In the beautiful pond of community, what can the big fish learn from the little fish, and vice versa?
Cheesy metaphors aside, today's guest has a lot to say on what smaller organizations can learn from bigger brands on how to do this community thing the smart way.
Jenny Weigle is a community strategy consultant who's created or guided community strategy for a ton of big brands—we're talking Google, Airbnb, that kind of big. She's here to tell us what it's like working with these behemoths on their community strategy, and how anybody running a community for a smaller brand can learn from her experience.
This is a great follow-up to last week's conversation with Marianna Martinelli, because it's all about finding a strategy for a sustainable community. Speaking of strategy, we get into the crucial difference between strategy and tactics in helping brands build dream communities. And Jenny shares her three-step framework for consulting on any community effort.
If you're just getting started building your community—or thinking of becoming a community strategist yourself—this episode will help light your path. You might even consider working with someone like Jenny, who, as you'll learn today, is the Katie Couric of community professionals.
Jenny Weigle (she/her) has been creating, executing, and reviewing strategies for online communities for more than 10 years. She's worked with more than 100 brands on various aspects of their community strategy and implementations, including launch, migration, programming, and planning.
Jenny has helped to create or guide the strategy for numerous communities, including Airbnb, HP, Pinterest, Samsung, and Stubhub. She assists brands by bringing her expertise and energy through her unique offerings. You may have seen that energy when she's been a speaker at Khoros Engage, Dreamforce, SXSW Interactive, Community By Association's Thrive Summit, and more.
When she's not geeking out on community strategy, Jenny spends time in Los Angeles with her partner, John, and stepdaughter. In her personal life, she is a proud member of a number of communities: Southern California Gator Club, Spiritual Sisters of Los Angeles (which she founded), Oak Park LA (CrossFit), Sofar Sounds, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, and others.
In This Episode:
- What small communities can learn from big brands
- Why you should “interview” your community members and how best to approach it
- Jillian's experience with enterprise-level communities
- Getting buy-in for community at the corporate level and making sure leadership “gets it”
- The explosive growth of the community industry, all the way to the C-suite
- The ideal Chief Community Officer
- What Jenny does as a community strategist and how she scopes out that work for clients
- Jenny's phased approach and framework for building new communities
- Standing out amongst the noise as a small community
- Why lurkers are absolutely critical … and why you should usually let them be
- Atomic Habits by James Clear [Amazon affiliate link]
- The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker [Amazon affiliate link]
- The Community Roundtable
The CX 018: How Big Brands Approach Community with Jenny Weigle
Tony Bacigalupo: So community is something that organizations large and small have been getting into. And our guest today is going to be able to give us a little bit of a perspective on how things are going on the larger organization side. Jenny Weigle is a community strategy consultant. She's going to tell us what it's like working with big brands on strategy for community, what community the strategy is, why that's different from regular, just community consulting and how anybody running a smaller community for a smaller brand or solo brand, what they can learn from what she's learned working with those larger organizations. So let's get into the conversation with Jenny Weigle.
Hello. Hello. Hello. Welcome to The Community Experience. I'm Tony and I got Jill here.
Jillian Benbow: Hello, friends.
Tony: Hey, hey. So Jill, we're going to be talking community strategy, working with big brands and what everybody can learn from that. What are you excited to get into that maybe is something that we don't touch on in other contexts?
Jillian: I mean, it's a whole different ballgame when you're talking about a big brand. And you've got teams and you've got stakeholders and often you have entire departments that question the value of what you're doing. You have VPs and things to talk to. And so it can be kind of intimidating, so it's fun to talk to somebody who's really just gone into that space and has been able to just whip these executives into shape from a community perspective.
Tony: I feel like there's a lot of value kind of in both directions that smaller community organizers can learn from how the bigger fish do it. They don't have necessarily the same resources, but they might be able to learn a little bit about what it takes to build something that's sustainable and that generates enough value for the thing to be worth continuing to do. And so Jenny's got a good frame of mind for this. And what I also am excited for is to talk a little bit about strategy, what it means to really think strategically about community and not just tactically.
Jillian: I think when you talk to someone who's playing on this level, if you can develop effective community strategy for a big brand community, then that works for a small community too. In many ways, it's almost easier because it doesn't require as loud of reach if you will.
Tony: I think also, having a good plan for what your strategy is helps you to communicate to the perspective member, what the community is, what value it purports to offer and what it asks of the person who's joining. And in those different roles that people play in the community, we've got the super members, we've got the people that show up, but we've also got the undersung heroes, the so-called lurkers, which we totally need a new word for as well.
Jillian: The observers.
Tony: So Jenny's going to tell us about all this and so much more. So let's get into the conversation with Jenny Weigle, on this episode of The Community Experience.
Jillian: All right. Welcome Jenny, to the show, we are so excited to have you here.
Jenny Weigle: Hi, Jillian. Hi, Tony. Thank you so much. It is an honor to be part of this first season that I have been enjoying being a listener of. So thank you for having me.
Jillian: Oh, thank you.
Tony: Yeah. You are flattering us right now.
Jillian: I know, feel my blushing. We're so excited to have you. And I think one of my favorite, favorite things about this podcast that I guess is obvious in hindsight, but I didn't think about before we launched was just all the amazing conversations we get to have with so many fascinating people. I feel like I've made all sorts of internet friends that I cherish so much, so we appreciate you joining that little group.
Jenny: Well, I think it's great having them. And sometimes I've been listening feeling like maybe we're all in the same room, sipping on coffee, and I'm just being quiet and taking in other people's conversations. But you really do set up that kind of a vibe, so great to be here.
Jillian: Oh my gosh, those are my favorite kind of podcasts. You're just giving me all the feels.
Jenny: I try, Jillian. It's what I work on.
Jillian: Well, Jenny, tell us about you. Let's introduce you to the audience if they don't know you, because you do some really amazing stuff.
