How community at Teal is core to their offering of helping people navigate their career

An interview with Erik Martin, Chief Community Officer at Teal

Welcome community enthusiasts! 👋 A few weeks back we had the opportunity to chat Erik Martin, Chief Community Officer at Teal.

Erik explains how the Teal community started, how it changes the career space, what their community stack looks like, how they keep people engaged, and shares his view on moderation, amongst others! 🔥

Enjoy, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇

About Teal and Erik

Teal is a digital platform that provides tools, insights, and community support for professionals working in the tech industry to grow their careers with confidence.

Erik is a community management expert who has led teams at Nike, Reddit, Depop, Airtime, & WeWork. Erik was the longtime General Manager at reddit and the company’s 5th employee. He’s been named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine. In a profile, The Washington Post said; "It can’t be understated how poorly Martin fits the start-up culture stereotypes: the extravagance, the arrogance. He’s not overtly extroverted or introverted; he’s a quietish, funny, normal dude." The more reason for us to ask him to hop on a call and share some of his experiences around building community at Teal. Let’s dive in!

How was Teal founded and was being community-oriented always top of mind for Teal as a company? 

Nowadays, whether asking employees or companies, it's pretty clear that the number one thing people seek is career growth. And that's why Teal was founded: to help individuals find fulfilling jobs and succeed in them. Simultaneously, it can be tricky moving from one job, industry, or discipline to another. Teal definitely started with community in mind and with the idea that we can all help each other out as we navigate the interesting and unpredictable journey that is one's career.

​How big is the community now?

Teal is less than two years old, so it's still pretty small. Our community has several thousand people, mainly from the tech industry. We focus on people looking to change industries, feel stuck at work, or begin a new job and want to make sure they get off to a great start.

Community feels like a great way to approach career development. How did community building start to interest you personally?

I started my career in the independent film and entertainment world, mainly doing production and marketing for niche projects that didn't have huge budgets. When you're marketing a project like that, community is the place you go. If you're marketing a documentary, a Korean thriller, or a French horror film, for instance, you go to places where people who are into those sort of things interact. So I got into film communities, forums, and niche sites that had a community around these specific genres. That was the most exciting part of my job. 

Then Reddit came around as an opportunity for me. I was fascinated as a user. Eventually, I got involved with them and became the first community manager there in 2008. I got exposed to so many different types of communities and learned so much working there that I became obsessed with community ever since. 

Why did you decide to go to a start-up like Teal after working at bigger companies like WeWork and Reddit?

The key reason was that the founder of Teal, Dave Fano, and I worked together at WeWork. I enjoyed working with him, and when he told me about Teal – a platform for people to talk about these big, life-changing decisions we make in our careers – it made a lot of sense to me.

When establishing something new, I think you almost have to do it with community. You have to build it with the users because they're going to help you figure out what works, what doesn't, and what's needed.

I was also excited because this is a new area in the career space. Most career space entities are built with an employer-first model in mind because they have the money. Whereas Teal is for the individuals, the employees, the workers. And when establishing something new, I think you almost have to do it with community. You have to build it with the users because they're going to help you figure out what works, what doesn't, and what's needed. So being able to build something with that community at Teal was exciting. But it's also necessary, given it is such a new type of thing.

​I love the mindset of putting the users first. When and how did the actual community initiative at Teal start?

Around the time we started Teal, WeWork (where Dave Fano and I had worked) was having massive lay-offs. We knew many amazing, talented people who got laid off because of things outside of their control. So we created a Slack channel to help them out and provide a space where they could stay connected and help each other navigate through that. Interestingly, that took off. Then it started to grow organically: people who got laid off at other companies got invited in, and the first Teal community began to take shape. It wasn't intentional in the sense of being a plan all along.

What do the current initiatives around community look like? What kind of programs do you have in place?

