How many new members do you need each month to build a thriving community business? That number is smaller than you think, but are you ready to take full advantage of a slow-growth strategy?
In this episode, Lisa Barroca of Cultivate joins us to share her best-performing tactics for sustainable membership scaling. As manager of the Cultivators Community, she curates a digital space for employees committed to driving change in the workplace. Lisa is all about looking past vanity numbers and zeroing in on the practices that make a difference.
So what are the pros and cons of slow growth? How do you determine your community health status and take action in the right direction? What does your member lifecycle look like, and how do you optimize it for maximum impact?
We tackle all this today with Lisa. She and our host Jillian also discuss balancing features and costs to choose the best community platform, building a user experience in the shadow of Facebook, onboarding and introduction spaces within a community, and more.
Join us for this incredible chat!
Lisa is a community enthusiast with a background in peer support frameworks, human-centered design, and facilitation. She is currently at Cultivate where she is the Community Manager of the Cultivators Community, a digital gathering space for employees who are committed to driving positive change at work. She believes in curiosity and relationship building as tools for shifting the systems and world we live in.
In This Episode
- Creating empowering workplaces within large companies
- The Cultivators Community for employees committed to change
- The pros and cons of a slow growth strategy
- Why new member acquisition can be a misleading metric
- Focusing on member lifecycle for maximum business impact
- Running periodic community health surveys
- Finding the best community platform in the shadow of Facebook
- Why your introduction space is vital to membership success
- On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong [Amazon affiliate link]
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 075: Lisa Barroca of Cultivate and the Advantages of Slow Growth
Lisa Barroca: There is this scene in Jurassic Park with Jeff Goldblum's character, and it's like just “You were so focused on whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if you should.” The thing is like, "Oh yeah, of course, we want to be open to more people. We want to support more people. We want to do more things." I think the challenge is really seeing, "Is that really the best thing? Is fast growth the best thing for our members, the best thing for our business, or is fast growth a quick fix type thing that we'll then have to backtrack, and make up for later?"
Jillian Benbow: Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the Community Experience Podcast. If you don't already know me, hi, I'm Jillian Benbow. I'm the host of the show. Today, I'm talking to Lisa Barroca of Cultivate. Oh my gosh, we have such a fun conversation. Things that are mentioned in the beginning that I don't explain are then explained at the end, so hang until the end to get the full story on why we were talking about paper-wrapped textbooks, because it's worth it. This is a great conversation. We are talking about slow growth in communities, and the benefits of that.
We are talking about boundaries. We are talking about onboarding. We are talking about the social pariah that is Facebook groups to community, to social online engagement. We have the best conversation. I think this is one of those conversations that anyone building community will completely feel like they're a part of and in the room, so enjoy.
I am here with the lovely Lisa Barroca of Cultivate. We've already been having a blast before I hit record talking, so we're just going to keep going, because I haven't scared her off yet. Welcome to the show, Lisa.
Lisa Barroca: Thank you so much for having me. I'm sad that our talk of book covers in high school is not recorded, but we'll get back there.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, that should be a bonus episode, because that was a fantastic, fantastic conversation that so many people could relate to, but at last we're here to talk about other things. Tell us about you, Lisa. You're the community manager of Cultivate. What else? What makes you tick?
Lisa Barroca: I am. Like you said, I'm the community manager of Cultivate, which is where I support the Cultivators community. Cultivate, the company, is a professional services firm, and we are really focused on research and building education programs, and facilitation to make large companies more empowering places to work. The way that we do that is by empowering folks that we call Cultivators. Those are people who are committed to making positive change in their organizations. That's our client services side, but I get to work on our community side, which acknowledges that not everyone's in a large organization.
Maybe not everyone has access to organizational budget, but they might see something, and want to do something in their company, whether that is making a change around equity, introducing a new product, talking about a new policy or culture initiative. So, the community is really for everyone to support them in that mission. That's what I get to do every day. Other than that, I am a writer. I am a gal about town in Ithaca, New York. I'm very obsessed with where I live, so I always have to shout it out. I have one very sweet dog son named Remington.
Lisa Barroca: That is a bit about me. I'm really, really passionate about community. I am really interested in community as a practice ground for the worlds that we want to see, and trying to investigate the ways that we can do things differently, and the ways that we get together.
Jillian Benbow: It's fascinating, the work you do at Cultivate. The name makes even more sense now, but I'm curious just... The communities you're running there now, it's mostly employees of whatever companies, but they're all there with this commitment to enhance the workplace it sounds like, or just how we work. What stuff are you guys doing in there, like programming and that... I'm just genuinely curious what it's like, because it sounds wonderful.
Lisa Barroca: Thank you. I'm really thrilled to get to work with all those folks, because just hearing about the things that they do, and the things that they come up with to do is really amazing. We're recording this in early February. Actually, I pushed out the recording of this podcast a little bit because we had our first ever conference in late January called Cultivator Con. That was a chance to really celebrate the work of cultivators. We had 11 wonderful speakers give 10 talks. One of them was with two folks on different components of making change from data, from finding your co-conspirators.
The wild thing throughout that process that I realized was that this process of making change is a lot like building community. You have to do the same things. You have to find your people. You have to get vulnerable in sharing an idea. You have have to have data to back up what you're trying to do. You have to focus on one or just a couple of things in order to get anything done. The conference was our big baby for the last few months for sure. It was really incredible to get a chance to celebrate those stories and those change initiatives and those folks.
