Optimizing your Community Operations

The following was presented to the Community OPServations group. Thanks to Tiffany Oda and Cassie Mayes for inviting me to share my thoughts!

Early in my career, at the recommendation of bosses and colleagues, I went deep on productivity methods.

Getting Things Done was the first I was introduced to. Then there was the Pomodoro technique, where you set a timer to do work in 25 minute increments. If that didn’t work, there were apps that monitored your browsing habits so you could police yourself.

And, yes, timeboxing — something I’ve done aggressively for the last six years – where we play Tetris with our calendars, shuffling around blocks of time assigned to specific tasks, in an attempt to create that “focus” time for finding our flow.

Years later, I read that what we actually needed was to be in a state of flow, with largely unstructured time, doing one thing. 

Still, none of these productivity methods solve the problem of having a finite number of hours in the day. Hell, I’d say productivity isn’t even the thing that we should be thinking about.

Forget productivity. Let’s talk about optimization.

What do I mean by optimization? I mean making better use of the time we have

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about systemic-level changes: small, positive adjustments that lead to successful results.

In the context of optimization, especially within Community Operations, I see that as small tasks that add up to big activities.

What we spend time on matters as much, if not more, than how we measure that time, and the things we do should have a compounding effect, creating something greater.

Let’s use meetups as an example.

At a high level, a meetup is a group of people who get together on a regular basis, stay in touch between events, and build strong relationships through those shared experiences.

People will often join a meetup for a single event, but over time, as they get to know others in the group, they’ll come back because of the connections made with acquaintances and friends.

I can’t think of a better representation of a community!

But meetups are a lot of work. Handling venues, activities, presenters, promotions, communication, sponsors. There’s so much to deal with. If you have an organizing team, add on the issues of team coordination, governance, settling disputes, etc.

How do you manage it all? By creating efficient routines.

While every meetup is different, every meetup follows a pattern. There are activities done before, during, and after the event.

I started organizing meetups in 2008 and conferences in 2011. Over the years I’ve developed my own routines. They’re not perfect. I keep iterating on them, stealing inspiration from other organizers and events. But they work as a starting point.

Here’s how I approach it.

The drumbeat of your community

What are we doing every year? Every quarter? Every month? Every week? Every day?

This is our starting point. 

Let’s say you’re working on a customer community.

Every year, you have a flagship customer event. Every quarter, or season, you have a new campaign. Every month you have a newsletter with product updates, or a special theme to plan your activities around.

You have weekly office hours or livestreams with customers. Every day you’re on social media, or in the forums, welcoming new members, answering questions, settling disputes, moderating content, and so on.

Those are just a few of the public-facing things you look after. On the back-end, you have annual team summits, quarterly planning sessions, monthly stakeholder updates, weekly KPI reviews, and daily stand-ups.

This can seem like a daunting, never-ending list of projects. But we can optimize! We can build efficient routines for each one of these recurring activities. In doing so, we’ll make it easier on ourselves, but we’ll also make it easier to delegate and scale.

Define & document your routines

Creating manuals for your work will help with your own accountability, make it easier to delegate tasks when needed, and help you onboard new team members faster.

So, step one: write down all the types of activities you’re responsible for.

What do you do every year? Quarter? Month? Week? Day? List those out.

Then, for each type of activity, create a set of corresponding checklists.

What do you need to do before the activity? During the activity? After the activity?

For a meetup, my checklists look something like this:

  1. Before the meetup
    1. Schedule
    2. Book venue (in-person or virtual)
    3. Publish event page
    4. Announce on site
    5. Email members
    6. Announce on social
  2. During the meetup
    1. Set up recording
    2. Welcome members
    3. Announcements
    4. Presenter 1, capture takeaways
    5. Presenter 2, capture takeaways
    6. Presenter 3, capture takeaways
    7. Q&A, take notes
    8. End recordings
    9. Host social event (in-person or virtual)
  3. After meetup
    1. Notes compiled
    2. Write recap, review recording
    3. Edit & upload the recording
    4. Update site post w/ recap, recording
    5. Update event page w/ link to post
    6. Share post on social

Next, you’re going to create templates.

These are assets that prompt you to fill in the blanks, or can be shared with others for collaboration. I like having an outline, or brief, for each activity.

For example, when planning meetups, my brief looked like this:

  • Meetup title
  • Meetup date
  • Meetup location (in-person or virtual)
  • Event page URL
  • Site post URL
  • Recording URL
  • Featured image/thumbnail
  • Meetup description
  • Meetup agenda
  • Presenter bios x3
    • Name
    • Title
    • Short description
    • Photo
    • Social/site links
  • Sponsor details (if applicable)
    • Sponsor name
    • Sponsor blurb
    • Sponsor logo
    • Sponsor links
  • Notes/takeaways
    • Written during the meetup

Here’s the template on Google Docs. Feel free to use it.

Each section would have placeholder text describing what information needed to be included, or an example to use as inspiration/reference.

That brief would become the working document for the event. We’d make updates as details came in, and refer back to the document when writing the recap post.

Make everything findable

Your documents and files should all live in the same spot, or be easily found by cross-linking between locations.

For example, we use Microsoft 365 at work, so I have all of our docs and files saved to a OneDrive team folder. (I do the same thing with my personal projects on Google Drive.)

We create playbooks to provide guidance for our checklists.

These playbooks are references for best practices, and serve as the hub/single source of truth for finding everything else. The playbooks need to be living documents, searchable and shareable, so we build them on platforms like Confluence, SharePoint, Coda, or Notion.

Your checklists can also plug into apps like ClickUp, Asana, or Airtable.

Or, if you’re already building your playbooks in Notion, you could just centralize everything there.

Point is, the nature of a recurring project translates wonderfully into these solutions. If you have a lot of things on the go, they’ll be able to give you the high-level, at-a-glance summary you need.

Last but not least, we have dedicated communication channels for our work, and link out to the files, playbooks, and project management apps from those channels. 

If you use Slack, you can drop these into pinned messages or channel links. If you use Microsoft Teams, you could connect directly to SharePoint.

Create once. Iterate often.

A community is a connected group of people with something in common. They connect through shared experiences. As community managers, it’s our job to facilitate those experiences through activities.

On their own, the to-do list can feel overwhelming. But if we adjust our thinking, and focus on building efficient routines, each activity becomes an experiment, an opportunity to refine our approach.

Turn the big things into small things. Create once. Iterate often.

“Doing the small things well for a period of time means you begin doing the larger things better, which leads to doing the big things best – your success compounds. This practice is an absolute competitive advantage.”

Josh Strebel via Indie Hackers