We'd all like to create hustling and bustling communities that encourage members to log in daily. But is that really the best experience we can offer? Or is that just taking a page out of the social media addiction book?
In this episode, we take a step back and reconsider the essentials of running a thriving digital space. Joining our endeavor is Noele Flowers, an expert strategic community consultant. Her insight into the variables that truly affect the success of a membership site is priceless!
How do you optimize a community for the metrics that impact your bottom line? How do you identify and focus on the programs that will transform your business?
This is what we tackle in today's conversation with Noele. We also explore community consulting as a career option and learn how she leverages her influential newsletter to serve her audience.
Don't even think about missing this chat because Noele's next-level knowledge is vital for anyone looking to earn a living in community. Listen in and enjoy!
Noele Flowers is a community manager, content creator, and singer-songwriter.
In her career in the community industry, she's run community at ed tech company Teachable, built a community management training program from the ground up at Commsor, and worked with countless businesses and individuals as a strategic consultant on their community projects.
As a strategic community consultant, she draws on her almost decade-long career in the community industry and education to help her clients make all the most important decisions for their community projects—from what technology to use, to how to engage members, to how to measure success.
In This Episode
- Noele's journey to becoming a community consultant
- Why community-powered courses are here to stay
- Using events to find out if communities are right for your business
- Noele's newsletter and the lessons learned from consulting
- Creating purpose-built communities for maximum business impact
- Why large, active communities shouldn't be everyone's goal
- Check out Noele's video for her new song, Risk It for You
- The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty [Amazon affiliate link]
- Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson [Amazon affiliate link]
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 074: Noele Flowers and the Evolution of Community
Noele Flowers: How much do you want people to be interacting in your community? And almost every person, they're like, gut impulse is every day, multiple times a day. But then when you're pushing them on it, you're trying to actually answer the question, how frequently do they have to be tapping into this thing for it to be helpful to them? And there are some cases where some community personas, it's less helpful for them to have to tap into the community every single day than it is for them to do it once every two weeks.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, hello and welcome to this episode of the Community Experience Podcast. I'm your hostess with the mostest, Jillian Benbow, and today I am talking to the lovely, Noele Flowers. If you don't already know who Noele is in the community space, buckle in. She is amazing. I've followed her for a while now. Just so insightful. So we're talking all things community, the intersection of education and community specifically, but also just that community manager life. So enjoy this episode, the Community Experience Podcast.
All right. I am joined today with one of my favorite faces, favorite people in the community scene, Noele Flowers. How are you?
Noele Flowers: I'm doing good. Thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited to talk to you today.
Jillian Benbow: I am so excited. I had so much fun. So Noele was one of the panelists in the Business of Community Summit, the summit that we did with Circle, and we were on the same panel, and I just thought we had a blast. And I subscribed to your newsletter. I follow you as a community person. So welcome. In case anyone listening doesn't know who you are, Noele, give us the hot goss.
Noele Flowers: I love any podcast that starts with hot goss, so I can definitely do that. So this won't be super hot, but my name is Noele. I have been in the community industry for probably seven years at this point, which is really funny to say because when I first got into community, I did not anticipate that. I did not know that there was a career path ahead of me. But basically, I started off my career outside of the tech space, working as a public high school teacher. I taught music in Queens, and when I realized I couldn't wake up that early, I pivoted into tech. I worked at Teachable for about four years running their community programs, which is where I first started to actually rub shoulders with SPI a little bit over at Teachable. And then I worked building a community education program at Commsor for a couple of years. And now I'm an independent consultant. I don't know how gossipy that is for you, but that's my story.
Jillian Benbow: No, that's got some nuggets because some hot goss nuggets... I didn't know you were a teacher before coming into community. I think that's a trend right now too for a lot of teachers, are realizing, especially, and we'll talk about more the intersection of education, ed tech and community, but I mean, even our community manager for All-Access Pass, she came from teaching as well.
Noele Flowers: I think it's one of those careers that sets you up really well because low-key, there's a lot of public speaking in community and teachers cannot be phased. They're so used to giving presentations over and over. But yeah, I hired two former educators on my last team at Commsor and I hope to hire many more teachers in my community career.
Jillian Benbow: It's true, keeping a community, paying attention or getting the information they need, I'm sure is just, it's different. But I would rather do that than a classroom full of any age children. As soon as I'm outnumbered by five, I'm like, nah, this isn't for me. Got to go. And I guess at least having the threat of detention and principles is the only thing that makes that not just my worst nightmare. As soon as they realize I have no power, I'm done.
Noele Flowers: Yes, students are absolutely brutal and they can immediately find your weaknesses and go right for them, love them for it. But it really was a trial by fire to prepare me for community because then I was never upset when I saw community members that were [inaudible] .
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, it's like, aw, this is good. Were you doing high school or middle school, elementary school?
Noele Flowers: Yeah. I taught high school choir. I taught at this big school in Queens that had... I think I probably had five classes of 35 kids and I did some general music, some choir. It was fun.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I'm sweating just listening to this.
Noele Flowers: Yeah, me too actually.
Jillian Benbow: Well, we can move on. But that's good to know. That makes a lot of sense though because I know, like you said, working at Teachable, which is now that community is becoming a bigger part of these LMS platforms, they all seem to be scrambling to add community if they didn't already have it lately. But I think all good signs of what is going to be the next iteration of taking an online class, it's, for a while, been stagnant. You're either doing literal Masterclass.com where it's just a lecture, there's not really interaction to, all the way to... And Skillshare is very much like that.
But then we've used Teachable forever at SPI and trying to give people on-demand learning but also be able to talk to each other. Cohorts came about and now with technology catching up, we're in this really unique space to really have this... I mean, I guess it's a hybrid of in-person or even just live teaching with that asynchronous teaching or learning, I should say. What are your thoughts on just where we are and where it's going?
