Many community managers struggle to measure the true impact of their work. It might even be the case that they don’t have the right insights and support they need. But that’s changing! New tools and resources designed with online memberships in mind have finally arrived, and their impact can be huge.
Common Room is a community intelligence platform that helps you drive and measure business impact and deliver next-level experiences for your members. Rebecca Marshburn, Head of Community at Common Room, is joining us today to share a behind-the-scenes look at the company and the game-changing tools they’ve developed.
This is a fascinating chat with plenty of takeaways for community managers and small business owners looking to get into the community space. Rebecca and Jillian dive into analytics, the best ways to measure membership success, and the value of using the right tools for the job.
Rebecca also gives us an inside look at Uncommon, a newsletter that has evolved into a private space where community builders can come together to share their expertise. We also look at how SPI Pro has grown and changed and the elements that have made it so successful.
We cover a lot of ground in this episode, so listen in and enjoy!
Rebecca Marshburn is Head of Community at Common Room, co-host of the Serverless Chats podcast, and a believer in poetry. She has worked in various community capacities since 2012—from running content for a local community nonprofit in New Orleans and studying the power of communal spaces to leading the AWS Serverless Heroes and Community Builders programs. Rebecca launched and currently runs Common Room’s Uncommon community, a healthy and cooperative educational space where more than 1000 community and DevRel builders share expertise and collectively elevate the community function.
- Find out more about Common Room
- Learn about the Uncommon community
- Connect with Common Room and Rebecca on Twitter
- Listen in on Rebecca's podcast, Serverless Chats
In This Episode
- The job of a digital relationship manager
- How Common Room helps small business owners manage communities
- Measuring the impact of community and justifying it within a larger business
- The value of having the right tools for the job
- Bringing newsletter subscribers together in an online community
- The Uncommon community for community builders
- An inside look at how SPI Pro has changed since launch
- Why having a membership cap is a good idea
- The importance of sunsetting programs that don’t work anymore
- Check out Rebecca's multimedia art project, This Americana Life
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley [Amazon affiliate link]
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 058: Community for Community Builders with Rebecca Marshburn of Common Room
Rebecca Marshburn: "Oh." This is, very smart. Like,truly will solve so many of the moments where you're like, "Am I terrible at my job?"
No, you're not terrible at your job! If someone gave you a nail and a shoe and they said, "Okay, hammer this nail on the wall with the shoe." It's not that you're bad at your job, it's that someone gave you a shoe. What if we actually gave you a hammer?So when I saw Common Room, even in the beginning, a couple years ago, I was like, I see where this is going and every community manager truly needs this.
Jillian Benbow: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Community Experience Podcast. I am your host, Jillian Benbow, And today I am talking to Rebecca Marshburn, who is the head of community at Common Room. Before Common Room, Rebecca worked at AWS Serverless Hero, which was a community for the serverless, which I had to ask about. Basically my version, which Rebecca is probably cringing right now if she's listening, but it's kind of like cloud based is the easiest way to explain. It's tech stuff. If you know what it is, excellent. If you don't, don't worry, that isn't really the point of this episode. What is the point of this episode, you may ask?
Well, Rebecca now runs Common Room's community, which is Uncommon Community. I love these names. It is described as a healthy and cooperative educational space where more than a thousand community and DevRel, development relation, builders share expertise and collectively elevate the community function. What does that mean? It is a community for community builders and I am here for it. This is my jam. We have a lot of fun talking about just how you can leverage metrics, kind of some ideas about just the things you can look at and look for that Common Room, the platform actually, can aggregate for in a nice, pretty report.
We talk about this in the sense of as a community manager specifically, which I think everybody will be able to relate to. Even if you aren't what is considered a traditional community manager in a role at a company like myself, if you're not a career community builder, if you have your own community, this is still really valuable. Listen in. Instead of thinking about proving a community's worth or a community team's justification for the financial aspect of a community team, just think more about yourself and your overall budgeting and processes because it's very relevant.
We talk a lot about that and just the value of being able to show what a community team or a community in general provides to the greater good of the business. It's not just revenue. It's cost savings, things like preventing emails that are support tickets because it's dealt with in the community. It takes less from whether it's other departments, other people that work for you or yourself just in a different arena. That's a fun conversation. My mind gets blown. And then also we talk about the Uncommon Community and how it started as just a newsletter and grew into a Slack community with well over a thousand people, like I said.
I just joined, so add one to that. It's all community builders talking about community, and it's just how that all works and how it really grew very organically. Tune in. Listen in. Do your thing today on this episode of the Community Experience Podcast.
Jillian Benbow: All right, welcome to this episode of the Community Experience Podcast. I'm so excited. I am with Rebecca Marshburn, who started Common Room and the Uncommon Community and just all sorts of amazing stuff. We've been talking before I hit record and have a ton in common and just a lot of, as community builders do, a lot of things, but even just fun stuff like Girls on the Run. We're both past coaches. I'm still on the board for my chapter. Love Seattle. All the things. Rebecca, welcome to the show.
Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited to be here.
Jillian Benbow: Just so our audience knows, Rebecca caught the vid and is still here, still wanted to show up, didn't reschedule, which, of course, you could have done if you wanted. But she's here. Forgive her if she needs a break to cough. Of course, we wish you healing vibes.
Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you so much. I appreciate your listeners for sitting through my whatever's going on with my voice. It's like, it's all over the place.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, it's kind of like maybe if you ever watched Friends if you're old enough or I guess there's the resurgence when Phoebe got sick and liked her voice, if you could just go with that, like smelly cat with the raspy voice. Rebecca, tell everybody who you are and what Common Room is and just tell us your community story.
Rebecca Marshburn: I am Rebecca Marshburn, as you said. I'm the head of community at Common Room. Common Room is the community intelligence platform that helps you build better products alongside your community members, your champions, drive and measure business impact, and really just deliver those experiences along with your community that you want to deliver. You can empower your business and activate your community and accelerate your business faster. I didn't start Common Room, or I should just like...
Jillian Benbow: Oh, I'm sorry.
