Brian Oblinger

Co-Host of the In Before The Lock Podcast
July 9, 2020
AMA sticker

- Hey Brian! What’s one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career in community or that you’d like other folks starting in community to know?

It would’ve been helpful to know anything at all when I started.

One thing I talk about frequently is how to connect your community efforts to solving business problems. I think many community pros would benefit from learning more about business in general and how to speak the language of stakeholders.

Erica and I talk about this topic a lot on the show, but it is something that also comes with experience. Step 1 is making the effort to learn more about it and apply it in your daily work.

Mac - What do you think the community industry will look like 5+ years from now? What major differences will we see from where it is today?

The good news is that businesses are investing more in community now than they ever have. Some of that is driven by the maturity of the practice, the value we’ve been able to demonstrate, and a renewed focus on customer experience due to COVID.

I’m starting to see new companies investing in engaging their community before they build product. There are a lot of benefits to this approach and I hope to see the trend continue.

Jacob - Hey Brian, can you tell us what the early days of the “In Before the Lock” podcast were like? What was the initial inspiration, how did you and Erica initially come together, what was the ‘behind the scenes’ process that went into making it possible?

When I moved to Colorado last year, I connected with Erica and we had so many wonderful conversations. At some point we realized that the conversations we were having might be interesting for others to listen in on, and that’s how we started the podcast.

We want to help people take their communities to the next level and want to give back to an industry that has given so much to us.

The reaction to the show has been wonderful and we’re so happy that people are finding it useful!

Can’t wait to share more episodes and more free resources!

Trent - Hey Brian, I have a question pertaining to my current job. Context: Me and a few colleagues run a support community for Calix. Our members are engineers or network designers at Internet Service Providers and they come to our community mainly for questions about how to deploy our products in their network. Question: How effective have you seen video tutorials vs. written documentation for providing technical content to support communities? I assume it would vary depending on audience, but curious to hear any insights on video vs. written content for support communities. Thanks!

Hi Trent - really good question!

I’ve found that people learn best in very different ways. Some people love videos, while others like text, while others like guided tutorials.

Certainly ask your audience what they’re looking for, and also do some experimentation. If your team has the bandwidth, it’s worth delivering content across as many modalities as possible so that you capture as many people as possible.

Cole - Hey Brian, thanks for doing this AMA! What resources would you recommend for individuals interested in learning more about community? I’m also curious to hear what resources have helped you most during your time in the community world.

When I got started, there weren’t many resources, so we learned by experimenting and looking at outcomes (“the school of hard knocks”, as Holly Firestone calls it)

Today, there are books, podcasts, certifications, and plenty of networking opportunities to help you build your skills. I’d say do whatever is going to connect with your needs and help you most.

With that said, I find networking with other community professionals and having regular conversations about what we’re doing and what we’re seeing in the industry to provide the most value

Luke - Hey Brian, any tips for asking for a major salary increase? I have a hard time quantifying/verbalizing my value add to the company but I know wholeheartedly that my community position is important and fundamental to the success of my team.

Hi Luke - I get this question a lot. More than anything else, it’s imperative to present the case for the value that you can add as a result of a promotion or raise. Right or wrong, it’s not about what you’ve done, but what you’re going to do that matters most to an organization.

By laying out a vision and committing to the execution, you’re positioning giving you a raise/promotion as an investment in the success of the company. That’s something people can get behind.

Jill- Lots of focus on virtual events right now in our current landscape. What in your mind makes for a “can’t miss” event, and how do you strike the right balance between the social networking aspect and delivering value/education?

Jill! Virtual events are definitely hot right now, and will be going forward. The answer to this question, as unsexy as it may be, is similar to most things - find out what your audience motivations are and deliver compelling value through your event. If you focus on that, people will come and you will have more success.

I do agree that extra care should be taken to ensure that the networking/connection aspect isn’t left out of the virtual event, as it’s a primary reason why most people attend in-person events.

Jacob - What does radically reinventing a community mean to you? How would you define the spectrum of small, meaningful changes vs. radical reinventions? In what community contexts or business scenarios would radical reinventions make sense vs. not make sense?

I think that stories of radical reinvention and innovation are exciting and sexy, but the truth is that after the initial launch and big leaps every now and again, the core work in any business is about incremental improvement - a bunch of little ones make a big one!

For those of us that build communities at enterprise scale, the catalyst to reinvent a community would flow from a massive shift in business model or other tectonic motion - the truth is that you just don’t see it very often.

I’m not against reinvention, but I caution against trying to fix what isn’t necessarily broken. There has to be a strong case for it, and the execution has to be spot on or you risk destroying your community altogether (Digg, et al)