Noele Flowers: I guess both of that spectrum you just described of from on-demand courses that have their merits for students but also really have their merits for businesses because you set it up and then you don't have to continuously administer it. But then there's this downside to that end of the spectrum where it's actually just really hard to finish stuff. When I think about myself as a student, there's absolutely no way that I would finish an on-demand course like that, unless it's literally required for my job. I'll finish those trainings that you have to keep open on your computer but I'm not going to be able to motivate myself to do something that has no interaction with a teacher or with other students.
And I would consider myself somebody who's relatively into learning and school. And even that is really difficult format for me. So then on the flip side of that spectrum, there's cohort-based courses, which are so great in that sense of motivating students to go along, but then from the business perspective, they're the biggest possible headache that you could choose to set up in terms of the staff needs and all of the logistics of them. So I think community comes in as this really good solution to start to hybridize those, as you were saying.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, it's interesting, and I think I've talked about this on the podcast before, but if you just look at SPI, the things we've done, it's a similar evolution where we just had the DIY courses and there was... I mean, air quotes, community involved that it was Facebook groups originally, so whatever, insert opinion here, everyone already knows mine about that. And then we started doing boot camps, which were the cohort-based and just so intense and also limiting because if your scheduled events don't line up with someone's where they live, their time zone or their schedule, they're automatically a no. And then just very labor intensive. But great, you really saw people do the work because accountability. And then so now, we're in between where we're calling them accelerators but it's a lot of... It's like if you did a cohort asynchronously to accommodate for different time zones and whatnot.
So there's a ton of accountability and check-ins, there's optional live experiences, but the bulk of it is you do it on your own but you are checking in daily, you are talking to people, you're working together, people are huddling up that have similar goals or interests and they're doing the work together. It's really great. I'm a lifelong learner. I'm always learning something. I actually love learning. I just hated school. It's like, don't tell me what to do. Actually, that was a really good book. Thank you. It's like, fine, I'll read it, and then loved it. And like, ah, school.
Noele Flowers: Anti-authoritarian over there.
Jillian Benbow: Just a little.
Noele Flowers: It's interesting how I feel like everybody's bouncing back and forth between those two poles of the self-paced versus the cohorts and then discovering the things that are difficult about them both. And I think we're going to see more businesses that are developing both and hybrid versions and that are the cohort-based courses dipping into the evergreen programs and vice versa and everything working as a virtuous cycle. I think that's the way that it becomes easier.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I also, I think it's important just to acknowledge there's no get rich quick scheme in [inaudible] -
Noele Flowers: Absolutely.
Jillian Benbow: ... education. Nor should there be. It all takes work. And even people will say, oh, DIY courses, you just set it and forget it. No, things are constantly changing. Your tutorials need to be updated. Things evolve over time. There's constant updates. People have questions.
Noele Flowers: Totally.
Jillian Benbow: So it all is going to take dedication and some staffing, whether it's your own time or people you hire or however you do it. I'm glad to see the people who got into it to just six figure launch and make a bunch of money, or actually having to go away because their content's not good. Now, there's so much content and finding the good stuff can be a challenge, but I think at the end of the day, it remains, well, the other stuff hopefully is just leaving.
Noele Flowers: Yes. I'm very happy to hear you say that because this is obviously the playground that we are in at Teachable as well with people that want to, not that I think... I think people have more virtuous desires than just exclusively get rich quick schemes. The majority of people are not, thinking about it in such a simplistic way, but there is that myth that, oh, yeah, you set it up and you forget about it. And at the end of the day, no strategy that you get given or launch playbook is going to work if the content is not good. That is the bottom line.
Jillian Benbow: I agree, I agree. So I wanted to ask you, because you have played in this field for a very long time. If someone's contemplating, cool, well, I want to bring community and education together, I mean, do you have a general like, these are some things you should think about or here's some considerations?
Noele Flowers: Yeah, I mean, I guess it depends what direction you're coming from, but I guess what I would say is I'm a big fan of little tests, and this is something that I've... There's this really awesome person, do you know Danielle Maveal, at all?
Jillian Benbow: Do I? Yes. Not only has she been on the show, I do her Community Support Sessions for Leaders.
Noele Flowers: Amazing.
Jillian Benbow: I see her every Tuesday.
Noele Flowers: She's also just a really cool person, so.
Jillian Benbow: She's an amazing person. I'm like, can we hang out? She has a tattoo machine. Like what? Yes, she decided to teach herself how to tattoo.
Noele Flowers: Okay, I need to be like, how do I get on her test list for my next tattoo?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, speaking of tests.
Noele Flowers: But Danielle is somebody who has really impacted the way that I think about community. And I think one of the things that she said that has always stuck with me is, a lot of people are thinking, okay, what's the way for me to test out community on my business? And they're jumping immediately to, I guess you would say the MVP of a forum or of what we would think of as a community. But Danielle is the type where she'll be like, you don't need to jump to that, you just need to test one component of that. So maybe ask the question, can I get this group of 10 people to show up for four weeks on something? So she would say, I think... I hope I'm representing your words here if you're listening, Danielle, but-
Jillian Benbow: We'll find out. She'll be like, I can't believe you outed my tattoo machine. She's talked publicly about it, it's fine.
Noele Flowers: She would say, can you get them to do an event? Or something like that. So I would say that if you have a course and you're thinking about community, maybe think about testing some small component of it like that. Can you get them to come to a Q&A session? And then on the flip side, again, instead of jumping right to, I'm developing a whole course for a community, I might do challenge, are people interested in some paced-out learning experience within your community?
Jillian Benbow: That's so smart. And I see that a lot, especially Pat and whoever starts talking about things like this. People get super excited and they just want to do it because it sounds exciting and it's fun. And let's be honest, a lot of us are serial, like, ooh, new shiny thing. And so all this work starts going into something really heavy lift, like a course and no one ever stops to ask themselves why? Who is this for? How will they benefit? And does anybody want it, is probably the most important question. I know I see that a lot with people, also the, I made the thing and now no one wants it and I feel awful. And just having to sit with that, but also then decide, now what? And I think that advice is helpful for that person too, because you made this thing, it's not hitting, what part of it can you test to see? Can you get someone in the door?
