Carter Gibson

Internal Community Management Program Lead at Google
September 24, 2020
AMA sticker

Katrine- Hi Carter, thank you so much for being here and doing this! My first question (of many 😂) is how did you find yourself as an internal community manager? Was the transition difficult?

Well, it was difficult because there isn't a lot of (any?) precedent for internal community management. It's a new thing - and it's never been done at a company the size of Google. We had to carve out a space for ourselves that wasn't HR, comms, or the culture team.

My background at Google was leading G+'s content and community team, so I was at least relatively well-known as someone who knew about the space. When Google realized we needed to make our platforms "more mature," I was reached out to.

Initially we were grassroots and scrappy, but we got the support we needed by showing that we could evolve Google's culture while mitigating risk by keeping around places people held dear.

I wouldn't call the transition easy. It was very bumpy. But we got there by adding value to our partner teams and Googlers alike.

Mac - Appreciate you doing the AMA, Carter!

To start us off, what are some of the major differences you see between ‘traditional’ community management and internal community management? Where does HR/people ops stop and internal community start?

Honestly, a lot of this job is applying external best practice internally - just being extra sensitive of culture, privacy, etc. The core difference is that Google is the company and its employees are our community. There isn't as big of a segregation between product/company and users. People feel more ownership inside of a company than maybe they would of a product.

As for the line between us and HR? It's all about severity. If you're uncool, you talk to us. If you discriminate, we take the content down (and built the tools / process to do it) and then let our friends in HR know lol

More to the spirit of the question, we had to be really, really diligent about precisely defining our roles and responsibilities. The work started there and I imagine the expectations would be different at different companies.

- Adding to Katrine's question, what are some of the unique challenges you face managing an internal community?

Well, it's a workplace. And that makes it difficult. Engagement in nonwork conversations is critical to our culture, but at the same time we don't want people like... not doing their jobs.

The hardest part though is the rigor of the comms we send. I represent a big company a lot of people care about and what I say is technically what Google thinks. It means reviews, considerations, conversations about how much "voice" to have, etc. There are lots of stakeholders. It's all for the best, but you certainly aren't able to as agile as could be at a startup. Again, not a bad thing, just something people may not immediately assume.

- Follow up to those^ questions - Alex Angel recently wrote an awesome blog post about the specialization of community roles in the future as community becomes more common in the business world - what are the community "specializations" you see appearing first?

Well, I can tell you how we do it at Google. We used to support our community by assigning people to individual platforms. That ended up not really working because it wasn't scalable and work wasn't very evenly divided.

Something I want to see more of in the world of "specialization" is CMs who manage a specific horizontal effort. My team has 3 Community Program Managers and each manages programs in a strategy area: moderation, amplification, and advocacy. Some places are starting to do this with content, live events, etc - but I think we'll see more CMs being assigned to strategic, horizontal opportunities.

Alex - Most important question: would you rather fight one horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?

HORSE SIZED DUCK. Omg absolutely.

Tristan - 🌟 When creating an incentive program for gamifying internal developer contributions to technical community, what communities have you seen be the most effective?

Stackoverflow! Their awards system is killer. As is Reddit's new award system.

But aside from those examples, I think awards and gamification need to be specific and drive the behaviors you want to see. Should people be answering questions? If so, do you care about quality? How funny they are? How useful they are?

Reward systems should always seek to drive specific behaviors, and those need to be defined first.

Note: I hate upvote/downvote reward systems.

Noele - I think I remember you mentioning that your community team sits under engineering—why is that? How do you find it?

Part of the reason is because I was, when approached, an engineering program manager. So that was a good starting point haha. But why we stayed engineering PgMs is more interesting...

We need to be able to drive a feature or product through the development life cycle - which means knowing how to do agile, work with engineering teams, and have some technical knowledge. We were able to provide a unique benefit to less technical teams who wanted to get something done, but didn't know how to go about it.

Additionally, we sit in Corporate Engineering which manages other teams that own our community platforms. We like being really, really close to them.

Holly - why are you so handsome? Does that come from your mother or father's side of the family? Do you have plans to grow a dapper mustache?

Thank you so much for asking Holly. This is an extremely important question, and I appreciate your courage. It isn't easy to make yourself vulnerable in this way, so thank you for setting such an admirable example.

To get the heart of your question... You know, it's difficult. With so many factors in play, it can be hard to nail down the complexity of my attractive physical appearance to one of two binary choices. The honest answer, even though it may not be as satisfactory as taking a firm stand on side or the other, is that it's a mix of both - and external contributing factors had a large role to play as well. For example, how I eat, work out, bathe... It's a very complicated process.

I encourage everyone here listening today to not be afraid of complexity. While reducing ambiguity to a few variables can be helpful in short conversations, really digging into nuances and considering other variables is where true innovation happens.

Speaking of innovation, yes! I would love to grow a mustache again! Maybe for November.

Alex - Okay last question from me: what's your favourite community that you're part of (apart from this one 😉)?

The most honest answer is, recently, this one. I am SO happy I found this.

But my other favorite is a forum for my hometown theme park Busch Gardens. I know a LOT about roller coasters (fun fact) and have been in that community for so long.