Other than that, I had come from a peer support background. So, one thing I was really interested in when I came to this community, I had never worked in professional services before, didn't super know what that meant. One of the things I really wanted to do was create a peer support space around work. How do we come together, share the challenges that we face at work, and get support and feedback on those things? We have a, right now, monthly, it might move up to be more frequent, event called Action Hour, where folks do just that. They bring a challenge, we break into breakout rooms, and folks just get a chance to be heard, and get some advice. We also do monthly webinars and learning initiatives. We bring some of our learning programs that we develop on the client side into our community so that people can have those tools, and learn and use them to do whatever it is they are trying to do to make positive change. That's a little bit about what we do. We are pretty events focused. Our folks are pretty busy, so we find that having the chance to set that time to come together is what works best for our folks right now.
Jillian Benbow: That's all so great. I love something you're implying, but I'd love to dive into is just this idea of intentional community and intentional community building. I know you are passionate about something I'm also passionate about, which is slow growth community, that slow burn and very intentional growth. I'm curious, one, do you want to just talk generally how you view that, your opinions of that, and also just maybe examples of how you do that in your community now? How is that put into practice, because I think this is something.
I think a lot of community builders forget that actually, slow growth is fantastic. A lot of us are under pressure from companies we work for, especially if they're funded, and growth is the top priority and whatnot. So, just talking about this and ways it can be done, I think, is helpful to anybody, whether that is your situation or you run your own community, and you feel obligated to rapidly grow.
Lisa Barroca: I love that topic. I think growth is like a sexy metric. You can say like, "X percent growth," and that sounds really great, but I think growth is often a misleading metric, and that it actually doesn't tell you anything about how your community is doing. It's getting bigger, but is it actually scaling? I don't think growth equals scale in the way that those two are sometimes equated. Are the new people coming in? Are they staying? Are they staying engaged? Are they getting value out of the community space? Do they feel trust in the community space to be able to share the things that they need to share, or speak up if they don't love something that's going on, or have a problem or challenge?
I actually came my... I've had two community manager roles where that was in my JD, and the first one, we did grow very rapidly. Part of that was the pandemic, and everyone's stepping online. A pandemic and a product launch at the same time is a wild, wild ride.
Jillian Benbow: Yes.
Lisa Barroca: We wound up with 300% growth pretty rapidly. I think that that was very exciting, and we certainly wanted to shout it out, but growing that fast in an unexpected way left our community team being like, "Oh gosh, we didn't necessarily create our processes to scale that quickly." So, we were still trying to do the very manual things that we had been doing that had worked when we had X number of folks, and finding out very quickly that we couldn't really do them with fairness. For example, if there was a community agreement violation, our protocol was really to have a conversation with that person, and understand where the miscommunication was, and what the intent was, and how we could move forward and make sure things were explained.
When your community's growing super rapidly, it would be really nice to promise that, but if you can't deliver on it, it's no longer a valid processing to really tell your members about. I think we faced a lot of growth challenges there just trying to adapt to the pace on the go. One of the things in my community now is we cover folks around the world. We cover folks across industry and job title and company. It seems like we have a pretty wide berth of folks that we could ask to join our community, but we are growing by word of mouth right now. That is something that we did with our conference. We wound up having 860 folks register for our first conference completely through word of mouth to reach out.
Jillian Benbow: That's awesome.
Lisa Barroca: Big, big props to our marketing lead, Sydney, because that was really her intentional work. What we're finding is that the folks who find their way into our community understand what it is, and they want to be there. Because they're coming in that way rather than just a like, "I'll check it out. Why not? There's 30,000 people here already. I might as well." I think having that smaller number, and growing slowly doesn't give you that sexy growth metric, but it does give you a chance to build those relationships, and adjust those processes as you go, rather than hitting that critical point where things can go south pretty quickly if you aren't able to adapt, and you don't have that bandwidth.
Jillian Benbow: It's so true. That's something we talk about a lot with people considering building community is like, "Don't promise the world because you cannot deliver it at scale." When you have 50 people in your community saying like, "Oh, I'll do one calls with everybody or whatever," even 50 honestly, that's a lot. Then you grow it, and this expectation has been set. It's like, "Cool, I hope you enjoy working 90 hours a week taking calls, because you promised to sing," or you have to say, "Haha, just kidding." Nobody likes that, so it's better to just under promise, overdeliver in a way, but then adjust accordingly.
Lisa Barroca: I always joke that there is this scene in Jurassic Park with Jeff Goldblum's character, and it's like just you were so focused on whether or not you could. You didn't stop to think if you should.
Jillian Benbow: Yes.
Lisa Barroca: I want that on all my community things, because I think the thing is like, "Oh yeah, of course, we want to be open to more people. We want to support more people. We want our existing members to have access to more connection. We want to do more things." That's a very real... I mean, I definitely feel that all the time. Of course, I always want to do more. I think the challenge is really seeing, "Is that really the best thing? Is fast growth the best thing for our members, the best thing for our business, the best thing for the mission that we're trying to achieve together, or is fast growth a quick fix type thing that we'll then have to backtrack, and make up for later?" Because in that case, what's the point?
