Tending to Your Community with Brian Oblinger

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This is a podcast episode titled, Tending to Your Community with Brian Oblinger. The summary for this episode is: <p>This week we were joined by Brian Oblinger to talk about community. Brian is Chief Community Officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting. Tune in to listen to Jay, Jeff, and Brian talk about the importance of community and being customer-centric!</p><p>--</p><p>If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: <a href="http://gaingrowretain.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">http://gaingrowretain.com/</a></p><p>This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...</p><p>Jay Nathan: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaynathan/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaynathan/</a></p><p>Jeff Breunsbach: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreybreunsbach" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreybreunsbach</a></p>
Increase Retention, Limit Your Churn
00:21 MIN
Value Propositions
00:26 MIN
Exponential Return
00:28 MIN
Tend to Your Communitiy
00:37 MIN
Starting With a Use Case
00:28 MIN

Intro: Welcome to Gain, Grow, Retain podcast.

Jay: Welcome back to another episode of Gain, Grow, Retain. For today, we've got Brian Oblinger, who is the chief community officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting, which is always fun. You were able to venture off and start your own consulting firms. So kudos, Brian. I know that's always a tough question to figure out for yourself and actually take that leap, but we had the chance to meet Brian recently. I've heard a ton of great things in the industry just about what Brian's been able to do. He's got an awesome podcast that I've listened to before as well, so brings a ton of B2B community- type experiences that I'm excited to listen to today. So Brian, thanks for joining us.

Brian: Yeah. Thanks for having me, guys.

Jay: Awesome. We always like to start with a fun question. So I'm going to go with something off the wall here, but what's your favorite fruit?

Brian: Ooh, pineapple for sure.

Jay: Ooh. All right. I like that, because I, too, would say pineapple. So I feel like we're in good company.

Jeff: You're kindred fruit spirits over here.

Jay: Here's a question. Do you like pineapple in your candied yams at Thanksgiving? You ever had that

Brian: I've never had that, no, but now I'm taking notes here, Jay. I'm going to try that next year.

Jay: Excellent. I highly recommend it.

Jeff: Jay, what's your favorite fruit? I don't know if I've ever asked you that.

Jay: That's a great question. I love grapes. I just think grapes, I call them little orbs of goodness from heaven. Think about it. It's like this little ball of sweet juices. You can make wine out of them. Grapes are just good. So yeah, there you go.

Jeff: I'm pretty sure my wife would agree with you in all aspects. The wine part, the, the goodness part, everywhere.

Jay: You thought you knew everything about me, Jeff, but there's still a lot of layers to peel back here, buddy.

Jeff: Jay and I are starting a fruit podcast, if anybody's interested. Tune in weekly.

Jay: Fruit Cast.

Brian: Use code pineapple at checkout for 10% off.

Jeff: Hey, I know, because I'm listening to In Before the Lock every single week, and I'm going to know if you steal my fruit question with you and Erica. I'm hoping that that becomes the next episode starter, where you ask Erica what her favorite fruit is. That would be a nice homage.

Brian: I'm sure our audience would very much appreciate that.

Jay: Hey, Brian, explain the title of that podcast.

Brian: Yeah. So In Before the Lock, so I go way back in this community industry. I've been doing this for 20 years, so basically back to the beginning of it, in terms of online communities on the Internet. For anybody who is savvy out there and has been around a while, you know that the flame wars of yore on forums back in the day, there's a famous sort of... It's like a meme, right? Where people post," In before the lock," meaning they know it's off the rails. They know it's going to get deleted or locked by a moderator. So they're just getting their free post in. So Erica and I just wanted to pay homage to our past and kind of have it be something to be a fun nod for our audience there.

Jay: That is very cool. I feel so naive now about community. But I love it. It's good.

