Danielle Maveal believes “there's a better way to build technology, and there's a better way to serve people.”
Danielle is chief community officer at Burb.co, a company that's building tools for creators with communities. She previously worked at Etsy, where she helped build a seller-support community that gave members the tools and permission to collaborate and self-organize.
Today we're plugging Danielle's expertise and exploring some intriguing questions about making our communities better places for all their members—questions like:
How can community leaders facilitate connection by mashing up social media with their online community platforms? How can we lean on the power of the small group to help build our communities? In a time when in-person contact is hard to come by, how can we “hack” our tech to make it easier to listen and connect and care for each other online? How can we use avatars to help community members find their fit?
And with community leaders overstretched with the “flood of community energy” happening all around us, how can they be better supported so they don't, you know, burn out? (Danielle is on it already, by the way.)
Through it all, how can we make the internet into something a little closer to the safe place it felt like back in the '90s, a place where we can find and commune with other weirdos just like us?
Quick note: Danielle's company is indeed Burb, not “Blurb,” as Tony and Jill mention at a couple points early on in the episode.
Danielle has 15 years of experience launching, growing, and supporting brand and marketplace communities at Etsy, Airbnb, and Lyft. She's now the Chief Community Officer at a new startup, Burb, working to build transformational tools for community and knowledge creators.
In This Episode:
- Danielle's segue from AOL to Twitter and eventually, the world of community building
- Group support for community leaders
- Harkening back to the less toxic days of the internet
- Widespread burnout in the community industry
- Next steps in the evolution of social media and online communities
- Generating the most meaningful connection possible, remotely
- Danielle's experience with the maker community as Etsy's 12th employee
- Creating tools for community builders to deeply understand their communities
- Using the power of the small group to maintain intimacy as a community scales
- Aligning community members with the right activities for them
- The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 021: Let Your Members Steer Your Community with Danielle Maveal
Jillian Benbow: What is a community without member collaboration and how do you maximize metrics and get automations without losing the sense of comradery that you've strived so hard to build? Get the inside scoop on how to find your weirdos with Danielle Maveal, the chief community officer of Burb.co on today's episode of The Community Experience Podcast.
Here we are with another episode, Tony. Hello.
Tony Bacigalupo: Hey, what's up Jill? Here we are. Danielle AKA Danielle XO on the internet, well-known on the internet as Danielle XO, great to have her as a guest on the program today.
Jillian: Yeah, I am stoked and I am the other half of this podcast experience, Jillian Benbow and yeah, we talked to Danielle. She is like, all our guests, just such a delight and today we're talking all sorts of things. Community engagement, maybe you've heard this hot topic in the community world and why have a community if no one's participating, so engagement is key.
Tony: Danielle is in a great position to talk about this. She worked at Etsy for a good long while on this and Etsy did a really great job for this for a good long while and now she's with an organization that focuses on giving you tools to understand your members of your community better. Company’s called Burb. You could find them at Burb.co. So, she's been just studying this for a long time and I think she just has a really healthy, unique perspective on it.
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely and I'm excited for everyone to listen because we talk a lot about buy-in and how you need buy-in from your members, and you also need to know, like how much space do you give them? How loose is the leash, there it is, to let them kind of steer where the community is going and it's just fascinating and I think anyone listening is going to learn a lot.
Tony: Yeah, and then, we're going to touch on a topic that I know is very relevant to lots of community organizers now as well, which is virtual versus in-person, versus hybrid event programming, so stay tuned for that.
Jillian: So many options. Yeah. Well, let's get into it with today's episode of The Community Experience.
Tony: Danielle, thank you so much for joining us, it's so great to have you on the program.
Danielle Maveal: Yeah. Great to be here. It's so good to see you both.
Tony: Yay! So for those of you who don't know, Danielle is ... I don't want to like put you on a spot or anything, but I feel like I consider you to be kind of a like internet community thought leader. Danielle XO on socials, around community is just ... like if you're making a list of people on the internet who are into community, Danielle XO is going to just show up on all the lists. So congrats, I guess, on being awesome and creating that impression.
Danielle: Thank you. Thank you. I just have a lot of feelings and sometimes Twitter is my outlet. So thankfully, some people think those feelings can be interesting from time to time.
Tony: Yeah. So actually, let's talk a little bit about that right off the bat, because I feel like that's how ... like I've come to know you through your tweets, and I feel like I know you in a way and Twitter is weird like that sometimes, but what's your relationship to like, sharing your feels on the internet? Where did that start?
Danielle: I started ... when I was a teenager, I had AOL Dial Up, so would find those AOL groups, right? So the internet felt like a safer place, I think in a way. Well, I mean, it was dark in some ways, but it felt like a safer place in a way and then in college, I was part of a nerdy alt comedy forum and that kind of felt like I had an audience to share, jokes and feelings and ideas around comedy and then, other people had those too and we were just exchanging ideas and it didn't feel like I was trying to build an audience or putting myself at risk of being dragged. When I started Twitter, I feel like I just came at it with the same point of view and really I was working at Etsy at the time, so I've just found a bunch of Etsy sellers who I thought were really interesting in making cool stuff and talking about making and selling their work.