Noele Flowers: Totally. And this is the other thing about best practices and advice in general. I'm definitely in the business of giving advice about community. I do this all the time on podcasts or my newsletter or Twitter or whatever. But when it comes down to it, what you're actually seeing, playing out in your tests is much more valuable than anything that you're hearing, in terms of best practice. So I think I'm always trying to push people to observe what is really happening and test different components of things and recognize that when we're giving advice or best practices, we're really saying, this is what I guess is going to happen based off of what your setup is. And similar things that have happened in the past, but we don't really know. Community and courses are a creative art.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. That's beautiful. I always say it's the wild west or a dumpster fire, but a creative art is a much prettier, prettier description. It's so true. I know people, I'll host office hours types events, just about community for our community members to talk about community. And so I usually preface it with like, look, the answer to every question is going to be, it depends, so bear with me. It's going to be, it depends and then follow-up questions because there's no model that fits everyone. And I think I get frustrated with the default. To your point earlier, people think community and they think forum. And it's like, that is not what you have to build.
Is that what is needed? Is it a support community for a product? Then yeah, maybe a forum is a good way for people to help each other, but that does not have to be community. Community could be just anything. Even on this, I'll ask you later, how do you define community? And is a sneak peek to later question, and everyone defines it differently. And often, it's not a forum. It's like, people with similar... Can be anything. I don't want to spoil some of the answers.
Noele Flowers: I know. Now, I'm going to be like, when you're in class and you know the question is coming and your head is like-
Jillian Benbow: No, wait. It's almost worse than just being asked and you have to come up with something immediately. Sometimes you don't want to know. Just kidding, I totally don't ask that question later. So you have one of the best newsletters, I'm curious just, how are you... The things you talk about is so thoughtful, you're very thoughtful in general, but you just have these very thoughtful insights. And I'm always just like, what a great topic. So selfishly, I'm curious just, how are you deciding what to focus on week to week? I know you consult and so you're helping people and you have real life situations you're dealing with that you can draw from. But just sometimes you just blow me out of the water with your topics, where I'm like, this is great. I needed this.
Noele Flowers: That is a really kind thing to say. Sorry if you're hearing my dog sneezing in the background here.
Jillian Benbow: It's a Cheez sneeze. Oh my gosh.
Noele Flowers: Yes, exactly. So it's also been a challenge for me because with my newsletter, I used to send it whenever I felt like it. And since I've been working more full-time in consulting, coaching and that kind of stuff, I've been pushing myself to stay consistent with it, which I'm happy to report, I have been sending a weekly newsletter for months. But a lot of it, ever since I've started writing about community, I think one of the big values that I have is trying to stay tactical. I really care about people coming out of what I'm sharing, not just with like, oh, I have a new way to think about something but I might actually be able to execute or do something with this information. I don't know why that has become so important to me, but that's the lens that I come through.
And a lot of those things come out of, as you said, conversations with clients where I'm noticing, oh, I've had three clients this week that were struggling with the exact same thing, or I'm getting this question, or a lot of times, they help me shake loose a new way of thinking about something or framing something that all of a sudden is working. I, for years, have been trying to help clients with goal setting and creating goals that are really symbiotic for their businesses and their communities and themselves and I finally hit on a framework for that two weeks ago. And that comes out of just lots of repetition for working with clients and that stuff. And when that kind of stuff happens, I like to blast it out into the universe.
Jillian Benbow: It's so great because you're saying it's one of those things where several clients are dealing with it. I think several community builders are probably also either have dealt with it or are, and just having that context, that perspective, it's like, one, I'm not alone. Yay. Two, there might be a different take that helps shift the framework in your head to solve that thing. It's great.
Noele Flowers: And a lot of times with community builders, I find also, I'm always trying to encourage more people to write newsletters or tweet about these things because a lot of times, it ends up being the same core take, but just the way that you communicated it hit with somebody and helped validate them. I would say I get a lot more of people being like, oh, I was secretly thinking this but now seeing it written out, now I feel comfortable communicating it to an executive. I get that way more than I get people being like, oh, I never thought of that before. It doesn't have to be the most original thing on the planet in order for it to be really useful to people.
Jillian Benbow: It's so true. It's like, it's that concept of like, there's enough business out there for everyone and we all have our voice that is unique. So you and I can say the same message, but someone might more identify with how you said it than how I say it. And the ultimate goal is accomplished with that. We're just trying to help people navigate things.
Noele Flowers: And validate, completely.
Jillian Benbow: And it's just like, yeah, yeah. That's one thing I like about just the community, profession, the world of community builders. I find that we all can't help ourselves because we just build community. That's what we do. We are eager to share. If something works well, we want other people to hear about it. If we're having a hard time, we want help from other community builders because that's just what we do. That's what we do in our communities. We can't help ourselves. So we do it together and it's just magic. And who knows what's happening with Twitter, speaking of dumpster fires, but at least for right now, I feel like there's... I begrudgingly stay because there's so many great relationships I have on there with other community builders and I just love the interactions. Maybe we'll find, is it Mastodon or Matador? I can never remember. Every time I go to it, I'm like, I feel old. How does this work?
Noele Flowers: I'm just so curious what's going to end up, because I would say solidly for the past two years, community or Twitter has been such a good place to connect with people about community. And then all of a sudden, everybody's like, is this thing on?
Jillian Benbow: Oh, yeah, I'm trying to figure out, I'm like, where are all the... What are we doing guys? Circle the wagons, community people, what's the plan?
Noele Flowers: We'll figure it out. I try to remember that with all of these things, it can feel very permanent but things change so quickly. There is that moment in 2020 where we were like, oh, we're relevant all of a sudden. And now we're having this funny little dip. But I'm just not too worried about it because the industry just evolves rapidly and I really trust us to figure out the next step.