Jeff: That's good. Awesome. Well, Brian, we were talking a little bit about some topics, and I recently came across your presentation that you did recently at the ISCL Summit 2020, just around kind of solving business problems and starting to think about calculating ROI and how do you start thinking about just telling that story? So I definitely think that's something that our audience here and our members at Gain, Grow, Retain are thinking about. Customer success leaders, they're trying to understand how does community kind of fit within their customer success strategy, for the most part? So curious some of the things that you had mentioned in that presentation maybe that resonated with me the most is starting to think about frameworks. Also, I think maybe what I picked up most is that you also help people to start thinking about where to start, because I think sometimes people are hung up on the big ROI metric, like," Oh, we deflected this amount of cases, and this turned into that much revenue" or" We had this many upseller cross- sell opportunities. We retained this much revenue," right? It always gets down to revenue at the end of the day, but I think sometimes people get hung up on that, because you need so much data to help maybe tell that story. So I don't know. Where do you like people to start when you start trying to answer that question of telling the ROI story, especially in community and B2B SaaS?

Brian: Yeah. I mean, for me, it starts with what are your actual high- level business objectives, right? It's kind of funny, because I sign these contracts and I show up at these companies. The first question I ask is," Okay, great. Let's get started. What are your goals and objectives?" Some people have very clear goals and objectives, and a lot of people just stare at me blankly, right? So thus begins the process of," Okay, let me help you craft what your goals and objectives should be." I certainly come from the community side of that, but I also come from a business background. So what I try to do is marry those two things together and say," Hey, look, if you're in customer success and you're trying to limit your churn or increase retention or those kinds of metrics, right? Great. Those are your high- level business objectives. What can we do now from a community or customer experience perspective to make sure you're hitting those targets?" Then we'll go set goals for the community or customer experience or advocacy or whatever we're doing that line up to those. That way, people can draw a really straight line from," Oh, okay. I understand what we're doing and how that maps to what my high- level business objectives are," and that helps them tell the story internally of," Hey, why are we doing this? Why is it important?," that kind of thing.

Jeff: Yeah. The idea there, too, that I think maybe I've noticed a lot in my career is sometimes people will jump over that step of even just elaborating on that story of how we're going to go to those high- level business objectives. You know, I think sometimes people just miss the leading indicator part, right? I like the way you thought about that. We've got all these things that can kind of lead us up into some of those business objectives that we're trying to achieve. Part of the whole idea, though, is that we have a story to tell. It's not just we can just throw up and flash one metric and it's going to help help us in every instance. It's like how do we actually help navigate and show that we're making progress, that we're moving the right things, that we're engaging the right people in order to actually make an impact on that number?

Brian: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. I mean, so I try to set those, like," Let's get our goals and objectives in order," and then we go do all the things you just said, which is," Okay, let's go wrap a story around this and explain to everybody in the organization,'Here's what we're doing. Here's why it's important. Here's how you can get involved,' right? What I need from you, essentially, and then ultimately answer the question that everybody wants answered, which is,'What's in it for me?'" Right? So as you go around and you talk to these different business units, that's going to be their ultimate question, and that's the messaging you have to bring, is to say," Hey, look, if you're in customer support, we're going to help you decrease your costs," right?" We're going to deflect tickets. We're going to make sure your C- SAT is higher," right? We mentioned some of the customer success ones. Sales will have their own, right? They want to drive revenue. They want to make their expands larger, right? So I kind of try to think about," How do I put myself in their shoes, and what do they care about?" and then line up what we're doing and the story that we tell so that they understand it. It's in their language. It's in their DNA, and they go," Oh, great. Yeah, this is awesome. I'd love to participate. Let's share together in what the outcomes and the results are," right? That's how you build this coalition across the organization to really drive change and ultimately value.

Jay: I mean, ultimately, I mean, it's tricky, right? Because everything we do in community, I think all of us who are in it at any level feel the benefits. You can feel the connection. You can feel the momentum that you can drive from having an engaged community. But unless you actually do the work of drawing a line from that moment and then that gut feel to those outcomes in some way, it could be hard to defend the investment, whether you're asking people just to participate in it, like we ask our teams to make sure we have all of our questions in our user groups, they should all be answered and hopefully community members will help each other do that, but if not, we have to step in and do it. That's an investment of time. There's an investment of dollars behind a platform. There's an investment of dollars behind people who run the platforms and who drive the engagement with the community. So I'm just curious, how do you see people making the best case for keeping community going and investing in it to drive those? Do you see it the same way? Is it truly this indirect thing like I feel like it is for us?