All my coworkers were on Twitter, so it felt like a little community there. Then, that just sort of evolved and shifted into this, as I continued in my community career to other community folks and marketing folks and startup and tech folks who I liked and trusted, I have noticed in the past few years, I'm following more people and unfollowing people who might not be aligned with my values and there's more voices I see in my feed that can sometimes be ... just like trigger bad feelings versus good feelings. So, I think I fade in and out of Twitter now because sometimes I really have the ... I'm centered and grounded and I can be there and I can engage and not take things personally and not get upset that people are doing things in other ways. Sometimes I go dark when I'm like, "Nope, got to stay in my own little zone."
Tony: Yeah. I hear you, I feel like it's easy for people to end up going into that zone and never coming back. I just, I respect you coming ... finding your way back to sharing your voice because I feel like your voice is important. Maybe not just Twitter but connecting to people on the internet in general, how do you do that these days?
Danielle: Yeah. I mean, I think most of us are missing in-person, so we're trying to hack online spaces to be as personal and as magical and as like energy exchanging as in person, which is really hard because I think we're in this Neanderthal stage of technology where we really haven't figured out how technology can support human connections. So we're like, "How do we hack a tool to make it really ... show that we're listening and that we care and that we're connecting?" I call those the hard problems in tech that I think a lot of tech builders, people who are building social media sites are like working on the algorithms, and those are the hard problems they're solving and I'm like, "Please can we shift to the hard problems that are human," and we can solve those too. We don't have to ignore them.
So anyway, a rumbly way around like how I think about social media, and really bringing people together in-person has always been part of my community building journey and it's been so interesting to try to figure out how do I stay motivated and connected to people when I can only see them online. So, I do lot of events and I think, I talk about like a gathering first way of building community, where we're building real connections by being face to face and whether that's digitally face to face or in person face to face. And then those connections can translate to our online spaces. So I really try to have calls with people that I like on Twitter, and I hold a meetup for community builders and we have a WhatsApp group, which is an aside from our meetups. That's the place we go once a week and really get ... talk about the real stuff and share stories.
Then, the WhatsApp group sort of supports those connections and continues the conversation. So that's how I look at it in community building, and then, in my personal life, I think it's so interesting that we are continually creating these inner and concentric circles of smaller communities and followings. So, I find that's a lot of what I'm doing, like the close friends list on Instagram, I think continually thinking about where are those smaller groups and how do I connect with them and how do I even hang out in them? So I can hear the voices of the people in these smaller groups online. I think we have like a ways to go for these things to be built out in our social media platforms.
It's interesting to see Twitter communities being launched and I don't know if either of you are part ... if you're part of any of those. I'm not yet, but I would love to check it out.
Tony: Yeah. I just got a little taste of it, right when it launched, but I'm looking forward to seeing more. It's really amazing how they've adapted their interface for that particular feature and lots of potential and I think what you're describing, having those kind of more concentric circles of smaller community, maybe will help us harken back a bit to the less toxic days of the internet. Those earlier days you mentioned in the forums, and I think, people want to feel safety and we did feel to some degree that greater safety on the internet, maybe than we did in real life for a while, but we need to kind of find our way back to that, a lot of us. In terms of safety and support, actually, I know you've got a community support sessions that you run, which sounds like it's a bit of a kind of a group based ... I don't want to say group therapy, but group support for community leaders. Do you want to just tell us a little bit about that as well?
Danielle: Yeah. So I hold a meetup and I think about it as creating a space for the space creators, so community builders are always out there, creating and holding space for others, like who is doing that for them. So that's how I think about it. I try to make it as easy to join and engage as possible. So there's no read this beforehand or even allow everyone to opt out of whatever we do in these meetup sessions because they might be at capacity. It's been a really fun place for me to experiment with running online events in small groups. So there's at max, 20 of us and really feeding off of what the needs of that group are. It really took me about six months to figure that out, which I found really interesting that I didn't have that skill yet, and that the pandemic times have like forced me to develop that skill
I'm really grateful for it. A lot of it is about, creating a loose agenda and then being really flexible and feeling the vibe of the room and adapting, when ... I'll check in with everyone at the beginning of a session and if something I had planned to happen feels like a lot and everyone's really stress. I'll do something like, "Hey, you know what we're going to do then, we're going to all cowork together for 30 minutes because it feels like everyone's at capacity, so let's all talk about one task we think we can get done in 30 minutes, do that for 30 minutes and then like close up by talking about how that felt and what we worked through and then what we might want to do next week." So being really flexible, meeting the needs of these community builders who are doing the hardest work right now.
You all know it, there's a flood of community energy right now and that means there are less people who really know what they're doing and they're really burdened with keeping these communities running, keeping engaging, programming going and they need a space too to decompress and pause and think through their strategy and think through hard things, gnarly things as we call them in the sessions. So that's what we do. It's very fun and it's a great space for me to work through these things too.
Tony: Much needed. Absolutely and I like your adding that, that it's providing value to you as well, working through things with others. Can you maybe just tell us a bit more about like what's the sentiment that you're getting from the folks who are joining, what's your high level kind of take on where people's heads are at these days?