Rebecca Marshburn: No, that's okay. I started the Uncommon Community at Common Room, but Common Room is founded by Linda Lian, who's the CEO, who I had the great pleasure of working with in my past role at AWS when we were building and working on communities for the serverless community. Linda did other things as well there, but that's how I met her. She's the CEO and co-founder of Common Room. She started it with three other great co-founders, and over time we had stayed in touch and she really wanted to bring me on in terms of building community for Common Room.
That community is called the Uncommon Community and we're a community of a thousand plus community leaders, developer relations leaders, developer experience leaders, community managers. We are based mostly on... We have real time chats in Slack. We also have a newsletter. We have the YouTube channel. Those are our various platforms that bring the community together. And then, of course, there's the Twitter and that sort of thing.
Jillian Benbow: For sure. I'm curious about Common Room and then, of course, by proxy, the Uncommon Community. You mentioned a bunch of different types of people that join. Is there a common thread? Is it mostly kind of like the tech type communities? What kind of communities are represented in your community? How many times can I say community?
Rebecca Marshburn: I know. Oh, it's going to happen a lot. Oh my goodness!
Jillian Benbow: Good thing this is not a drinking game.
Rebecca Marshburn: I'm going to have to eat a piece of spinach for every time I say community. Just really make it a healthy exercise.
Jillian Benbow: Super healthy. Yeah.
Rebecca Marshburn: That is a great question. It is mostly a B2B SaaS or software as a service type of tech community or people who are running online communities and community managers, community leaders in those spaces, as well as a developer experience and developer relations types of leaders who are going to be in that open source or commercial open source software types of spaces. However, we do have a lot of folks as well that are just looking in terms of wanting to share expertise or share community building strategies.
Something that I think is really special is that there is a lot of throughlines about people who want to build communities, whether or not you're in the B2B space, the B2C space, the nonprofit space, or the physical community building, like a lot of activism and such. We have so many more things in common than... I think to say B2B, B2C, nonprofit, government, et cetera, it is helpful to have those distinctions, but I always am really touched to realize how much... No matter what type of community you're building, there are a lot of throughlines and common threads that community builders want to or need to know or want to share.
While, for example, in the Uncommon Community we're mostly going to be that B2B type of SaaS , online, digital community building and bringing organizations and companies closer to their communities in terms of their product users, their product champions, anyone who's trying to build a product based user community champion type of community still needs to employ a lot of the same community building strategies and tactics as someone who's trying to build an activist community or a nonprofit community.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, totally. I'm looking at commonroom.io/uncommon to see just the main page for where you jump off into the community things. Really cool events. I'm just looking right now, Empathy Everywhere. Community impacts every team in an organization. Yeah. To your point, whether you're... I like to call it sassy. Whether you work for SaaS, whether your community is a local nonprofit that's in person, empathy is a thing. Just for dumdums like me, what is a digital relationship manager? What does that look like as a role?
Rebecca Marshburn: I'd love to give this the one sentence pitch, but it's probably going to be a little longer than that. Let's go back to the year 2,000 where...
Jillian Benbow: Oh, okay.
Rebecca Marshburn: I'll take you all the way back there, where CRMs reigned, right? Customer relationship managers. You could say there were one way conversations. But if it's one way, that's more of a monologue where you're like, "Hey, potential customer or prospect or actual customer, do this thing. Buy this thing. Come to this thing." It's sort of just a push mechanism. And then fast forward to now and all that time between then, 2005, 2006, 2007 saw there was Facebook, and then there was Twitter. And now there's a proliferation of community channels and platforms. I think SPI runs on Circle.so, if I remember correctly.
Jillian Benbow: You are correct. Gold star. Gold star.
Rebecca Marshburn: And then there's what, like I said, we have our... The Uncommon Community is on Slack as far as it's real time chat app, but a lot of people like Discord. There's forums like Discourse and Circle, or Circle is more of a little bit more broad than that. And then for the developer space, there's Stack Overflow. There is GitHub. And then you have YouTube and Reddit and Insighted and COROS. You start to see all these different platforms where people are building and interacting and participating with community and we're bringing their communities together. There are just so many...
What was happening before is people or organizations, I should say, companies were starting to say, "Hey, we need to hire the role title community manager, because now people are interacting with us across different platforms. It's not just a push message through our CRM to our customer or prospect." It actually went from a monologue to a dialogue or a trialogue or a multivariate log. It just keeps building. It's networked, it's distributed.
To hire for this idea of a community manager, what was happening is community managers were basically putting their hand in a grab bag and being like, "I hope I pick out the right thing to address. I hope I'm hitting the highest priority. I hope I'm talking to the person that makes the most sense in terms of an actual product user or someone who's interested in using our product versus someone who is maybe not even really that interested." They just need better insights. They need better tools to do their jobs better.
A digital relationship manager is this idea where it's like you are building relationships across all of these digital spaces. As a community manager or really just as any organization, whether or not you explicitly have a community manager role, but your customers and your contributors and your champions are now talking to you. They're talking to you across multiple platforms and services and channels, and you need a way to actually manage those relationships. It's not just the CRM, right? It's not just a customer relationship manager. But what about the people who are people before they're "customers?"
What if they're interested? What if they're champions, but they're still on let's say your free tier, but they love your product and they're making educational content and they're putting it on YouTube? You want to be able to find those people and say, "Thank you so much for sharing your experience or for helping other users who are at the spot of the journey that you're at today. Thank you for helping other people take that leap or make that extra step in terms of product usage."
A digital relationship manager is that idea where it's going from a monologue from just a CRM where you're pushing messages to a dialogue or that trialogue or multilogue, where you're able to unify all of this information and data and what your community members need whatever stage they're at in terms of your product or customer journey and bring their voices together and make sure that you're serving the right people at the right time with the right context and content.
Jillian Benbow: I love this. It's so exciting to see just the continued evolution of community as a career and the options. It keeps branching out. It started out, in my opinion, very you're either kind of social media manager slash... The titles are always a little blurred, or you were community manager on a specific platform. This role, this terminology, this concept is exciting because it just shows community is a thing that is now here.
Rebecca Marshburn: Totally. I think that that could be the title of the podcast, right? Community is a thing. Period.