Brian: Well, so the way I think about this is over the years as I was a VP of community at a couple of companies and you show up to executive strategy meetings, and it's funny because CMOs, CFOs, folks like that, they never show up to those meetings and say," Well, I think what we're doing is working well. It feels good, so we'll just doing that," right? They come with the hard numbers and the data, and they're convincing the CEO or the board or whoever's there, right? So from a community perspective, that's the challenge for me, is we need to do the same thing on our end, right? We need to put on our big boy pants, basically, and show that," Hey, we have the same numbers," right?" We have the same data to back this up. We have a concrete story that maps what we're doing to the value of what this business is trying to achieve." So I very much see it as an imperative that you can get a little down the road with the feelings and people going," Yeah, this seems great," whatever, but ultimately, like any other business unit, we've got to have the data. We've got to prove what we're doing. Then the other ultimate point about that is if you can do that and you can do it successfully and you can get the buy- in, then it becomes so much easier to ask for more, right? So one of the mistakes that people classically make from a community or a customer experience perspective is they go to these high- level strategy meetings and they meet with the CEO or whatever, and they say," Yeah, we're doing all this stuff. It's really great, and customers love it. Anyway, I need a million more dollars," right? Or," I need more people" or" I need whatever." It's sort of like," Well, okay, but why?" If you can come instead with data and say," Here's the value we've delivered to date with the team and resources that are available to us, and now I can tell you that if we invest in additional half a million dollars, million dollars,$ 10 million, whatever it is, here's the additional value we're going to generate," right? So when you come to the meeting and you say," Hey, last year we saved$ 20 million on support costs and revenue generation," and then my next sentence is," Oh, yeah, by the way, I'd like to hire one more person, probably at 120 grand a year or something," who cares, right? Who cares? Whereas if I'm just coming and begging for more resources and asking for more money, it's sort of like," Get out of my office, dude," right? But if you come with," Hey, we're saving double- digit millions of dollars and I just want to hire one more person for 150K," then that's not really that big of an ask, right? So you can really help yourself by having that data and that information, and it helps you build yet even more value in the organization, right?

Jay: Yeah, yeah. Totally. To your point, that's not dissimilar from what any other part of the business should or has to do.

Brian: Exactly. We should be no different, right? For sure.

Jeff: Yeah, I was about to say it's a really similar parallel, because I think, again, customer success, a lot of our leaders, some of the struggle is trying to show and prove the value of having a customer success manager, right? Why do you need a specific implementation team? Why do we need a specific support team? So I think very similar in the fact that we have to make sure and be able to draw these business outcomes that we're achieving. I like the point that you'd made, where that was one of the fundamental mistakes that you feel like leaders might make, which is kind of asking without having the data to back it up or having that story to tell. Is there any other things that come to mind for you about some of those? When you start thinking about kind of ROI or going into some of those strategy meetings, any other kind of common mistakes that you see higher- level leaders around community make, kind of walking into those meetings?

Brian: I think just not understanding ultimately what the true value of something like community can be, right? So a lot of people get focused on one specific use case or metric, right? So for a lot of companies, that starts as support case deflection, right? That's why most companies build communities, and that's kind of their entry point. I think one of the mistakes that gets made there is, hey, that's great, right? That's a great use case. It's totally valuable. It's one of the most well- known ones and reasons why most people build these things. But ultimately, there's so much other value, right? You were talking about my presentation with the ICL Summit. It's like we can essentially be a center of excellence, right, that services the rest of the business and say," Okay, support, they're good," right?" They're deflecting cases. They're saving money. Their teams are more efficient. Sales, right? We can help generate new leads. We can help educate customers so that when the time to buy comes, they're more educated and that sale is easier. We can help them on the expand side, right? Customer success, we talked about that a little bit earlier, right? How do we increase your retain numbers and lower your churn and all those things? So I think being able to have this sort of library of what are the different value propositions and how do you execute those is really important. I think because community's a newer... Relatively speaking. It's not like accounting or something like that's been around for hundreds of years. Because it's a relatively new thing that's only been around for a few decades, people just don't have that experience, and they don't know how to tell that story. That's ultimately where people like you or people like me come in, and we can say," Okay, look, here's how we do this, and here's how you can get more value." That's really the companies that are doing this at a very high level and getting tons of value. That's what they've done, is they've diversified the use cases and the ways that they think about value, as opposed to just getting laser- focused on one and then just sort of throwing their hands up in the air and saying," We did it. We're done. We don't need to do anything else." There's always something else you could be doing, right, to squeeze more out of this.