Danielle: I think maybe most industries feel the same, but it is burn out. I wish I had a really positive fun thing to say right here. I mean, I think we're all pretty excited about being in person again, and I think that will bring a lot of energy back to the community industry, but I think everyone right now, we're all attached to the internet 24/7 and for a community builder, often their online spaces run 24/7 and often they're under-resourced and overburdened and there's a lot of messages coming into them and a lot to help and support needed from their communities, and I think that's paired with this Neanderthal stage technology that I'm talking about where maybe you're running a community in Slack and you don't even have a single moderation tool because you've been given this Slack community full of 10,000 members, like where are my tools? How do I work this thing?
So yeah, I think burnout is what a lot of people are feeling, and I think we've all learned a lot of lessons. So, I like this space because it's great to like take a minute, take a beat to really think about what we've learned over the past year adapting all these challenges and hoping that in the next year we'll have a lot of renewed energy as we start to open up and be able to hang out in person again.
Tony: You mentioned Neanderthal, and I'm like, do I frantically Google whatever came after the Neanderthals?
Danielle: The next stage.
Tony: I'm just curious, yeah, what do you see as being the next, at least like broad strokes?
Jillian: The evolution?
Tony: What are you seeing that maybe isn't here now that you would like to see in that next evolution?
Danielle: I think about so many things. One thing I think about a lot is self-expression so I think our tools are really limited, right? We have like this static avatar and we have a line of text and then, we have a range of emojis, which are cool and that gives us a little bit more ways to express ourselves. In the real world, we see a slight shift in our eyes, a slight shift in body language. We can tell someone is listening. I don't know, I have these dreams of tools that are like, I'm going to click this button to show ... I don't have anything to say right now, but I am deeply listening to you and I care about this conversation. I'm sure whatever features I would add to social media tool would immediately be removed because they wouldn't be clicked on enough, but hopefully we start to care more about connection than engagement.
That's something that I think about a lot in my work right now, I'm building, I'm helping a startup that's building tools for community managers and that engagement dashboard is really tricky, man. That's how we ended up with this Facebook mess that we have right now is that we're looking at an engagement dashboard and we're really flattening the human experience, right? We're seeing thousands of people have engaged. Well, what does that mean and if we could like deeply understand when someone is engaging. I mean, I also think about something like Zoom, right, where you log in and you have pages and pages of just squares of heads. That's just such a flattening ... if that was happening in your own real life and you had 20,000 people in a room, the energy and the way you could sort of add an event to look across the room and see someone laughing at the same thing you're laughing at.
You know what I mean, like there's all these little missing human connection moments in our online interactions that I would just love for someone more creative and powerful than me to develop.
Tony: Well, okay. I'm going to ask you the hard question, but absent those tools, given where we are and given kind of the difficult circumstances a lot of us are in, how do you do your best to kind of approximate that or replace that? If you're doing a community gathering, it has to be online. It has to be remote, you're using the tools that exist, what do you rely on try to generate that more meaningful connection, as best as we can?
Danielle: My number one tip that I give people, especially if you're a brand community builder or maybe you're running like a large membership community is to come up with a high level metric that you can get leadership decision makers to care about, that isn't about revenue, that isn't about engagement. That is about the sense of community that you have together. So there's a study called the sense of community index. You can Google that and see it's like these amazing questions. There's so many of them that can help you sense if your community really ... if community members actually feel like they're in a community and you could play with something like that and create your own sense of community metric for your brand or membership and have that on leadership's dashboard. So you can see, are we feeling connected? Are we feeling like a community? Are we serving each other in the purpose of this place in a bigger way?
What's the mission? Are we leading up to the mission? So, I mean, this is the way I think that you can sort of unify a team and get people to care about this, and then even when you're designing an event, you're going to go, "Okay, our goals are, right, get people to maybe download this thing, but also get people to feel like they're connected to each other," and if we see that ... our post event survey, we're asking people, did you make a friend and they say, no, well, we've met two goals but one has fallen aside. So for the way we are set up to think about success, this is my hack.
Tony: I appreciate that. I feel like I've seen that on a couple ... a couple of other folks that we've talked to have emphasized the importance of understanding what success looks like being able to get everybody to kind of agree on that to some degree and then, do stuff based on that metric and no metric is perfect, especially in community, but it at least kind of gives everybody a common language to be working from.
Jillian: You know, I'd love to shift gears a little because I want to take this opportunity to ask you all about Etsy. I see that you are the ... my paycheck and I would like to talk about Etsy. I see you're the 12th employee at Etsy, which is amazing. And I'm curious because you played just a huge role in taking the Etsy seller community, which was small when you joined to humongous when you left, right? I would just love to dive in a little bit to scaling and how you went about scaling a community like that without losing the sense of the community along the way because that's just such a common thing that happens, as it gets bigger and bigger, it loses its sense of intimacy, and the early joiners, the founders are often disappointed by it because it started a certain way and then its success is kind of a double edged sword.
So I'm curious, just your thoughts on how it went, scaling that? Any like issues you might have faced and overcome? Tell us everything.