Jillian Benbow: For sure. For sure. It's interesting too, because there's a lot of data points. Anyone who's reporting to a CEO or a board or whatever, you're often reporting on data. Everyone wants that arrow to just keep going up. I think it's interesting and valuable to be open to looking at different metrics, because user acquisition, net new members this month grew, and people are always like, "That's great."
But in reality, it's a vanity metric. It doesn't actually mean anything if someone signed up for your community. The life cycle of a community member is so much more important, so having 10 people join, and nine of the 10 go through and hit the milestones of lifecycle onboarding that you want to see, and they are participating is so much more valuable than 50 people joined, and one person did that. I'm curious, in your current company or just in general, do you ever have to have those conversations with people about, "Hey, I know we're really focused on this thing, but in actuality, here's what really matters. Look at this?"
Lisa Barroca: I feel very lucky. I'm on a very small team there. We're under 20 folks, so I actually report directly to our CEO, and he has experience with building community within an organization, which is so valuable because he has experience leveraging volunteers. He has experience building events and those types of things, so I think we do have more of a common language than I think a lot of folks talking to their leadership may have who maybe are a little more removed from that community experience. But we definitely have had conversations when it comes to growth about, "What is better if it is that fast or that slow growth, if it makes sense to be going out and recruiting people, or if it makes sense to grow by word of mouth."
I do feel very grateful that, in setting my metrics, I'm listened to there. We do have the agreement and the understanding that our community health metrics, which is a survey that we do every six months in our community, which is something that I adopted from Danielle Maveal, Danielle, you're a hero. One of her newsletters about building a community health survey is something that I referenced time and time again, and was really supportive in building our own community health metrics. We're looking at things like retention. We're looking at things like how are people feeling in the community? Is it accomplishing its purpose? Are they feeling more empowered at work as a result of being here? What kind of things are they using? What of our features are they absolutely not using at all, and don't see a use case for?
I think making sure that we stay useful to the folks that are here so that those folks hopefully then go out and tell other people to come and join is what I'm really more focused on at this point. I think something like our conference when we had members sharing that they were so excited to go, and then jumping into chat and communicating, and members volunteering as speakers or as advisors was a little bit of a proof point that I was really proud of that folks are engaged, and they do want to be here. They care about what we're doing, and they're invested in doing it together.
Jillian Benbow: Every six months, that's great, because that's like... They're a big thing, or maybe... I don't know. Do you have tips? Did you figure out through trial and error how to streamline getting people to fill it out and then analyzing the results?
Lisa Barroca: I'm also very lucky there, and that our... She just transitioned to a different role in the company, but our faculty advisor, her name is Maureen Gillespie. She is an organizational psychologist. She was in charge of-
Jillian Benbow: You got a stacked staff over there.
Lisa Barroca: We really do. I can't shout out my team enough. That is... I don't know. The first however many episodes of my own podcast will just be me waxing on about how great they are and talented and amazing and funny and silly and the best, but-
Jillian Benbow: That sounds great. This is... If you're hiring, just send the link. I'm sure everyone's like, "This sounds great."
Lisa Barroca: Come on down.
Jillian Benbow: Anyways, sorry. Go ahead.
Lisa Barroca: Again, I was really lucky, and that I was able to go to Maureen who was at the time in charge of data and metrics, and has a background in that, and say, "Here's the survey I want to run." She was like, "Great. Great starting point." She was able to help me pull some of the bias out of it, pull some of the leading language out of it so that we wound up with this really solid survey. She has been so helpful in looking at that data with me. What's helpful... We have something called the organizational empowerment assessment, which is one of the services that we offer, which based on our own research developed empowerment model is a way of looking at how employees in a department or in a company are feeling about their time at work and their experience at work.
We had that data framing, and we had a precedent of being data driven at the company. So, between Danielle's guidance with her newsletter and Maureen's expertise, I felt very lucky to be able to plug into that expertise and talent to make what we have. Getting folks to do it, I'm sure as any community folks listening know, is another story and another challenge, but one thing that we've done is pivot to asking folks directly to do it, rather than posting a general post. Folks want to help. They're willing to...
It's an anonymous survey, but they're usually willing to be like, "Sure. I'll answer it. I'll take 10 minutes, and give you some feedback," so props to our community members also.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, obviously.
Lisa Barroca: Always.
Jillian Benbow: They're obviously amazing based on the structure of this company. I have no doubt. I'm actually have a tab open looking. It's like, "Yes, I do want to join. Yes, I am a Cultivator." That's fantastic. I would actually say if Maureen's cool with it, you should even consider some of the things she might have brought up that you hadn't considered. You said removing bias and those sorts of things. You could totally create a template, and sell it or give it or whatever. I don't know if you have your own newsletter or anything.
Lisa Barroca: The interesting thing is too is we work with a lot of internal community leaders, so ERG leads, community of practice leads. That's many of the folks in our community, which isn't surprising to me, because I feel like communities as change agents, of course. It doesn't surprise me that there's a big Cultivator, community leader overlap, but that is a really good idea. I definitely will talk to her about that, because I'd love to make it available for more folks, and also get their feedback on what they think works and doesn't.
Jillian Benbow: That's so important not to harp. I know we both totally agree on this, but just talking to your community, and giving people that anonymous outlet to answer those sorts of questions is so powerful. I have a very open door policy. I sometimes send mass DMs to people. It's just like, "Hey, how's your membership going? If you need anything, let me know." The amount of responses I get from that, and not even intentionally trying to do anything research based with that, but the trends that you see, the anecdotal stuff, it's so amazing. So, actually taking the time to create a more research-backed and driven process, I mean, it's a no-brainer.