Jenny: Well, thank you. What about me? Where do I even begin?
Jillian: I know, right?
Jenny: Yeah. Well, I'll let everyone know that I am a community strategy consultant and have been in this field for a little over 10 years. I help enterprise brands build or enhance their communities. I get such a kick out of it and every day am very grateful that this is my career, this is my profession, and try to remind myself of that as much as possible. So I've been very fortunate to work with a number of big brands that you have probably heard of. Google, Airbnb, Sephora, any of those ring bell?
Jillian: Sephora? Oh, my goodness.
Jenny: Yeah. So some brands that are doing incredible things with community, and it's really an honor to be able to say that I've helped them somewhere along their way in their strategy. On a personal level, I live in Los Angeles and I'm just a ball of energy and I thrive on community in my personal life as well. So I really feel lucky that I'm doing a career that I think is just really just a reflection of my personal life when I try to get people together and I try to build community. And somehow I turn that into a career path translating that into digital communities for brands. So if anyone's ever out in Los Angeles, please look me up.
Jillian: What I love a lot of what we talk about, we focus a lot on creators, creating smaller communities and people that don't have the reach of say Airbnb, working on community. So I'm really excited to talk to you because there is, there's this big corporate side where there's communities, entire departments dedicated to community with several, several staff, really high level strategy, like you said. I've worked for a big one that shall remain nameless. And so definitely, it's a refreshing thing to switch gears and talk with you about that kind of work. But I'm curious, working with all these big brands and a few of them I'm in those communities, so I know your work, I know how it works on that larger scale. Do you think there's some overlap with how community strategy works with big brands versus smaller brands or even creators?
Jenny: Absolutely. I think that smaller brands or creators as individuals can get inspired by a lot of these big brand communities, which I try to highlight every week, I have a series, a Community of the Week. So it hopefully that makes it a little easier to find some of these and learn about them. But I think one of the biggest lessons that small brands can take from enterprise brands is listening to your community members and taking some time to listen. Now, listening can be done in a number of different ways, but I don't care how large or small your community is, if you are not doing something to hear about their needs, what drives them, what motivates them, what they're looking for from your community, then you will not have a successful community and you will not get what you need from it.
So I know it is time consuming and sometimes on the big brand side, there's a little more time because they've probably got a lot more heads dedicated to certain responsibilities, but it will be worth it in the end. And just a couple of ways that you can listen to your members are by sending out some kind of survey through some link or form. I personally love interviews. They're the most time and consuming, I know, but they are also the most quality. And usually I hear success stories of the members thanking the community team or community professional for just taking the time to have a one-on-one conversation and hear them out about different facets of the community. So it's definitely worthwhile and I would encourage small brands to take some time and schedule some interviews with your members.
Jillian: That's great. How do you usually go about that? Do you just do a post or an email and say, "Hey, we're looking for feedback. You can sign up here."
Jenny: You could do it that way. I like to get strategic, shocker, right? So I want to make sure when I'm conducting interviews that I am covering the gamut of different kinds of members. So one of my interviewees, I might pick someone who's been a longstanding member who has contributed a lot. Maybe a second one is a longstanding member who's kind of only contributed here and there. And then maybe on the other spectrum is a member who just recently joined, someone who's pretty new, and then maybe someone who falls kind of in between that range. I just like to get those different perspectives. And also if in the best way possible, try to make sure that you are reaching out to a diverse group. And again, that depends on how much information people have been willing to give in your community, how much they've filled out on their profiles and such, but try your best, I would say, to talk to people of different backgrounds and ethnicities and genders and identities to get lots of different opinions.
Jillian: It's so important. It's so easy to just throw a link out there and see who responds, but often the people who respond are already in the super users or they have an axe to grind. They're usually one of the two, but I've found it's usually the people you already know who really like it. So you're not really getting good feedback, so really segmenting out your community to get a more diverse response is a really good idea. I love that.
Jenny: But then when you have those people, I think sending some kind of personal message is the best way to go. And that before you send any link or get into the logistics, to see if they're open to talking. And hopefully that will be enough to convince them yes, to spend the time with you.
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. And it is amazing, I think once you open that doorway. And especially as a smaller community builder, you kind of create an unofficial advisory board in many ways, which I always think a community should have some sort of advisory board or committee of some ... It doesn't have to be super formal, but you're opening that door. And then in bigger communities, I know having that access to leadership within the company that you're a member of the community, you feel special. So it's a great thing to do.
Jenny: Jillian, can I turn the tables on you and ask you a question?
Jillian: Oh, yeah.
Jenny: You mentioned that you are a member of some enterprise communities and smaller brand communities. So as a member of each, do you notice a difference in the user experience of these brands and their communities?
Jillian: Oh, absolutely. I'm like the worst member to have in your community because I'm paying attention to all the things, to see how it's done. And honestly to get ideas of both what to do and what not to do. I'm a member of the Sephora group. I'm a VIB insider, VI something. I should know the name, but I don't. And I use it a lot. I like seeing what people think about different products and whatnot. And I really like that community a lot. It's very friendly, it's very safe, it's helpful. You're there to support each other. It's transparent if somebody got something for free. And their staff is super, super helpful. I didn't get my points on a big purchase and they helped me get those points on my account.
Jenny: Thank goodness. Because we all know that is critical. Got to get those points..
Jillian: I had to maintain my status.
Jenny: Yes. That community recently helped me out too. I had a product that was part of my morning skincare routine that discontinued. So I took a picture of it and went onto the community and asked their advice for what should I replace this with? Here's what I used to use, here's where it falls in my process. And luckily I got a response pretty quickly, product that very comparable. I bought that and I've been very satisfied with it ever since. The power of community.
Jillian: There's something about Sephora's community too. Because we're all there for very clear purpose and it's like skincare and makeup and things like that. And so people are so helpful like with the dupes. Oh my gosh. There's nothing worse than you're favorite product being discontinued and you're in a scramble. Don't you think, Tony?