Jillian Benbow: Maybe that'll be the title of this episode. I don't know. People will be like, "What? What is this about now?" Well, it's everything.
Rebecca Marshburn: It's everything.
Jillian Benbow: It's nothing and everything all at once. Yes. As you're talking, I can hear the people I know, especially a lot of our listeners are community builders who are small business, it's like they're an entrepreneur, they have a community as part of their services that they do themselves, I can see them spinning out right now because they're like, "Oh my gosh, more things to do. I need to find everyone talking about me on YouTube," all this stuff, which just for everyone who's in that space, deep breath. It's okay. You don't have to do everything all at once. You're fine.
But let's talk about what I think is amazing about Common Room and the product a bit because something I like to talk about a lot is metrics and the importance of metrics, how, in my opinion, there's no one metric to rule them all in community. But I know Common Room offers a deeper insight than a lot of the platforms we use right now standalone. Tell us a little bit more about how and especially maybe like a smaller business can leverage that data that you're able to pull.
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah. I think that this actually probably goes back to that what you had just said where you're like, "Oh no!" Community managers hearing this would be like, "I need to do all of the things."
Jillian Benbow: It's like, "More stuff? No!"
Rebecca Marshburn: That is the whole reason why we built Common Room is that Common Room allows you to not have to stress out about having to do all of those things. Because what we do is we give you and your teams a single unified view of your community members across every channel and platform that they engage on. And then with that, we intelligently surface insights and trends from how they are engaging across all of those platforms. And then with that, we enable you to take action. We make it easy to funnel team alerts into your... Let's say you have an internal Slack channel or receive notifications via email.
We make it easy to connect with your community through automated workflows. We have onboarding sequences that have automated welcome messages. People that used to have GreetBot and let's say GreetBot is, I think, is retiring. This idea of how to have welcome messages to make sure that when people enter your community, they always have a direct line to a community host. There are re-engagement sequences. It's like, for example, if someone has not interacted in your community within 30 days, just send them an automated check in. And that, again, opens that direct line to conversation with a community host.
We have automated surveys that you can send. And then those flow into let's say a segment. We call it segment, but they're cohorts of community members. Let's say it's like survey. And then in that survey you say, "Hey, we'd love to feature your expertise. If you're interested, do you prefer blogs or podcasts?" And then let's say they're like, "I love podcasts," and then that flows into a segment called potential podcast guests. And then you can actually bulk message members in that segment directly to their Slack DMs or through email, which is coming soon. We'd be able to say, "Hey, we're actually scheduling for the next six months.
I know that you're interested in sharing your expertise on the podcast. Would you like to schedule? Here's my Calendly." And then you can download and share reports with stakeholders. I think one of the big things, one of the big challenges for community managers is sometimes... It's one of the first things to go in an organization, because either, A, it's still an emerging industry space, and then, B, it's harder to show a direct line of A to B of revenue. When people are downsizing or whatever has to happen, they're like, "Well, we're not exactly sure. We know that community is good, but we're not exactly sure how... We can't point to a direct revenue stream."
Therefore, it's really hard internally when people are having those really difficult, challenging conversations to say, "Well, we need to keep the community team." What we know at Common Room is that you need to be to download and share reports with stakeholders about, "Hey, here's the impact of the community. Here's how it's growing. Here's how many support tickets we deflected. Here's how the customer success team was actually able to make better educational content based on what we know were unanswered questions asked by the community. Here's how the product and engineering team were able to discover bugs faster and how we are able to triage those within five hours versus within 15 hours."
When you're able to draw that straight line from what your community members are doing and how your community team is serving them to how they can quarterback to the rest of the organization and help increase efficiency, let's say, across all of those teams because of your community teams as relationships with the community, those are what we're able to highlight within our reporting. And that to us is really important so that the community industry and the community field can keep elevating itself so it's not that expendable or a team with the biggest question mark next to it in terms of revenue streams or impact.
And then what Common Room also does so that it allows you to understand the organizations interacting with your business. Just how we unify all of that single member data where... Let's say I'm Rebecca Marshburn. I'm talking to you on Twitter, and I'm in your Slack. And I'm in your Circle. And I mentioned you on Reddit. I am unified as one single person who has mentioned you across all these different surfaces and platforms and channels. Common Room tells you, my sentiment tells you the topics I've been talking about, tells you who else has been active in that thread within the community, the number of replies, whether or not it has gotten a reply from a team member.
Then we auto categorize it. We can say, "This is an account support question. This is a bug. This is a feature request. This is product feedback. This is content attached." That same question where you're like, "Oh no! Now I have to look at whether or not someone is talking about me on YouTube," we service that for you. We say, "Hey, this person mentioned you and here is their content attached linked to their YouTube video." You can go ahead and reach out to them directly to say, "Thanks so much for talking about us on YouTube. Can we send you a sweatshirt?" The same way that we unify that for individual members, we roll that up into organizations.
We look at where those members work based on public APIs and information that we can get across like LinkedIn and Twitter and GitHub where people talk about where they work in their bios. We're able to say, "Hey, this many people, these many members also belong to this organization." That's where, for example, the partnership sales and revenue teams love Common Room and are able to say, "You have to keep the community team because they are the ones that are quarterbacking to us where these members work that we actually did not even know. They haven't shown up in Salesforce yet, for example.
They haven't shown up in HubSpot yet, but they did show up in the community." Now we have this direct line and understanding and context about what these members are asking, saying, and sharing. And then we can reach out to them with context about like, "Hey, saw you had a question around this. This is actually how we solve it. Here's the value we bring. We'd love to continue the conversation." Once you're able to tie community to let's say more accounts closed or one, that's just another way to make sure that we elevate the community industry and that we help that community manager show their impact on the business.
Jillian Benbow: If people could see my face during this whole thing, my eyeballs just kept getting bigger and bigger because I'm just like “Holy forking shirtballs!” This is amazing. So many problems solved. And as someone who came from the tech startup community manager place, that's where I got my start and stayed for a while before going into this more smaller business side of things, I've had too many experiences where the community team does such an amazing job. The company then thinks it has no value because, "The community's fine. We don't need this. We don't need all these staff. Because look, everything's going great."
