Monthly Archives: November 2020

Let’s Meet: Andy McIlwain

Good morning yeniverse!

One of the more exciting piece of news is that the small team that I have has grown by +1 today! Hiring anyone is hard and I’m so excited to onboard Fred onto our 🚀 that is the yeniverse!!

Oh! We’ve added these tools — thanks everyone for making submissions!

To infinity & community,

— john

Today we’re going to get to know Andy McIlwain, a “content wrangler,” community builder, small biz advocate, and occasional developer — apparently he also doodles a bit as well.

Andy’s deep into the WordPress community and is someone that I’ve crossed paths plenty of times with in the past; WordPress has an important place in my heart and I’m so grateful for learning the ins, the outs, and even the ups / downs of open source directly from a significant (understatement of the year) project.

You can find more from Andy via his blog at,  @andymci on twitter, and the ‘gram as @andy.mcilwain. Let’s jump into the Qs!

Andy, take us back to the first encounter of online community. What was that like and how did that begin to formulate your early ideas into a career (or did it)?

My first encounter would be with this old message board network called ezBoard. I was a regular on a few different boards, all related to tech or gaming. This would’ve been around the early 2000’s.

Those communities introduced me to open source software and blogging platforms, and that led me down a rabbit hole of tinkering with web hosting, content management systems, self-hosted forum software, portals, IRC, et al.

In the mid-2000’s I started contributing to some larger gaming forums and fansites. I kept that up for about ten years. I did a lot of work on the content side as an editor, and a lot of work on the community side as a moderator.

Community management as a career never crossed my mind — I saw it as a hobby. Gifts and freebies from game publishers were payment enough. Having grown up in a working-class family in rural Canada, comp’d economy flights to the US and free “merch” were like big, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

In hindsight, we were really just a bunch of overly enthusiastic fans doing content marketing and community management at minimal cost. I wouldn’t understand the real value of it until years later.

What have been some of your favorite and more memorable communities over the course of your career?

Getting involved in the WordPress community has done a lot for me. I was introduced to the platform in 2007 by one of my college instructors. I fell in love with it and immediately became a vocal WordPress advocate.

It was serendipitous timing. When I graduated in 2009, nobody was hiring. But because of my self-taught web skills, all built around WordPress, I was able to get a job with a local digital marketing agency.

It was like a snowball effect from there. I moved to Toronto a year later, joined the local WordPress group, volunteered to co-organize our WordCamp conference, and helped organize monthly meetups after that.

Every job I’ve had since then came from connections I made through the WordPress community.

“Community as a career” finally clicked for me in 2015. I was approached about a Community Manager role at GoDaddy. Reading over the job requirements was like reading a summary of everything I’d done for the past fifteen years.

It’s a dream job, and I’m still super grateful for it.

Who mentored and coached you up in terms of community & leadership? What did they practice that you still do today? What did they tell you to be wary about?

Chris Carfi, my former director at GoDaddy and now the VP of Marketing at Duda. Chris saw what soft skills I had, and he helped me reframe those skills within a business context.

A handful of tactical things I picked up from Chris:

  1. Clarify objectives before starting anything new. What does success look like?
  2. Embrace the Plus/Delta. After every activity, ask: What worked? What should we do differently next time?
  3. Use decks to communicate your ideas. Simple visuals and powerful statements resonate.
  4. Empower your team to make decisions and experiment with different approaches.
  5. Share your wins, and back everything up with data.

I was never told to be wary of anything in particular, but I have learned to watch out for internal fiefdoms. Some folks prefer total control instead of collaboration and it can be hard to work with people like that.

How would you steer or navigate your career now, armed with what you know? What advice would you give to the Junior or Senior in college who’s looking at jumping into this full-time?

I’m freshly in the middle manager phase of my career, just starting to build a team of my own. So it’s a lot of give-and-take right now within groups like Community Club and CMX. I’m absorbing what I can from others who’ve been through it, and sharing what I can with those who are just getting started.

My top piece of advice? Embrace the flexibility that naturally comes with community management.

You can lean into a bunch of different areas — CMX’s SPACE model is a great representation of that. To quote Bruce Lee: Be like water. Get ready to flow with the needs and changes of whatever organization you join. You’ll learn a lot from adjacent teams, be it support or marketing or something else.

Second most important piece of advice? Figure out where you, personally, can drive the most value.

One way to do that is to build strong relationships with teams around the org. It’s easier to get buy-in when you can show how your work aligns with theirs.

One of the first things I did after joining GoDaddy was talk to different teams about what they wanted to get out of a customer community.

What is your biggest grievance to community in (big) business? What could we be doing better?

That’s easy: Politics and resourcing.

Community means different things to different people. Combine that with the flexibility of community and you can end up with an ill-defined program that’s passed around like a hot potato.

That said, I think we’re on the right track as a profession and industry, as a whole — 2020 has been a hell of a year for community management. Between the longstanding work done by groups like Community Roundtable and CMX, the more recent launch of the Community Club community (so meta), and the growing awareness of community as an asset, we’re in a great position to develop more standards and best practices.