Jenny: Yeah, Tony, is that a worry for you every day?
Jillian: Tony, what's your level at Sephora?
Tony: It's not the… I mean, when you're trying to buy a gift for someone and there's the one thing that they like, it's the same. So yeah, it's a thing.
Jillian: There you go. When in doubt Sephora gift card, let me tell you.
Jenny: Tony, can I ask the same question of you, if you notice differences in any enterprise brand or small brand communities that you belong to? I know I've just put you on the spot.
Tony: I'd say that with an enterprise brand, the upside is that they have tremendous resources at their disposal. And so they can roll out at a higher quality at a higher scale faster. And I'd say that the trade off is that people have different relationships with larger brands. And so when you're dealing with a smaller, more grassroots kind of an activity, you just have a different sense of buy-in in terms of the leadership and the way that people relate to it. But both I think can be really valuable.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the extent to which a given community or a given activity is aligned with the mutual interests of everybody in the room. So is this a thing that is trying to get at a higher aspiration that everybody is really interested in. Or are there some business interests at play that are perhaps affecting the dynamics of how the community's playing out?
And that happens in big enterprise setups and it happens with small businesses and individuals as well. So they all have their trade offs. A big company, for example, you have to contend with the fact that the big company has to produce a certain degree of profit and that it's accountable to investors and shareholders. But on the small scale, you might say, well, a smaller grassroots community doesn't have to worry about that. But on that scale, you have to deal with the fact that the individual who might be a really sweet person who's running it, has to make a salary and make a living and they might burn out and go away. Whereas a larger organization doesn't have those same concerns. So there's just a lot of trade offs and strengths and weaknesses. And it's really more about understanding what you're dealing with.
Jenny: Great points, yeah. Thank you both for indulging me with those questions I put you on the spot with.
Jillian: Oh, absolutely. I love it. Well, and Tony, what you're saying is a bit of a segue to something I'm very curious about from my own personal experience, because I know with those larger corporate brands and their community teams, whether they're launching a community or they're just enhancing a community and getting help, it is hard sometimes to get buy-in from the leadership teams and corporations. They're very corporate, they want the higher ups to be on board, and so you have to prove the value in a way that can be hard because it can be a big financial chunk of the budget, there's staff, there's platforms and all of that. So I'm curious with your experience, obviously you're working with brands who I'm assuming want community or want to improve community in some sense. So there's already a little bit of buy-in there, but how do you assess the level of buy-in when you're pitching to these companies and then work towards accomplishing the goals you need to accomplish?
Jenny: When I'm talking to brands that have not yet set up an online community and are considering it, I actually don't want to talk about community at first. I really just wanted to talk about their business and find out what is your focus for the year or the next five years? What are you working on? For me, it's easier then to be able to find out if they're willing to share their goals, and again, some of their focus areas, which of those areas that community might be able to benefit? And community can benefit a number of different teams in an enterprise brand, everything from support to marketing, to the product team, customer success, sales. And we've started to identify a lot of unique use cases and benefits to each of those teams when they've got community.
So I just start listening for those nuggets. If a brand is starting to say that they're just hoping to save on some customer service or support costs or lower the number of tickets that their agents have to deal with. Ding, ding, ding, I start thinking about all the different ways that an effective support community could benefit them. And when I start talking about it in those terms, usually execs listen up a little more. Their interest is peaked and now they want to hear more. They want to hear about other successful communities doing that. I've had the best luck in trying to equate it, bottom line, to their business goals.
Jillian: It's so true. I know for those of us who work in community roles, and maybe you join one of those teams in all's hunky-dory, I know I've experienced personally, again, just being on a big community team and the company deciding, "Oh, the community doing great. Let's cut the community staff. We don't need to invest so much in it." And it's not the greatest position to be in obviously. And although I've found, I've landed in a place that I really enjoy and it's smaller and I'm pretty happy here, of course. I would love to just for all the community managers out there who are on that path and want to stay in community management and maybe they're working for tech startups, or bigger corporations, like the ones you work with, what should they be looking out for when they're either in a job or looking to join a company? Are there red flags or just things they should take note to make sure that the leadership gets it?
Jenny: Yes, there are. And Jillian, so sorry that happened to you, but I will say I like where you ended up as well, because I think you’re killing it.
Jillian: It's all good.
Jenny: So there's a lot of companies out there starting new communities, which is absolutely wonderful. And a lot of them are creating a role of community manager, community director, and that person is going to wear many hats at first. So I think that people need to be aware of that. And especially if they're applying for a role at a brand that is starting their very first community, that should just be something they should watch out for and just be prepared that you're going to wear all those hats. And it would be up to you then to prove of the worth of the community so that you can then get more resources and build your team.
But another thing I would like to tell community managers, if that's not your thing, or if you've already done that and you are burnt out on it, then one of the things to be asking as you're applying for jobs with these brands is what is the leadership level and where can I take my skills? How could I move up in the community? I'd say if you are talking to a team where there's a VP of community, someone who reports to the CEO or somebody reports the C-suite or even near the C-suite level, and then that person has got a team underneath them, that is a company that is making an investment in community. And when I say investment, I don't just mean in the platforms they might be using, but literally they're making an investment in these salaries, multiple salaries in a case like that.
I think that's usually a great indicator that the company believes in community and they're willing to support it or at least give it a try. So I'm not knocking all of the companies out there who haven't made that investment yet. But I am just saying that's a great sign that when companies have, and I hope and look forward to seeing more and more companies investing in a community team, a center of excellence team that is really just at the center of everything happening at their company, because everything revolves around community. That would be great.
Jillian: If only they'd listen to us.
Jenny: "Hear me out."
