Today on the show, we welcome the “Dalai Lama of community,” David Spinks. David is the Founder and CEO of CMX – the world’s premier community for community professionals. David consults with top innovative companies on building community, such as SalesForce and Facebook, and is super passionate about seeing his own community succeed.
Derek Andersen: Welcome to the C2C podcast. I am your host Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400 chapter community based in over 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time, your customers. Yet, I couldn't find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in person, or at scale.
On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in person experiences for your brand and community before your competitor does.
On this episode we talk to David Spinks, the founder and CEO of CMX, the worlds premiere community for community professionals. David is regarded amongst community people, sort of like the Dalai Lama of community. He knows more about community, consult with all the top companies, cGeek, La Webs, Zaarly, Facebook, Salesforce. He's worked with all the most innovative companies building community and you're just gonna get a ton out of listening to him and some of his insights. Take a listen.
I'm excited to have my friend David Spinks, the CEO of CMX on the podcast today. CMX, if you're not familiar with it, is really the premiere community for community professionals and it's this brainchild of David who's one of the foremost community people in the Bay Area and most likely the world. David, you're one of the most knowledgeable community people in the world and works with people like Facebook and Google and Salesforce and all sorts of others to help them build great community, so David, thank you so much for being here.
David Spinks: Really appreciate you having me.
Derek Andersen: I wanted to just start about talking to you a little bit about people that are in big companies that are trying to get them invest in community and in these programs and getting buy-in. I'm sure you get this question all the time, but what do I do?
If I'm in a big company and I know this is the right direction for us to really cultivate our customers through a community and potential customers through a community, what do I do? How do I start to convince people that this is a direction that we need to go?
David Spinks: Yeah. Well, again, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be on the podcast. And you're also one of the community builders I've learned a ton from and I consider you to be one of the leaders in the space as well, so excited to be chatting and we'll see if there's anything I know that you haven't already figured out yourself too.
As you know, there's a lot of confusion around the term community, especially for businesses when they're thinking about building community. The first thing I usually ask is what do you mean when you say the word community? Is it your employees? Is it your customers? Is it about growth? Is it about retention? Is it just something good you want to do for the world? And there's a lot of different answers there.
And so a lot of the work that we do when a company comes to us and wants to launch a community strategy, is start by defining what their goals and objectives are, because community is just a group of people with something in common, and to build a community means you're bringing people together, and you can do that just for the sake of bringing people together. If that's what you wanna do, there's a lot of communities that exist in the world just for the sake of community and connection.
But if you're an organization, whether it's a for-profit or non-profit, a university, you're gonna have some sort of goals or objectives, because at the end of the day, you have to decide what you're investing in and where you're putting your time, and everything is a trade off. And so if community is gonna be something that you continue to invest in and put time and resources and energy into, you need to understand what the value is, and so we usually start there and we define what their objectives are and help them figure out where can community drive value and what are the metrics that they should be looking at so when they launch their community, whether it's an event program, or an online community, they always know why they did it and they can tie it back to their business goals.
Derek Andersen: And do you think ... so there's all sorts of ways to describe community and you just identified a bunch of them. Should I be ... if I'm head of community at my company, or I'm a senior community person in my company, do you see success companies doing all of these different types of engagements or activities? Do they pick one and are they great at it or how do you decide what's too much or not enough? How do you see companies approaching all of the different programs? Do they do them all? Do they do some of them? What do they do?
David Spinks: Yeah. Almost across the board, they're always doing or trying to do too much, and so a model that we use to help businesses understand the value that they can get out of community is the SPACE model, and so SPACE stands for support, product, acquisition, content, and engagement. So they're the five areas that you can derive value from community as a business or any organization. And so support is where you have people answering questions for each other. It's a support forum, where somewhere people go when they have a problem and they need feedback from other people.
Product is where you're collecting insights and feedback that will help you innovate on your product, so if you're Starbucks, you have My Starbucks Idea, as an example. It's their website where you can submit ideas and vote on other people's ideas. And they use that to get ideas to actually apply to their products.