Jillian Benbow: I'm curious your thoughts, let's dive into that a little. I mean, community as a whole, the pandemic was like, we were made for this because we've been doing this stuff and then suddenly, people needed us, in a way, they didn't. And even businesses were like, oh. And I think a lot of communities launched, there's a lot of job opportunities for community builders as businesses realize, oh, this is a thing, we could actually use this. And then now we're in the layoffs, both, and not community specific, just economically, we're in layoffs, definitely in tech.
I think a glimmer that I've seen is that community, I think, proved its value to some people that maybe didn't see it before. I know in past roles I've had of constantly having to fight to say, having the expense of a community team is worth it and here's why. It seems like more businesses accept yes, this is not an expense, this is an investment, which is fantastic. And I'm also seeing new community roles and new types of community as a profession pop up, specifically internal community, which is very exciting. I've been seeing more roles specific to a intersection of community in HR culture. It's fascinating. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on just where we're going now that it's no longer 2020 and we're still here?
Noele Flowers: Yeah. Well, I think we had a little moment where people were a lot more willing to take risks in 2020 in terms of investing. And I think you're right that people are now a little bit more sold on the idea that community can have business impact. But what I still see is a little bit of a big flail around what that impact is. And so I think what I see most commonly is, and it comes from... The call is coming from inside the house to a degree because, I think, we as community builders can have a tendency to be like, oh, it's going to impact retention, it's going to impact acquisition, it's going to impact content, it's going to... Every single thing.
And I think what can help a little bit is trying to focus on what your core pillar or metric is that's moving the needle and really designing a community that is purpose-built for that because where I see folks falling down, and then where I see executives getting confused about their investment is when we're trying to serve every single thing and the communities are confusing or they're just too much work to maintain. So we've got bloated teams or really bloated programs. So I think we're getting there but we still have a little bit more work to do in terms of defining what different types of programs do for businesses and making that message a little bit more clear.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I think that's so true. And it goes back to, test a thing and see, ask, even if you don't have a community, maybe you have customers, so ask, what do you think of this? Or what would you want? How can I convince you to log into this thing every day or multiple times a week? What would compel you to do that?
Noele Flowers: And also, if the answer is no, then what? So if you're doing that use of research and you're finding that members are not interested in community in that way, is there another part of the business that's really valuable to impact? So I think a good example of this is sometimes, community isn't about mobilizing every single customer and having a retention output, or it's not about getting new leads in the door. Sometimes it's about a customer council of 50 people who are really into the product and getting them to give rock solid feedback on it.
Jillian Benbow: Totally.
Noele Flowers: Which is a totally different program but one that might have a ton of business impact that's really clear to communicate.
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely. And I think that goes back to just not defaulting that we are going to have a community and it's a plug and play forum. You don't have to do that, you really don't. You could have, like you said, a council that meets X amount of times and does surveys or something. It can be that simple, it really can.
Noele Flowers: But of course, you all want to be Atlassian, they've got every single one of these things and they're nailing it.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, they are definitely the... It's like, so how are you doing this? Can I do a ride-along?
Noele Flowers: I know.
Jillian Benbow: They should have a tour day, at least for community builders, like come see all our secrets.
Noele Flowers: I would love a peek under the hood. I've been able to hang with certain people that worked at Atlassian on some of their programs, and I'm always so impressed with everything they do.
Jillian Benbow: It's like a, hey, let's go get a drink. Tell me everything. They're like, I thought you wanted to be friends. I do. But also, she could help me out.
Noele Flowers: Erica's been listening to this. I do, really. We are actually friends. So no shade here.
Jillian Benbow: No shade, Erica. But tell us, no. I think too, it's almost like to our detriment these North Star communities because they are doing all the things and doing them well, and I'm sure what we see might be the Instagram feed version of reality. It's not all puppies and roses, but it sure seems like it. I'm sure they have their challenges but it also... I think it's also a good reminder to all of us to look at our own programming and say, well, what could we do better and what could we drop? You don't have to do all the things. And Atlassian as a company, it's a beast, it's huge. They do so many things. They have so many parts, and that's not necessarily where all of us are. If you're not working at Atlassian, do you need an Atlassian level community? Maybe you just need one part of it.
Noele Flowers: Completely, yes. In 2023, I think my hope for the community industry is that everybody listening to this podcast drops one to five of their programs.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh. Don't tempt me with a good time.
Noele Flowers: No. Focus on one or two, nail them, deliver and measure impact, and we're going to be okay.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. And I think it's just, it's our achilles heel as community builders, we are just like, oh, I want to provide more value. Let's have more cool stuff. And at some point, you have to be like, this isn't the college dorm. You don't have to keep these people entertained 24/7 and make sure they're eating. We're not a RA. It's okay to create programming that... Sorry, if you heard my dog-
Noele Flowers: [inaudible] tail wag there.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, you heard a little shake it off.
Noele Flowers: I love it.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, and now she's itching or something.
Noele Flowers: I hope that stays in the edit.
Jillian Benbow: Anyways, point being, it's like we don't have to do it all and do it all amazing. I think we all as community builders, I think just as high achieving people in general, it's like, what else can we add? We need to launch, we need to... And it's like, or you could just have this very reliable program that people know when to show up and how to show up and they enjoy it.
Noele Flowers: Totally.
Jillian Benbow: Which even as I'm saying it, I'm like, but.
Noele Flowers: I really want to do my really fun program. But to your point of, it depends, earlier. This is one of the hardest, it depends to deliver is like, a lot of times, I'll ask my clients, how much do you want people to be interacting in your community? And almost every person, they're like, gut impulse is every day, multiple times a day. But then when you're pushing them on it, you're trying to actually answer the question, how frequently do they have to be tapping into this thing for it to be helpful to them? Because for you, at least in my opinion, for you to get business impact out of a community, it has to be genuinely helpful to the member. And there are some cases where some community personas, it's less helpful for them to have to tap into the community every single day than it is for them to do it once every two weeks. So it really depends on the person that you're serving and what you're trying to deliver for them.