Jillian: "I know what I'm talking about, okay." It's interesting because when I, over a decade ago got started in community management, it wasn't really a thing, it wasn't well known. It was very much confused with a moderator or customer service and that hasn't totally changed. That's still out there, especially for people outside of the more tech world, they still don't understand what it is. But it's definitely growing. I think it's kind of an industry within an industry, if you will. It works for so many different types of businesses. And now we're kind of seeing that it started with, okay, there's community managers, maybe now there's directors, but now we're even seeing C-suite level roles in community, which is amazing. I'm curious what your thoughts are on the albeit slow, but still the growth towards this actual career path that could take you to the big corner office.
Jenny: Oh, it fires me up. I'm so excited. One of the reasons I went on my own to have my own practice was because in some way, I thought I could help elevate this field. And to see that that is happening and we are seeing more chief community officers as slow as it may be, it is exciting, it is invigorating. And it's validating too, for those of us who've been in this work for a little while. And you were right, Jillian, there are so many people doing this now record number than ever before, but isn't it fascinating to think of all the people doing this who don't even realize yet that this could be a career field or a journey for them on their path, through their career?
I think so many people probably out there doing the skills required for community management or community strategy in whatever role they have in their company. And that's not in their title, and they aren't familiar with different organizations like CMX or Community Roundtable or things like that yet, and yet they're doing it. So I think there's many more of us out there who we don't even know and we haven't all fully come together yet, but the time is coming.
Jillian: Oh, absolutely. It's exciting. I'm curious what your thoughts are. The C-suite, the chief community officer, what do you see that role really entailing on that big scale? They are obviously responsible for community and the entire triangle of community below them, but what do you see that role is? I've seen so many conflicting things. I'm just curious what's the ideal chief community officer.
Jenny: The ideal chief community officer. Well, I think the first thing that has to be done when you're distinguishing someone in that role is as a brand, you have to define who your community is. Is it just going to be your clients? Is it going to be clients plus prospects? Is it going to be customers and fans, just anyone who just loves your brand? Because that is drastically going to change what the responsibilities of that person are. There's been a lot of talk about the synergies between user experience, customer experience, and community, and if a chief community officer should really be responsible for the CX experience of a brand. And I don't know yet. I don't know where I even stand on that yet, because again, I think it's going to depend on how that brand defines what their community is.
And so yeah, if they could define it as only a community for their customers, then absolutely, I think this person should have a tremendous say in what the customer experience is going to be. But if it's going to be broader than that, then I think that deciding what the customer experience is dependent on a lot more. But so many ways that this could grow and it would be interesting as we are starting to get more people in chief community officer roles to hopefully have enough where some kind of survey or research can be done soon to find out, okay, what are you doing? What are you responsible for? And who do you consider your community to be? Because I haven't seen any research like that yet, but I hope it's coming.
Jillian: I can't wait. Because it is, it's just kind of all over the place right now. And so is community, frankly. You'll see one community role and it's under the marketing team and it's very social media heavy. And then you'll see another one and it's under the customer experience team and it's very email heavy. It runs the gamut, and I think it always will, and that's what's fun about it. You can get so many, like every day is not the same, you never know, which is fun. But I'm so interested to see how it grows as just as a legit career path where you don't do it for a while and then switch to marketing to grow. I'm excited for it. And I'm also excited for just it becoming a more normalized thing to have these niche communities for things you're interested in. So thanks to many platforms developing, Circle, Mighty Networks.
Jenny: Yeah, Disciple.
Jillian: You can launch your own community about something, whether it's local or it's just a niche interest. It doesn't always have to be attached to a brand or a company. It's just fun. I mean, obviously I'm just the head cheerleader of all things community. So I'm very biased.
Jenny: We are finally in a time technologically where yes, anyone can start their own community based off their own passions or hobbies or business and start bringing people together. And they're building up a skillset that certain brands would love in that case. But I'm so excited to see that community is crossing now to so many other areas. And the creators out there building the communities, I have so much admiration because most of them are doing that on their own. Some might have assistance or volunteer moderators, but most of them are, that I'm familiar with at least, and that I'm following, they're doing it on their own. And I can tell when they post there, it is authentic voice.
And I think that's one of the biggest draws too, to some of these creator led communities, is that it's not a brand talking, it is usually the individual, the creator or team of creators themselves. So the members of that community just might feel more of a connection because of that personal level there, they're hearing from these people, this person they admire. Whereas, in an enterprise brand community team, you're just hearing from that person's community manager, community director. And why they still might be really excited to hear from that because they love the brand or something, there's just something different about when it's coming from the creator who built this community and is still coming and conversing in it every day.
Jillian: That's 100%. I love it. We're like the same person having a conversation with ourselves.
Jenny: We'll just keep acknowledging each other and hyping each other up for the day. And we'll walk around out from this feeling extremely confident and going to do something productive because we are still so proud of ourselves.
Tony: I keep hearing little echoes of one of our previous guest David Spinks, who championed for years for the idea of a C-level community person, and for companies in general to value community as being something more than just a low level spinoff of the marketing department. And I feel like you can probably speak to this, that the wins are changing, thanks to the work of yourself and David and many others. But are you seeing that that level of respect has really gone up? Do you see it continuing to go that way?
Jenny: Absolutely. And I have to give a shout out to the community club team and my friend Brian Oblinger, who following this path recently launched a leadership track, a learning track for people who want to start taking their skills to the next level. Who are like, "All right, how do I now take this and make sure that these skills can be applied to learning more and doing more in my career and just kind of moving up?" And when I saw the announcement for that, I had a physical reaction, like a, "Hell yeah." Seriously, because it's just, yes, we need things like that. We need the work that David has done and continues to do. And all of the other consultants and thought leaders in this area inspiring people to want to do more.
So it's great timing, it's a great offering too. I want to see more things like that. And I mean, on a personal level, I hope to inspire another generation of community strategists. There's a lot of people I know, interested in community management, but if you want to elevate to strategists one day, I'm hoping that personally, I can help and inspire more people want to take it to that level as well. It's all exciting. And that hell yeah, I still got it. I'm doing it right now. You can't see it, but I'm doing it.