It could be focus groups, advisory counsels. Like Lyft has a seven person advisory counsel. They rotate every year. All different ways that you collect insights from your community. Acquisition means you're growing your business through a community so you might have ambassadors or evangelists. You empower people in your community to go out and host events or create content that essentially promotes your business and drives more people to join.
Content is where you have a platform that's being populated by your community, so anything like Wikipedia or Airbnb. Your goal, your business goal, is to have quality content contributed to the platform.
And then finally engagement, where you're essentially trying to drive retention for your business, so by building a community for your customers or your users, they will feel a sense of belonging. They'll be more connected and invested and stick around for a longer time.
Of course, a community can drive many of those values all from one event or one online community, but you wanna focus on one because each one has a different set of metrics tied to them, so the metrics you're gonna track.
An acquisition community program is successful is gonna be different than the metrics that you track for a support community or a product community. And they also require different technology and different products and platforms. It requires different skill sets.
The members are gonna be different, the type of people that like answering questions on a forum are gonna be different than the people who like hosting events and being an evangelist.And so every time you add another value that you're focusing on, you're essentially creating another job and another department within your community program. And so it's much better to start with one, do it really well, prove that value, measure it well, and then you can justify a larger investment to grow the team and grow the program so that you can focus on more than one value.
Derek Andersen: We can't all be David Spinks because if you've seen a picture of him, you know he has this incredible beard and this very healthy generous set of hair, but one thing we can all have is incredible communities. And if you're looking to start or restart a community events program of your own, we have created the ultimate community events check list so that you can do just that.All you've gotta do is text checklist to 474747 to get the guide. Again, that's checklist, all one word, to 474747.
Let's say I focused on one of these program. I've gotten some buy-in internally to do one or more of these programs, and I think one thing universally that I see is, and I wonder if you feel the same way, that not 100% of the time, but a lot of the time, really community programs are still underfunded, under-appreciated. You've got some of the most hardworking people in the whole marketing or whichever organization they're in, but maybe not getting the credit they deserve or maybe not getting the resources they deserve.
And so I think as people come in and they say, okay, I've gotten buy-in on this program, but I have to run it, or it's me and an intern, or me and this person who just came out of college. I need to scale it but I'm not gonna get a lot of resources. What do you see as the main temples for people to actually scale one of these communities. What do they need to be looking at? What do they need to think about if they're gonna actually hit scale?
David Spinks: I mean, I would start with you don't necessarily, or you actually shouldn't try to scale from day one. When you're first getting that buy-in and you're putting out a program, start small, and start focus, and figure it out in one city or one place. Just make sure you get that foundation right and you have the right metrics in place, you can track it. You have a repeatable model. Then you can start to scale.
Too often, a lot of community professionals or community teams will promise the world and then it's hard to deliver that big of a promise, and so starting from that place of understanding the business value and getting buy-in for okay, this is what we're gonna focus on. We're gonna focus on one area in the space model. We're gonna try to do it for this subset of users, and we're gonna try to get that right, and here are the metrics we're gonna track to show that and here's the timeline that we need in order to prove this out, because community takes time.
You're not gonna be able to test it like an email. It's gonna take months. And so, start small and start focused. Once you have that system and you have something that you believe you can replicate, you believe you can repeat across different departments or grow your community to multiple cities around the world or scale up an online community, then you need to make sure a few things are in place.
One, it has to be financially sustainable, so there's a lot of communities that try to grow before they've really figured out their ROI or they just don't have the funds and resources to support 20 different cities or 50 different cities, and so financially sustainable means that either the organization is investing the right amount into it and you can justify that investment, or if you're a standalone community that's maybe in itself a business, or not tied to a business, it still needs to be financially sustainable.
Even if you're Alcoholics Anonymous. You still need to make sure that there's a venue and there's food and drinks there and that all the things that make that event happen can exist. If you're TedX, you have to make sure that every conference can turn a profit and be sustainable financially. Otherwise, it's not gonna be able to exist. So that money can be volunteered. It can be a business investment, but it just has to be sustainable as it scales.
Second, you wanna maintain consistent experiences, rules, and values across your community. So if you are hosting events all over the world, you might want to give your local leaders, your local event host a bunch of wiggle room to create their own experiences, but you wanna make sure that no matter where anyone goes to an event in the world, that's there's gonna be some sort of consistent experience there, consistent values.