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely. It's so easy to just get, and I'm saying this as someone who's currently doing this, it's like, it just get spread too thin with so many little components and add-ons. And from a value perspective, I don't think community members are expecting, here we are now, entertain us. They have a life. To your point, to just make it very clear, hey, when you come here, this is what you get, this is what you accomplish. And then you go and live your life. And it has to be compelling enough for them to come back.
Noele Flowers: And some of those communities are more social, some are more transactional. You might stick with them for five years, some you might be in for a month. And I think asking those questions when you're building a program and being a little bit okay with the answer that you get, instead of being like, oh, no, but I really want the community that people are going to stay with for five years and come in every single day. Sometimes that's not authentic to your audience.
Jillian Benbow: If it's a neighborhood group, sure. If they're going to live there that long, that makes sense. But if it's something like a learning experience, for example, that's something we launched our All-Access Pass and something I have to remind our team, because we're talking about churn and we're benchmarking right now because it's all so new. But I'm like, the goal of this is not for people to stay forever. The goal is they get something out of it because it's that learning model. They have access to our entire course catalog but then programming to help them get through it because as we know, people aren't finishing courses they buy, so this is solving that.
But you get to a point where you got to... It's like, it's time to graduate. I learned all the things I needed, that I came here for, and now it's time to move on. And of course, yes, we have a community that they can potentially go to after that because, of course, we do because we do it all. But it's also okay if then they just leave and take that knowledge and do cool things with it and hopefully think kindly of us. It's okay to have an... People grow out of things. It's fine, it's fine.
Noele Flowers: Totally. And I think to your point of actually understanding how long you want that journey to be, and then you have this other opportunity, once you're able to really successfully take people through that, that they got what they wanted to get and now they like you.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Now, they can refer people.
Noele Flowers: Yes, exactly. So can be a good thing.
Jillian Benbow: Alumni.
Noele Flowers: Mm-hmm.
Jillian Benbow: Do you talk about that much with your clients that you work with? Just the life cycle of a member and how to decide, how to figure out what a good goal, for All-Access Pass. My goal is you stay for at least a year, but after a year, I understand. If you stay for a quarter, you probably didn't need it that much, but I feel like a year will give you a really good skillset and friends and network and whatnot. Do you talk about that at all?
Noele Flowers: Yeah. I would actually say that retention is probably the most common business output that I'm optimizing for with my clients. And I think that's just because I work with a lot of entrepreneurs who are creating businesses where they're trying to cultivate a smallish pool of people, and they want to be with them for their journey in whatever capacity that is. And I think that, that can be really appealing to entrepreneurs because the prospect of trying to dominate an entire persona and be constantly acquiring new clients is not that appealing versus understanding for my, a thousand people that are customers or whatever it is, what can I continue to offer them?
But I think a lot of times, it's all about, you know I'm a musician, so now I'm thinking about mixing music, where you're pushing back this dial and you're pulling this one up. I think community is like that a lot too, where you're thinking about, if my journey is authentically really only a year long, does it make sense for me to have a annual subscription? Probably not. Everybody is going to turn from that versus doing something that's more monthly.
Jillian Benbow: Which we do.
Noele Flowers: Sorry.
Jillian Benbow: No, it's fine.
Noele Flowers: But I'm just saying, you find the answer to the question and then you get to tinker with all of the other pieces of it. It's not like, oh, rats, I found out that my journey is too short and now I'm screwed. You have control over the different components of the business model, and sometimes you have to tweak those other things to suit the reality.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I think one of my favorite things about community, well, life in general but definitely community, is like, nothing's permanent. You can change things. Even community guidelines, anytime I'm helping someone come up with community guidelines, because I freaking love them, I'm always like, this is a living document. It's going to evolve as your community evolves and it should. You should be looking at it at least once a year, at least. And you should be adding things, even like, maybe a situation comes up and you realize, people don't understand what I mean by this, change it.
Tell people, hey, we updated this community guideline. You don't have to spread, because so and so. But you say, it's come to our attention that this is being misinterpreted, so we're updating it to this. Let me know if you have questions. Okay, bye. And the same goes for programming for lifecycle goals, to your point, you can change things. It's okay. You can explain things and say, look, if it is a touchy subject, you can do that. You have to do it smartly.
Noele Flowers: Totally. In fact, you must explain things.
Jillian Benbow: Yes.
Noele Flowers: That's one of the things we know as community builders, is most things you want to proactively address instead of waiting for somebody to be upset. And that solves 95% of problems.
Jillian Benbow: Good communication, I think, prevents so many things. And every once in a while, I get myself in a situation where I'm like, what am I doing? Because you're just like, I'm moving fast, got to do this thing, make a change, boom, boom, ba. And then people are like, hold on. What? And then you look and you're like, I could have explained that better. I should have given more of a heads-up. Whatever it is. I think it's a constant evolution, but communities are made of humans. And so if you mess up, you just own it, which is, I'm usually like, you're right. It doesn't happen often, but just be human and say, hey, I misjudged this. I should have given more time. We should have gotten more feedback. I didn't realize this was going to be a thing. Now that I know it is, let's talk. You just have to be willing to talk to other humans. It's radical.
Noele Flowers: It's truly radical. You're like, when you receive feedback, you have to really listen. Yes.
Jillian Benbow: And say like, hey, I messed up. I'm sorry, if you'd like to talk about it, if you want to yell at me. And I guess it depends on your boundaries, but I'm like, sure, you want to hop on a call and just tell me I'm terrible and get it all out. You will not phase me. Do it, go for it. And nine times out of 10, those calls turned more into very empathetic interactions, where I'm like, hey. And maybe it's because they don't expect me to be like, I am really sorry. This is what I thought was happening. Whatever it is. And then they're like, oh, right, you're human. And I want to say I'm mad because of this but also, I understand. Nine times out of 10, they're like, I see why you did it.