Jillian: Jenny, tell us more about the distinction. Tell us more about what a community strategist does. Because I know that's one of my favorite parts of community is the strategic planning of it. Tell us what do you do? What makes it so fun?
Jenny: I sit around and twiddle my fingers and think all day. No, that's what people might think a strategist is doing all day. In my mind, what a strategist does is they're able to see a holistic picture in how all of these moving parts work together to generate the best experience possible for the community. So from a business standpoint, from enterprise brand standpoint, I need to learn about the business, I need to learn about the member demographics. There's all kinds of facets I need to learn about. And again, get this holistic picture before I'm even able to consult or able to advise and start talking about the details of community yet. And I think as a strategist, it is a skill set to be able to carry that vision and understand all the moving parts. And then make the right recommendations to move forward because your recommendations are probably going to affect multiple parts, not just the community.
So being able to come at it from that mindset is a skill and I find it really fun. I know it's not everyone's bread and butter, but I think it's super fun. And I also think it's a huge challenge for a strategist not to get too deep into the tactics. And I've had to catch myself on this before, but I'll recommend a strategy and then really want to help my see it through. But at some point I've kind of just got to let them go and deal with everything, all of the deep details that it takes to carry out that strategy, because I need to stay in that level of thinking big, thinking of the big picture. And if I get out of that too often, I'm not going to be as effective for my clients as I want to be. So if it's hard, but it can be done.
Jillian: That's actually really affirming. Because I recently did some consulting where I was battling just that, how in the weeds to get with my recommendations. I probably got a little too into it, but this makes me feel good about... That was an internal conversation I was having with myself. It was a balance between, well, I want to do a really good job and over deliver, but I also need to set the boundaries of the scope of work I agreed to do. It's tough. It's a tough ...
Jenny: It is. And you recognized it, that you were in that moment and Jillian, that's a key to being a good at strategists, is even just recognizing when you are in that conflict of like, "Wait, wait, wait, am I coming out of that mindset too much?" But there are going to be times when you need to go into the details, but I think it's a catchy thing, you don't want to find yourself trapped there where you are not executing, or planning for so many details that you have forgotten the big picture you are working towards.
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. How do you frame that? I mean, and obviously you're working on a million level higher than what I'm doing, but how are you framing that when you're setting up the contracts with these brands to really spell out, "Look, I'm doing the big picture strategy." How do you draw that line in the sand of your scope?
Jenny: There's an analogy I use. I don't know if it's the best analogy and I will give credit to my past colleagues at my former employer at Khoros, who really gave me this analogy. I tell my brands and my clients, "Think of me as your personal trainer for a community. I'm going to coach you and I'm going to help you be successful and get to where you want to go meet your goals. But I am not going to be the one doing the work. You still need to do the exercises, you need to put in the time. And I'm just going to coach you and tell you what you need to do, but you still got to find the time to do it and make a commitment into it." And there's just something about that analogy that does come across very, very well to people. And I think they get the idea.
Jillian: Yeah. I was just furiously scribbling that. I was like, "Oh, I need to add that to when people approach me to help them." It's super interesting. And I'm curious, let's just dive in a little deeper to what a strategist does. I mean, in general, is there a pretty repeatable thing that you're doing for... I mean, I know each brand probably has very specific metrics, goals, everything that they're looking to improve or launch, but do you have a general structure of I come in, I analyze X, Y, Z? Do you kind of have a checklist of stuff that you do for everybody?
Jenny: I have a framework when it comes to new community launches, it's a three step process, or maybe 3.5. When we're talking about brand new community with an enterprise brand, first step is research, go and hold those interviews, conduct those surveys, research, research, research, and just find out what will motivate people in this community. Find out even if people want a community. And maybe also they don't necessarily want an online forum based community. Maybe they want something more on Slack, chat based. So it's really important. The research phase is critical. And also in that you might want to also look at what your competitors are doing. Do they have communities as well? And if so, what's maybe something you could offer that they aren't, that would help distinguish your community. So that's research phase summed up very quickly.
Second phase in my launch framework is creating your strategic plan. So now it's time to make a plan, determine what are going to be the goals, how are we going to measure those goals? What kinds of activities and events are we going to have in our community? What's the timeline going to look for the next year? And you use the information from the research phase to inform those decisions. Like when you're deciding what kind of programming or events you're going to have for the year. Well, go back and look at what your members said they wanted, or your ideal members, they're not members yet. And base everything off of that.
So that's the first two phases. Once you have a strategic plan, I think you're ready for phase three, which is platform selection. It's time to go figure out where you're going to build this host and what's going to be the right piece of technology to be a partner in building your community. And a lot of people do this particular step in a different order than my framework. But the reason I recommend it as a third step is from my years of experience, I really believe it's important for a brand to go through the process of research and planning and have this grand vision and don't let anything stop you.
And a lot of people will start talking to platform partners while they're creating the plan and then they already start limiting themselves on their vision. Because like, "Oh, we're really starting to like this brand over here, but they can only do these capabilities." And so I want to deter that and just say, "No, no, no, you create your vision. And when you're done with it, pick a couple of different software platforms and go to them and say, 'All right, how close to executing this can you get it? And can you help me make my vision come to life?'" And I'll be honest with you, I don't think any platform partner out there today can do a hundred percent execution off these big visions, but a lot of them can come darn close.
And then once you have signed on with someone and you've made that partnership final, the 3.5 step thing is you might need to go and revise your strategic plan slightly. For example, maybe some of the activities and programming you had planned, the big ideas might be hindered again by the capabilities of the platform at this time. So you might need to go and just touch up things. So there might be a little bit of revision needed to your strategic plan, but that's what I'm finding success with so far, my clients are finding success with, and yeah, I just hope it continues to work for people.
Jillian: Oh, that was such an amazing knowledge drop.
Jenny: Oh, thank you.