TedX, again, gives a really long guide long to every TedX organizer to make sure that the level of quality is consistent and they're consistent values there. And so that's what allows it to scale because each organizer doesn't need to recreate their culture and their values and their experience, they can replicate this model that you already proven out in at least one place.
And then finally, the only way to really scale community is to do that, then distribute control to local contributors and leaders. And by local, that could mean physically local, like people in different cities around the world. It could also mean online subgroups, so if you want to give people the opportunity to run their own online group or a subgroup within your larger forum or community, basically you wanna push out control to the people who are closest to those groups. So let's say, CMX is an example. If we wanted to ... CMX is a network for community managers, and there's a lot of community managers focused on education, and so I know a lot about community management, but I'm not gonna be the most knowledgeable at community management specifically for education, and there are probably leaders within our community who are a lot smarter and knowledgeable and plugged in to that space, and so I want to distribute. I want to push out control to those people so they can create the community experiences for that specific group of people, because they understand it best and they're gonna be able to build that community in the most authentic way.
And so just from an optimization of making sure that content and the experience is relevant, as well as just time. Obviously, one person can't manage 50 different cities. You wanna distribute that control to others and those can be volunteers. They can community managers. Anybody who is gonna be in the best position to lead that local version of the community. And if any of those things don't happen, like if it's not financially sustainable, or you don't have some sort of consistent values or you fail to really distribute control, communities get stuck and they fail to scale.
Derek Andersen: One of other things that you do so differently and so much better than basically anybody else that I've seen is the way that you engage with your community members and whether that's on something public like the Facebook group or whether it's CMX's pro membership where you bring a more experienced or more committed community people together who are really trying to learn.
I mean, I have talked to some of the smartest community people I know, and they're like I learn more in these conversations, in these discussions, that I've learned anywhere else. And I just, I wonder, how did you ... is that just something that came naturally to you or is there something engineered there that somebody could learn from to say ... when you think about conversing with people on Facebook or in a more private setting, how do you approach that? How do you create interesting dialogue and authentic dialogue, which seems to happen in basically every post with CMX?
David Spinks: Yeah. That's a good question. I mean, I think it's just what I do. It's what I've done. It's a space that I've worked in and I've been obsessed with, as my wife basically ... and so none of the content I create is coming from a place of how to figure out what to talk about here or optimize some sort of engagement. It's just like here are the things that I'm interested in and here are the things that I'm thinking about and here are the things that I'm hearing from you, from all the members.
I talk to our members online every day. I get on calls with people. I see them at events and I hear the questions they ask and the problems that they're struggling with and sometimes I can help out with one of those problems and then share that more broadly online afterward.
I think it's just really ... you can't fake that authenticity, and so being a part of a community that you're actually passionate about the topic, but even more than that, like do you love your members? Do you wanna fight for them? Do you want to see them grow and be better?
The thing that brings me the most joy is just helping someone else who's building community solve a problem and get unblocked by something or growing their career or move up the ladder in their company and get more budget and resources so they can build better communities. It just brings me a lot of joy and I try to bring that energy into everything that I create, everything we do in the community.
I also just try to use my own voice. I don't try to over engineer it or sound overly professional or smart. I try to make my writing sound like my speaking and I think that tends to make it more relatable and it just happened that my voice resonates sometimes, I guess, with people. I mean, there's a lot of people who don't like my voice. A lot of people who aren't the biggest fans of me or CMX.
Derek Andersen: You don't need to talk about your ex-girlfriends here man.
David Spinks: Ha ha.Yeah. You're never gonna be able to please everyone, so I think it really is just be yourself. Speak from the heart. Make sure you actually care about the people that you're claiming to serve. And a lot of the rest of it tends to happen organically around that.
There's obviously a ton obviously of little tricks and tips and things like that that I've picked up over many years of building community for how to get someone to actually respond to something or to create engagement in a community when it feels like the energy is low, but I think that just comes over time with experience.
Derek Andersen: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review, wherever you listen to this. If you'd like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S dot com slash pod.