Danielle: Just so many issues. Well, we didn't even think we were building something that would get that big but we did have a big mission. We wanted to change the way the world's economy worked. We wanted to bring commerce back to the maker, so we wanted to connect the maker with the buyer and that was a huge mission and a huge force for us being able to attract Etsy sellers to the community and to the platform and to collaborate with each other, and if they wouldn't have collaborated with each other, let me tell you, there wouldn't be success in Etsy. You wouldn't even know what Etsy is today. At that time, eBay was huge and if you remember those old eBay photos, right? They were just garbage, just like someone's ... we had digital cameras back then, someone's crappy digital camera and a like flash setting.
You know, it just wasn't an environment for handmade work, and I think it would be really hard to sell handmade work online. If you couldn't share with the Etsy seller, how to take great photo, how to create a great title, how to describe it in a way, how to set up your shipping in a way that that felt easy to the buyer, all these little things that were needed to plug into place for each seller and there was no way that 12 people at Etsy could teach the Etsy seller how to do that. So we needed them to work together, and I mean, we weren't really strategizing, no. We never made a strategy doc. We didn't have a set of goals we were trying to meet. We were like, this is our mission and we need everybody on the same page to get to this mission.
It wasn't a strategy. It was just ... this is our mission. Are you in or are you out those and who are in, okay, you guys have to help each other because there's not enough of us to go around. So we were just continually asking Etsy sellers, how can you help and support each other through this journey? How can we then support that with spaces on Etsy, so we had something called Etsy teams where anyone could set up a forum and start self organizing a ton of those Etsy teams were in person, people meeting weekend after weekend and sharing skills and sharing tips on how to price things, tips on how to photograph their items. We're watching how they wanted to support each other and how they worked together and building the programming up around them.
So, we let them roll, who wants to be a leader in the community? Anyone could be a leader in the community. You didn't have to apply, like distributed ownership was their middle name, like who wants in on this, go for it. If you can get people together, then that's good on you, right? We didn't care how you used our logo. We were just like, let's roll and we have a lot of work to do. Everyone who's in can have a seat at the table and we'll do this together. So that was our philosophy and how we grew so strongly and so quickly and at one point, we started implementing strategy and we started to like try to have community ... the community engagement, impact business outcomes and that's when ... to me, I saw everything slow down and the exponential growth stopped.
So that's when I left Etsy actually, because I was like, not that we shouldn't or can't do these things or track these things, but when you pull out the mission and the reason and the shared values and the shared goals and the shared dreams and the transformation to meet business outcomes, well that's when you just start to sort of suck the magic and the energy out of the room. So it's always a bouncing act but that's kind of the Etsy community story I tell.
Jillian: That's amazing. Thank you. That really satisfies my little Etsy soul. And I totally agree, like giving people a place to self organize that is so important because it's their community, right? Like you mentioned, some we're meeting in person and some weren't. Was there any, this is something we're super interested in at SPI. Were there anything that your team helped with or any observations you had about these groups that ... how they self-organize to have successful in person versus online and like kind of that hybrid model. I know a lot of community builders are looking at this and just it's overwhelming, so any insights you have?
Then we had a bunch of emojis that you could throw at other members in the room, or you could throw at the person who had their video up. You could plug in Etsy items into that room, so a lot of people would start having critiques and be like, "Okay, now you share an item and I'll critique it." So we really gave them like open access to technology into this space where they could express themselves and be creative and collaborative online. So that was something really cool to see very, very early on. How else, I mean, we had our forums, which people would start threads promoting each other. Man, they would start ... like Flickr was huge back then, so they would start these amazing Flickr groups and share each other's photos. Man, they just were really continually figuring out how to promote each other online, creating guilds, creating, "Okay, we're all going to share we all our steampunk artists, so we're going to like create this collective and put out a newsletter," and like the buyers of steam punk are going to see new members work every week.
I mean, they just really were into collaborating and use the internet's tools wildly. I guess my biggest blessing from all of that is that we never told them how to organize or how to promote each other. We never told them we were trying to get this hashtag trending. We trusted them. I mean, I think because many of the early employees were also creators. So we were like, we understand who these people are. We don't need to inspire them to go do this, they're going to go figure out how to do it on their own. We just have to stand back and like reward them for when they do do it and rewarding is often just like a shout out or like a blog post that many people don't read. They don't know that. Yeah. We really stood back and let them self organize and my God, there were just like myriad ways. I can't even explain how many different ways that they would get out there on the internet and in real life and figure this stuff out.
I think what we did well was create a space that they didn't think we were hounding them or that we were observing. We were like, go create a room over here. We're not going to see it. Go self organize and report back to us and let us know what you do. We weren't sitting there, pushing them towards a CTA. We were letting them go.
Tony: When I feel like that, that kind of spirit is where things are going, and you were kind of describing similar things earlier and I'm curious, this might be a bit of a leap of a segue, but you can kind of take it as, as you will, but I'm curious about Burb, the company you're currently working with and the work that they do as being kind of more of a support structure for community leaders. Not to necessarily directly contrast it with your experience at Etsy, what are you all focusing on over there and maybe just tell us a little bit about what Burb does.
Danielle: Yeah. So we are building tools for creators who are sharing knowledge with their communities or have community memberships. So they might run a course and then also have a community around sharing that knowledge or have a membership community and we're building tools for them. So I've thought a lot in my work about how I've always had to hack things together. I'm sure ... I mean, we have, we might have a lot of listeners nodding that they're hacking tools together, that weren't built for them, right? We were always hacking marketing tools and product tools and all these tools that were not built for our needs. So I think it's like a really interesting space right now to build tools for community builders. So we're not building a community platform, we're not building a place to host your content or your conversations, but we are trying to create a way that you could integrate the platforms that you use into one dashboard, that can help you with workflows, can help you with that sort of life cycle marketing.
