February 2, 2023

Practical tips and strategies for community managers to stay ahead of curve

Practical tips and strategies for community managers to stay ahead of the curve

Speaker Introduction:

Gabrielle is a community-builder with 10+ years of experience working in arts & culture, tech and media industries. She's currently the Community Manager at Grapevine where she supports individuals coming together to disrupt philanthropy by turning it into a community-led model. Prior to this she held positions at Artery, Bramble and the Toronto International Film Festival. Her events have been featured in multiple publications including The New York Times.

My background is in TV production and film, so I worked on set as a commuter as a coordinator and logistics person, and then I got into film, particularly on the exhibition side, so I was working at the Toronto International Film Festival. I've been based in Toronto for over six years, and I was really interested in how people came together to watch the film and how they used it as a social outlet. Perhaps people who were different or had different kinds of experiences, and how it was this really unifying thing, so that kind of led me to run my own event called Supper Club Cinema, which was this event where strangers would come together and eat and watch the film, and I became really obsessed with the idea of this film as a tool for community building, and that kind of led me into my first community manager role, which was for an organization called Artery. Basically, what they were was a kind of Airbnb couch surfing for arts and culture, so it would connect local hosts and artists to co-create these "house shows," essentially, and then I worked at Bramble, which was a sort of arm of Artery where online events were made more interactive, and now I'm at Grapevine, where I'm currently the community manager and I'm working with about 40 000 people on our platform using Grapevine. So it's really exciting, and it's in a different space in that it's bringing together sort of change makers in their communities who want to pool their donations together and do kind of greater good as a collective, so it's really taking the lens off of the individual and the philanthropy sector and putting it on the collective to make philanthropy more accessible to people.

Q&A Session

Q1. Online community management software users have more than doubled each year. More and more businesses are implementing online community management software into their organization. Since the pandemic in 2020, there has been a doubling of reviews left by customers. Being a community Builder yourself, what do you have to say about that?

I completely agree, and that's why I'm in the space. Like, I got into it because of the pandemic, really, and as horrible as that was and everything it did to kind of make the community a lot more accessible in a way because of all these tools, and even because of Grapevine, where I work now, we're giving circles the model that we're sort of building the infrastructure for. I mean, this idea of giving collectively has existed in cultures forever, especially in the United States. This sort of movement grew in the 1980s, but it's been around for way, way before that, and these giving circles emerged when the pandemic started because we were giving them the ability to do their work online because of the pandemic, so they were meeting in person and collecting checks from everyone and they didn't have a central way to communicate, so Grapevine allowed them to, given the pandemic, still come together and do their work, so that's how it evolved. So that's just one example of how, um, it's really clear where I work right now why it kind of came to be, and for me personally as a community manager, having these communities like the work that you're doing, I think your team reached out to me maybe a couple of years ago because of this idea. I met them because of this idea. I can join groups for community managers, and that's how I've learned and grown, so it's completely transformed my professional life, and yeah, I couldn't agree more that it's changed drastically in the last two years. "I wouldn't have thought of community this way if I had only thought of it as this in-person thing if these tools hadn't emerged."

Q2. If you want to build your online community properly, you should invest in community roles, specifically a community managers. Why is that?

I think the community is so essential especially when you think about like your marketing team and your product team you really need that that middle I always think of it a bit as like that middle person between the community and your internal team to be that voice of the community and most importantly almost to be that like empathetic voice of the community because sometimes I find um the product team can think like oh this is easy why are they confused about how you use this part of it or the marketing team will be like we're just gonna you know we're gonna put them in this campaign and send them emails and you know all these things are essential and you need those voices as well but I really think the community team can be that voice of like you know what this is why they're having trouble with it and these are some examples of what people have said to me and why I think we should approach it this way or you know maybe I think that the sending that email might um all those people might um might not be the best approach because they actually don't um have context yet for this and you you really need to be that voice I think and um sometimes those teams are really focused on their goals uh which is totally understandable but it's um really essential to have that conduit who can kind of straddle the community but also understanding the internal needs and also maybe your growth metrics and what you need to do as a company to exist and to expand while also being able to um really be that voice for the community so that's why I personally think it's really essential um and you're really advocating for both of those sides for both both your team and also the community and kind of being that ability to um make both of those things work together.

Q3. What excites you about the nonprofit community in 2023 and How is it for you working with communities in the donor/nonprofit space?

I think for me the most exciting part of what I'm doing right now is this model of philanthropy called "giving circles," where, as I said, at its core, it's a community-centric model, and so it's really cool to be part of a product that is supporting something that, at its foundation, is fully community-led, and so the entire strategy of our company is community-led, like we are the kind of center of it, and that's just really exciting for me because I've worked in other roles, it's a bit more of a push to get your company, especially your founders and executives, to see the value in the community, and I feel like it's literally the opposite of where I am, where it's fully what we're doing and so reflective of the work we're doing, which is this fully communal decision-making and the collective experience, so that's really exciting to me, and I believe that community is about bringing people together. You know like-minded people, however, and you want to look at it, and so when you can do that while also having people do good, which is what we're doing, we're bringing people together to connect and build community within their own, um, sort of own location where they're located and also giving back to causes that they care about, so I think it's just such a cool sort of marriage of those two things, especially now. People don't really see themselves as philanthropists in the current climate; they feel like they don't have enough money to be in that space, and I think this model is really disrupting that idea because it's sort of everyone's; anyone can be a philanthropist in this model because you can come together collectively and make a big impact, and I think that's really exciting in the non-profit space right now, being a bit of a disrupter in that it's not gated by just wealthy individuals; the power of the collective, the power of the community, can change that space, so I think that's incredibly exciting.