Jay: Yeah. I'm curious. We have a friend of our community who says there are two types of people in the world, people who categorize things and people who don't. I'm in the former camp myself. So I always look at the size of the business that we're talking about in terms of how they think about things. In particular, I'm starting to try to shape up some framing around how they think about community based on how large they are. So bare with me for a second. If you have a smaller software company, right? Generally speaking, they're going to be maybe private equity backed, maybe even venture backed. Cost is something that somebody worries about, but most people don't, right? Because they don't tend to run high EBITDA margins, anyway. They run at high gross margins, like most software businesses do. As you get to scale, then you start worrying about optimizing. You worry about your support costs, that kind of thing. So I guess where I'm going with this is it feels like the larger the company is, the more things like support case deflection are going to matter, because you can actually measure them and see the tangible ROI there, versus the smaller companies are really trying to gain visibility. They're trying to build credibility. They're trying to foster the marketplace that they serve. They're trying to drive retention and engagement with their customers. That is something we are really passionate about doing with our community. So I wonder if you see it the same way, or do you see any variation there? What do companies care about at different size and stages relative to community, in your experience?

Brian: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think you got it, right? I think new startup, smaller companies that are trying to grow are definitely focused on market share, and there's usually more marketing use cases there, I would say, whereas, like you said, you get to the big enterprises, they're more concerned with cost and retention and satisfaction and things like that. But what I would say is so there's definitely the company size piece. There's definitely the investment size piece. Then there's just every company is different, and every community is different. It's what simultaneously makes it challenging, but makes it really fun for me every day, is that every community is so different and the considerations are different and what they want to get out of it's different. So you can't really come to the table with this cookie cutter, one size fits all thing, because to your point, you can't do the same thing at a gigantic enterprise that you would do at a startup with 15 people, right? So really thinking about deeply," What are they trying to get at, and how am I going to be the one to help them? How do I tailor what we're doing to fit their needs?" becomes extremely important, right? That's how you deliver. I think, back to mistakes, right? I think in the community industry, there's this tendency to think," Hey, the stuff that I did at this small startup over here is totally applicable to this gigantic enterprise. We'll just do the same set of activities." It's like," No, unfortunately, that's not how it works." So you have a bunch of people who have seen this kind of at different phases and ways, but they haven't seen the other ones. I think that's where people like me that have just been around forever and done so many different... I've launched hundreds of communities, right, with businesses of all stripes kind of gives you more of that perspective of what to do when and how to treat different situations, right? Because it's not a one size fits all, which good and bad with that.

Jay: Yeah, totally. So I'm glad you brought up that you've done hundreds of these. I was going to ask you, if you have to look across all those, what's one that you're particularly proud of? What was the use case? What did it look like, that kind of stuff?

Brian: Yeah. I think the one that I'd point to for this show and this question is I worked at this company, Alteryx, right? I showed up, and the CEO was like," Hey, we think community is going to be this big pillar of our business, and we want to go all in on this," right? So I was like," Yeah, cool. Sign me up."

Jeff: That's got to be a good feeling for your CEO, right? That's got to be a good feeling, walk in the door and he says that.

Brian: Yeah. Simultaneously exciting and terrifying at the same time, right? Because now you get to put your money where your mouth is, which is great. So the reason I point to this one is because the reason I went there and the reason I think it's a great example is because we did everything, right? What I mean by that is we didn't stop with one use case. We did what I described earlier, where we deployed every possible type of use case and value proposition and everything that we could, because we thought," Well, we want to leave no stone unturned," right?" We want this to be a shining example of everything that we've learned," at that point, 15 years into my career in community." Let's take everything we've ever learned and go build this shining example on the hill." I'm really proud to say that I think we accomplished that, and we had a great team of people that came and did that and execute that still to this day over there at that company. So I think that's a really positive example of one that had the buy- in, had the backing, but we were able to prove what we were doing and therefore were able to build it even bigger over time. So that's sort of my template, right? So when I go to work with companies now, again, I'm not trying to replicate what we did at Alteryx or just reuse everything and think it's going to work out. But in terms of the vision of," Here's what it could be, and here's what the value could look like. Here's all of the different ways that we can use this to support our customers and our business," I think is probably the ultimate example at this point of things I've worked on.

