does to people, what it does to our health.
It's a lot of philosophical, scientific work that I'm doing, but it's fascinating to me because when I think about the responsibility I have as someone who's leading other leaders in designing new systems in organizations, what could that look like if folks' trauma, people's neurobiology was woven into that experience? Now the word trauma, the T word, probably is going to scare a lot of people, but I guess this is a warning that if you work with me, it's going to be something that I'm thinking about when we're designing work together.
Jillian: I love it.
Tony: It was so important, I feel like if somebody comes to you and says, "Okay, we want you to help us build better community," and you come in and say, "Okay, does everybody here feel safe?" I feel like that's a pretty critical starting point informed by science, as you say, that you're not going to be able to access the community part of someone's brain if they don't feel safe first.
So, let's start with that.
Marianna: Yeah, I think it's interesting, and I actually think that ... I hope it doesn't scare people, but I do think it's something that we all probably understand innately in our own physical experiences being people who live inside of bodies and also who have brains that yo know what that feels like when you're like, "Ugh, I'm afr ..." You realize I'm afraid. My brain literally turns off. If I'm calm, I'm relaxed, nice lights, et cetera, okay, it's my routine. Or, I've got my water and my coffee. This feels nice. Okay, now I can do my work or now I feel like I can feel safe.
Yeah, it's a really fascinating thing to me when I think about on the business side of things, what gets in the way of people being connected to something or participating in an experience. And I think a lot of that can relate to social anxiety, a fear of being judged, because you've been judged in the past, fearing that you'll say the wrong thing because the wrong thing in the past had consequences. So when I think about designing digital and in-person experiences, I'm always trying to think about, "Okay, if I put myself in that person's shoes, does it feel like it's an invitation to participate? How do I know what goes on around here?" So then I know if it's the right behavior or not, or if this is a normal thing to do around here, which to me are puzzle pieces to lead up to safety.
Tony: Let us get into the rapid fire questions. Are you ready?
Marianna: I'm really ready. I'm very excited to rapid fire.
Tony: Okay. Marianna, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Marianna: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. I grew up in San Antonio where there was a Sea World and it was before I had seen Blackfish and cried, but I really thought that I was definitely going to be a dolphin trainer and/or obviously doing the show with Shamu.
Jillian: Oh, wow. I think that as a common dream, though, pre-Blackfish.
Tony: Okay. Next up is how do you define community?
Marianna: I love this one. I'm always willing to adjust my definition, but I would say that it is a group of people who come together for repeated collective action.
Tony: Nice. Nice and succinct. All right, let's talk bucket list. We're going to talk something that's on your bucket list that you have done.
Marianna: Okay, something that's on my bucket list that I have done is visit the Galapagos and go snorkeling, surrounded by fish and a sea lion was very close to my person. So, please see previous question of Sea World animals and ... Yeah, being close to animals is pretty exciting.
Tony: You are on brand.
Jillian: That means you got to see ... Is it the blue-footed booby?
Marianna: Yes, there were so many boobies to be seen.
Jillian: Booby. It is booby. Okay. They're pretty cool.
Marianna: Boobies rule.
Tony: Not taking that bait, onward to the next one. Something on your bucket list that you have yet to do. Something on your bucket list that you have not yet done.
Marianna: I think that is being in the same room as Brene Brown.
Tony: Excellent. Just breathing that—
Jillian: You, Brene, a dolphin.
Marianna: Yeah. Breathing in, talking about the gifts of imperfection. I think we all have those people that we admire, and I don't know, I also have this imaginary connection to her as a Texas woman myself who cares a lot about feelings and leadership.
Tony: That's amazing.
Marianna: Speaking it to existence. Brene, let's hang.
Tony: If you're listening.
Marianna: If Brene's listening, it's me.
Jillian: Surely Brene is listening.
Tony: If you're listening, please tell us for love of God.
Jillian: Yeah, please.
Tony: Okay. All right, all right, all right. Speaking of books, authors, the next topic is what is a book that you are loving?
Marianna: Okay, just one?
Tony: Yeah, just one that pops to mind that it's like, "Ooh, I want to tell countless masses about this book. I'm psyched to talk about this."
Marianna: I have to say I just finished last night What Happened to You? with Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, and I think it's relevant for any human being, but especially folks like us that work in community, and it's often in service of others, I think, that there's an awareness to understand your own operating system that can be really powerful to think about designing a new future of helping other people that is trauma informed that just feels like I want to talk to everybody about this book.
Tony: Can you give us a one or two sentence synopsis or like premise of the book?
Marianna: Yeah. I mean, really it's just talking about the brain. It's talking about trauma, how it lives mostly in your body and how it gets stuck in there and ways that you can access that resilience and heal. And the spoiler alert and the piece that I find most compelling beyond excavating is that to really heal trauma, the last step and most healthy step is it happens in community. So it's like our brains literally need other people. We are wired to have community and it boils down to your physical health. So just digging into the science of it all, obviously Oprah giving her Oprah magic along with it, but is told in a way that's really digestible for a layperson. That was seven. That was not a quick fire answer.