I feel challenged to... You work on a template. I'll work on creating one for my community, because we haven't done a survey in a while. I like that you have that cadence, because I also think that helps teach your members like, "This is the thing that happens every..." They start to... They know it's coming, or that's just part of the experience like, "There's going to be a survey every six months," and so they're more likely to just adopt the habit of, "Oh, time to fill it out." Do you share the results with your community?
Lisa Barroca: We do. It's something I'd like to do more of, I would say. We're a community that is based on Slack right now. We are starting an experiment to see if we want to move to a LinkedIn group in part or completely. Right now, they're going to operate concurrently for the time being, but we are finding that Slack is not intuitive for a lot of folks to access, especially if they're in a large company, their computer might block it.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, really?
Lisa Barroca: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: That's a trip. It's been such a part of my experience, career experience. Every community job I've ever had, we use Slack as a company, so I forget that not everyone has Slack communities that they're a part of. That's interesting.
Lisa Barroca: It's one of those things where we're trying to meet people where they're at, and also understand better where we can find them. I think that's been just a platform challenge. Also, just the change to messages deleting after 90 days has been something that led to us forming a resource database on Notion so that we have the things that are shared in one place, so you learn to adapt and be agile.
Jillian Benbow: That's interesting. Is that a free Slack group then if they delete every 90 days?
Lisa Barroca: It is because our membership is free, so we really try to be very cost conscious.
Jillian Benbow: Pretty scrappy. Well, I mean, most people are on LinkedIn, so that would be an option. It's funny, there are so many community platforms out there, but I mean candidly, I'm not sure there's... I've yet to see one rim that fits every use case. You know what I mean? Then it not being a gazillion dollars if it does.
Lisa Barroca: There are so many incredible... I can't remember the name of the platform itself, but I actually... I did see school. I know you had Noelle on the podcast. I just listened to her.
Jillian Benbow: Yes.
Lisa Barroca: One of the things that we did was learn how to do a really in-depth platform comparison. In that process, I found this dream platform for our use case. It's wonderful, and it's so not affordable. It's my dream. I think about it from time to time wistfully.
And have talked about it. We, I mean, looked at this platform, and we were wistful together. I don't think it's in the cards right now, but we were able to be like, "Let's revisit this in a couple years, and see where we're at, and if it'll operationally save us more on the duct taping it together on the back end to just have this platform or another platform, because there's new amazing ones happening all of the time."
Jillian Benbow: That's the thing. Even the last five years, just imagine what's going to happen in the next few between the existing platforms and the ones that aren't even out yet. Things will change. Like everything, it's going to become more accessible. I mean, if AI can... If you can tell ChatGPT to create a web code for your website, and it'll do that, and you can just use it, and you don't know how to program, imagine what will happen in community. Equally exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I do appreciate that we aren't limited to things like Facebook groups.
There are just a lot of options for creating smaller budget communities that used to not exist. I mean, I worked for many companies where the community... the platform was built by the engineers there, and then that was a whole thing of trying to get time to fix things and whatnot, versus just having a third party plug and play platform that you could just add. Things are changing for sure.
Lisa Barroca: They are. I did in a past role a move from Facebook groups into a self-built platform. I was so happy to get off Facebook. I will say that as much as my members were like, "I want off Facebook. I hate Facebook." The second we're like, "We're moving off Facebook." They were like, "We don't want to."
Jillian Benbow: Of course.
Lisa Barroca: That was an adjustment, I think, just in terms of folks know how to use Facebook. Even if they don't love it, I will say on the community manager side, being on one of those platforms where folks are checking their notifications all the time seriously skews your engagement data, which is wild.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, totally.
Lisa Barroca: Then the move to, I think, also realizing what the expectations are for a platform when it's self-built, folks expect the notifications to be great. They expect an app immediately. A lot of that, I would expect that too if I didn't know all the stuff that went in on the backend. So, that was a massive learning for me, and I think a massive learning. We got to get really scrappy in our community to figure out how to make workarounds for the things we just didn't have yet, but knew we'd eventually have.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, everything you said resonates so deeply like, "Yes and plus one." It's funny, communities as a whole want things very vocally, but then don't always follow through with like, "We did this huge thing you've been asking for." Then they're like, "Hmm, nevermind." They're like, "Awesome. Awesome. That was eight months of my life." Moving off Facebook in particular, I mean, I think it's a temporary problem frankly, because I think less and less people are on Facebook, and more and more platforms are... I mean, I will give credit where credit is due. I hate Facebook. I hate everything about it, but I think how they built interaction on their platform, the UX and just how it works.
You have a feed, and the things you follow are in the feed. You can like them or comment or whatever. Then even in groups, how it works and how it's real-time interaction, but it's not a chat room. It's not really a forum. It's in between. That is all genius. It's just everything else that sucks. Getting people off a platform that's terrible but works really well to go to a platform that will not work, it is not Facebook. Then people compare it. It's hard. It is very hard. But I think between other platforms catching up with this, the smoothness of how you can engage in Facebook, basically copying that, but without having all the your racist aunt reposting 15 things a day or whatever else like all the other things on Facebook, getting rid of that piece.
It's a challenge, but I think slowly, it's going to ease up as these platforms are just easier to use for people, and more intuitive.