Jay: That's very cool. I think to your point, when you begin to layer in the use cases, they sort of build on each other, and it's like an exponential return, in my mind, because one feeds the other, right? The knowledge and the engagement from the actual customers and what they provide into the community actually can be fuel for what you're trying to do on the go to market side of what the community provides. I don't know if you see it the same way, but it feels to me like a very cyclical thing that builds upon itself as you implement more of these use cases.

Brian: Yeah, that's right, and you're hitting on the key thing here, which is a lot of people go into building community or customer experiences thinking that it's a one- way street, right?" Oh, we're going to build all this stuff, and customers are going to show up. They're going to give us tons of value, and I'm going to go to a meeting and talk about how many millions of dollars we made. I'm going to be this big hero." What they're missing is the whole other complete side, which is you have to lead with value, right? This whole thing is like," How do we come to the table with value that these people haven't yet seen before from your organization and truly make the experience better, cheaper, faster, more efficient," whatever those things are for you and for them? Only then, when you have that shared value, have you created something that's going to scale and is going to last and is going to bring value to both parties. Those are the communities and customer experiences that really matter and the ones that drive the majority of the value. So it's just a little bit different way of thinking about how to attack a problem, as opposed to our typical," We'll launch a program, and then we'll ask our customers to do all the work and provide value for us." It's more," What can we do for you" Then in the end, you'll get it back, right? If you do it correctly.

Jeff: Yeah. The trigger word for us that makes us smile is" lead with value," because I think that's what we've tried to adopt, especially throughout our consulting careers that we had the last three years and then also with our team here from a customer success angle. We're always trying to make sure our teams are leading with value, right? We don't want our customer success managers to have the," Hey, how's it going?" type of meeting. It's got to be a," Hey, I've got something of value to give you," so you avoid those types of moments. I think even just making sure that that is true in other experiences that we create, right? What's the value in having a knowledge base or a support center? What's the value of having the academy? What's the value in having the community? Being able to articulate that to customers I think is something that people sometimes miss, also, which is helping the customer understand why all of these experiences exist and then what it's going to do to enhance their experience. I've been a customer of companies where I didn't know where to go, because I couldn't really articulate the value of all these different places and what was held where and why it was there, right? I think that's also part of the challenge, is trying to make sure that you can have these experiences live next to one another and they've actually got discreet value that you can provide that is differentiated, but at the same time creates a cohesive and a whole experience that is going to be the driver.

Jay: Right.

Brian: Yeah.

Jay: Sorry. Go ahead. You had a thought.

Brian: Yeah. I met this client years ago. I was doing consulting at that time as well, and she had this big plant behind her in her office or her home office. She was part of the CS org at this company, and she was sort of describing a frustration to me about," We've tried all these programs, and nothing seems to work. We're not getting traction." I said," Okay, well, tell me a little bit about those programs." It was all this sort of one way kind of thinking of like," Well, we did the minimum possible, and we don't understand why our customers aren't engaging and contributing and why we're not seeing value." I said," Hey, that's a really nice plant you've got behind you. You probably water that every day or let it get some sun in that, right?" She looked very perplexed, right? She said," Well, yeah, I water it a couple times a week." I said," Well, there you go," right?" You wouldn't expect it to grow and be this big, vibrant plant with blossoms and whatever if you didn't give it some love and actually contribute something to it." I think she kind of stared at me for a couple seconds there, but I think she got the point, right, that it's like these things require care and feeding, and you've got to put a lot into it before you're going to get something out of it. So in that regard, that is one thing that can frustrate people a little bit about CX and community, is it's like," Oh, well, it's this big upfront investment." It's like," Yeah, but trust me, you're going to get it back in the long run if you do it the right way. But yes, it's an investment, right? You can't expect to do this with no investment and somehow get all this value." So I think it's just a mindset shift for a lot of people.

Jay: I'm glad you spoke first there, because you said it way more eloquently, but I was thinking the whole idea here is give before you get, and it ends up coming back in spades, right? So that's just like," Hey, where are my leads from the community?"