It's like, yeah, because we are doing a ton of stuff and you just don't understand what we do. The impact of this to your point for the community industry and for people who work professionally in community, like you and I do, this is big. This is a lot. But I think for the sake of our audience, because it is a mix. I mean, you may not be having to justify things to the VP of finance or even the owner of the company to say, "No, this is valuable."
You know because it's your company. But having those insights and being able to interact on that level, this is like hiring a team to surface all these things for you, which is great. I can't even.
Rebecca Marshburn: Well, I just want to say that the way that you're feeling right now is when, to go all the way back to when Linda Lian, the CEO, was like, "Hey, I want you to join." I was like, "I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to stick around the tech space. I've been here for a long time. I had gone back to get my master's in urban design, and I was thinking I'm probably going to switch careers." She was like, "Well, let me just show you the product." And having been managing the AWS Serverless Heroes community and then seeing the product, I was like, "Oh." This is very, very smart. This is very necessary, very smart. Truly will solve so many of the moments where you're like, "Am I terrible at my job?"
It's like, no, you're not terrible at your job. If someone gave you a nail and a shoe and they said, "Okay, hammer this nail on the wall with the shoe," and you're like, it's not that you're bad at your job, it's that someone gave you a shoe. What if we actually gave you a hammer? What if we actually gave you the right tool for the job? When I saw Common Room, and this was a couple years ago, it's advanced so far. We have an amazing product team and engineering team and ideation team, and then we have an amazing community. We're able to co-shape what we should do with the tool next. But even in the beginning, a couple years ago, I was like, I see where this is going and every community manager truly needs this.
The way your face looked and how you're like... That's how I felt too. I was like, "Linda, I mean, you're truly helping people understand or community managers, leaders and other teams too that they touch and that would use this product, they're not bad at their job, they just needed the tool to do the job well."
Jillian Benbow: Totally. Vindication. No, I'm just kidding. I think also people who get into community don't burn out, which is a very real reason people exit, but it's never ending, right? The community never sleeps and a lot of other departments don't get that. It's like, "Oh, two weeks off," and it's like, "Well, it's actually really stressful to take two weeks off." They're like, "But it's vacation." It's like, "Well the community doesn't sleep." But point being like having tools to do what I would call the boring stuff, which is like, has anybody mentioned us on Twitter and manually looking and that kind of thing? Having a tool to replace that work is just like chef's kiss. I mean, it's fascinating. I like that it looks at so many different things. Because like I was saying earlier, there's no one metric to be like, "Check. This community passes. The ROI is there. The value is there," et cetera.
I'm curious, you mentioned... This is so important, I think. There's the product, and then you have a community of people who I assume mostly or all use the product. Do you find a lot of people are helping each other leverage the tool in the best way?
Or is it more just like, "Yep. We all use it, but we're actually going to talk about," and it's like, "Hey, I need support because this situation's happening," or is it a mix?
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah. This is a really great question. I guess I'll have to... I'll add a little context around to it, because apparently I cannot give a short answer.
Jillian Benbow: That is okay. Neither could I.
Rebecca Marshburn: When I joined Common Room in January of 2021, we were still in stealth mode. We still had not announced that we were... We had a landing page that basically said. "CR if you're interested in learning about building community, add your email." One of the first things that we knew we wanted to do when I joined, I was kind of the first external content creator, community marketer. Anyone that was going to externally say anything, I was the first hire for that back in January 2021. We knew that the first thing that we needed to do was actually announce ourselves as like, "Hey, we are Common Room and this is our mission and vision, and this is what we are building."
We had set a date for March 31st, 2021. That's when we were actually going to have a "real homepage" that really talked about what we were solving, the space we were in, why we were looking to solve it. And then if you scroll down that homepage, there was one section of it that said, "Join the Uncommon Community." It was a, "Hey, connect with other community leaders and strategists." All it was at the time was an email field and a newsletter. We'll pop into your inbox once a month. We had a couple of founding members like Joshua Zerkel at Asana, Shahed Khan at Loom, and Ale Murray at Confluent.
These were community leaders in other fields that were either our early design partners. They were giving us feedback about our product and we're testing it out and just people that believe in the community space. We were like, "Hey, would you be okay if we interview you for an uncommon conversation. We'd like to highlight your expertise and then be able to share that with other community members who sign up for this newsletter." They were super kind with their time and they said sure. That's all it was. The Uncommon Community was this once a month newsletter and these wonderful kind of founding members that were kind enough to share their time with us.
We knew that as we grew Common Room, we also wanted to grow the Uncommon Community. We technically started the community before Common Room was available as a product for everyone to use. That would happen on March 31st, 2021. It wasn't until March 31st, 2022, just four months ago, if I'm doing the math right, or five, that Common Room became generally available for everyone to use. Across that past year, we were working closely with 15 to 25 design partners and amazing people like Asana and Atlassian. They were using our beta product and giving us feedback on it. But in parallel, while we were doing that, we were also growing the Uncommon Community.
It went from that newsletter to making sure that we had Slack or real time chat opportunity, and we wanted it to be Slack because we wanted to reduce the anonymity, which Discord oftentimes has a lot anonymity associated with it. We decided to open a Slack, and then we used that original newsletter base and then invited people to Slack from there and said like, "Hey, if you only want the newsletter, that's great. If you're interested in more real time chat and strategy and AMAs and stuff that we might have on Slack or making sure that you're connected to different events and to each other, then join us on Slack."
That's actually how we ended up, I would say, seeding the initial Slack. While we had that Slack in that year before Common Room was generally available, it was all about community strategy, community expertise, like sharing events and learning, celebrating milestones for people, just banter and water cooler type talk.
Jillian Benbow: It's the best.
Rebecca Marshburn: People could feel like they could just come in and connect with each other on a non strictly professional community building level or a different type of community building level. At first, it was a community of practice, right? The practice of community management. Then as Common Room became generally available March 31st of this year, we did add product specific channels, so Common Room Product Wishlist, Common Room Product Help. There's one more, Common Room What's New, I believe. Because what we wanted to do is make sure that people could come to the community both for product support and product help and to give us product feedback, but also just come in general.