Peter Thiel Q: What important truth do very few people agree with you on as it relates to community?

Your community doesn’t need to be a bastion of free speech. There are hot topics that will inevitably spark arguments and hostility, especially in bigger communities.

My rule of two: No politics, no religion.

The open web is great because you can spin up a site or a community about nearly any topic. People can go find a place, or create a place, that welcomes those discussions and have at it.

Who should we do a deep-dive with next?

Randy Jordan, aka @randydeluxe, aka Kaivax, Community Manager at Blizzard. I’m a longtime Warcraft player (sup fellow nerds!!) and am very curious about how their team operates across different channels and platforms.

📻 — 3 Must-Have Ingredients for Growing (and New) Communities

Morning yenizens!

You might have noticed that I’ve added a small improvement to our overall reading experience by adding “reading time” into each issue:

I’ve done this by taking the number of words written and dividing that by 250 words per minute — I believe most yenizens are on the faster side of the reading scale ( the average adult human reads between 200-250 wpm).

Let me know what you think!

To infinity & community,

— john

A bit of a shorter issue today as I plan on spending most of my day finding, securing, and bringing home a 🎄!! Wish me luck!

Chad Neufeld and Amanda Moloney sit down for a brief (but packed!) chat about how to launch an online community — I thought I’d share my notes on this brief exchange and give you all the goods, per usual!

Let’s jump in… it’s a simple question & answer session between the two!

Chad: What is the most important thing to think about when considering a launch of a new community?

Amanda: The conversation usually starts with technology (features & functionality) but where folks need to start is with purpose:

  1. Why are you building this community?
  2. What will the value be for your organization?
  3. What will the value be for the participants?

Without the 3rd, there really isn’t a community.

They look so comfortable in those chairs.

Chad: What are 3 things that all successful communities have present?

Amanda: You’ll need these three key ingredients:

  1. The first thing you need is organizational support, connections to the marketing, social, and technology / product teams.
  2. The second thing is to have the right people in the community — people who are already passionate about the things that you’re building the community around. These might be followers on existing social channels or have existing contacts / relationships.
  3. Successful communities give their participants valuable things to do, leveraging their experience and passion to help solve collective problems and topics to discuss.
Full interview here.

Chad: What are some obvious characteristics of a successful community?

Amanda: There are a two important characteristics that all successful communities have:

  1. The moderator or community leader who acts as the “professional host” to welcome new members, nurture new topics, and to keep the conversation going and lively.
  2. Healthy recruitment needs to be a priority because all members have a “limited lifespan” of how long they’ll be in the community — they won’t be there forever. Bringing in new voices and new ideas to the conversation is important for a healthy community.

Chad: What is one question that you were asked more frequently?

Amanda: I wish people would ask me how long it takes to build a healthy community! It definitely is something that you need to think about as a long-term investment, the value in the community comes over time as those connections happen between the members and the brand.

This is a year-long project, not a 3-month project type of thing.

Appreciate these tactical (and short!) videos! You can find more information about Chaordix here — there are many other great options listed here in The Yeniverse! Have a great weekend!

📻 — Avoiding the Traps of Finding Personal and Professional Fulfillment

Morning yeniverse!

It’s “Turkey Day” here in the US and that means that, for some folks, today (and tomorrow) off from work. But don’t worry! The #yenFM 🚂 continues to chug along!

Today, though, is a lighter issue… a more personal one.

To infinity & community,

— john

When I first started writing this newsletter I beat myself up pretty badly — I cycled through a number of repeating anxieties, like:

  • No one wants to read another email newsletter…
  • No one wants to read another newsletter… especially on community…
  • No one will care… or read it… or subscribe…
  • Yada, yada, yada…

This is especially difficult when, thanks to the internet, we get consistent high-light reels of everyone else’s success — jealousy stinks and I had a fit of it earlier this week:

Gratefully, even this morning via @wes_kau, I’ve been reminded that basing my career decisions off of other people’s feelings (and what other people think) is, always and forever, a bad idea.

And then I realized that I had written about this exact thing nearly 7 years ago to the date when I was writing about “the comparison trap” that we all have experienced:

You know what I’m talking about because you may have done in just a few minutes ago (or at least once today and multiple times this past week). You and I took a look at someone else’s project, someone else’s blog, someone else’s venture or business and you said to yourself (or aloud), “they are succeeding where I am failing” and you pity your own circumstance and fortune.

If you’re anything like me then you may have even taken the thought a step further and gone so negative that you actually considered quitting and giving up on your own work because of the comparisons that you made.

You feel utterly defeated and you start seeing the track of cynicism and extreme doubt crop up. You feel joyless around the things that have given you joy even if only a few hours ago you were feeling unstoppable. It was as if this new piece of news, this new piece of information shattered your worldview in an instant.

The solution? I have found that processing these thoughts aloud with a trusted partner (my spouse as “Community Zero”) is how to best encounter (and overcome) the feelings of the moment — she continues to do this daily and I’m so very grateful for she has seen and endured many things.