Or I understand the decision the company made because as we all know, in community, if you're running a community, especially on behalf of an organization or a person or whatever, you sometimes get to deliver news that you had no choice in. You may not even agree with. And everyone's going to let you know they have a problem with it. And so you take that role. I've definitely learned to like, it's okay, you can hold space for people. And that shows them that even if they disagree with a company thing and they're frustrated and they even take it out on you, they know it's not you.
Noele Flowers: Totally. And it sounds like both a very thick skin and also knowledge of what your own boundaries are and what will and will not upset you to hear, which I think is so valuable for community builders.
Jillian Benbow: That was a long, hard road of learning. I think boundaries are so important. And also, obviously, for people running communities, but for community members, I've noticed that's something I've leaned into, is helping community members, figure out what their boundaries are, and then advocate for themselves. So you don't have to be obligated to hop on a call with people if that's not comfortable to you, or if someone asks you for help and you don't have the capacity, just saying, I don't have the capacity. No is a complete sentence. But especially with digital communities, where often, it's type, it's like, just say, I can't right now, sorry, or whatever it is. This is my new thing, is digital etiquette, is what I've liked to call it.
Noele Flowers: When are we getting the blog post on that?
Jillian Benbow: Well, actually, I was like, should I write an Emily Post of community, but I'm like, I'm the last person that should do that.
Noele Flowers: Wait, that's such a cool idea.
Jillian Benbow: I know. But it's like-
Noele Flowers: I love that.
Jillian Benbow: Well, yeah, maybe. I've decided if I ever write a community book, it will be on digital etiquette. The problem is, I think the people who need to read it are the ones that wouldn't, like, mom, here, read this. I'm just finding there's a generation gap in... Excuse me, and not just generation, but there's self-awareness gap for a lot of people on what is an appropriate way to come into a room online. And as we have more and more types of communities and that bring different kinds of people together, just understanding how to join a space and assess what the vibe is basically, and then behave within the norms of that. It's like traveling to a different country and not respecting culture and then wondering why no one will talk to you. It's like that, but a bit online.
Noele Flowers: I mean, I'm now 30 but I will admit that I'm often scrolling TikTok, and-
Jillian Benbow: I'm 41, and I get the TikTok where it's like, you've been scrolling for a while, and I'm like, get out of my feed.
Noele Flowers: Because we don't know how to stop. But sometimes, I'll look on the comments and I'll realize, oh, for a lot of people, they have a hard time remembering that they're interacting with real person. And that I think is something that as community builders, or at least I'll speak for myself, I don't have a hard time remembering that. I always right away, I'm like, ooh, that was mean. But then I'll realize people need a little bit of practice to grow that muscle of remembering that they're talking to a human.
Jillian Benbow: I even have to remember that in communities when someone says something or they're dominating a Zoom call or whatever, and you're just like, oh my God. And then it's like, wait, I'm managing this community. I need to deal with this. I could talk about digital etiquette forever, but I want to make sure we're talking about other stuff as well. And we're towards the end. So before we go into our rapid fire, which is where you may have already heard a question and hopefully haven't been stewing on too much. I'm curious, we always do this at the very end, but real quick, I want you to just tell everybody one consulting, who are you working with primarily? If someone's like, oh, she is consulting and I let... There's a vibe check here, who are you working with? Are you available? All of that. Tell us about your consulting work.
Noele Flowers: I mean, I would say I'm available-ish. I usually can't book something tomorrow, but I can usually book something a couple of weeks or a month out. But I work with clients in two big ways. So one is coaching, call-based consulting, whatever you want to call it, which tends to be more with independent entrepreneurs or community managers themselves that are working at small businesses. And that is really just people either booking one call with me for us to tease out a specific problem that they're dealing with, or sometimes people will do like, I want to book six calls and talk through my entire strategy or hold a monthly or things like that.
So that's more of us working together one-on-one to dig into problems. And to your point earlier of that, it depends, question, I think that's a lot of what I'm trying to build with clients, is that inquiry process of, when I have this challenge, what are the 10 questions that I have to ask to push me towards my solution? So that's one side of it. And then I also work sometimes with bigger brands and companies on larger consulting engagements, strategy stuff. But that just really depends on the project and whether it matches up with my expertise and community, education, startup, land stuff. So it depends.
Jillian Benbow: That's great. I love that this is what you're doing now. I'm sure it's keeping you busy, but-
Noele Flowers: Indeed.
Jillian Benbow: There's something fun about getting to, because I'm a nosy bee, so getting to have your hands in so many different communities and hear what people are working on and what the problems are, what we were talking about earlier, it just sounds fun.
Noele Flowers: It's oddly something that's gone through my entire career. I've always had a community role that had some, working with lots of different business owners, element to it. And I really like that. And I think one thing I've really learned about consulting also is that it always depends on what... It's not like there's three consulting packages. I think any consultant will tell you this, that are always the same. It's more like, what needs to be addressed in that situation, which is fun to think about each time.
Jillian Benbow: That's super fun. I have a much higher level version of that with just the nature of our communities. There's a lot of solopreneur types in them and a lot who are launching communities. So I'm always like, well, just add me to your community and I'll poke around and then we can talk about it because I'm just like, yes, I want to see all the communities. Let me in. I'm so nosy. Well, it's like, how many communities am I technically an admin of? It's so many. And it comes from a place of like, well, one, I'm nosy, but two, I mean, I don't know everything. I would never even promise anything but I'll go in and go through the member path and tell you what I think. I'd love to. It's fun. It's the best, anyways. Anyways, I have a final question and then we'll do rapid fire. I want to hear more about the EP you're working on.
Noele Flowers: Oh gosh.
Jillian Benbow: This is for David who's listening as editing is happening. He's so excited about this as a music composer himself.