Lisa Barroca: It feels like we're very much in almost the shadow that Facebook left still, because it is the standard of what people think of when they think of feed, and when they think of just those little things like likes and things like certain kinds of notifications and stuff like that. I think there is that very real challenge that it was folks' whole life in one thing for the time that it was there. So, it was your aunt. It was your former coworker, and it was that person from fifth grade, and the community that you're in. So, it's always a little bit everything everywhere all at once situation.
Jillian Benbow: Totally. Totally. Anymore, I think people are leaving Facebook pretty quickly. I think I'm biased though, because I left a while ago, so I'm like, "Look, everyone's leaving." I'm still on Instagram though, so I am a hypocrite. I will just go ahead and say that, but you do what you got to do. It seems jokingly, more and more, it's just Boomer book. So if that's your audience, if that's your target, cool, but I don't know, but I do understand. I empathize with the convenience of just going to Facebook, and being able to interact with your group. There's something about that, and it is hard to compete with.
So, you just have to have a reason for people to make that tedious effort of going off Facebook to access the engagement that happens in your space, but I think people are starting to realize. It's like, "Oh, I can go here, and there's not a bunch of fake accounts." It's actually quality conversations, and people aren't randomly banned and from something else happening on Facebook or just all of that. I mean, I think people are starting to get it.
Lisa Barroca: I think that that portability factor that you were saying is a huge thing. When I was leading a community that was on Facebook, this was a few years ago now, but that was the single best-selling point of it was that people had support in their pocket at all times without having to give full access to their personal information. You could join, and keep your profile hidden, and so I think there was some real benefit there. It's just, "How do we take those really great qualities or the things that were great at one time, and put them into something new that we feel meets our needs better and is morally better?"
Jillian Benbow: You can get away from all the drama from the high school group or whatever, or the popular girl that now is trying to get you to join her MLM or whatever.
Lisa Barroca: MLM phenomenal.
Jillian Benbow: It is. It's a fascinating study of the human experience in society. It's this whole micro society we've created online, and how people get drawn into. It's this... So, bringing back the high school book covers, if anyone was like, "Well, I want to hear about that."
Lisa Barroca: Yes.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, it goes back to this. We were talking about how in high school, it was such a big deal to cover your books, your textbooks that were on loan from the school probably. You would cover them. I was saying at my school, it was craft paper, a paper bag from the grocery store inside-out of course. Then you would decorate it. That was such a part of identity, how you did it, I remember the very boring basic boys. They just did it bare minimum, because it was a solution. It was a functional thing. That's good. Then the very artistic peoples were just have these amazing covers.
Then mine were chaos, just sheer chaos, because I would keep changing them , because I couldn't pick. Anyways, we were talking about that and culturally how important that things like that work culturally at that time in your life, and how now thinking about it, I feel like Facebook brings some of that back in a way. It's weird, but the bad parts. There's some of the good parts too but-
Lisa Barroca: There's such a wholesomeness to that as a memory, and same on the brown paper bag piece. I never-
Jillian Benbow: What did you do?
Lisa Barroca: I also did brown paper bag. I was never very good at it. I never really had the patience to cut them out well. Then I remember they'd get rained on a few times at the bus, and they'd get all gross and weird, but I would always try to have my friends sign them or write little things on there or put a sticker on there. It felt such a way to pick and choose in the same way as social media is the things about your identity that you wanted people to know, and highlight those things. I think people do that coming into community with their intros. It's just like, "This is what I want you in this space to know about me, and this is what I think you will think is important."
So, it is really... We're still covering our books metaphorically, I guess, forever.
Jillian Benbow: Mine are still chaos metaphorically.
Lisa Barroca: Same.
Jillian Benbow: I'm like, "Well, I'm multi-passionate. I have all the interests on all the things, and it's exhausting, but welcome to my brain."
Lisa Barroca: I mean, the introduction is still my favorite spot in most communities. I love reading who people are, and where they're located, and what they want us to know about them, and seeing a picture of their pets, and all of that. The things beyond their job, the things that they choose to include, I think, is so special. It's still... No matter if it's a workplace community or a very vulnerable peer-support community, I think taking that step to do your introduction, it's always very vulnerable to hit send, and be like, "Is anyone going to resonate with this?" still.
Jillian Benbow: Totally.
Lisa Barroca: I think that that's always the part that I appreciate the most, because that's where that trust starts to be built or not. There's a big opportunity to welcome folks, and be like, "I see you, and I think this thing that you shared is so cool."
Jillian Benbow: I love it. It's like the penguin that gets shoved off the iceberg except every person has that feeling, even if they're not the first, because it's like, "All right, let's see if there's a predator in the water, or let's see what happens." It's that acceptance. There are so many high school analogies we could dive into with this. It's amazing. It's very much what people think is important to portray. So even though it's a curated, it's like the book cover, even if they're trying... I don't mean this in a bad way, but it's funny because you can see who they are by what they gauge is important to share.
Some people are just sheer business. In our community, it's a professional network community, so it makes sense. They're like, "This is what I do. This is why I joined. I need help with this. I can help with that. Okay, thanks, bye," very just like, 'Dah, dah." Then other people will be like, "I do this, but also, check out this picture of my llamas and just whatever." It's very clearly like they're... You can tell like, "Well, I'm also here to engage on a different..." They show you who they are in many ways, and not to say it's 100% accurate, but it's great because you just get a sense of motivations and personality, and it helps with the relationship building.