Jillian: Platform selection is like... I mean, just to try riff off what you were saying. I totally agree. And it be hard when you're working with an organization that has... It's like, okay, what are your must haves? What are your nice to haves? And let's find the platform that works. And also, is it a platform that will let you get in there and change some code and whatnot? Or are they like, "Oh, absolutely not."
Jenny: True. Exactly. Are you going to have the resources for a developer, are you not? That is going to play into which platforms you end up talking to.
Jillian: And it's great because there's so many platforms out there that are designed for the non-developer in mind. I mean, you can build a really amazing community on any of these just out-of-the-box platforms and make it your own. Some people are like, "Oh, maybe I'll just pay to have one built from scratch." And it's like, "Do you have any idea how much money that costs? And it's probably not going to work the way you're hoping after all that. Which it can, some do brilliantly, but you better be ready to try a few versions.
Jenny: Yes. That no-code/low-code revolution is definitely benefiting community professionals today.
Jillian: Absolutely. And it's again, back to the creators, allowing them to do something that maybe isn't on a platform like Facebook that might just be off the internet for the day after a 60 minute interview. I don't know. And having a dedicated platform that is made for community and isn't made for targeted sales. I could go on and on.
Jenny: Someone has thoughts on that.
Jillian: Someone has a very strong opinion.
Jenny: Perhaps another podcast topic for some time.
Jillian: Or a happy hour. My whole team's like, "We know, we know, you don't have to tell us. We know you hate Facebook." Don't put your community on Facebook if you're listening to me right now, please. There's so many platforms out there.
Jenny: Jillian has stories.
Jillian: Anybody who would like to talk about how Facebook is a terrible platform for community, please hit me up, I feel strongly.
So something I wanted to touch on that's a little bit of a shift is just you have worked with really big enterprise communities. And one thing they are amazing at because they have such strong branding and they really know who their customer is because they can fund the heck out of that research on Facebook. I'm just kidding. And so they're all very distinct, like going into an REI Digital Community, I'm pretty sure I know what's going to happen as soon as I go in there. I know it's going to be about outdoor adventure and the gear and the lifestyle and all that versus Airbnb, it's going to be about... Actually, there's a little overlap there, but it's about, is this a good place to stay? What's in this community that I'm going to go visit? All of that kind of stuff.
Point being, they are very good at having strong branding and being very distinct. It's very clear before you join, you have a pretty good idea. And I'm curious for those that are listening, who are not quite in those enterprise leagues, do you have tips and recommendations for them when they're building community to stand out and be distinct? Because like knitting, there's a hundred million different knitting communities out there and there's some bigger ones, but how do I know which one I want to join? Because there's so many. Do you have any thoughts on how smaller communities can really stand out?
Jenny: They've just got to be as clear as possible about the purpose of their community and what they're expecting members to do. And so whether that's in some kind of a description or a community home paint, let people know again, what the purpose is. But if you are asking people to share recipes, list that. If you want people to post photos of something they've just cooked, put that. And be really descriptive and upfront about those things. And I don't see enough smaller communities doing that. I think they're just relying on like, "We're all about connecting and sharing," and using very vague terminology around, "We're just a community of so and so lovers." What does that really mean though? And if someone's going to sign up for this, what is expected out of them and is it okay to just look around or am I going to be pressured to post all the time?
And so again, putting those expectations up front, I think is easier for everyone. And then you'll get a more quality group of members coming in as well because they see this information, they're digesting it and something in them is telling them I want to be part of this. So I know some people might think, "Oh no, no one's going to read all of that. No one's going to go through that information." They're right, there are people that won't, but the people who do and still decide to come in, now you're talking about a possible group of your membership that is ready to jump in and be active and that's extremely valuable.
Jillian: It's so true. Everything you say, I just want to say it's so true.
Jenny: Let's just keep boosting each other up, Jillian. Exactly.
Jillian: I'll be your hype girl.
Jenny: You on the nose. Yes.
Jillian: You've got it.
Jenny: That's a great point.
Jillian: Yeah. I think clarity of community is something that people get hung up on. They're so excited to, "Oh, I have a big audience or people that I interact with a lot. I should launch community because that's what everyone's doing." But then if you really define the purpose of your community is a really good exercise to start with before you launch to see, is this a community? Is that really what you want to build? And if you have a very clear purpose, like you said earlier, that the potential members want, then awesome. But I like the idea of even just playing with taglines. If it's like, "Oh, this is the SPI Pro community. Our purpose is to have like-minded entrepreneurs network and come together and collaborate. And we expect our members to collaborate and to post what they're working on and to build in public." Just having this quick little, even shorter than an elevator pitch of like, "Hey, this is us and this is what we do." I think that would go so far.
Jenny: They would. Another good point Jillian. Something I also see, well, enterprise and small brands making maybe a little bit of a mistake of is I hiding the benefits or just listing out the benefits at the end of all of their documentation. The benefits of joining the community should be easily seen and available to me right away. And I now have a thing before I join any digital community or any community at all now. If it is not clear to me the benefits right away, you're going to lose my attention and I'm on to something else. But I might not represent the norm because I have been known to be a compulsive joiner in my life. So I'm trying to as Espree would recommend, set my boundaries around that and just put a little more thought into things before I'm joining absolutely everything.
Jillian: I feel that. I'm actually going to be honest, I'm recording with Espree tomorrow for her podcast. And we're talking about all about the joy of saying no.
Jenny: That's fun. Yes. I mean, no, no.
Jillian: I love saying no. But well, it's funny as a community builder, as like being professional in the community sphere, I am a total lurker in most communities. I do not participate because one, I don't want to take up too much space because I know how it works, I know I can make a ton of posts and rise to the top if you will, and be well known. But I don't want to do that because it's like being a pro football player and going and playing in a rec league in a way. That sounded so condescending. I didn't mean it to sound so like, "I'm so amazing." I guess I just mean, I want to see how other people interact without me intervening, if that makes sense.