Jeff: Yeah. We often talk, too. I think the biggest thing maybe that Jay and I have have learned just from building our own personal brands over the last year or so, we've tried to maybe double down on LinkedIn ourselves, because we felt like that was something that was going to be valuable to us later in our careers. But I think maybe the one thing I've figured out or learned is that there's always... I think this is where you're getting at, too, Brian. There's always going to be this loop where the content I think is starting to become a larger part of the story in community, where you can actually have access to what customers are thinking, feeling in the moment, right? Then that should really help start feeding some of our customer engagement strategies, start feeding some of our proactive customer success outreach. There's so many things that can actually come when you also just listen to the community. Like you said, you have to tend to it. You have to water it. You have to make sure there's actual engagement and discussion happening, but there's all these things and benefits that you can have as an organization in education, customer success, product, kind of all parts, support organization as well that come out of it in spades, for sure.

Brian: Yeah. It's funny, because so many companies talk about," Data's the new oil" or" Insights are the new oil," right? Those kinds of things. One thing that I respond to when I hear that is that's the beautiful part about communities, right? Is that you're going to learn more about your customers and what they like and don't like and what their ideas are and just generally connect with them more in six months than you probably did in the previous six years, right? If you launch a successful community. So for product, for development, for customer experience, for customer success teams, anybody who's customer- facing, it's just such a fantastic opportunity to connect with these people in a way that you haven't before and truly understand what their motivations are, what they need to be successful, and what you need to do to make those things happen. If you really concentrate on how you collect and funnel and prioritize and then ultimately deliver back on that feedback that you're getting through the community and those mechanisms, your company, your products, your experience, everything will be so much greater as a result. Then the dollars follow, right? So it's just an amazing opportunity to connect with people, and it sounds kind of fluffy, but I'm telling you, that stuff turns into real dollars and real value pretty quickly.

Jay: Right. How do you think about multichannel? Because community to us is not just an online community, although that tends to be a big portion of it and can be a hub, so to speak. How do you think about things that go on outside of a traditional online community as being integrated into it?

Brian: Yeah. I don't remember who this is, and I apologize. I don't want to steal it, but I was at a conference at one point years ago, and someone had described what we're talking about as big C and little C. What they meant to say was that the little C is the website. So that's community. whatever. com. Then the big C is everything right? This big umbrella that includes perhaps social media. Perhaps it includes offline events, everything, advocacy programs, MVP programs. All this stuff is like our," What's the whole pie?" Our community is anybody that we ever had a touchpoint with, right? From prospect to someone who's been with us for 15 years, that's our community, right? Then also the industry as well. So I think about that a lot, and I try to espouse that to people that what you don't want is your community to just be a website, although that's a very critical, important... You need to have an on domain community, but you need to be thinking bigger in that. This is where my background in customer experience comes in to sort of help people understand, what are all those touchpoints, right, across the entirety of your company and your experience that you provide? Because there's probably a lot of people that could deliver more value and do different things if you really thought deeply about the big C there and how does it all fit together as one big, cohesive strategy?

Jay: When we launched Gain, Grow, Retain, it actually didn't start with an online community. It started with something we called office hours, and it was like a virtual Zoom call that we still to this day hold every Thursday, every Thursday at 11:30, if you're listening.

Brian: I'm going to show up and start heckling you.

Jay: You should. We should actually have a conversation about community on there someday, because a lot of people are interested in it and they don't know where to start, I think, sometimes, but, I mean, we considered our initial community the group of people that we ended up having a lot of conversations with on LinkedIn and then that joined us for our office hours. Then what was it, Jeff? Three months after that, that's when we launched our first online community, and it sort of brought it all together at that point, which was really cool. We had a presence that sort of centralized everything. But to your point, it was our audience was the way we thought about our community, not the people who were members of an online database, per se.

