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Brian Oblinger

Chief Community Officer & Strategic Consultant
November 17, 2021

Noele: Question to warm things up: who is the most morally neutral character on Succession, in your opinion? Follow up: how many greggs do you have to break to make a tomlette?

Literally none of them? They are all horrible people with terrible motives and zero moral compass. Greg is innocent and naive, but does that make him morally neutral? Probably not. Greg and Tom are strange dudes. What an incredible show, though!

Noele: And a community-related one: I hear from a lot of Community Managers who are looking to grow in seniority/responsibility, but are a 'one-man show' at their company (and I've actually been in that position myself in the past). Short of leaving your company for another job, what are some incremental steps you can recommend for individual contributors to start growing their responsibilities?

Great question — my advice is to seek opportunities to diversify your skills, get exposure to new projects and teams, and work with your leader to invest in professional development. Hopefully you get some experience and success under your belt and can parlay that into a proposal to bring on more resources so that you can become more strategic and lead.

Failing all of that, unfortunately sometimes that means looking elsewhere for the opportunities you seek.

Max: Is your favorite color red? I see it used a lot in your branding, so would love to know the background behind it and what that color means to you!

Ahhh, yes. I have always been a space nerd and to me launching rockets and exploring are fundamental human traits that resonate with most people. As a technology nerd, I believe that the Saturn IV rocket and Lunar Module are two of the greatest machines humanity has ever built... so I ripped off the visual style and feel of 60s-era Apollo program for my branding. Thus the white/black/red with block fonts and space themes! See more at https://brianoblinger.com

Katrine: Two questions for you:

  1. If you were on a deserted island, no way of getting off, and could only bring 3 items with you, what would they be?
  2. Do you think ultimately a community team should always be its own standalone org at a company? Or is it sufficient enough having the team report into marketing, support, success, etc. if their goals are related?
I'd bring 3 friends. We're starting our own community on the island.

I think community as a standalone department is a worthy goal and one that I've lived. On the other hand, it may not be right for all companies at any given time. Regardless of where you report, you should be working in close collaboration with every department in your company, so your location may not matter as much as you think in terms of success.

Sagi: 1. What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? And 2. What are the most important metrics that you look at when analyzing the success of a community?

You're going to make me choose!??!!?! I'll go with sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping!

Business metrics. How are we impacting the top and bottom lines of the business? What stories are we telling about these successes internally? For community metrics specifically, I tend to look at Unique Visitors (Acquisition) > New Members (Conversion) > Posts/Votes/Solutions/Etc. (Engagement) as a way of understanding how we are performing. More here.

Ben: 1. Does pineapple belong on pizza? And 2. What do you think are the most essential components of a community strategy?

I will not stand for gatekeeping when it comes to pizza toppings. Let people eat whatever they want!

Clear mission, goals & objectives, documented personas, operational plan, success metrics. This is the basis of all strategies I help companies build.

Lindsey: Community has seen a significant uptick in thought leadership these last couple years (and rightfully so!), but what's one thing you feel is often being overlooked, or maybe not talked about enough, in these conversations when it comes to community?

That what we want to be true and what is true are two different things. I'm so glad that we're seeing more thought leadership and discussion around everything community, but I do think that at times we tend to oversimplify things for the sake of easy answers and sound bites. This stuff is really hard and complex. Every community is different and unique in specific ways and I wish there was more accounting for that when folks are providing advice to others about how to think about challenges and what to implement.

Alex: Here's two more for you:

  1. When did your passion for space begin? Was there an official "aha!" moment for you?
  2. Can you talk about one of your biggest community flops? Was there ever a time where you were convinced something was great and going to go exceptionally well and ultimately it failed?
I grew up in a household where technology, aviation, and aerospace was loved first via my Dad. He passed that on to me. I remember one of the major milestones being that I wanted to go see the Power Ranger movie and my Dad said, "We're going to go see Apollo 13 instead." I was so mad at him, but I fell in love right there in the theater. I've been a space nut ever since. This past weekend I built the Saturn IV Lego set that was an anniversary gift from my wife!

Lol, where to start. So. many. flops. I'd say that most of these were around gaming communities I tried to build in the early 00s. One in particular that comes to mind — I was unhappy with how EA was running their community for a baseball game I was playing, so I set out to make my own that was going to be so much better.

I think I built it on vBulletin or something and started trying to poach people from the EA site. One thing that was a great idea was that I found this guy who was a college baseball player and setup an area for him to essentially blog about his daily experience as someone doing it. It was great content and people loved it (this is where I learned the power of content strategy). But, you can't fight the big guys. Eventually it fizzled and I was so sad. FLOP. FLOP.

Colin: 1. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses and why? 2. What's the most under-rated skill for a leader of a community team? Most overrated?

Duck-sized horses for sure. There's just something about the size bias that gets me. Imagine a giant duck with that bill coming at you. Better have good insurance through Aflac...

Underrated skills: empathy, gratitude, and a sense that nothing really matters and we're all out here just trying to make the best of whatever. At the end of the day it's a job, no need to get crazy about it.

Overrated: vibrato, political self-enrichment, thinking that you have it all figured out because you have a high title or whatever.

Lauren: I'm a huge fan on IBTL and all the amazing resources you have created. Thank you so much for everything you've done to advance our profession. My question: if you are starting a brand community from scratch (selecting a vendor, launching a platform, etc.), what's 1-2 quick win style projects or programs that you would suggest implementing before the formal community launch to build momentum and demonstrate value to internal leaders?

Thanks so much, credit due to the fabulous Erica Kuhl as well!

'Quick win' is a loaded term, but I'd say start engaging your target audience now. Get to know them, build maybe a quick community (Slack, et al), and start getting feedback on what they want to see in a community. That data is gold. #2 might be some sort of advocate program if you have users in that echelon already. Then you can integrate into community when the time comes.

Tiffany: 1. Who would win in a game of Jeopardy — you or Erica? 2. What do you think is a community task that is taken for granted? i.e. people just don’t really think about it or never get around to it, but it needs to get done.

I'm going to go with "Erica" here because any other answer is essentially asking for trouble!

Auditing roles and permissions regularly to ensure maximum security of community. Operations!

Jon: Okay let's start with a difficult one... when making a PB&J, what is your preferred ratio of peanut butter to jelly? Now for community talk... tell me why I shouldn't go through with a migration. I'm already leaning that way as it's proving a little trickier than anticipated, but what are the main reasons for not doing a migration? Thanks!

I feel like I keep the PB pretty proportional to the bread, and then go absolutely off the rails slopping jelly on. So good.

You should do a migration if you need to do a migration. When I say 'need', I mean you have compelling reasons that will enrich the experience of your community members or solve a major business objective. Migrating to migrate is a bucket of hurt from which you'll lose valuable time, momentum, and member trust. I'd rather people spend their time building new programs and finding new value than spending time migrating for reasons other than described above.

Jocelyn: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? And what’s the worst? What community has made the biggest impact on your life?

Best Career Advice: If you wake up too many days in a row and don't like what you're doing, it's time to go do something else. That can be scary, but necessary for your happiness. Always prioritize your happiness.

Worst Career Advice: Chase titles and money.

Community that's made the biggest impact on my life: Alteryx Community by far. It was my baby and the gift that kept on giving. Without that experience, I don't know where I'd be today or what I'd be doing. I owe a massive debt of gratitude to everyone there.

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