Whether or not you're using Common Room, what are some tactics that people are using to build their community today? If someone's in the seed stage of their community or the growth stage or the maturity stage, what does that look like? If you're trying to build your first ambassador program, or you're trying to expand your ambassador program globally, those are different problems and different questions of different scales. Now what the Uncommon Community is kind of a mix. You have a general conversations around the practice of community building, and then you also have the more specific Common Room product questions and feedback.
A lot of times people will talk about those communities being two separate things, right? You either have a product community and a product support community, or you have a community of practice where you're talking about in general best practices around the space. I mean, I guess we could call this a grand experiment. Right now it seems to be working, just that we have our channel... We have very specific channels for what is for practice and what is for product, but they are right now combined into the same community.
In a very long way of answering your question, there are definitely a lot of product users in the Uncommon Community, but a lot of people joined Uncommon before they could use Common Room, the product, while we are in that interim period of beta testing with a small group of design partners. They may have joined the Uncommon Community just because they're really interested in the practice of community building. It's also been an educational process there being like, "Hey, if you're trying to do X with your community, have you heard of Common Room?" Sometimes we'll be in the Uncommon Community and we still have to be like, "Have you heard of Common Room?"
Because people have joined the Uncommon Community wanting to build community, not necessarily knowing that at the time it was related to Common Room itself, the product. Our goal is, first and foremost, as Uncommon Community to bring people together who want to build community and to give them the strategies, ideas, safe space to ask questions, solve challenges together. And then ultimately, hopefully, if we build the right tool as Common Room, Common Room will help them solve that. But we don't want to just have them come in and be like, "Well, you have to use Common Room."
We want to be like, "Well, what are you trying to solve?" And then if Common Room helps, great. And if it doesn't help, how do we build Common Room so that it would help?
Jillian Benbow: I love it so much. I'm curious how... You mentioned in the Uncommon Room Community, so not necessarily the product spaces, there's just kind of all sorts, right? There it sounds like more junior community managers all the way up to people who are pretty experienced community builders talking about different probably levels of content. How's your community with finding their people? Are the people who have higher expertise, are they 100% there to help mentor new people?
Do you ever get feedback of like, "Hey, we want an advanced space where we can talk next level stuff. I think vice versa, even for more beginner minded people to have a safe space to talk about that kind of stuff too and not get overwhelmed by responses. Have you found that happening or that feedback about that?
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah, absolutely. We are actually kicking off our first community advocacy board, which is very exciting. I see that as a seed pod to what would be or what could be a champions program, grow into a champions program and ambassadors program in the future, but we're starting small. We invited those... I mean, of course I use Common Room to... When you're a community host or community leader manager, you generally know who the most contributing members and active members are. But that being said, basically I looked at Common Room and I said, "Hey, I want to know who's most active in contributing on Slack," so I filtered it that way.
In Common Room, we have impact points, so people are contributing the most and where they're contributing the most. And then impact points are weighted. It weights a Slack post, for example, different than a Slack reply, different than a Slack reaction. You can start to see when people are engaging, at what level are they engaging. We have those weights for GitHub and Meetup and Bevy and Stack Overflow. Joining a chapter is very different than hosting a community meetup or chapter. Those levels of impact. Anyway, it filtered by impact points, and then I said okay.
I imagine maybe half of the people that I invite will either have the time or the bandwidth to be able to join this community advocacy board. I picked our top 20, which also as an anecdotal gut check was like, yep, these are the top. These are basically the top 20 that I would imagine.
Jillian Benbow: Usually not a surprise. It's like, yep, that works out.
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah, it's like this tracks, this tracks. What the data is showing me is what I know from being in the community every day.
Jillian Benbow: Totally.
Rebecca Marshburn: I invited them to the community advocacy board. The reason why we want to do that is, again, this idea of product and practice and also what you're getting at, which is like, how do you have a smaller space to make sure that the people who are both using your product and who are experts at community building have a direct line let's say to your product teams and feel not only acknowledged for their work and expertise, but also have this type of space where they are with other people who are trying to solve the same thing them at the same level or at the same scale. I would say that, yes, we definitely have seen those types of...
This is one way that we're trying to solve that. But I think there are also myriad ways that you could solve that, whether or not you have your own private channel about advanced community experts. People might have monthly meetings or there are various ways that I think people go about trying to make sure that people also feel like they're connecting on the right level. I would say in our Uncommon Community right now, other than let's say this community advocacy board, this one way that we're trying to solve it to have people at this level be able to have smaller, intimate conversations, as well as connect with our product and community teams directly.
In general, in the Uncommon Community, those community leaders or those high level very experienced experts are mostly interacting in terms of being a mentor or a leader. We might end up saying, "Hey, mentioning so and so, someone had this question. I know that you have a depth of expertise in here. Would you be okay jumping into that thread and adding some of your feedback?" I think that while they're happy to perform that role, we also want to give them another channel in way where they don't have to always perform the mentor role and instead be able to be a peer to peer role.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I mean, it's something we deal with our Pro community all the time because we have people coming in that... It's funny, because I feel like everyone who joins can offer the sort of mentor role in some field, but then in another one they need help. It works out well. You could help me with the techy stuff that I'm like, "Wait, what is a serverless? What are these things? Help." But then I can help you with, I don't know what, I'm trying to think of something cool, pod... Nope, you have a podcast. There's something I have a skill in that I could help you with that I can't think of right now, right?
It's kind of that symbiotic relationship. I think it's something for all community managers to have on their mind. Because if it is a flat hierarchy as members, some people can get burnt out and always being the go-to person for answers and things. How do you acknowledge them?
I've noticed it evolve in our community as we grow. We're two plus years old. How it was the first six months versus now, the needs are different or the expectations are different as far as helping other people. That's always a given, but just the nuance of like, are you still getting your needs met? Should we reassess how we do things?