Lisa Barroca: It's funny. The little things that can really, really make an impact, and totally valid to just do, "This is who I am. This is why I'm here." I always had to introduction channel first, because I always want to know who's all here and-
Jillian Benbow: Vibe check.
Lisa Barroca: Exactly, and see even beyond the posts themselves, how those posts are being received by staff or by other members is, I think, so important because that's the proof point is like, "Is this a welcoming place? Am I okay in this space? Do I belong in this space?" The willingness to try is I think what sets off that whole member journey.
Jillian Benbow: It's so true. I feel like that's such a good... I was joking vibe check, but it's like, "What's the... Is there a red flag, yellow flag, green flag?" Because you can tell based on interaction response. There's nothing worse than being excited about joining a community, and you get in it, and it's just crickets. There's a posterior post there, but it just feels like this wasteland where every once in a while, there's a conversation, but there's nothing super recent or that more than the same couple people responded in.
I always... As a consumer like that, I find so disappointing, and as a community builder, it's just so like, "This is so close. What's happening? Where's the community manager?"
Lisa Barroca: I think it's that, and then it's introductions, and then it's events for me always, because I think that there is something really special that can happen in event spaces where folks get to be maybe as one to one as they can be in a virtual global community, but I totally agree. I think it is that how your introduction is received or how you see other folks being welcomed into the space is how you will decide how you use the community in my experience.
Jillian Benbow: It also seems, this is very anecdotal, but the people that make the effort to post an introduction I find often just have a more successful experience and a better just overall community experience than people who don't. I don't know if it's a psychological thing where it's like, "Poker chips on the table. I'm in. I'm invested, so I'm going to do this," or if it's just a coincidence. It's not... Certainly, there's no way for me to prove this. It's a vibe. It's a feeling just based on stuff, and myself included. I join all sorts of communities, because I like to see how other people are doing things and whatnot.
I'm generally a lurker by design, because I'm like, "This is what I do." I may participate a little, but I don't want to take over, which I feel would be very easy for me to do. I want to respect that it's not my community in a way. It's weird, and I find I have a hard... I'm not as engaged versus if I was going to go in full blast, but I don't want to annoy whoever's running the community, so I usually don't. You know what I mean? There's something about just the investment of actually not just observing I guess.
I love the lurker. I love lurkers. I know a lot of people get a lot out of community, and just personally don't like to interact in the way that us as community builders see them in the way where we can be like, "They're good." I respect that there's multiple ways to engage, but it does seem like you don't have to be the loudest person in the room, but just interacting in some capacity. It just seems to make the experience so much better for people. Their interaction makes their experience better.
Lisa Barroca: I know you said observing too, and I always call lurkers observers, because I always-
Jillian Benbow: So do I normally.
Lisa Barroca: I want to validate that experience, because I'm certainly a lurker observer in a lot of communities I'm in. We talked about this a little before the call, but I started in the recovery space in recovery communities. I think some of the most impactful posts would be when somebody would come in, and they'd be like, "Hey, I've never introduced myself. I've been here for a year, but I want you to know that I am 30 days sober today, and reading your posts has really helped me so much to get there."
I think that those moments, there are so many times being a community builder where you can feel like, "Where are some of the people? Are they okay?" It's very valid to check in and see if they're okay, but there are folks who are getting some really, really great value behind the scenes. They might just not tell you that yet.
Jillian Benbow: I think especially in peer support communities like that, which I say this a lot, those are my favorite. It's my absolute favorite community is the type of community where the intention is people with a shared experience or challenge or whatever it is coming together and supporting each other, because they get each other. It's just the most... Even though it can be very hard and heartbreaking conversations, and people are in real situations, the love and support and community network that that creates, that is one of the best parts of technology in my opinion. Forget the QAnon forums or whatever and all the horrible things. That piece there is just...
Which they'd probably be like, "We're a support community," but that piece right there is just like, "Yes, this is the good in the world that we need more of, and that geography doesn't matter, and that you could be..." I remember a company I worked for. We had a teen area, and we had an LGBTQ-specific teen area, not the Trevor project, but something similar idea, which Trevor love it, and the power of that, especially the kid who's so alone, and that they could come into this group, and be seen and understood in a way that just... I'm getting the tingles.
It was just so beautiful, so just a little rant. But ultimately, the thing about observers, lurkers, I think we all panic, because we're like, "Are they okay?" That's just send up a message. Nine times out of 10, they're like, "I'm doing great. Thanks." You're like, "Got it. No problem." That's my whole thing. I back off. I'm like, "You know where to find me." I just want to make sure they know like, "Hey, if you need anything, I'm here. Nice to meet you. Enjoy. Carry on." I'm not going to be like, "Well, what you should do is post 50 times."
Lisa Barroca: Not, "I'm here to steamroll you with friendship, but here to support you in the ways that you want."
Jillian Benbow: Totally. Totally.
Lisa Barroca: I love that story too, because that's something we saw in our recovery communities also. We made sure to... As we developed our community programming further, one of the things about addiction is that it disproportionately affects folks who are in marginalized identity groups. So, we started a queer group, which I was able to co-lead, which was my favorite space in the entire world. We had a BIPOC group. We had a group for folks who were 50 plus, and a group for folks who were parents. I think being able to go into those spaces...