Q4. How to create an amazing community onboarding experience? And how to create your team's technical and onboarding documentation?

I mean, I would say it shouldn't necessarily be a different experience as you scale. I think as much as you can, I'm learning to put those foundations in early so it can scale and you're not having to re-jig everything you do, which is really key, and keeping that spirit of it feeling personalized is really important as you scale, so I would say view it as the same thing, and as I kind of mentioned before too, I think it's really important when you're coming into a new community. Sign up as a community member, for example, and really examine the current flow that's happening. Start there, and get the documentation from, you know, whoever or wherever it is for those email sequences that people are getting. Look at those, get the documentation, add it to your notes, run it by the team, and all that stuff. I think that's really important, and then always approach it with iteration. So, as someone new to the community, I basically had my initial thoughts about what I found challenging, and then listening to the community and really focusing on putting that into the flow is essential. We have a place at work where people can tell us why they paused their membership or subscription, and we get alerted of all those reasons, so paying attention to that and looping in other people on your team is critical. Where you can highlight Hey, this is a theme coming up in the app. We need to look at this because it's really important to have it be visual for your whole team, as well as something based on the sort of feedback you can get from your community, making it really clear what their first action is. So something that, um, we have people joining our community as members and we also have people joining our community to lead groups, so we have these different sorts of segments of our members but also leaders of our group who are basically members taking on more responsibility, so for our leaders, really trying to clarify for them what their first step is because they're kind of raising their hand to help take on more, but they don't always know what that means, so just really trying to be clear about why they're there, what you need from them, and why it's so exciting that they are sort of stepping up, so I think that's essential. And then, for anyone interested in the tools we use, we use HubSpot for our onboarding, and we also use a tool called Customer I.O. for people after they've joined our community. Then, a lot of our community right now is hosted on Grapevine. So that's sort of how we're doing it right now; there are definitely challenges and positives to it, of course, but in terms of our onboarding flow, we utilise HubSpot and customer i/o right now.

Q5. How to fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the workPlace as a communities of practice?

So something I got really interested in Savannah was the idea of a cohort with your members. So as I mentioned, we have all these people leading our giving circles, and so what we've done is put them in peer learning cohorts based on the kind of time they became leaders of their group so that they can have a network of people at sort of the same juncture in their leadership journey to ask questions to and to learn from. So, basically, Grapevine looks like a closed Facebook group or LinkedIn group, so once they become leaders in that onboarding flow, I also invite them into their cohort, and I give them an action basically right away just to introduce themselves and then to use it as a space for asking questions and sharing knowledge. We also have a sidebar in there with upcoming events that we do just for our leaders, and there's also a sidebar with upcoming events that we do just for our leaders.

So, um, that's been really helpful for people to learn from each other and for me to learn as well, like I learned so much from that community, and being a community manager, I'm very involved in those and see every time someone posts or comments, so I learn a lot, and because of that, I'll do all my programme workshops based on what people are talking about, panels and all that kind of stuff, so I'll know who to reach out to sometimes if I'm like, "Oh, this person." Here I'm going, and if I need help on this, I'll reach out to them, so it's really helpful in that way. So I've really found this peer-support model really encouraging. We don't have a general forum for our community, so this sort of is that, but it allows it to be a bit more targeted for people, so it's like they're actually interacting with people who they'll learn a lot from as opposed to just asking really general questions, so it feels really exciting for people to be in these communities. We use Grapevine for that, and we're expanding it to include some of that because that's not really what the platform is for, like the platform hosts giving circles, but we're reworking it to include that. So we're developing some more community tools within that, but it's really a cohort approach that people should consider when building their communities and looking for ways to share knowledge. 

Q6. How is it for you to manage a robust calendar of community events?

Because I'm only one person, it's difficult for me to do a lot of preparation and to do the heavy lifting at the beginning so that it gets out of the way. Prepare thoroughly, but keep in mind that there's only one person in my case, so you must be strategic. I try to have the flexibility to add stuff, but I think those are the three kinds of things we're always focusing on, and I sort of look at them as being growth channels for us. The panel is a way to engage and bring new people into our community, and to Grapevine in general. The purpose of the workshop is to train and support our leaders. And then this member mixer is for engagement, getting people excited about their group, and that kind of thing. As I mentioned, I really try and do the heavy lifting early to do all the prep so that by the time the event comes up, I'm really just reminding the people who are involved to be there at the right time, and I also have like a checklist that's a flow now that I've built out of when I send certain emails to the speaker, then a couple of days before the event, I'll send the follow-up. Building it out, it's really useful, so you're not having to add extra work to remember, "Oh, when do I need to do this or that?" and then also something I find really helpful is to assign people on your team really specific roles for how you need support, so instead of taking it all on yourself, get people from your team to help support you, which is really what they do for me with the execution of the event, and I just make it really clear what I need their support on and they know what to do because you won't be able to do it all on your own if you don't have other people on your team or whatever it is, so I would say planning is really essential and being organized.