Rebecca Marshburn: I wanted to ask you about that. SPI community, as you said, it's about two years old, right? I've been listening to some of your episodes, but you're always asking everyone about their communities. So far, I haven't heard episode where you get to talk about yours. How has it changed? How have you seen some of those things change over the past two years?
Jillian Benbow: Well, thanks for asking it. Obviously it's grown a lot. When it launched, I want to say a couple hundred people joined the original launch and now we're in the 600s. We intentionally are going to cap it after a thousand people. This isn't a community we're trying to scale. It's a very intentional community for a specific type of member. And as such, we've launched an additional community that can scale and is meant for actual more beginners.
There's a process to get into SPI Pro, which is our main community. We protect that very much. It's meant for people with an existing business. It doesn't have to be their full-time thing, but it should be revenating?
Rebecca Marshburn: Resonating?
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh, my brain just turned off, revenue generating. There we go. Man, I had to untangle a whole...
Rebecca Marshburn: I like revenating. That's kind of nice.
Jillian Benbow: Revenating. That's the new revenue generation. It was totally not by accident.
Rebecca Marshburn: RevGen.
Jillian Benbow: RevGen.
Rebecca Marshburn: Just low RevGen.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my God, boss babe. Just a boss babe. Recurring RevGen. We look for boss babes with recurring revenue generation. No, just kidding. No boss babes. We're looking for someone, they figured it out, whatever their corner of the internet. We mostly work with digital entrepreneurs, so they're selling digital things. They're a coach. They have a podcast. They do YouTube, or they do courses, whatever it is. It's kind of sometimes all in that realm, but sometimes not. That's one thing that's changed is when we first launched, I think most of the people... I'm speaking in general. Any founding members listening, you know I love you.
If I don't represent you in this, I'm sorry. But I'd say overall in general, a very generalized view, people were more traditionally that sort of digital entrepreneur, much like our founder, Pat. They had courses, maybe a podcast, maybe a YouTube channel, some sort of audience reach thing. And now flash forward... I'm just on a roll. Fast forward, I've noticed a lot, like the industries people are in have really diversified. We have some amazing, just really cool industries, like more environmental focused or like permaculture. Recently someone joined who is an architect by education, but is really into urban planning with permaculture.
Rebecca Marshburn: Love it.
Jillian Benbow: Just fascinating. It's honestly something I just love so much about the community is just seeing like, what are people really diving into? And if they have the freedom to focus on a very niche topic, what is that? Urban design with permaculture, hello, tell me everything about your business. I love that because part of the community is like, "Tell me more. What do you do? What are your problems?" Being nosy is a good thing. Long-winded answer.
We as a team intentionally aren't trying to drive the content. We are trying to create a safe space for other people to start conversations. We have a few we start, but I think figuring out that balance always is a bit of a dance, like how much we're involved versus letting the community run itself, but maintaining healthy conversations. We've launched a ton of programs and then tweaked them a lot, constantly tweaking. We do masterminds. That's a big way we help people find their people. As a global community, it's a lot trying to find six people, a small group of people that can meet at the same time in the same time zone.
It's not 3 AM for someone and is a good mix of salespeople launching a membership community. It's a dance. We're constantly tinkering constantly with everything just to fine tune. And then another cohort of members come in and seven out of...
10 of them out of a hundred or whatever are ex-teachers. It's like, oh, we need to have more... And they're like, "Hey, can we talk more about this thing that you guys don't ever talk about?" And it's like cool. It starts over again and we just try to keep up with what our members want.
Rebecca Marshburn: Well, I really appreciate that intentionality. I love not only that you're continually asking questions, but that you're also like, "Hey, we're going to cap this at some point because we want everyone... This is meant to be a space where you get to shape in." I would say, as communities grow from let's say 1,000 to 10 to 100,000, it's harder to have your voice be heard, right? I think there's a lot of intentionality around the numbers you're choosing and how you're helping the community shape its own course.
Jillian Benbow: Totally. It's a paid community, right? It's like $1,000 a year to be Pro member. We want you to feel like, "Oh my gosh, I get way more value than what I invest financially." We can't do that if there's 5,000 people. Like you said, people get lost in the fray and it's hard to justify someone that much, at least for the type of community we have and are passionate about. And that is another reason why we chose to launch a lower tiered community, our Learner Community, which, again, is very much geared towards beginners who aren't ready yet for that level of conversations and are still figuring out, how do I get that RevGen?
What should I launch? Much more beginners. We give our Pros full access to that community, which is great because they go in and they will mentor. They will help people. There's this kind of special relationship that's organically happening. Also, they just love events. A lot of them will show up to our learner events, although then ask questions and things where we're like, "That's too advanced. Let's do this in Pro," but it's great. I love it. I love that they can come in to Learner, and Learner is as much less expensive. How much does Learner cost? It's $89 a quarter. It's like $270-ish, math isn't my thing, a year. It's more affordable, especially for someone beginning. I think it works out to like a dollar a day. We've also created a funnel. It's like, okay, people who are in Learner, once they kind of graduate out of what they can get there, they have the option if there's a spot to go up to the big leagues, up to Pro. And then within Pro, we have something called MBA. Not to get super complicated here, but that's a much higher price point and is very business coaching advanced stuff.
I think that evolution starting with just Pro and now having three steps in the path to having a pretty significant six figure business is what made sense for us, but over time. I'm sure you too. Since you launched Uncommon Room, it's there's things you're... Like you said, things you're adding, programming you're considering, kind of leaning into potential like an "ambassador program," all that.
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah, definitely. I think there's always programs more that we want to launch and others that we want to sunset. We haven't gotten there yet. But I think as a community host, it's as important to, as you were saying, ask questions of your community and understand what's working for them. And then also understand what's not working and being like, okay, if this isn't working anymore, it made sense at the time and now it doesn't, how do we sunset this gracefully? How do we make sure that... Let's say a hundred people were really interested in it, but now only three are.
It doesn't really make sense to keep running it as it is. How do we make sure to offboard those people in a way that's also kind and thoughtful and not a surprise? I think there are all sorts of ways as community hosts that we have to show up, even when it means spinning up some things and then shutting other things down.
Jillian Benbow: Totally. I kind of love sunsetting stuff.