Noele Flowers: Hi, David. David and I have been emailing back and forth about this and have a coffee set up. So Hello, David, in editing world. So I think that this is one of the things that makes community a fit for me as a person, is that I think it allows a lot of space for the whole self. And part of my whole self is that I am a musician. I've been writing music and playing in a band and doing that kind of stuff. I sing in choirs too. And part of what I left my full-time job to do is focus a little bit more on that side of myself and nurture that for a while. So I've been releasing music and I have a whole six song EP coming out in a little less than a month. And a couple of the songs are out already, and you can listen to them wherever you do that, Spotify, Apple Music, all those places.
Jillian Benbow: Just look up your name all under your real name, pop band.
Noele Flowers: Yes, yes. I know, it's such a... It probably will become a problem at some point that I have two different main things that are both just under my full real name, but that is what it is right now, so.
Jillian Benbow: I think that's the way the world is going though. We're all accepting that, look, yes, I do this but I also do all these other things. I don't think one job title should be our whole identity because we all have so much more going on.
Noele Flowers: And it's all me, and it's all happening every day. I'm doing this, and then later on, I'm going and playing with somebody who might play a show with me. So it's always both things happening every single day.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I love it. I'm looking forward to that part. I think the younger generations are so much more like, that is just like, yeah, that's what you do. And I'm older than you, but for me, it's like, I grew up in a very like, here's your checklist. Go to school-
Noele Flowers: The career.
Jillian Benbow: ... buy a house, get married. You have the one career and a pension. And that all fell apart as I was growing up, but it was still the norm. And so I'm really excited that young at heart, I guess, because I'm like, yep, I'm opting into this multi-passionate route. It's so much more interesting than just, I just don't want to... Yes, I love working in community. It's a piece of me, for sure, but it's just a part of me.
Noele Flowers: Yes. And I feel like everybody... At least every time I have a conversation about work with anybody, I find that they're like, is this about just work or are we going to be people here? Can we talk about all the things?
Jillian Benbow: You can only tell me so much about being an accountant before I've left, before I've totally disassociated and I'm over in la-la land and vice versa. Well, most times people are like, what do you do? And it's like, I work on the internet. Don't worry about it.
Noele Flowers: What's your job? You don't want to know.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I observe human behavior on a daily basis. Plot twist, I'm an internet troll, full-time. Well, thank you for taking that little segue journey with me. We are going to go into what I call the rapid fire round of questions. If you're not familiar-
Noele Flowers: Let's do it.
Jillian Benbow: I'm going to ask you a question. First thing that comes to mind, hence the rapid fire, just a quick whatever response, I will do my best not to ask follow-up questions because I know I will have them. And anybody who listens to the end of this podcast knows, it's very hard for me to stick with this. So we're going to give it a go though. So-
Noele Flowers: I'm scared. Let's go.
Jillian Benbow: Don't be. And there's no math. Community people always are like, oh, thank God. Quick calculation. Noele, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Noele Flowers: Oh my gosh. So this is actually a funny one. Maybe TMI for the whole podcast, but I have a heart condition that I was diagnosed with when I was a child. So I wanted to be specifically a pediatric nephrologist because that was what one of my doctors specialty was. But then I realized you have to go to medical school to do that and that discounted the whole thing for me, so.
Jillian Benbow: That's lovely though. I'm sure whoever that doctor is out there, who's like, wait, what do you do for work?
Noele Flowers: I know. Dr. Karen, if you're listening.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, yeah. They definitely are. All right. The question of the hour, Noele, how do you define community?
Noele Flowers: Oh gosh. The one that I've been stewing over this whole time. I think the easiest way to define it is just many to many interactions instead of one to many. I often try to specify further. I'll put it this way, I think definitions can be useful for us when we're trying to suss out a specific situation. So if you're a job-seeker and you're asking me that question, my answer is going to be different, so that you can look at a job post and understand, is this a community role? But if we're talking about community conceptually, that's how I'd put it.
Jillian Benbow: I love it. I think it's great. All right. If you don't have one, pretend you have a bucket list, what is something on that list that you have done? So a cool thing you've done in your life?
Noele Flowers: This is funny. This never would've been on my bucket list because I never would've thought it possible because spoiler alert, but I am five one barely. But I have been in a New York City Fashion Week show before because... And you're like, how? How did this happen?
Jillian Benbow: No, that's really cool.
Noele Flowers: I used to sing in a choir in the city that got, for a Moncler Grenoble show, they did this really high concept choir thing, and my choir got hired to do it. And so I got to wear $4,000 worth of ridiculous skiwear and stand on a stage and do the choir stuff. It was crazy.
Jillian Benbow: That is so cool. Did you do a crazy runway walk, just because?
Noele Flowers: I did not walk the runway. I should find a picture of this and send it to you but it was all these different cubes that were arranged in a grid and I was standing in a cube that was five up. And then the actual models, it's me and my choir, and then a bunch of six foot two people that are actual models.
Jillian Benbow: That's really cool. I feel like that's a go-to and two truths and a lie.
Noele Flowers: Oh, totally, totally, which all of my go-tos are things that I got to do through being in choirs because choirs [inaudible] crazy places.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I feel like you should have some sort of, join a choir, link. This is the like, if you haven't been in a choir, here's why you should be. It's amazing.
Noele Flowers: Truly my passion. If I could be a professional choir singer for my job, I absolutely would be.
Jillian Benbow: That would be your dream job. Ooh, that's a good question. It's your dream job but everyone will be like, what'd I do? Haha. And it was like, no, but really. My boss is listening.
Noele Flowers: I'm my boss, so yeah.
Jillian Benbow: There you go. So we're still on the bucket list. Proverbial bucket list, what is something on that list that you have not yet done?