Q7. Online workshops and seminars are widespread in the majority of businesses, these events are part of larger campaigns to attract a broader audience or launch a new product. As people return to in-person and hybrid events, where do virtual events fit in?

We're a small team; I'm in Canada, for example, so it's just the nature of it that we do some of the events we organize as virtual events, but we encourage our community, our giving circles, and these sorts of micro-communities to organize in person, hybrid, or just virtually if that's what they prefer. But I think for us when we organise events like these when we do our panels and our member mixers and all that kind of stuff, I try to really communicate why it's virtual because I think people in our community, at least, can sometimes have a triggered response to hearing its ritual; they're like, "I don't want to meet virtually, I want to meet in person," so to get ahead of that, I'll always say this member mixer is with our members from giving circles all across the United States so as to connect you with other people involved all over the United States, we're going to do it virtually, so sort of framing it as this benefit as opposed to like, "Oh, it's so that I can meet people all over," I get that now because I do think some people have a bit of an "I don't want to do this anymore," you know, so I think just how you frame it and being really conscious of that early on is important. And then what we also do is try to make it really easy for our community, our giving circles, to have self-organized in-person events.

So we give them tools to organise in person so they can do that if they want to, and often they really want to, especially for giving circles where it's such a local community-centric experience. I mean, we have giving circles that are cause-based, and they have people from all over the United States in them, but a lot of ours are community-based and location-based, so people want to meet in person, and we make it easy for them to self-organize and do that, but for events that we run, yeah, it's essential because we're not going to send someone to a city to host a panel just so it's in person. You know, we have so many tools now to make it virtual and make it an amazing event, so just be conscious of your audience, and if they are resistant or sensitive to virtual events, just give them some of the baggage that's gone along with it, and just really be conscious of your framing of the event so you can really pull out why it's exciting and why virtual makes sense.

Q8. What are some community event ideas that could bring people together?

We see that they are based on just connecting, like these happy hours that we keep to an hour, keep them short, have them be really structured, and give people an agenda beforehand so they know what to expect. And then, if you're going to do panels or workshops, really listen to the needs of the community and what's out there, so you're making events that actually resonate with people and they want to come to us. One other thing I'd like to mention is that we have a free tool called Mentee, which I believe costs more if you upgrade. It's this really amazing kind of word cloud, and people can, um, it's just a nice way to engage your community in a really simple way, and visually, say, in your community, you want to figure out what the community values are like and what people care about in your community. You could do something like a values workshop or event with your community where you're utilizing a tool like Mentee and people are basically just writing down a value that's really meaningful to them and then what the tool does are you can pull it up on your screen, like we're doing right now, and based on how many people put in the same value, those words will actually become bigger, and ones that not as many people have mentioned will be smaller, so it's just a really cool visual way to connect people and for people to understand the shared values they have, so I'd say using a tool like that for an event is really cool.

And maybe you're just figuring out the values of your community work and connecting people in that way, really making them think about time, like how much time you're asking of people you know, and also different time zones, so doing events at different times allows you to be more inclusive of people, which is really useful. I know a lot of community managers say experiment, test things out, like yes, absolutely, but also have a critical eye on what you're testing out, and I think this is something I learned a lot from my current um boss: experiment, but evaluate those experiments and have metrics beforehand like what is successful, and if it didn't work, iterate, like don't just keep doing the same thing without being critical of what is and isn't working and I'm strategizing, so I would say yes, experiment, but don't experiment if you don't have a plan for that experiment.


I think it's difficult to measure the right stuff because you have too many metrics right now. So, how do you find the right matrix to measure, assuming you're obviously living it? Is it useful for your users? How do you know that you need to find the right metrics for it? Are you achieving the goal that you set while building the community? You can measure that with a questionnaire or something like that. Yeah, I think that is essentially very important, and getting people together, as you mentioned, is the tool you mentioned right, so I think we'll try that out as well. And anything that brings people together to do some brainstorming or a workshop together will create engagement.

We've come to the end of our Community Builders session for this month, and thanks to Gabby for joining us, I got to learn a lot I moved in the hope that everyone else found value in the session we did, and, yeah, I think it was very exciting learning about your background in community building for the non-profit space and also how to think about sort of building out engagement in the community with events and so forth. Thanks a lot for joining in; I would love to have you again for a session. It's a really cool model for communities, so a great way to engage your community is to bring them together and also have them give back, and then yeah, connect with me at LinkedIn I'd love to hear from you, and thanks for taking the time to listen. Thank you, thank you, and we're getting feedback that people like the music. I'm Rosie, and thanks for joining; we'd love to have you back in the next session.