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah, me too.
Jillian Benbow: It's like, this was fun, but we're going to move on now. We're not going to keep beating the dead horse. I hate that expression. It's done. Don't cry because it's gone. Smile. Whatever you got to say. Someone's always mad about it, but ultimately, they just want to make sure you know that they're mad about it. It happens. Well, I want to be respectful of your time, despite having several questions I want to ask you. We're going to go into the rapid fire, if you're ready.
Rebecca Marshburn: Oh, rapid fire? I didn't even know we had rapid fire.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, you haven't been listening to the whole episodes. You just outed yourself.
Rebecca Marshburn: I'm nervous. They're always at the end?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, at the very end.
Rebecca Marshburn: Oh my gosh. Yeah, I guess I haven't apparently listened to the end.
Jillian Benbow: Now I'm going to make it extra hard. No, I'm just kidding. That's okay. We all got stuff to do. This will make it more fun because you don't know what's coming. This is graded. It's very important. No, I'm just kidding. This is all just for...
Rebecca Marshburn: I actually am notorious for never finishing full podcast. If I look at my Spotify, it always says four minutes left, six minutes left, and I don't know why that is. Maybe as a person, I just can't bear it being over, so I just stop it before it ends.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, I doubt that, but yeah. Just kidding. Well, first question. Yes, it's just for fun. Whatever just first pops in your head. It can be just like a quick... It's a quick response. What did you want to be when you grew up, when you were a kid?
Rebecca Marshburn: Ooh, veterinarian.
Jillian Benbow: Samesies. Well, I wanted to be a cat. And then when everyone was like, "You can't be a cat," and I was like, "Yes, I can."
Rebecca Marshburn: Listen, Jillian, you can be a cat.
Jillian Benbow: I know. I'm a cat. Then I settled for veterinarian. Rebecca, next question. Excellent. Pass. How do you define community?
Rebecca Marshburn: Connectivity.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. What is something on your "bucket list" that you have done?
Rebecca Marshburn: Ooh, that I have done. Teach yoga.
Jillian Benbow: All right. And then the flip, what is something on that same "bucket list" that you have not done, but you hope to?
Rebecca Marshburn: I would like to teach yoga to English language learners. I'd like to teach ESL through yoga.
Jillian Benbow: Ooh! Please do. That's awesome. What is a book that you just love and wish everyone would read, whether it's community related or not?
Rebecca Marshburn: Honestly, Malcolm X or The Autobiography of Malcolm X written by Alex Haley or as told to Alex Haley.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. I believe you're in Seattle based on previous conversations.
Rebecca Marshburn: True.
Jillian Benbow: Very nice. It's a great place to live. But say you couldn't live there, where's anywhere else in the world you would want to live?
Rebecca Marshburn: I grew up in Southern California and there's a part of me that always wanted to live in LA. Or I visited Tokyo and I was there for a few months and I loved it so much. I remember saying to my friends, if someone dropped me off here and said, "Sorry, this is where you live now," I would've been like, "That's fine. I love it here."
Jillian Benbow: Good.
Rebecca Marshburn: Yeah. That's cool with me. I'm in Tokyo.
Jillian Benbow: I really want to go to Tokyo. Have yet to go. Well, I want to go because... This is so basic, but I want to go check out all the vending machines.
Rebecca Marshburn: Oh yeah!
Jillian Benbow: There's a vending machine for everything.
Rebecca Marshburn: There really is.
Jillian Benbow: I really just want to myself go and buy one of those little Pikachu hats for cats.
Rebecca Marshburn: Because you want to be a cat.
Jillian Benbow: No. Actually, well, I have a very small dog that is cat size. I want to get her a Pikachu hat that she will hate, but I just think it's... Of course, there is a vending machine for Pikachu hats for cats.
Rebecca Marshburn: For cats.
Jillian Benbow: But yeah, maybe deep down at something about me being a cat. Okay, final question. You're doing great.
Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: How do you want to be remembered?
Rebecca Marshburn: As someone who is kind and generous with their time and their spirit.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Ah, love it. Same.
Rebecca Marshburn: What about you?
Jillian Benbow: Pretty similar, yeah. I like the mantra in camping, leave it better than you found it.
Rebecca Marshburn: Ah, yeah.
Jillian Benbow: You pick up other people's trash or whatever because for the greater good. I want to be remembered as someone who left it better than I found it and through kindness, through humanity or trying to save humanity.
Rebecca Marshburn: I love that.
Jillian Benbow: In my own little small way. Well, this has been so fun, Rebecca Marshburn. I would love to have you back. I would love to just keep the convo going. I totally joined your community while we were talking. I'm going to post an intro in there after this and be annoying in there. You'll be like, "I wish I hadn't mentioned this to her."
Rebecca Marshburn: No, I'm so glad I did. Thank you so much for entrusting us with your time. I know what it means to have another Slack app open. The fact that you're like, "You know what? I'm going to do it," I appreciate that a lot.
Jillian Benbow: I am very passionate about community for community builders. I love that that's something you're doing, and I want to be a part of it because we need to support each other, because a lot of people do not get what we do. When someone's not getting it, "You're a moderator on Facebook?" I'm like, "No. I work in the internet. I work in it. I'm in the cloud." Okay, Rebecca, where can people learn more? What are the websites and social handles you would like our audience to part with?
Rebecca Marshburn: Number one, I think if community managers, community builders, community leaders are listening to this and others, you should really try Common Room. You can try it for free. And then we also have an essentials plan that is free forever. You can find that at www.commonroom.io. You can find out more about the Uncommon Community at www.commonroom.io/uncommon. That's where you can sign up for our newsletter. You can also see what events we have coming up. For example, well, I'm not sure when this will be published, but on September 2nd, we have a community event with Max Pete, who is a customer and community success leader at SuperHi.
He is talking about 10 of his lessons that he learned at his first year as a community manager to help emerging community leaders understand what types of things they might need to be thinking about, what types of lessons and takeaways they can glean from his own experience and reflections. You can find our Slack there. You can find all of our community resources and blog posts and things like that. If you want to find out more about me, you can find me at Twitter at Twitter.com/beccaodelay, B-E-C-C-A-O-D-E-L-A-Y. And then I'm on LinkedIn @RebeccaMarshburn. I do poetry.