The years of practice have produced, thankfully, marked improvement as I am able to better and more quickly see these moments for what they are and, as a result, I’m able to move more quickly through the emotional process and thereby reducing the chance of unnecessary collateral damage.

My office, converted to practice meditation

Point is… I’m grateful and I am particularly reminded during this time and season of the year of the many blessings that I (and many of us) do have: My family is in good health and despite the challenges of raising 3 children, my wife and I are committed to one another to see it to the end and support one another in that shared goal.

Professionally, I have very meaningful and fulfilling work that aligns the things that I enjoy with the skills that I have developed and that, thankfully, match a few clear and obvious needs of the world.

Now, this hasn’t always been the case and I have spent the majority of my career struggling to “find my place” and, if I’m to be entirely candid, to just fit in with everyone else.

Of course, the moments where I’ve had the chance to fit in I’ve inevitably blown it, either getting outright dismissed because of bad behavior or because I decided that I simply had enough and quit, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons — I’ll own all of them at this point and I don’t like to live with regret.

And probably, very much like you, I’ve never, really, wanted to fit in, but, I definitely want to be respected, just like most of our yenizens in the yeniverse. This isn’t a guess; it’s a fact as I’ve come to know many of you and we both know that you don’t “fit the mold” in any way, shape, or form — you could never do that if you tried!

I think most folks in the “community space” are like this and we’ve struggled to model what our “career paths” are “supposed” to be. Sometimes, it falls under terms like “startup” or “entrepreneur” or maybe we can get fancy and say “creator” or “builder” or even, maybe, have a title like “Chief Community Officer” (bleh).

We’re into people. We’re into relationships. We’re into community. There’s not really a good title for that. Ever. We sometimes play the role of counselor, unofficial therapist, friend, trusted confidante, ally, or even nemesis when we must. We do what we need to do to help our communities thrive — that’s just our jam.

But, that’s not always useful from a career “pathing” perspective.

We all deserve fulfillment in our lives.

But finding how that plays out specifically in the professional world, again, isn’t easy. That’s why diagrams that show the alignment of joy, skill, and needs (personally and professionally) have helped me make decisions about what I say “Yes” to and what I should entirely avoid, if I can help it.

Sadly, many of us have experienced these “traps” that looked so good but ultimately fall woefully-short:

  1. Joy plus skill but without addressing a real, meaningful need can ultimately end up feeling hollow and unfulfilling from both a personal and professional perspective. As relational creatures we are fundamentally designed to support and help one another succeed — that’s what community is all about and how it actually functions as we are stronger and more successful together. And, it’s how you got to where you are today! You didn’t get to where you are without the help of others. Offering our very best (skills) to (and in the service of) others (need) can actually be quite rewarding (joy) in and of itself. This is how we define what a yenizen really is.
  2. We all have skills that we do not enjoy using but many of these skills are ones that people will pay for — sometimes, quite a bit of money (but not in all cases). For instance, manual data entry or janitorial service are things that most of us can do and that address a real (business) need, but may kill many of us emotionally and psychologically if this were to be our entire career. Many artists have side-hustles to support their main passion which may not always cover the bills. The dream, for some, is to have the art, itself, provide fully for their needs. This is the “skill + need – joy” trap. The term “dead end job” or feeling “stuck” is often a close bedfellow.
  3. Finally, the “joy + need – skill” trap is an equally-difficult trap to avoid because there are a lot of things that we really enjoy doing that also addresses a real need but that doesn’t maximize financial output. For instance, donating your time to visit a nursing home can bring you immense satisfaction (and meets a visceral need!) but it does not pay you for use of those skills in that particular context. We all have a few friends who are “professional volunteers” but who struggle to make ends meet and we watch them endlessly give themselves to others without really taking care of their own (financial) needs. Bitterness, resentment, and burnout can occur as well as a sense of unending restlessness because these investments can actually actually “bankrupt” us over a long-period of time.

What is my proposed solution to avoiding these traps? Healthy relationships. Healthy communities.

In other words, we all need more folks in our lives who are willing to talk about these career challenges and make themselves available to process the ups and downs of community leadership.

A rewarding career (and personal life) starts with meaningful and intentional relationships — I hope we can all make 2021 a year where we can look back at it (via 2022) and say, without hesitation:

I have richer, deeper, and more intimate relationships now than I did last year. I feel more loved and more known than ever before.

And although I may not be in the perfect role or on the perfect career path, I have the right folks around me who are advocates for my success — I do the same for them.

Yenizen of 2022

That is my hope for all of us in 2021, for every yenizen in the yeniverse! Together, we can help one another avoid the enticing but ultimately unfulfilling traps on the road to finding purpose.

Two things as I close:

  1. Send this post to someone you know who has struggled this year with their career. Give them a bit of love and support today.
  2. Tell me how I can help you in 2021. Reply to this issue and tell me your story, your path, your process in 2020. Then, tell me your world-dominating plans for community development… and how I can help.

I’m listening…

Also, five (5!!!!!) great community-centric books listed in the yeniverse:

  • People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams
  • Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
  • Badass: Making Users Awesome
  • Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World
  • Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Thank you for contributing!!