Jamie Langskov

Sr. Manager, Community at ContentStack
September 22, 2021
AMA sticker

Max - When you're going through hard days as a Community Manager, what helps you reset + refocus? What would you recommend to new CM's who might be going through a similar experience?

Ooo this one is something I feel in a very deep way. I believe that community managers truly have one of the toughest jobs in the world in the sense that we are often the front lines of both moderation of member behaviors and helping our members to feel better about situations that are often beyond our control. Whether it's a change in policy, product, direction, or experience, our members typically will come to the community to vent their frustrations and we have to be the ones to soothe their egos and calm their rage, while also often being not empowered to actually DO anything about it. Not to mention all the emotional labor we do internally just to justify our work, explain and educate, and defend our member needs to our colleagues who often don't get it. The trauma is real.

Soooo to get back to your question, I will try a few different things: (1) coming to peer groups like this to vent is so therapeutic. There are few people in our lives outside of our line of work who actually understand what we do. (Try explaining your role to someone outside of Tech or outside of community work and you'll likely get a blank stare.) If you need to, get an anonymous/alt account on Twitter or similar so that even if you're shouting into the void, you can get your frustrations off your chest and get the support of others who have been there. (2) get a mentor, preferably someone more senior than you and outside of your reporting line. Even better if they're outside of your company. This person can help you put into perspective some of the things you're dealing with and help you differentiate between the things that are outside of your control (so not worth stressing about), things that are within your control and worth investing time into fixing, and things that are within your control but not worth your energy. Perspective is something that can get easily lost when you're in the trenches, as we often are, at any level in community work.  (3) Disconnect. No, really. No one is going to die while you're away. There aren't any true community emergencies. Take a vacation. Walk away from the computer for a while.  I know it's easy to feel like without you, the community will wither and die and, while true maybe in a long term situation, your community will carry on without you for a brief period while you step away to collect yourself. Which brings me to (4): Delegate and empower. Train fellow employees and power users alike to do some of the work so that you don't have to feel like you're the only one who can do all the things *gestures broadly*. Things like content moderation and connecting people to existing resources (i.e. docs) can all be delegated with the right training. Remember that community is all about scaling and we are often underresourced as it is, so don't forget to scale yourself and prevent burnout.

Lastly, (5) therapy and journaling. Get you a real therapist who you connect with. Write stuff down to get it out of your head.

Kirsti - You’ve worked in several different industries over the years — which skills did you find most useful when you started working in community?

I would say that communication skills are pivotal in any role and made my transition into community much easier, but what really made me stand out was the ability to listen to technical users (developers, engineers, system admins, etc.) and translate their needs and information into messages that were consumable by anyone in the business. The skills I've invested in in the meantime have been primarily: change management, project management, data analysis, and product management (as many times we end up owning our platform in addition to managing the community itself).  If you're just starting out in community, the best skill you can work on being great at is listening and documenting what you hear. This will save you in many many situations.

Why are you the tech lorax?

And I consider myself the Lorax of the tech industry because I speak for the trees, so to speak 😅 My job is to advocate for my members, even when my colleagues may not like what I have to say. I am responsible for looking at the big picture and giving the often voiceless a voice during conversations that occur within my company. I think that's one of the most critical functions of product-focused community managers and developer relations folks: user advocacy.

Katelyn - I read in your post that one of your superpowers is being able to advocate on behalf of your community members and pushing that feedback back into the organization, even when you're met with hesitation from your teammates and those who are making product decisions. Have you found any particular approach or tactic that works really well when advocating for your members?

These can be tremendously challenging situations, for sure. A few tactics that work for me are ones that I've learned through change management training: namely, figure out what's important to convincing your colleagues that what you're saying is accurate, despite what they may believe on their own biases and experiences. This could be documenting member feedback and other qualitative evidence. It could be connecting your work to their business goals or their success metrics. Finding a way to make it win-win is the best way to get someone to buy into what you're selling. Figure out how to communicate in their "language" and then position what you're trying to achieve in those terms. I'd also say that something I'm working on personally is to focus more on outcomes and less on how we get there. This one can be hard because we often know the "right" way to do something when it comes to our communities, but sometimes it's worth letting go of the "how" as long as we get the outcome our community ultimately needs. This could be anything from launch timelines to tooling. Our job is to advocate for outcomes for our members, not specific tactics (unless the tactics themselves are problematic, i.e. data privacy issues). This will also help you build allyship within your org - letting the people doing the job do it in the way they know best or the way that works for them. And you'll need those allies to push through the politics internally sometimes. Know when to escalate. Find advocates at higher levels. Find your executive champions. And find your ground-level champions. Ideally, you have someone well-respected in each level of the org who is helping you fight the good fight. :)

