by Googlers Carter Gibson (Internal Community Programs Lead) and Max Saltonstall (Cloud Developer Storyteller)

What does community mean in the middle of a crisis that’s isolated us all so profoundly from each other? What happens to company culture when a physical community isn’t around to support it?

That’s what Google — already well-known for its rich, open culture, and creative office spaces that enable thousands of connections — has had to ask itself during the pandemic. We don’t have to be the ones to tell you that online interaction has become many people’s primary form of professional communication in the era of COVID-19. …

How to supplement broad product principles by defining cultural norms in smaller communities.

There are a lot of rules to follow in life. Some of those rules are written down in law that you can look them up whenever you’d like. Others are unspoken norms you either proactively learn about from someone in the know or by accidentally breaking them and facing an unintended consequence. There are more severe consequences for breaking laws (eg, jail time, fines, etc) and less severe consequences for breaking social norms (eg, ejection from a friend group, a disapproving look, an argument, etc). …

What happened to Pornhub eventually happens to any growing platform without proper community investments. But, in a twist, is it leading the pack now?

Pornhub just nuked millions of pieces of content from its site without warning. All content uploaded by an unverified profile was removed.

This followed after Visa and Mastercard refused to process payments for the company after a whole bunch of illegal (and disgusting) content was discovered on the site. The only videos allowed on the site today and going forward are from verified profiles — including both professional companies and amateurs. Pardon the play on words, but damn Pornhub, that was ballsy.

And necessary because of Pornhub’s lackluster moderation.

Putting aside any hot takes about how much power credit card…

The reasoning for — and challenges of — expanding online verifications beyond notable figures.

Yesterday, Twitter shared that they would relaunch their verification applications in early 2021. Some time ago, users could request a verified badge, but it was removed. As it’s coming back, Twitter asked users to provide feedback and, in a surprising move, shared the actual language of the policy. Amid all the misinformation of 2020, I was encouraged to see that Twitter was taking a new approach to what it means to be a verified user.

Until I wasn’t.

You see, I was hoping that the days…

Competent communities can thrive in spite of pandemics, racial tensions, natural disasters, and political fervor — but not all succeed

Just when we thought we couldn’t be any more reliant on our screens, phones, and keyboards, they became the only ways we had to communicate with each other. Chat rooms formed. Friend groups picked the one unlucky person who could best schedule video calls. Engagement on hobby forums exploded. Brands rushed to get out new features to capture all of this energy, from Facebook Messenger video rooms to Zoom frantically trying to retain trust through basic security features. This isn’t just a fad or a trend. Companies are seeing the value of online community and they aren’t turning back.


Making the case for more specific guidelines and justifying the extra effort to define them

This post will explain, by deconstructing examples I’ve seen throughout my career, why simplicity can be the enemy of welcoming communities.

Community Managers (CMs) are often on the receiving end of feedback describing how guidelines or rules are unclear or unfair. A reasonable solution could be, “Well then let’s simplify.” Sometimes that works in cases where guidelines are overly dense. But there’s fallacy that simple moderation rules are a better default.

What users actually want is for guidelines to be understandable and clear. There isn’t always a cute, three-word tagline to accomplish that. Effective, enforceable guidelines doesn’t mean painting behaviors…

Shedding light on Community Management’s historical context and dissecting its modern day definition

There you are, standing in the living room of your parent’s house during a holiday party (hey, remember those?). You lock eyes with an older woman who looks vaguely familiar to you.

She looks back at you with eyes that say, “I knew you when you were this big.” Yup, she’s coming over to you. She walks over to you and — surprise! — says just that. You make small talk, but you know it’s coming. She’s going to ask it. The question you’ve struggled to answer succinctly for years. You brace yourself.

“And what are you doing for work…

And how my “be authentic” experiment failed under the weight of a huge following

If you know me, you’re probably already super confused by this title.

If you don’t know me, I used to spend hours — steadily and over the course of several years — trying to show online strangers who I really was. My mission was to show my fullest, most authentic self through a profile page and stream.

For a long time, this worked. It resulted in an eventual online following of 1.2M. My blogs did all the things they were supposed to. They were personal, showed vulnerability, and went out of their way to explain why I thought the way…

What lessons have we learned about how to be better community managers once we return closer to normalcy?

Online connection is now our primary form of connection. Conversations that used to happen in bars and hallways are happening on cell phones and laptops from our homes. Online communities that used to be “nice to have” became mission critical overnight. This is problematic for many people for many reasons. But for me, a community strategist, the problem was crystal clear: too many social products hadn’t seriously invested enough in developing their communities’ wellbeing.

As quarantine started, making investments in community infrastructure, finishing incomplete communication plans, and defining moderation strategies went from being low-priority tasks to P0 fire drills.


Avoiding language that risks your community’s trust

As Community Managers, our job is to craft healthy, constructive places where people can express their ideas and connect with each other. To do that, we sometimes have to intervene, mediate, or moderate in a way that firmly defines what kind of community we are without losing our community’s trust. When engaging, we often have to check our own biases or subjective value judgments before our fingers hit the keys. Rarely do we want to take sides in a personal disagreement, lambaste someone publicly, or otherwise risk our integrity as a facilitator.

Now, that isn’t to say that we can’t…

Carter Gibson

Community Management strategist & Program Manager | Internal Community Programs Lead @ Google | Excitable Geek | Lover of spectacle | I write about my passions

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