Like can you can schedule a tweet, can you schedule a Slack post? These sort of things that like marketers have that community builders don't have. Give them the power with some additional tools that will free up their time to actually think about deeper connections and also the data side of it. So how are you looking at engagement and connection and activity happening in a sophisticated way, giving you actionable insights around on that data and suggesting things from my playbook, actually, it's nice to be like, "Okay, and here's like best practices. Actually, these are just my best practices, but hopefully we'll grow to get everyone's best practices in there, but for now, it's my wild community mind in a product.
Tony: I love the idea of it's your community mind in a product. It sounds like a dream.
Danielle: Yeah. It's been a lot of fun to build. I've always wanted to shift from what I call the community islands, right. We're often shipped off like, well, here's the product but go build a community over there. Go use this forum or use this chat tool and use this WordPress site for your content and we'll ship people back and forth. So my goal right now is to like close the gap and bring that island closer to the mainland and start building, right, within the user experience.
Jillian: Bless you for your work. My gosh. I think all of us community builder is just like how hallelujah.
Danielle: Let's make it the norm.
Tony: Very much needed, and in terms of where you're going from here, what are you excited about next? Where are you going in terms of all these different things that you're working on? What are you excited about?
Danielle: Yeah. Well, it's actually sort of interesting lately that I think I've been pushing myself for 15 years to like, in these bigger roles, right? Like Etsy, Airbnb, Lyft. I have about 10,000 Twitter followers, building a Substack list and I think this year has changed a lot about what people think about what they want out of their careers in life, and that's no different for me. I really want to go deeper and not push myself or stress myself out to go anywhere else. So I want to deeply understand what makes communities healthy through arriving, engaged in a way that leads them towards transformation. I want to deeply understand these problems for community builders and then, help give them tools to reach these places and go deeper with their communities and deeply understand their communities. I, in my mind, quit tech about every three months.
I am hanging on for dear life to stay in this world because I think we need voices that value mission, and we need people to come to the table who are deeply interested in these hard human problems. So, I'm hanging in there and I'm going deep and I'm like so happy that I'm at Burb, because the whole team is so supportive and like deeply listens when I talk, and we all have been in tech for a long time and we think there's like a better way to build technology and there's a better way to serve people. So that's what I'm excited about, like staying where I am and like getting like a little bit more still and going deep on these problems and coming up with solutions,
Tony: I really appreciate the sentiment of going deeper. I feel like it's something that's important for communities as well, that communities don't need to necessarily always keep growing in perpetuity either, right? That you can ... you don't need to try to make your community big or you don't need to try to make your community bigger but maybe you can go deeper with the community that you have, and I think that maybe is a bit of a bucking the trend, where we grew up with a lot of culture of grow, grow, grow. So I think that's a nice, it's a nice way of kind of reversing a little bit of what we've seen, what we're seeing out there.
Danielle: Yeah. I love that. I come back to technology flattening the human experience, and if you think about, if you put 20 people in a room who have shared similar experiences and shared values, you could imagine all the things they could create and do together, it's like exponentially interesting and full of value and exciting possibilities, but we focus on how do I get from 20 to 40? Well, we haven't even figured out all the amazing things 20 people could do together, so yeah, love that.
Tony: It almost seems like the answer in that case is figure out how to have a better experience with the 20 and then the 40 will show up, right?
Danielle: Yeah. They'll be like pounding down, like how do I get involved? How do I join this group?
Tony: I say this to people because what I've dealt with in my experience in the coworking world is that a lot of times people have trouble convincing people that this is even a thing. So, they'll say like I'm trying to get people to understand what I'm doing and I would tell, them, "Look, don't waste your time. Those are people that maybe will be on board a couple years from now, but this isn't their time. You want to find the people where you start talking to them and they start finishing your sentences because they're so excited and they know exactly what you're talking about, exactly what you need." If it's just a handful of you to start, have a really great time in a really visible way and that's going to draw people, that's going to make the crowd a little bit bigger.
Then, the folks who don't get it will start to get it, because they'll have to but you got to kind of start with the folks who are ready for it. Do you have a similar experience?
Danielle: Yeah, and I think that's what's so magical about the way we allowed people at Etsy and I've done this in other roles to break off into smaller groups because that's where they can really start to go deep, get to know each are and come up with these ideas and actually make them happen, right? There's so much chatter we do in these large online spaces with thousands and thousands of members, so many ideas that we have, but to take action on them means we have to like really connect and collaborate and carve space and meet again and again and over and over. So yeah, the small group is so powerful.
Jillian: I love that so much and I think it's ... especially because community is often very adjacent or enveloped in tech, like a lot of the organization is pushing like wanting to have a brand community, et cetera. So those of us trying to just build our own thing, it's easy to get wrapped up and forget and think like radical growth overnight and it's like no, you can have an amazing community with five people and if that is suiting the needs of everyone in the community then great and if it does keep growing, great. That's awesome. If that's your ultimate goal, but don't get so hung up on the numbers. I also really like that piece you just said about, as groups do get bigger to let themself organize in two smaller groups to maintain that level of intimacy and just connection that big groups can kind of lack. I know that's something we think about a lot in our own communities at SPI, just because we want people to have access to everyone within the community.