Brian: Yeah. I don't know if any of my community industry brothers and sisters are going to listen to this, but they might be a little upset to hear what I'm about to say, but it's true, is that as an industry, we're overly protective of the word community, right? There's just constant defense of it, and what does it mean? You can only use it for this, and marketers are using it now. That pisses us off and whatever. I'm like," We can do what we can do, right, to define the sphere of what this is, and other people are going to use it however they're going to use it." But I think you're right that I'm a little more loose on the definition and the usage of it these days. I think it's totally fine if there's some different approaches, right? I think it's a good thing that there's diversity of how people think about their community and how they want to deliver on it. This goes back to my comment earlier about not trying to do the same thing 300 times in a row. Everybody's different. They've got their own situation. Yeah, I mean, lots of companies come to me and they say," Hey, we want to start with an advocacy program" or" We want to start with user groups" or" We want to start with any of the other 10, 15 programs that you could do before you launch a formal little C community." I think that's great. They're getting their feet wet. They're learning. They're trying to understand who their audience is prior to making the big investments and going in on community. I think that's great. On the other hand, there's people who are like," No, we're going to go all in, right, and make the big investment and go all in on domain community." That's great, too. All of that's valid to me, right? I think we should stop a little bit of the back and forth in defense of the word and this kind of stuff. It's like," Let's do what's right for our customers," right? That's the guiding light. If we do that, then everything else will work out.

Jay: Yeah, totally. I think it's interesting. Starting with a use case is probably better than starting with something called community, if you think about it, because there's an actual problem that somebody is trying to solve, and we're saying," Okay, community is a means to do that. So let's go put that in and see if we can solve the problem. Oh, by the way, we have a community now, so we can go solve these other three or four problems if we just really think about it a little bit and start putting some elbow grease behind it." So I actually like that a lot, because it seems like it's easier to get traction. Back to your point about value and showing results, if you can show results in one place and then sort of extrapolate that to the next use case, as opposed to saying," Hey, we're going to put community in, and it's going to be a panacea for us, but I can't really tell you how yet," it seems like a better path, what you were saying earlier.

Jeff: The other thing I was just thinking about, too, Brian, I'm curious in this year of 2020 if you've seen maybe creative ways that people have used community, considering that we had to go virtual, that we can't see things in- person. I'm curious if you've just found or come across anything that you've just kind of felt like," Wow, that's a unique way that people have kind of innovated on community during a year like 2020."

Brian: Yeah. So I'll say two things about this. So thing number one is that I've seen a lot of things where people are like," Wow, that's amazing. That's unique. Look how they've used their community in these'unprecedented times,' trademark." I look at that stuff, and I'm like," Yeah, we've been doing that for 20 years. You just didn't know about it," right? Because now it's in the limelight. It's in the spotlight. So there's a lot of that stuff that I'm glad that it's now getting the attention that it deserves, because these are valuable things and can bring a lot of value to companies. So that's one side of it. The other side is yes, absolutely, there's people that have done truly unique, kind of thoughtful," Oh, let's tear this up and rethink how we're going to do this." I think a lot of that has been on kind of the events side, right? We've seen a lot of people thinking through," Okay, how do I take what I was doing before in- person and now make it hybrid or make it virtual? What do those experiences look like? Are there new technologies that maybe give a better experience than what we were doing before?" So I've seen a lot on the event side, and I've seen a lot on the advocacy sort of rank reward reputation side of thinking about," Well, if we're a retailer, for example, then our experience, at least for the last six months, has been a lot less about the retail experience and more about our online channels and how we connect with people on different places." So yeah, I mean, there's been a lot of kind of innovation that's come out of that, and I think that'll be good for the future. Some of that we can continue. Some of it will go away completely. Then other pieces will be kind of hybrid wrapped into things they were doing pre- pandemic. So it's an exciting time for community and customer experience. You're seeing a lot of experimentation just because people could and they were afforded that opportunity. I think that a lot of good outcomes there, a lot of value.

Jay: Yeah, that was something that we tried to do pretty quickly. We moved our conference to more of a two- week, a couple hours a day type of content digest, so to speak instead of trying to cram it into a one- or two- day event, like you might see in kind of a normal, in- person environment. I think we had some good feedback around that, so now we're trying to figure out how do we continue to innovate around doing that maybe even for year- round, right? How do we actually bring some of those experiences to our customer, even just on a regular basis? Because even though it was virtual, it doesn't mean we can't just keep continuing to do that on a regular basis, too.

Brian: Yeah. There's so much value from an event perspective specifically in embracing some of these virtual ideas and modes and methods of delivering events. I think ultimately we're going to come around to hybrid, right? I think you're going to see a lot of," Hey, we'll be in person in San Francisco, but also, the whole world can still join and watch virtually." I think that's ultimately going to be the right mix for a lot of this. I was listening to a podcast interview not too long ago with the CEO of Okta, and he was talking about how in the middle of the pandemic, they delivered their octane conference and had 5, 000... I'm sorry. So usually when they do it in- person, they have 5, 000 attendees. He said that in the first week, they had 50,000 people watch the recordings of the virtual event.

