Willa Tellekson-Flash

Director of Community at Public.com
August 25, 2021
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Kirsti - I’d love to know more about your time at Lola, and how you worked to normalize talk around ‘uncomfortable’ topics. Did you have some strategies for that?

When you're having conversations about things that are stereotypically uncomfortable or taboo, how you carry yourself and the language you use really matters.

Additionally, being willing to share first and break the ice is helpful. When we would host breakfasts with members of our community, our ice breaker was sharing first period stories. One of our team members would always share first (and maybe second) to set the tone that these were conversations that we were comfortable having. Having affirming and warm body language helped, too.

Alex - I'd love to learn more about how you approach working with other teams within your org. You've mentioned before that you have data folks helping out, and I know you work closely with the support team (though I can't remember if that's what it's called at Public) and marketing team as well. It seems like there's deep collaboration, and I'm interested in what tips you have for how to start those conversations and maintain the relationships.

We love making Community top of mind for everyone. To start, I lead an orientation session for new employees. [We're hiring a ton right now, so I host these every other week.] I explain the value of community, what it looks like at Public, and how our team works with every other team. My goal in doing this is to have new employees thinking about how their work relates to our community from the get go.

I'm also a serial internal networker. I make it a priority to get to know as many new team members as possible, just like I did with our community. Outside of structured meetings and whatnot, I want other team members to feel like they know me (& vice versa) so that it doesn't feel as formal when I have an idea that I'm hoping they can help me with.

Since we're not fully in person, a lot of our work happens over slack. We have a community-product channel, cx-community channel, etc, and I'm pretty vocal about sharing feedback from our community that impacts those teams, pointing out bugs with our app that need urgent attention, or making requests from other teams. I try to make sure my tone is both polite and confident so that it's understood that my requests and ideas aren't just nice to haves, but would really add value.

The last thing is regular communication. I have a biweekly meeting with the data team to talk about how we can harness analytics to better understand community impact, a biweekly with our community-focused product manager to check in on projects that our engineers are working on for our community + our team and to share ideas for future developments, and a weekly meeting with the marketing team to ensure that I'm in the loop on all product announcements, campaigns, etc.

TL;DR -- communication, communication, communication. Sometimes I feel like I spend the majority of my day making sure I have the information I need from other teams and sharing my feedback in response, but it's worth the time.

Rachael - Hi Willa, also dropping a question for you here. You have a really interesting perspective, and your take on the cost of moderation (and the trolls of the net) is appreciated. I'm wondering what your own self care journey has looked like in this work?

I love this question, because I feel like it's only been recently that I've gotten better at setting better boundaries professionally.

When I first started, there wasn't much community activity outside of standard market hours, so I felt like I had decent separation between work and life. Then, when we hit a period of rapid growth and simultaneously were launching additional features that prompted people to be active on the app outside of market hours (weekends, evenings, holidays), I started feeling as though I always needed to be checking the app, and that was not great for my own mental health!

I think a lot of community managers have the personality that makes them feel like they should just hunker down and get it done, but I've learned how harmful that is -- no one can help me if they don't know that I'm overworked. It was really important for me to hire a community manager who's based on the west coast who monitors the community a bit later into the evening, and to hire a community manager who works Saturday thru Wednesday so that weekends are covered, too. If your load is too heavy for just you to carry, you probably need more help.

Outside of that, I have some pretty firm rituals that guard my non-work time. I'm a morning person, so I get up early, make tea, and journal or write poetry for 45 minutes before exercising and then getting ready for work. Regardless of when during the day it is and what you're doing, I think it's really important to create time for things that have absolutely nothing to do with work or your community, because it's too easy to let community work to bleed in to every element of your life!

[Also, very pro-therapy, FWIW.]

Max - You are currently managing a massive online community and are there any plans of doing events IRL? If so, how do you go about managing them where you feel like everyone is included (even if not based in the city where the event is)

This is a very timely question, @Max Pete! I've just started thinking about IRL events. That said, you make a great point about including people!

Ultimately, I'd like to leverage our community data to plan to host IRL events in the top 10-15 city hubs that our community lives near (not just NYC, LA, SF, etc). And then, though we have no concrete plans for this, I'd love to think about creating resources for community members to host their own events in areas that we may not have reached yet!

Cole - Would love to hear how you measure success for your team of CMs, and I'm curious about how you monitor the health of a community the size of Public's (Congrats on the 1 mil milestone!!)

For our CMs, we're currently monitoring what percentage of our active community we're reaching on a weekly basis. This allows us to set goals for how many unique members they're interacting with each week [keeping in mind that quality > quantity], and allows me to regularly think about how appropriately staffed we are. [If we're interacting with similar numbers of users but the percentage of our reach is dropping, I may need to think about hiring.]

We also are keeping an eye on trends that pop up w/in our community, and so while not measured, success also looks like coming to our regular check ins with community members to shout out, conversations to highlight, etc.

On the community health front, candidly, this is an area that I still haven't fully figured out yet. Our data team is still pretty new and we're getting into the flow of how we want to use data to answer questions about our community. I'd like to have a fully fleshed out dashboard that monitors community retention, moderation statistics, sentiment of interactions, and impact of our community team on business KPIs, but we're not quite there! In the meantime, I monitor moderation levels closely and weekly conversation numbers, too.

Jocelyn - What has been the biggest challenge with working with such a large community?

The biggest challenge is trying to create a community experience for everyone, while acknowledging that our team can't interact with absolutely everyone. As a result, there's a lot of thinking about prioritization and impact. The two key groups that I've chosen to focus on are new members [wanting to welcome as many of them as possible to improve the likelihood that they'll stick around] and highly active members who we may be able to convert into power users or super fans. Reasoning being -- first impressions matter, and if we can nurture active users into super fans, they often become quasi ambassadors, and they help our community team do some of our engagement work!

Intimacy at scale will always be a challenge, and so I think focusing on the subgroups that we see the highest opportunity for impact with allows us to not feel spread too thin. Down the line, I want to think in a more structured way about creating subcommunities too, but haven't gotten there yet!