We also want them to not be completely overwhelmed. So finding smaller groups that's about podcasting or about online courses or even just like all the fitness professionals, it's a great way to have access to not have FOMO to the bigger things going on but then also have a small group of people who like really get you.
Danielle: Yeah. I call it finding your weirdos. Yeah.
Tony: Danielle, finding your weirdos is definitely the dream. Danielle wanted to get your thoughts on this because it's actually something we were dealing with in our community today, where we're trying to strike the balance of trying to offer everybody something and different people interact in different ways. Some people want to be on video, some people want to be more asynchronous, things like that but then in one of our threads, somebody was saying how they were ... they were kind distressed because they really wanted to come to an event but they just didn't have the time, but they were participating in one of our other programs on a regular basis and more kind of regular check-in with other members. I had to kind of educate them a little bit to say like, "Look, we're not offering you everything with the expectation that you come to everything. We're offering you all these different things because we know you can't come to everything."
"We want everybody to be able to come to at least one thing." So, how do you help people manage their own expectations as members when you're trying to accommodate different needs?
Danielle: That's interesting. I have seen some people do cool things around having your members set their own goals and giving them ways to check in on those goals and maybe what you could do ... I've helped someone — we have partners on Burbs, so these are beta users and we're just helping them develop programs and sometimes it has nothing to do with our platform, but we want to learn more about their problems. So we would say track your events and your lessons and your activities. So what are the members' goals, and like, "Hey, this would be a great event for you because I understand you're trying to get here." Yeah. This is like really interesting to me and what we're building at Burb, because we're trying to like think about segmenting messages, events and how do we deeply understand our communities?
So we know what is the right activity for them? What is the right event for them? Dreamers and Doers is a great community. They just move from Facebook to Circle and I don't know how they're backend works but those community managers seem to know everything about every single member. Where they live, what they're working on, what their needs are, what their like subinterests are? I can't even remember them gathering that for me, but they seem to know and they tagged me in the posts that are like the most ... like I really shouldn't miss this post and at Burb, we're building these like profiles of community, like a place for you to start gathering all these insights on a community member and then hopefully like the technology one day will be like magically throw 10 people into this conversation because this is where they need to be and it aligns with their goals and their journey along transformation.
Tony: Lordy. Yes, please. I know we would make ample use of something like that.
Jillian: Yeah, please. Yes. Working on a ... and a shout out to those community managers, because I know that struggle or rather just like being so entrenched in a community, you can connect people because you just talk to them all the time. So, you know it's a thing, so shout it to them but yeah, can we get on the wait list for it?
Danielle: Yes. Yes. I'll bump you to the top of the waitlist for sure.
Jillian: Yeah. Let's talk after this.
Tony: You got me in ideation mode now, Jill, I'm actually picturing that maybe we have literal avatars of different characters and their relationship to SPI Pro to say, this is Character A, whatever and they have their own avatar, but like they only ever participate in masterminds and they don't participate in anything else, but they get way more than their money's worth just because they do that one mastermind group. And you know, this is what they're trying to achieve and this is why it fits into their ... like just drawing out a couple of those avatars, so people could map their own experience to say like, "Oh, I can ... that person sounds like me. I could do what they do." Again, what I don't want is for someone to be having, what's actually a perfectly great experience, thinking that they're not because they're not participating in everything, right, and how do you communicate that?
Jillian: We like to hover at like 500 members but even that, you can get lost so easily, we hear all the time, it's overwhelming. Even though we have a very pretty tight like onboarding and strategic steps to get people plugged into the parts they want to be a part of, but it never fails. People have FOMO. I think Tony, it may be time to rapid fire, what do you say?
Tony: Oh gosh, already? Yeah.
Jillian: I know.
Tony: Yeah, let's do it. Jill. I think it's your turn.
Jillian: It is. All right. So Danielle, I'm going to ask you a series of very hard questions, totally kidding, and if you just want to, just whatever pops into your head first can be your answer. Let's start with the most important question. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Danielle: I wanted to be a writer, yeah, or an artist writer or artist.
Jillian: Any specific kind of writer?
Tony: And that was before Substack existed.
Danielle: It was very like, I'm going to write novels. I think I didn't even write that much but it was just like a dream of being in an attic writing, sipping tea. Yeah. I don't know why I thought that was the kind of person I was going to be. I guess I do a lot of writing now, so.
Jillian: All right, Danielle, what ... high highs and low lows. Okay. Next question. Danielle, how do you define community?
Danielle: So I kind of do a mash up from Carrie Melissa Jones and Charles Vogl's Community of Definitions. Carrie says it's a group of people who share mutual care and concern for each other and I like to add that it's a web of bonds just to give a visual to people that you are really ... what you're trying to do is create like a really strong interconnected web of bonds between a group of people who share interest values, mission. Yeah.
Tony: I love it. The imagery of web of bonds is really awesome.