Jeff: That's huge.

Jay: Wow.

Brian: He was just making the point of," Why would we ever not do that?" Right? You're cutting off such a huge amount of people that are now getting access to this for the first time. It's one of those things that seems obvious in hindsight, but it is such a clear, I think, signpost for the future in thinking about how do we deliver these kinds of things? It needs to be a little different than what we were doing before the pandemic, right?

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, it kind of goes back to delivering value, too, right? If we have a valuable experience we can deliver our customers, then why aren't we just finding the right way to do that? We think about that a lot with our content. So if we have valuable toolkits, if we have valuable presentations, templates, things that we put together and it works for one customer, why not open that up, share it out with many customers, and just try and... Maybe they can use it. Maybe they can't. But at least just that type of proactive nature of always trying to give value back to the customer is going to come back in spades at some point, like you said, and there's no need for us to keep things behind that proverbial closed door or a form fill, so to speak.

Brian: Wait. So you don't want to put it behind a form fill, a login, and a secret handshake? What's wrong with you?

Jeff: Don't get me started, because that's really how you deliver value at scale, is you hide everything, guys, which is-

Jay: Well, it goes back to the give before you get thing, too, right? We're asking them to give before they get, and that's their crosstalk. (laughing). Jeff knows I've been-

Brian: Tune in next week.( laughing).

Jeff: Yeah, we're going to Brian back just to talk all about that.

Brian: I could go for days, gentlemen.

Jeff: Awesome.

Brian: Maybe that'll be a six- week run of your year- long conference, will just be me angrily yelling at clouds out to-

Jay: We'll start a new podcast on that.

Jeff: Yeah, what not to do. Awesome. Well, Brian, this has been perfect. Enjoyed all these good discussions. I have a feeling that we're going to have to invite you back at some time, at some point soon, because I think there's even other topics that we want to dive into around community that could be beneficial around engagement. Thinking about gamification I think is another one that's always really interesting and fun to kind of bounce ideas around. So I'm sure hopefully if you enjoyed this, then we're going to maybe have you back at some point and make sure our audience is excited about that. But if people are interested in finding you or your writing, your work, your podcast, where can they go do that the best?

Brian: Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. Happy to come back anytime. This is what I do. This is what I talk about. I love this stuff. So if you want more, I'm just Brian Oblinger everywhere This is me. I'm just Brian. So @ BrianOblinger, obviously, on Twitter, Brian Oblinger on LinkedIn. The podcast is In Before the Lock, which is ib4rl.fm, or you can just get it in any podcast app. I did want to mention before, because we talked about the slides that I had put out from that conference talk, so here's a good example of not putting it behind a form fill. So if you just go to brianoblinger.com/ slides, you will find an archive of all the slides I've ever presented at public conferences over the last few years. Download them. Copy them. Steal them. I don't care. I love spreading the value, and hopefully it helps people out.

Jeff: Man, that warms Jay's heart. I love that practice. It's something that we've tried to do, too. So Brian, well, this is perfect. Hopefully we'll get the chance to talk to you again soon, and hopefully you get to enjoy some pineapple over the weekend.

Brian: Yeah, you, too, guys. Thanks for having me.

Jay: Great to meet you, man. Thank you.

Jeff: Hey, guys, thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the Gain, Grow, Retain podcast. If you liked what you heard, please take a moment and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues and subscribe. We really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.


This week we were joined by Brian Oblinger to talk about community. Brian is Chief Community Officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting. Tune in to listen to Jay, Jeff, and Brian talk about the importance of community and being customer-centric!


If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: http://gaingrowretain.com/

This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...

Jay Nathan: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaynathan/

Jeff Breunsbach: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreybreunsbach

Today's Host

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Jeff Breunsbach

|Director of Customer Experience at Higher Logic
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Jay Nathan

|Chief Customer Officer at Higher Logic

Today's Guests

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Brian Oblinger

|Chief Community Officer at Brian Oblinger Strategic Consulting