Jenny: Well, Jillian, I want to actually thank you for being a lurker and thank you for even sharing that with everyone because lurkers are an incredibly important audience and they aren't given enough recognition. Seriously. We need lurkers in every community because we need people to see what's going on and just take in information and content being shared. I mean, who are people writing this content for, if not others to digest it.
And so, yes, lurkers are absolutely critical. I often hear from enterprise brands, "How do we activate our lurkers? How do we act?" There's some things you can do. But for the most part, I just want to say, they're still so important to your brand, let them be. They take in the information, and if they are getting value out of the information, they're often loyal and coming back, which is what we want. And you know what, this is an audience where in its entirety you are never going to get a hundred percent of lurkers to all of a sudden become active. So let's just appreciate them where they're at, because they're still doing a great service for the community. So thank you, Jillian.
Jillian: A lurker might not be making a lot of unique posts. They might be liking things, they may comment here and there. And so a lot of by looking at the metrics, you might mistake that person for inactive or not interested, or whatever. And like you said, there's this opportunity to activate them. When in reality, they're getting a lot out of it. And just because they didn't post 10 foreign posts this week doesn't mean they didn't just tell their best friend, "Oh, yeah. I love this community because they do X, Y, Z." And they're kind of a brand ambassador for you in a way, you just don't see it.
Jenny: Absolutely. Yes, I agree. I would love to see our profession just rename that L word and call it something else. I do feel like that particular word has somewhat of a negative connotation to it.
Jillian: Yeah. Well, I could just blab away with you forever and we can certainly do that and not make everyone listen to us. But since we're getting towards the end, we are going to shift and Tony is going to ask some rapid fire questions all about you.
Jenny: Okay. I'm going to start my breathing. I'm ready.
Jillian: This is not Squid Games. It'll be good.
Jenny: Oh, all right. Well in that case let's do it.
Jillian: Also, I haven't seen that. So I just know the general premise.
Jenny: Then you need to prepare yourself when you do.
Tony: I can't anymore with that stuff. Okay. So Jenny, tell me about when you were little, we little Jenny, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jenny: Oh, I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and particularly I wanted to be like Katie Couric. Just because the Today show was on every morning in our household and I just thought she was helping to start the day with her cheery personality and reporting the news. And I just thought that would be a fun job. So, Katie Couric.
Tony: That's delightful.
Jillian: I could totally really see that as well. I think you could do that.
Jenny: Thanks. Maybe I'm still working on it. We never know. Maybe, yeah.
Jillian: Hey, podcast things, the sky's the limit. You can do whatever you want. It can be on TikTok.
Jenny: I guess my Monday morning pep talk for the week on Instagram is maybe my version of that.
Jillian: Oh my gosh. There you go. You did do it.
Jenny: I'm the Katie Couric of community professionals.
Jillian: The best kind.
Tony: You heard it here first.
Tony: We'll have to check out that Monday morning pep talk on Instagram for sure.
Jenny: Please do.
Tony: Okay. Community. It's obviously topic that brings us all together. How do you define it?
Jenny: Community is connection. Pure and simple. I leave it at that. I've always felt it in my heart. It is just a level of connection.
Tony: Awesome conciseness. For something like that that can be so hard to define sometimes less is more.
Jenny: Agree, Tony. Yes. That's why I need to keep it at that and just keep remembering that.
Tony: Okay. Let's talk about your bucket list. We're going to start with something on your bucket list that you have done.
Jenny: Starting my own business.
Tony: Woo. Yeah.
Jenny: So going strong and feeling damn good at about it.
Tony: And correspondingly something on your bucket list you have yet to do.
Jenny: I've been wondering if I really wanted to share this.
Jenny: I've spent a couple years taking vocal lessons. I guess you could say I'm an amateur singer and I would love to have the nerve to do an open mic one day and eventually then maybe even perform at one of the LA based venues of some sort. So it's like little bucket list that would lead into a bigger bucket list item.
Jillian: Oh, my gosh. Please do this. You've got this. You can do it. Start at a coffee shop.
Jenny: I need the encouragement. I need the encouragement.
Jillian: I told you I'm a hype girl.
Tony: Okay. So let's move on to books. I'm sure you've got some great thoughts on this. What a book that you are either loving right now or that you just love to recommend.
Jenny: I am reading Atomic Habits and am totally entranced with every single word. So I even bought a corresponding journal to go with it. I am in this and I am determined to start some new, great habits and refine some. So that's one. And then one I've been loving to recommend is a Priya Parker's, The Art of Gathering, which it's relevant to people beyond community professionals as well. It's relevant to so many areas and that's a fun read and an informative read.
Tony: Amazing. Are there any micro habits that you are working on presently that you want to share?
Jenny: I don't think I'm ready to make that kind of revelation yet, Tony, but I'll let y'all know.
Tony: I appreciate that. That's good, healthy boundary setting right there.
Jenny: Thanks. That's my way of practicing no.
Jillian: Yeah, that's a no.
Tony: Okay. Let's talk about your living situation. If you could live somewhere other than where you currently live, where would you live?
Jenny: Somewhere I don't currently live. All right. I'm a warm weather person. I have not yet visited Australia, but everything I see and hear about it, I think I would thrive there. So I'm going to say somewhere on one of the beaches in Australia.
Jillian: That's a good choice.
Tony: That's an excellent call. I recently saw some clips of somebody who lives in the forests of the Eastern coast of Australia and it was just absolutely breathtaking. All right. And last, but certainly not least: How do you want to be remembered?
Jenny: I want to be remembered as a connector and someone who was full of life and energy and hopefully brought that out in others. So I'm working on that.
Tony: Your conciseness and your boundary setting are bars to which I aspire to clear one day. Thank you so much. This has been so great, Jenny.
Jenny: Thanks. I was working on it with rapid fire. It is a little pet peeve of mine when I hear rapid fire on podcasts and people ... I'm like, "No, the premise was rapid fire. Get through it."