Jillian: Cosign. Okay. We're going to talk literal or figurative bucket lists. So what is something in your life that you would consider, it's like a bucket list thing that you have done, you have accomplished?
Danielle: I've always wanted to travel since I was little and I got to travel working at Etsy. I went to Sydney and Paris and London and Berlin. That was so exciting for me and then, I got job at Airbnb and one of my projects was building events and 60 events across the globe, so I have been to so many cool places thanks to these roles. So I'm very grateful and I love being immersed in other cultures. I mean, I could just sit at any coffee shop or restaurant for hours and put me in any city and that's just like a happy place. So bucket list chapter, I've been to a ton of places I wanted to go.
Jillian: That is ... I love that so much. I'm speechless.
Danielle: I'm very lucky, I know.
Jillian: It's funny too, it's like, "You get to ..." like when you get to go for work too. There's something really magical about that because it's like, I'm getting paid to go to Paris, watch out world. Yeah. That's awesome. I think we're all jonesin’ for a good trip.
Danielle: Of course.
Jillian: I'm just like with you. I would do anything right now to be in France or like in London. Anyways, I digress. So I'm going to flip it and what's something on your bucket list that you have not yet achieved, but would like to?
Danielle: I would like to own property. This is my like very domestic ... I would like to buy a house. The housing market in US is nuts right now.
Jillian: Hey, that's all right.
Danielle: I want my own little home. That's something that would be nice to have in the next few years.
Jillian: Yeah. That's great. I think you can do it. Okay, and what is a book that you have recently read or just all time, all time read that you just love and want to share with the masses?
Danielle: Okay. It's called The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. It's just an incredible book. He's a conductor and it really is about the way he conducts his orchestra and teaches his students through this lens of positivity, and I mean, you've probably heard a little bit of my gripes and feelings through this podcast, but this book really brings me back to like, man, what is possible and if we really look at problems through the lens of opportunity and possibility and look at people through that lens, there's just the output and what happens when you look at problems through this lens is just magic. So I love that book. It really changed me and I read it at least once a year.
Jillian: That sounds amazing. I think I'm going to add that to my list, that sounds right at my alley right now. Okay, and then, we know you live in California and it sounds like this might be a tough one based on your travel answer, but if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?
Danielle: So, I love a big city that's on the ocean, so I would say either Sydney or Lisbon, Portugal. Those cities are amazing. I like a little bit of warmth sometime of the year. I lived in New York for 15 years. So I thought that was my place forever but now, I'm like getting more into nature and these cities have a lot of it.
Jillian: Absolutely. Absolutely. Portugal is on my list. I haven't been there but it sounds amazing and yeah, pretty much anywhere in Australia would be great, minus the giant spiders.
Jillian: That's just me. Okay and Danielle final question, how do you want to be remembered?
Danielle: A big one. How do I want to be remembered? I would love to make an impact on online community spaces. If there was like ... I know the guy that's like the inventor of the hashtag, right? I'm like, "What if I was the inventor of the connectivity model of community building, right? Something that like at least gives engagement metrics, a run for their money. That would be dreamy.
Jillian: That would be dreamy. However, I can support this, you let me know, ‘cause I'm with you on all of this. All right, Danielle, where can people find you on the internet?
Danielle: Yes, you can find me in my Feelings in my Substack which is DanielleXO.substack.com and Twitter, Danielle XO and Burb.co, join our waiting list. We like send a note to everyone who joins, so you can say hi to me at Burb and I'm there as well.
Jillian: Excellent. Do you want to share the info about the community support sessions? Do you want to talk about that at all?
Danielle: Yeah. I have new community support sessions starting up again in January. It's about 20 folks who have at least a couple years community building experience who want some space to work through ideas together. So that's Luma ... I have those on Luma, but I'll link to them from my Twitter account.
Jillian: Excellent. I am signed up for the January cohort, so come join both of us. All right. Well thank you so much, Danielle, this has been a delight. I am so excited to keep following the work you are doing and I said, help in any way because you are just ... you get it, you get community and it makes me so happy to see, especially women ... no offense, Tony, but to see women in this community space, just leading.
Tony: Yeah. Thank you, Danielle. Thanks for the work you do to make the lives of the other community leaders easier. We need as much of that as we can get.
Danielle: Thank you both. Thank you, Tony.
Tony: Awesome. So that's Danielle Maveal AKA Danielle XO on the internet and so great to chat with her. Anybody who uses the phrase, "Find your weirdos," is a friend of mine, for sure.
Jillian: Yep. Found. It's me.
Tony: Yeah. I always think it also helps for us to kind of acknowledge the role that we play as community organizers, that we are not necessarily folks who always immediately found belonging in the existing constructs and the people that we are creating community for might also feel the same.
Jillian: Yeah. Absolutely. I think something I really enjoyed about this conversation was just talking about like given your members' room to self organize, within your guidelines of course, but giving them the freedom. It doesn't have to be, "This is my community and we'll do it the way I say." Danielle really hit on that with Etsy and just the explosive growth they had and how they were able to go from a very niche, very small website up against something like eBay, like what, and we're able to just blow eBay out of the water because they did something that honestly, I don't think most ... it seems a little counterintuitive, which is, "Hey, let's get all these competitive ... these sellers that are technically each other's competition and let's put them in the room together and see what they can come up with together to make this a better place," and wow, the magic that happened.
