Do you currently manage a community?
Status: It’s Complicated.
I am technically currently “between communities” as I am building a new community from scratch for a client. The client is a wine retailer that was set up as a Member’s Cooperative in 1874 and so has a great history, well over 100,000 shareholding members, and a strong culture, so bringing in something new like an online community is a huge, but interesting challenge. Interestingly, because of this, getting new members is not our issue, but rather to find a way to engage existing members in a way that they, as owners of the business, find interesting and useful. After some false-starts we are close to launching a beta-test on the Discourse platform.
What career path brought you to where you are now?
I spent a decade in international Business to Business exhibitions and publishing where my languages came in handy (having grown up in countries including Italy, Mexico, the USA and the UK). In the late 90s I decided to focus on creating what was then a new concept, taking these business ‘communities’ online. These were the very early days of the world wide web.
Of course, the bubble burst after the millenium, and I decided to leave and switch to wine instead - always with a hope to do something with it online. I started with a brilliant importer and distributor in the UK who taught me much about the wine trade, then left them to be the UK Brand Ambassador for a truly lovely family wine producer from Rioja in Spain. This gave me a great grounding in wine marketing and communication.
I started blogging, and through that met hundreds of wine bloggers and communicators from around the world, so I got together with some friends and launched a conference for wine bloggers. That grew into a community of sorts (with a few thousand loosely interacting friends with common interests), and ran an international event for 300 participants each year that took place in a new wine region each year - including Vienna, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Italy. THAT was a challenge!
When we ended that conference I decided to find ways to keep working with people and communities both within and outside of wine - and I find myself working on the first of those today.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
The biggest challenge in my current role is ensuring that the whole business is aware of the potential, and the responsibility, of launching a community. Many individuals are positive about it for different reasons, but working on a community project will require new ways of cross-functional cooperation to ensure it is properly resourced, especially since we are not yet sure what direction our new members will want to take it in, so we need to be flexible, prepared and nimble.
What’s the best job you ever had that wasn’t in community management and does it inform your CM work in any way?
I’ve had many great jobs to be honest, and that includes being a part-time stay-at-home Dad who has the luxury of taking responsibility for the family. Raising kids teaches you a lot about ‘community management’ skills.
However, the job that most comes to mind was working for the Rioja winery. I regularly ran wine tastings on their behalf, but also organised and ran trips to visit them. The visitors ranged from trade press, to important group buyers, but also individual bar managers (usually prize-winners) and even lucky consumers. Learning to interact with so many different people, to tailor the winery’s message and story to each group so they could relate to it, and make all of them feel ‘part of the family’ was a great privilege, and I feel that those skills stay with me today as I try to imagine the motivations of my many different audiences in the community.
Plus, who doesn’t like visiting wineries, eating fantastic food in amazing locations and accompanying it all with a glass of good wine?
I hope to share one with you and many others here soon.