I mean, I was only a part of the one group, so would just hear stories from afar on the others, but being able to go in, have those points of your identity in common, and also have the experience of addiction in common, even if it looked different regardless of distance, is so incredible. I also just want to give folks props in those peer-support communities, because that's where it's the most vulnerable. You're going into a space on the internet, and introducing yourself, and saying who you are, and saying where you come from, and saying what you're struggling with, and you're hoping that's held.
That's such an impossible gift of trust before it's even earned in a lot of cases. So, I'm with you. Those are my favorite spaces.
Jillian Benbow: They're the best. Well, and they're why it's so important. I think it ties back big full circle to the advantages of slow growth, because if you try to... I think you touched on this a little with that community. When you focus on scaling and growing, the personal safety experience of people is at risk bringing a bunch of new people in. Not that you should be exclusive and not let people in, but there's... You can't on scale ensure the level of safety that you can when it's a slower role. There's more care in ensuring people onboard, and understand what are the guardrails here, and what are the expectations, and just all of it.
Not that it's like, "Oh, well, they need to take a course to get in or whatever," but there is something about if 1,000 people join today, ensuring that they find where they need to go and vice versa, that the community welcomes them is a lot harder. They're much less likely to post that very vulnerable like, "Here's my mess. Here's why I'm here," whatever it is than if it's couple people a week or whatever's the pacing.
Lisa Barroca: I think that's so true. As community builders, community leaders, I think there is this thing where I can't super control how much you trust me, but I can control how trustworthy I am. Part of that is me as a individual contributor, or as part of a team being honest about my bandwidth. One person can't scale a community to X number, so you're going to need more staff, a volunteer program, a budget, a different platform, any number of things. I think it's an exercise of that trust with your community members to not grow faster than you're capable of, and being honest about your capacity, which is hard in an organizational setting when you ultimately maybe don't get to make that final call, but trying to advocate for yourself as best as you can there is, I think, really, really important.
Jillian Benbow: Yes, absolutely. It's so important, boundaries and self-care. Especially when you're running those sorts of communities, the peer support communities, it's emotionally taxing, and protecting yourself can be... It's hard in any community job, I think, just because of the nature of the work, but it's tenfold with those. I mean, I took... When I left that organization, I actually took a few months to just... I mean, it's just some consulting. I was like, "I just need to rest, because it's hard," and you care. You care about individuals. You care about so many things happening in people's lives, and it's hard to just disconnect.
Lisa Barroca: I think that's something we maybe don't talk about as much the emotional impact. I don't think it is for most of us, regardless of the community, but especially if you're in that deep in it emotionally, just the... It's not just, "I'm going to start a new job." It's like, "These are my people. I've watched them grow and change and connect with each other. I know what their kids' names are." I think there is a massive emotional hangover, or at least there was in my experience in the-
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely.
Lisa Barroca: ... the "loss of that." Even though I didn't lose a lot of those relationships that were important to me, it's still... It's a lot. It is a very emotionally-invested thing.
Jillian Benbow: It's funny too, because the job... We've gone so over, so I'll just final point. We can discuss, and then we can transition. Sorry.
Lisa Barroca: No, this is great. This is great.
Jillian Benbow: I warned you. I warned you. I start talking. It's funny because the job of a community manager, community builder, we very much build relationships. That is the foundation of what we're doing. But then when you leave an organization, there's a hole on both sides. It's just funny because it is such a unique crossroad of professional career type thing and actual real relationships with people. Even though I've always advocated for community builders to have strong boundaries, and really, really prioritize those, it's still almost like a loss like you said.
There's almost a grieving tenfold, so with emotional support type peer-support communities. I mean, I'm still in touch with people from that, and that was years ago. Just because you're helping... You're a part of a person's very personal experience for years sometimes. Then you don't just... Then you're not like, "I got a different job. Bye." There's still emailing like, "Hey, how you doing, or Did this thing ever happen?" Like you said like, "Oh, congrats. Your child has now graduated high school. Let's talk about how we feel old, because oh my gosh." No one really does talk about that.
Lisa Barroca: I don't think I've ever talked about it beyond my friends and my former team, but I have a group of... My former members actually formed their own free peer-support community. They have a beautiful website, and they're on Circle. I feel like... I watch them from afar, and I don't want to march in there, and take up a lot of space, but I am so hecking proud of those folks. I am the mean girl's mom from the side, who's just like, "You're doing great. So proud of you."
Jillian Benbow: I'm not like regular community managers. I'm a cool community manager.
Lisa Barroca: Exactly.
Jillian Benbow: What's the goss? I feel that's so hard. That is great. It's fun to see your little baby birds fly, but also be like, "So." I mean, if you want me to join, I guess [inaudible] , but [inaudible] .
Lisa Barroca: Please hang out with me now that you don't have to, because I'm paid to be here. Please just like me for me.
Jillian Benbow: Right. Well, I'm sure we could just talk all day, and just have a blast. But for your sake, for our audience's sake, let's come to the close. I like to end with a rapid fire questionnaire. I'm going to ask you some questions. It's like... Your goal is super quick, one sentence or less response just based on whatever pops in your head. My goal is to leave it at that, and go to the next question. We don't really enforce the rules, but we try. That's the intention. I'll do my best not to ask follow-up questions, because I'm sure you can tell I'm nosy/curious. Rapid fire time. Are you ready? There's no math. I like to preface. Don't worry. No math questions.