Tony: Lastly, before we leave off, where do we find you on the internet? Where do we get our Monday morning pep talks from you? All of those things.
Jenny: The Monday morning pep talks for community professionals are happening through my Instagram account, which is @Jenny.community. And if you want to find me anywhere else or take advantage of my free resources, my website is Jenny.community as well. So just type that into your browser.
Tony: Amazing Jenny, thank you so much. This has been really, really awesome.
Jenny: Thank you both. I wish you the best with the rest of your first season and I hope there are many, many more.
Jillian: Thank you. We look forward to hearing about you singing in public and continuing to help communities all over the globe.
Jenny: The pressure's on. I've made it a public declaration, so the pressure's on.
Jillian: I know. Awesome. All right. Thanks for being a part of The Community Experience.
Tony: All right. So that was our conversation with Jenny Weigle and I quite enjoyed it. Jill, you and Jenny really took a good amount of time to dig into what it's like running community for a bigger brand and some of the strategy behind it. Anything jumping out at you just quick impressions?
Jillian: I think just buy-in, figuring out how to make sure whoever it is, be it a team of executives or your business partner, or even just the people you want to join your community. Just really understanding why is this valuable? Even if you don't have anyone to report to per se. So the buy-in from yourself, the buy-in from your community, whoever it is, it's important and it's something you should think about.
Tony: And I think that that starts with my first takeaway, which is knowing where you want to go as an organization, that a community should be serving the larger goals or ambitions or vision of your organization. And so you want to make sure you know what those are and where the community fits into that plan, first and foremost.
And then more specifically, the strategy process that she outlined for us, which I loved that she gave us the structure that she uses. And sure, she uses that for big brands, but no reason why you can't do that yourself as well.
Jillian: Yeah. I mean, I think it's so valuable to take those ideas and think about, well, how can I do this? Because yeah, you can still look through the lens of an imaginary role. You can look through the lens of, okay, if I had to do a report on this to give to somebody, what would I add? Even if you've never thought about it that way, even if it's a community that you run and you're fully accountable for.
Tony: So I think it's helpful even if you're really tiny, if it's just you, that you find a way to pretend that you're something bigger, that you've got people that you're answering to who are asking you with a very stern voice, "Why should we continue to invest our precious energy into this project?" Because you, do you have the most precious thing that you're investing in a community, which is your opportunity cost. So I think it's always good to treat it seriously.
Jillian: It's just one way, I mean, to see the forest through the trees, if you will. It's a great exercise in getting out of the weeds a little bit and the day to day and looking at the bigger picture. It's easy to forget to do that when you're busy and there's things to do in the community and you're treading water. So it's a valuable exercise for sure.
Tony: And I guess it's worth saying that a lot of people start a community because they really want to. If you feel really passionate about it and you start throwing something out there, maybe you didn't expect it to become a thing and it did. And now you're like, "Well, okay, I've got this thing, what do I do with it?" I think it's helpful to be able to recognize, okay, well I started out with this being just kind of a fun idea, but now it's a thing and I got to figure out how to make it sustainable or not. But I have to decide, if I'm going to try to make it sustainable, how am I going to go about doing it?
Tony: Let's shout out the lurkers, AKA the observers, our favorite quiet ones. I remember Jill, when I was running my co-working space in the early days, there was this one guy who was very nice, little socially, just kind of doing his thing. And he reminded me of Gene Wilder a little bit. Gene Wilder is wonderful and also kind of crazy, you just can't quite pin him down. Anyway, so this guy who I hope never listens to this, he would come in and he would go to his desk and he wouldn't talk to anybody. He'd do his work and he'd leave. And when he'd come in, he'd say hello and he'd be polite. But he would never join for anything, he'd never respond to stuff in the online groups or anything like that.
And at some point I pulled him over and I said, "Hey, how's it going? Are you good?" And this was in my earliest days of running a space when I didn't really appreciate that not everybody had to be involved in everything yet. And he told me, he's like, "Yeah. I've been working from home by myself for like eight years," or some a large amount of time. He said, "I just like being around people. I don't need to talk or whatever. I just like being here. I like being around the noise." And so I was like, "All right, cool man." And he continued to in a very chill behind the scenes member.
Jillian: Yeah. And that's okay. There's going to be people, I think it's important to check in on them of course, just to make sure because sometimes you check in and they're like, "Well, actually," and there's something you can help them with. But some people, they'll take what they want out of the community and that's perfectly fine.
And it can be hard for us as community builders because we spend a lot of time creating programming and we're excited about it. And if someone doesn't show up, we're kind of like, "Well, are you sure you don't want to come to this event?" And they're like, "No, I'm good." And we take it personally, but in reality it's okay.
Tony: Let people enjoy the community on their terms. It's a really great rule of thumb. And I think actually to put a finer point on what Jenny does and what she was saying is if you are designing the interactions from early on, then you are hopefully creating a community where the participation is relatively along the lines of what you'd expect it to be. That if you're making a fitness club, then people should be showing up to work out. You're not going to necessarily have lurkers at a fitness event. You might have them subscribing and not showing up. But ideally, you're designing the engagement so that people are engaging in the way that you expect them to.
Jillian: For sure.
Tony: So get out there and think about how your members interact, think about how you can embrace and show some love to your observer friends. And I'd love to see how you can think bigger. So let us know who you are, what's going on. Tell us what you're building. We'd love to hear from you and what you're up to and how this episode helps you. So go ahead and find us, @TeamSPI on Twitter and we'll catch you at the next episode of The Community Experience podcast.
Jillian: Thanks everyone. 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. You can learn more about Jenny Weigle and what she's up to now at her website, Jenny.community. That's right, .community is a TLD now. Jenny J-E-N-N-Y .community. She's also @jenny_community on Twitter. Our executive producer is Matt Garland. 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.