I don't know if you call that, but my latest multimedia project, if you're interested in that, is called www.thisamericanalife.com. It's a multimedia project about the months that I spent on a big rig with my uncle driving across the country.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, now we get to that at the very end. Well, excellent. We'll have to go check that out.
Rebecca Marshburn: Surprise!
Jillian Benbow: Yes, surprise! Awesome. Well, thank you so much, again, for being here and sharing all the amazing things Common Room does, but also just the Uncommon Room and the support you're giving to other community builders. Always love to connect with people who have similar thoughts on just bringing community people together. I can't wait to go dig into that community. Thanks so much.
Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Jillian Benbow: And feel better.
Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: And that is my interview with Rebecca, or I'm guessing also called Becca. I kind of wanted to just call her Becks at the end for fun, but then I didn't want to offend her in case that's like someone calling me a boss babe or a moderator. Ugh! I think hopefully everybody listening knows. If you're new, maybe I should add a little context to that. It's a pet peeve of mine when people call me a moderator, which I actually referred to in this episode without the context, but it's just an ongoing thing. If you know, you know. Nothing wrong with being a moderator. It's just a very different thing than a community manager.
I will die on that hill. I love moderators. You all are great. The mod cops, as some have been called at past roles I've been in, where moderation was a big part of the job. I've also been called that. I've been called all sorts of things, holding up guidelines in past communities. Fortunately, I don't really have to do that anymore. If you're doing that and you need someone to vent to or talk to, hit me up @JillianBenbow on Twitter or in the Uncommon Room or Pro if you're in Pro, because I have a long history with verbal abuse from members from big, messy anonymous communities that people would fight in and then get mad if they were removed or even just talked to about adhering to guidelines.
I know what it feels like. If you don't have someone you can safely just talk about it too. I would like to invite you to talk to me because it's a very lonely, hard feeling and it's mentally exhausting. Just putting that out there to the entire listenership, which it's a niche podcast, so I'm not too worried. Let's actually talk about why we're here, which is Rebecca's interview. If you made it this far, thank you. That means you know what the rapid fire questions are. Just kidding. I can't help, but poke fun. I get it, honestly, but it is fun to kind of be like, "Oh!" I'm glad Rebecca's a good sport and just went with it, and then we got to hear some off the cuff answers.
Everybody wins. As I mentioned in the intro and as you heard in the interview, lots to talk about here, obviously the platform of commonroom.io. I mean, mind blown. I honestly didn't know much about what it did. One I love, there's a free forever option, which I think is just a great tactic for any SaaS platform, any platform. For all of us who have small businesses, it's a great way to dip in and be a part of it. And then who knows? Through our positive experiences with said platforms, we might recommend it to someone who does have the large budget for the enterprise level or whatever. We talk about that.
I think it's just interesting. I love that there are more and more platforms, organizations coming out that are kind of that third party service to enhance what you already have access to as far as metrics, regardless of what platform you're on. I like that this actually is a next level aggregation opportunity. It's designed for good. You're looking at if someone's posting about you so that you can go and thank them, or if it's critical, you can go and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry that was your experience. Reach out. Let's talk," and change that narrative publicly. That's powerful. I think this is just a great thing coming out of the community industry as it grows and becomes more respected, relevant, known, as people realize that no, we are not necessarily moderators. I'll stop with that. But yes, it's a pet peeve.
You may already use a platform for this or maybe you want to check out Common Room, but I think just overall take away for me is I'm so happy that these tools are being identified as a need and created because these are going to help us as community builders.
The second piece is just how Uncommon Room went from an opt-in newsletter to a thriving community is a great story. And especially for all you all listening that are smaller business building community, trying to figure that out, I think there are a lot of lessons and a lot of takeaways with how Rebecca did it and how the Common Room team supported her with this, which is... I mean, like she said, it was just an opt-in on a website that didn't have a product yet. It's kind of like a coming soon sort of thing, right? But I think why it was successful is the work they did with the people that they had invited in that were names in community, so already people that other community builders are likely following, and brought them in as advisors, advisory roles, for the product, but then invited them into this newsletter in the sense of, "Hey, can we interview?"
Or maybe you can post something in this upcoming edition of the newsletter. Just building relationships. It's just layers of community strategy, right? It's the relationships with the advisors of the company for the product and building relationships with them and giving them the opportunity to be interviewed, et cetera. That's so smart. It's so simple. It's so simple and what a strategy.
Your outreach strategies don't have to be necessarily a huge Facebook ad. It can be something like this, which is relatively inexpensive, it's time. But just very thoughtful, curated info that helps people solve community problems will bring in community builders, which is what they wanted. I think that's great. And then creating the Slack channel once it felt time with... Continuing the newsletter, but then adding on this like, "Hey, if you want to talk real time to everyone else, join this free Slack community that is professionally managed, that is safe."
That's really freaking smart. I love it. It sounds like very organically adding the channels about the product once the product launched. That makes a lot of sense to me. I was able to join this community and I do not use this product. That's great, and that also means me joining, my motivation to join is I want to talk to other community builders because that's what I do. I just watched Tommy Boy, and so I want to say, "Because that's who I am and that's who I care about." Callahan Auto. All jokes aside, I think it's such a great model, and I think anybody can study it and learn from it and potentially use parts of it or all of it to expand or launch your community.
Let me know what you think, @JillianBenbow on Twitter. Offer still stands. If you need to vent about people being mean to you in your community, hit me up. I'm here for you. But otherwise, that was the episode. I'm going to stop talking, and I'll see you next Tuesday.
You can learn more about Rebecca by following her on Twitter @beccaodelay, O-D-E-L-A-Y, and check out Common Room, commonroom.io and commonroom.io/uncommon to see more about the Uncommon Community, which I did join and introduced myself. LinkedIn, she is Rebecca Marshburn, and of course, thisamericanalife.com is her multimedia project she held out on until the very end. Go learn more about it there.
Your lead host for the Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski and our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.