Lisa Barroca: I feel like I'm going to be like the Billy Eichner, like the name one woman, and then the person's like, "Ah. Ooh." So, just prepare for that.
Jillian Benbow: That's okay.
Lisa Barroca: But yes, I'm ready.
Jillian Benbow: No problem. Don't worry. These are not diffi... Well, I shouldn't say that. I don't think they're too difficult, but we'll see. Lisa, first question. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grow up?
Lisa Barroca: A Ninja Turtle.
Jillian Benbow: A particular Ninja Turtle?
Lisa Barroca: Donatello. I really liked purple.
Jillian Benbow: See, I'm already going to break... I wanted to be Michelangelo, and I don't remember why. I think it was the weapons.
Lisa Barroca: So many factors in your Ninja Turtle choice.
Jillian Benbow: Right. That's the best answer I've ever heard in my life. Thank you for that. How do you, defi... This is the hardest question in my opinion. How do you define community?
Lisa Barroca: In one word, I would say relationships, but I also really like our company definition, which is a group of motivated individuals with a common interest moving in a strategic direction.
Jillian Benbow: Whether or not you have a bucket list, pretend you do, like life goals. What is something on that list that you have done?
Lisa Barroca: Oh gosh. I've sat at the desk of a news anchor on the evening news when I was a kid. I didn't talk, and you couldn't see me, but I was in second grade, and I was there.
Jillian Benbow: That's amazing. Flip question. What is something on that list that you have not yet done, but you hope to?
Lisa Barroca: Sing solo karaoke. I've sung in a group, but I've never been brave enough to do it by myself.
Jillian Benbow: You have the best answers. I think you're a reader based on your background, which is for everyone listening a lot of books. That's what stemmed our whole covering your textbooks conversation. What is a book you love, a book you just read, a book you wish everyone would read? Any answer, fiction, non-fiction, doesn't matter.
Lisa Barroca: I think the most beautiful book I've ever, ever read is Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, which is also a beautiful title. If their writing is just the book that you wish you could write, just every sentence is so stunning.
Jillian Benbow: I'm just typing that in my browser, so I can look later. This question has brought me a lot of backlog in my reading.
Lisa Barroca: Oh, I love that.
Jillian Benbow: I'm actually reading... I just keep adding books. I'm reading the book that Noele Flowers recommended in our interview. It's so good. She's right. It's a great fiction book. I forget the name, but I can shoot it to you if you want it.
Lisa Barroca: I'm a library fiend. I volunteer at my library, so I'm always constantly like, "Here's my stack of books."
Jillian Benbow: I love that.
Lisa Barroca: I have to stop getting them, because they won't actually fit on my shelves anymore.
Jillian Benbow: I know. I know. All right. You mentioned you live in Ithaca, and you love it. But if you couldn't live there, and you could live anywhere in the world, where would you want to live?
Lisa Barroca: I always joke that I am moving to Finland. My mom is from Finland, and so I do have a family there, but it's just... I went in October, and I was like, "The user experience in this country is just top-notch. 10 out of 10 would recommend." I think I would move to somewhere in... Well, I'd move to rural Finland because that's where my grandma is, and she would be very angry if I moved anywhere else.
Jillian Benbow: That sounds lovely. Final question, Lisa, how do you want to be remembered?
Lisa Barroca: Oh gosh, that's such a good question. I would say as kind, as silly, and as in my integrity would be my three.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. That was the last question. You did amazing. Thank you.
Lisa Barroca: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: Thank you for being here. This has been such a fun conversation. I'd love to just keep talking, but I'm sure we both have plenty of community things to do. Let our audience know where they can find you, whether you have social media that you share publicly or where you work. Whatever your preferred handles are, let the audience know.
Lisa Barroca: This will be very, very short, because I actually only have LinkedIn. I've pulled myself gradually off social. I'm @LisaBarroca on LinkedIn. Message me. I love to meet with folks and chat with folks. Then if you're interested in our community or what we do, we're at cultivateall.com. I think that's it. That's the only social I have.
Jillian Benbow: Perfect, and bravo for that.
Lisa Barroca: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: It's hard.
Lisa Barroca: It's so hard.
Jillian Benbow: Well, thank you so much. This has been a delight. I appreciate it.
Lisa Barroca: Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed this so, so much. I got on so nervous, and was immediately not nervous talking about book covers, so thank you.
Jillian Benbow: That's the episode. I hope you enjoyed this talk with Lisa. I know I did. Seriously, I just want to go get some coffee or tea or whatever, and just talk all day, because it's just that community manager related experience talk that I know I enjoy so much, because it's hard. Sometimes, you're not around people who do community work, and they don't really understand these little nuances. I hope you understood, and I hope it was helpful to you in some way. You can definitely hit me up on Twitter @jillianbenbow. In the meantime, go check out Lisa on LinkedIn or at the company website, Cultivate.
Check her out. She is so insightful, so thoughtful. That's a wrap. We'll see you next Tuesday.
Learn more about the work Lisa is doing at CultivateAll.com. All one word. The word cultivate, the word all, CultivateAll.com. Like she said, she is smarter than all of us, and not on social media. So if you would like to connect, head over to LinkedIn, and search for her name, Lisa Barroca, B-A-R-R-O-C-A.
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.