Tony: It's a smart strategy and yeah, it's a little counterintuitive to more traditional business mindset, but when you're talking about a network of individuals, it's a very different dynamic from kind of traditional larger businesses where they have a mandate to claim as much market share as possible. So, there's inherently kind of an adversarial relationship with the other folks who are trying to do the same. So if you're an individual, you don't necessarily need to conquer everybody else in the room. So, there's a lot of value to be shared and you also don't have the resources of a larger organization. So banding together, there's strength in numbers and there's so much value to that. Jill, I also want to make a little shout for the value of self-organized communities. So it's a very tricky thing to shift your mindset into, if it's not something you have a ton of experience with.
But it's so valuable and so important for you to be able to get the hang of it, depending on what kind of a community you're building, because it allows your community to scale in crazy ways beyond what you could ever imagine it doing. You could suddenly find chapters of your community showing up in corners of the world that you had never thought it would've gone to. If you have the appetite for it and the aptitude to get to that point, it can just be incredible what you can achieve.
Jillian: It's a great exercise of letting go of control and I think depending on who you are and what the purpose of the community is, it may be very difficult for you, but challenge anybody thinking like, "Oh, I can't do that, think about it. What guidelines, what programming could you put in place that would allow that and then, as a result, create this system that allows organic healthy growth. I mean, that is a sign of a very healthy community as if the people within it can self organize, create chapters like you're saying, create groups within and grow from there. That's some A plus community work right there.
Tony: Yeah. I mean, control in a community, regardless of if you're doing self-organized programming or what, it's important to recognize community as humans. Humans do not like to be controlled and in a community setting, the more that you surrender that, and you think of yourself more as a facilitator and a nurturer, the better things you're going to get for you.
Jillian: Yep. No one likes a dictator, whether it's a community or a government, whatever. If you find yourself having major dictator vibes, maybe that's not ... maybe community, isn't … just go inward, go to the journal.
Tony: What I found is that when you get into the governance level of things, it becomes a whole other skillset to be able to manage a community that has community led governance. So, sometimes you do need singular leadership to be able to make decisions efficiently for the rest of the group ... even if you're the only person technically in charge, you can't tell everybody to do something that they just don't want to do.
Jillian: Absolutely, it's democracy. Kind of similar along those lines, but something I just wanted to cover before we end the episode. We talk a lot about niche communities and the benefit of being small, and then, you look at something large like Etsy seller community or whatever it may be. Especially, if you're in a very large community and it's like, "Well, how do I niche down? Really, there's easy ways to go about it and it's just curating smaller groups, smaller niche groups within that bigger group.
Tony: Yeah and you know what, one of the things that's nice about that too, is that each sub-community or subgroup within a community can have their own norms and rules. So, you can ... that kind of allows you to have a community that has maybe a diversity of different kinds of engagements or different kinds of folks with different expectations. So, with Reddit, as the example, you could have a Reddit community that is a sub-Reddit for science, that's fun and playful and you're posting memes, but then there's certain sub-Reddits that are ... they have a rule that you can only post serious responses to certain posts. So it's nice to be able to have different contexts that work for different people's interests.
Jillian: I love that about Reddit. I love that each subreddit ... well, one, you can go create your own subreddit right now and when you do that, that you're given-
Tony: Do it. Community Experience fans. Community Experience podcast fans do it.
Jillian: That sounds terrifying. There are two weirdos in this space. That'd be fun, Tony. My gosh, are we going to Reddit?
Tony: No, we have to see which listener does it.
Jillian: It's totally not going to be ... like wait a minute, I think that's Jill.
Tony: “Schmillian Schmenschmo.”
Jillian: Let's close it out just talking about Burb.co, Danielle's current company and amazing, this is something that is so cool and like next level community because, so we have all these platforms, we have Circle, we have Mighty Networks, Geneva Chat, whatever it is you use. So now we have the ability to have these really robust communities and Danielle is just genius because her and her people came up with this idea to now have a tool, a like a third party tool that you can incorporate, integrate, I can't think of the tech word and look at your community data on a deeper level that makes things more intuitive. It helps you with your member journey, where are they, can you put them in a segment and make sure they're aware of certain things based on their activity. This is some cool-beans stuff.
Yeah. I booked a demo, the second we got off the call. The second ... it hasn't happened yet, but I'm excited to try it and tell you all about it. So if you are running community and you are interested, go check out their website. I believe they are looking for some beta users. You can sign up to hear more and yeah, let us know on ye old Twitter. What about like curating small groups or self-organizing like what really jazzes you? What are you doing in your community to allow your members to own it. To feel like they are a part of the decision making. We'd love to hear. You can tweet at us at @TeamSPI and that's it from us. We will see you next Tuesday.
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 find Danielle Maveal on the internet using her internet pseudonym, Danielle XO, D-A-N-I-E-L-L-E XO on Twitter. Danielle XO underscore on Instagram, DanielleXO.com, DanielleXO.substack.com. And her company is Burb.co, B-U-R-B dot CO. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland, our series producer to our David Grabowski and senior producer Sarah Jane Hess. Editing and sound designed by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.
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