Tony: That's awesome. That was great. Appreciate that.
Marianna: Slow fire.
Tony: No, I think it's so valuable. It sounds like a really important book. So, thank you for sharing that.
Marianna: Yeah, it feels like required reading.
Tony: Okay. Let's talk about living situation. You are in New York, but if you lived elsewhere, where would the elsewhere be?
Marianna: You know, I imagine a future just living as a desert witch. I think Joshua tree, something like that feels nice. Dry.
Jillian: I want to come.
Marianna: No, you're invited. You're invited.
Jillian: I feel like I would belong in Santa Fe. I've never been to Santa Fe, but I'm pretty sure I belong there.
Marianna: I need like a warm future.
Jillian: More desert.
Marianna: Yes, exactly.
Tony: Yeah, warm works for me. How do you want to be remembered?
Marianna: I would like to be remembered as someone who ... someone who cared for people and someone who was able to hold space for awkward stuff and hard stuff, and I would like to be remembered as someone who maybe helped to provide some small nuggets of digestible wisdom to help people heal in some small way.
Tony: That's beautiful. Real quick, can you tell us how do we find you? Where are you on the interwebs?
Marianna: I am very much on the internet. I am mostly on Instagram. I am MarMarMartinelli, M-A-R-M-A-R Martinelli, my last name. And on Twitter, I'm M_M Martinelli. I don't know, I guess I'm on LinkedIn, too. TikTok, I just lurk so you will not find me there.
Tony: Thank you so much, Marianna.
Marianna: Listen, it's my pleasure.
Jillian: All right. Wow, that was Marianna. What a conversation. Tony, what'd you think?
Tony: Yeah. I think that for me, I'm somebody who has very much been improvisational with my community building. It really helps from a sustainability standpoint, and especially if you've got stakeholders or if you've got an employer just to have this framing, maybe before you even start to know who are you trying to serve? How best can you go about serving that population and what success looks like. Identifying the avatars though, I mean, ultimately who are these people? And it could be multiple. It could be a wide variety, different categories, but just getting it down on paper and understanding who those people are is huge and helps you map out what kind of programming do we want to create for these people? What forms of media? Should they be long meetings or short meetings? Should they be on video or should they be in person? There's all kinds of different dials you can turn once you have a better idea of who you're actually designing for.
Jillian: And, I like the idea of having strategies behind you create the avatar and then you go and find them. You recruit them in a way, and that's genius.
Tony: And then from within that, you can cultivate variety, and the garden analogy is super apt. There's a lot of things you can draw from the idea of gardening as a community builder, but the idea of bringing in people with diverse skills, diverse interests, diverse backgrounds, and making use of the fact that they can all be super supportive of each other as a little ecosystem.
Jillian: Another thing Marianna touched on that is just so real and hits home so much is that community work is 10 different jobs. It absolutely is. I mean, you are the event planner, you are a data analyst in many ways. There's so many things going on.
I think everyone working in community should know at least one other person working in community that gets it and that you can vent to, that you can ask for their perspective on situations. I know over on ye old Twitter, there's a lot of community lists and a growing number of community people who are really talking to each other and holding each other up in many ways. So, if you are a community builder and you're not sure where to go, check out the community manager hashtags on Twitter. Come join us.
Tony: Absolutely. The same way that your community of members has a support ecosystem around it, you need that support ecosystem around you and the other community leaders around you need that as well.
Jillian: Absolutely. The community-community. Let's do it.
Tony: Always love meta. And I think it's also we got a little bit into some science there too, talking about the neurobiology and the importance of making sure that people feel comfortable when they walk into a situation, when they join a group, when they're onboarded, that a person can't feel connection until they feel safety. And I think that is something I could chew on for a while.
Jillian: Oh, yeah. I've honestly been thinking about it a lot. We ended the conversation on that, and I want to start the conversation over right there and just this whole idea of creating both visually and just in your messaging, everything about your community, making it inviting ... and a great analogy that I've been thinking about is when you go over to someone's house, maybe you've never been there before. Maybe you're just getting to know them and the door opens and it's a hoarder level gross, dirty and smelly and just a mess. At least for me, I will immediately be on edge. Any cool conversations or whatever that I would've had with that person say not in their home, like at a coffee shop or something, walls will come up just because I am physically not comfortable.
Tony: So get out there, identify who your people are, identify what success looks like, make sure that people feel safe in their process of onboarding, participating. And, keep doing good things. Keep helping your people find your people and find your people too. Find support as a community leader. I'm sure other people will appreciate it. And in the meantime, keep being awesome.
Jillian: Absolutely. Thanks for listening to The Community Experience and we'll see you next Tuesday.
Tony: This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen.
Jillian: Learn her about Marianna and all the work she's doing at her website, grandtrinestudio.com. That's Grand Trine, T-R-I-N-E, studio.com. You can also find her on Twitter. M_M M-A-R-T-I-N-E-L-L-I. @M_MMartinelli, and on Instagram @MarMarMartinelli. That's M-A-R-M-A-R-M-A-R-T-I-N-E-L-L-I.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer, Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound designed by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.