Noele Flowers: I'm going to cop out of this one and just say, one of the things that I've become very committed to in my life is not having an intense plan because I used to be a really intense planner and it really doesn't do me any good because things always change and you're always finding yourself in funny new places. I moved up to a rural area from the city two years ago. I never thought I would do that but it was the best impulse decision I ever made. And I think what I hope is that in my life, I'm always open to making an impulse decision that just sounds fun. And I think we need a little bit more of that, is like, what sounds fun to me right now. So maybe that's going to pop out, but that's what I'm going to go with.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. I'll allow it. I'm in charge too, and I say that's awesome. What's a book or if... I don't know, are you a big reader?
Noele Flowers: I am a big reader, yes.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. What's a book you've read lately or a book that you just love and you wish everyone would love? Just what's your go-to recommendation right now?
Noele Flowers: Yes. So I-
Jillian Benbow: You're smiling so big, like yes.
Noele Flowers: I'm a huge fiction reader. I do not read a lot of community related stuff, so please feel free to send me death threats.
Jillian Benbow: I'll just send you my digital etiquette book/blog post whenever.
Noele Flowers: My book recommendation is The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty. It is this phenomenal novel, the first book I read this year, and it's ruined reading for me because every book that I've read since this year, I've been like, it's not as good as The Rabbit Hutch.
Jillian Benbow: Really?
Noele Flowers: Takes place in this small, fictional town in Indiana. And it's about the town being, quote-unquote, revitalized and all of the ways the people that already lived in the town are interacting with that. It's phenomenal.
Jillian Benbow: I'm going to have to add that to my list knowing it might ruin future books for me, but I just finished Her Majesty's Royal Coven.
Noele Flowers: Ooh.
Jillian Benbow: And which is one of a trilogy, and the second one's coming out in a month, I think. And it was one of those things where I was like, I have to wait a month? Very good. It's science fiction. It's witchy, but it was so good. And the end, oh my gosh, anybody listening? I need the other one to come out, anyways.
Noele Flowers: That's such a good feeling when you're in a trilogy.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Well, I like it when I'm late to the party and-
Noele Flowers: Oh, yes.
Jillian Benbow: So I start reading and it's like I started watching Game... I've read Game of Thrones. I started watching it when right before season seven came out. So I never had to wait. So I just-
Noele Flowers: It's [inaudible] . That has recently happened to me with that show. That's on Showtime, Your Honor. They just put out the second season, so I was like, oh, I'll give this a try. And I was like, yes, the whole season, the first season is just waiting for me.
Jillian Benbow: That's awesome. That's the best feeling. I love that with books. Although then it's like, and I'm not super social anyways, but it's like, guess what? I'm never leaving the house because I'm reading. I just let it take over. It's great.
Noele Flowers: It's a point of contention in my relationship. My partner's always like, you don't want to hang out, you're reading again? And I'm like, yeah.
Jillian Benbow: It's like, I'm escaping reality. Well, this is my hobby.
Noele Flowers: I'm in a completely different universe right now.
Jillian Benbow: I'm literally on a different planet. I love it. We can send our partners off to go do things that we can sit and read. It'll be perfect. Come visit. All right. So this is going to be an interesting question given your impulse ways, but if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you want to live?
Noele Flowers: I live in a rural area, I've also lived in a city, but a big city, I lived in New York. I would love to try living in a small city, somewhere where it's a little bit more walkable, but still not huge. So, I don't know, maybe Richmond, Virginia or something like that. They're going to be like, that's so random, but a small city.
Jillian Benbow: No, I dig that, I dig that. I live in a small ski town.
Noele Flowers: Do you?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. And I could never live somewhere like New York City. No, it's just too loud and too much and too anonymous and too much concrete.
Noele Flowers: It's a lot.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Cool to visit. I love London but I think part of it is... I feel like it's more expansive instead of tall, if that makes sense, because it's on an island. So I guess I could live in London with the caveat of not being in the heart. I would want to live out a little, but still on the tube. I feel like Boulder is probably the biggest I'm comfortable with. Even Denver, I'm like, no, no.
Noele Flowers: Other small cities, there are probably countless that... I don't know, this is something that if my partner was like, do you want to go move to, I don't know, some random city like Minneapolis for a year? I would probably be like, okay, let's do it. Let's see how it goes.
Jillian Benbow: I think it could be fun.
Noele Flowers: Yeah. It could be fun.
Jillian Benbow: Final question. Sorry for not being rapid fire. I failed again. How do you want to be remembered?
Noele Flowers: Oh, I would like to be remembered by the closest people in my life. And I don't care about anybody else, just as somebody who cared about them. Sappy answer, but-
Jillian Benbow: No, it's great. It's actually-
Noele Flowers: That's the truth. That's what I lean into more and more as I get older, is just caring about my community in the very local sense of the word.
Jillian Benbow: That's so apropos. See, it wasn't so bad, the rapid fire. Well, thank you for-
Noele Flowers: You did amazing.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, thanks. As I'm like, no, I'll answer, even though you didn't ask. Thank you for being on the show. It's always just a delight to get to hang out with you. Let our audience know where they can definitely find your newsletter because I think everyone, if you're not already on the list, get on the list, and just where people can find you on the internet.
Noele Flowers: Thank you so much for having me. This was a blast, such a great conversation. If you want to find me online, I'm pretty easy to Google. You just have to know how to spell my name, which is a bit of a red herring. It's Noele with one L and an E at the end. My last name is Flowers, and can find me on my website, is my first and last name, Twitter, LinkedIn, if you must. And now music under the same name, so very Googleable.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Noele Flowers: Of course. Thank you . For having me.
Jillian Benbow: And that's a wrap. I hope you enjoyed listening to Noele and my conversation. You might have heard some dogs as well in the background. Her dog, Cheez, had a sneeze, hence the Cheez sneeze.
Find Noele at her website, noeleflowers.com, and definitely, if you don't already, subscribe to her newsletter because it's great. That is it for today, and we will see you next Tuesday.
Learn more about Noele at her website, noeleflowers.com. That's N-O-E-L-E, Flowers, like the flower, plural, dot com. And anywhere on social at Noele Flowers, and LinkedIn, if you must.
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.