Katrine - When it comes to moderation within a community, what are some of your non-negotiables? In your current role, what other teams within your org do you work closely with (if any)? How do you get them to understand how community impacts them/the business in general?

Hi Katrine, thanks for your questions! With regards to moderation, non-negotiables are some of the more obvious things: spam, harassment and bullying, etc. But, more interestingly, I've come to a couple of conclusions over the years: "quality" is subjective and anyone telling you that you should be providing editorial review of member content is both misinformed about how Section 230 works when you start doing editorial review of UGC and is acting as a gatekeeper for people new to your community, which is bad for new member cultivation. Keeping in mind that I work primarily in tech communities, I try to focus more on coaching than moderating such content, like "bad" questions (not enough info, code dumps, failure to search, etc.). I'll let the user publish the question, but provide gentle coaching in the replies so that I am both demonstrating good coaching behavior to the rest of the community and also educating not only the OP but also other potential question askers on what makes a good question that is likely to receive a good answer. I also am a believer in opening doors to localization as much as possible without compromising the safety of the community. While I am not fluent in many languages, I do feel that tools like Google Translate offer me enough context of a post to understand whether it's a safe post to allow to be published or not. If I have, say, a very active Portuguese market for my product, I'm not going to refuse to host Portuguese UGC just because I'm not fluent in Portuguese. Maybe I can find a member of the community who is willing to become a moderator in that content someday, but for now, it's enough that I can be sure the UGC doesn't violate basic CoC requirements.

With regards to other teams, I find that I most often spend time collaborating with product support/customer support, marketing, product management/engineering, and customer success/professional services. Currently, as a 'team of one' I am also looking into how we can build out more devrel style content with the help of our engineering, docs, and customer success teams, plus trying to figure out how to stand up a self-paced learning solution that will result in badges and certifications for our business users and developers alike. This means collaborating with our partner program leads and even our internal HR/learning team for guidance on best practices and tooling. It really depends a lot on how the rest of your org is structured and the specific programs and goals you've set out to achieve. Let me know if I can elaborate on this one more for you!

Sagi - What communities do you draw inspiration from?

The first that come to mind are the Salesforce Trailblazer community for their integration of the user journey/learning path into their entire community strategy and user experience; and the Atlassian community for the robustness and health of their thriving developer experience in the community, especially with regards to meetups and developer education. These are two that I think do it really well and have for a long time. If we look at how they became so successful, I think we'll see that it starts with lots of executive support and a voice at the e-team/board level advocating for community programs and investment. I cannot stress enough how critical it is to have an executive leader on your side.

Lindsey - Being the first community hire at Contentstack, how did you go about architecting the bounds of your role as well as its best practices from scratch?

Great question! The CTO at MongoDB had recommended a book to me that deeply impacted how I approached the role at Contentstack. It drove me to assert early on that for the first 90 days I would not deliver anything but a strategic plan. I spent those first 90 days meeting with and listening to all of my stakeholders across the company, documenting requirements and expectations, and then formulating my strategic plan. I wanted to be sure that I understood the expected outcomes, the "why" of community for both the leadership team and the rest of the company. I also wanted to understand what level of resistance I might be walking into (it was very little at first) and where education or other actions might be necessary. Then, I presented my plan to my boss and then the leadership team to get sign off on the scope, goals, and focus area of my role. Ultimately, I had to have a few conversations about things like why we need our own forums vs just going to stackoverflow and why we didn't want to use Slack for a product community that would also double as a knowledge base, so needed to be searchable and referenceable, why it was important that we make our community content public and indexable if we wanted to grow our brand presence with developers... in the end, I had to make sure I had buy-in at all the right places and that meant getting to know what was important to them.