We do a lot of challenges. It could be a challenge focused on career growth or one specifically around understanding the types of start-ups. These are usually 20-30-day challenges with discreet tasks each day and a community around them. If it's something on improving your About section on LinkedIn, for instance, community comes in handy to get feedback, have details explained, and see how others do it. 

We also have different sub-communities around disciplines (e.g. marketing, customer support sales, etc.) and communities around live events – both small, instructional meetings or larger, networking-type events. However, the majority of community interactions happen around specific job opportunities. For instance, if someone wants to move from the legal field to the project management field, they may want to talk to other people who do that job.  

​Do people usually stick around when they find a job?

Yes. That's the most exciting part. Sure, some get busy and don't have that much time. But a lot of people stick around. Considering that the community helped them when facing important career decisions, they often want to give back somehow. Or they might be hiring for their team and want to utilize the community.

I also think people understand the long-term value of having a community that's outside of their current employer. We even have people who started a new job and, although it was not exactly what they were hoping it would be, they feel more confident and better equipped to stick to their values. They also know that they have this community to support them if it doesn't work out. I think having that support network is really valuable.

​What does your community stack look like?

Right now, we have a Slack space. That tends to be more conversational, more along the lines of "Hey, I saw this job posted on Twitter." It's also where people usually introduce themselves; this is what I'm into, this is what I can help with, this is what I'm looking for. 

We're also using Circle long-form knowledge-sharing forum. There it's more about discussions in specific industries or around certain aspects of the job search. And then we also use Zoom for a lot of live events.

As far as tools around those platforms, we use Commsor as the CRM behind our Slack space. We also have a few Slack bots enabled to help with housekeeping and use Zapier integrations both in Slack and Circle to make managing things a bit easier.

​What do you do to keep community members engaged?

Most of it is sharing content, comments, and questions that we know people are dealing with. As such, we always consider the subgroups and regions where these apply. For instance, we may create a virtual event for people in New York or LA or have a conversation in the sub-community for people interested in marketing. We have also been doing round-tables, where we will have several of our members on Zoom sharing their thoughts on a specific topic. These discussions then live on some other parts of our community Slack. 

​To which extent do you have to spark engagement and interaction? Do community members also start new conversations?

We do end up sparking a lot of the conversations. That's is usually done through the multi-day challenges, getting people aligned around specific steps. Our ambassadors/moderators also help with stimulating interaction. They are members of different sub-communities who are also experts in those fields, so they know what type of questions are on people's minds.

But I would say that the best conversations are those sparked by our members. Just talking about the things they've been struggling with, noticed, or solved. Sometimes it can be as simple as sharing the recording of an event they attended which they deem helpful to the community.

I can imagine that you also interact with a lot of people in the community. How do you use those insights and feed them back into the product?

Many members of our product team are in our community, and all members of our team are feeding that request for feedback regularly. We also carry out more extensive feedback sessions – such as virtual dinners with members – where we present them with a prototype, get their input, and share it with the rest of the Teal team. We try to get as much feedback as we can and make sure these come from different groups in our community. 

​On the Teal website there are some clear statements that the Teal community is a trusted place and inclusive community. In this context, what is your view on moderation? And how does that compare to your time at Reddit?

Our community values at Teal are almost the same as our company values. First and foremost, we try to be transparent. Teal is both a free and a paid community. However, given the number of paid members, it tends to be a more professional community. There's a big difference compared to when I was at Reddit. I think we were a bit less conscious about the issues that would arise. The size of Reddit is simply much larger than the Teal community. The size of the community has a significant influence on the complexity of ensuring such values. 

Even though the tactics for creating the best community space are different, the ideas are the same. You want people to know what's expected. You want them to know what to do in the community, how to help.

When it comes to moderation, I think that even though the tactics for creating the best community space are different, the ideas are the same. You want people to know what's expected. You want them to know what to do in the community, how to help. I often think the greatest strength of Reddit is also its greatest weakness. Anyone can create a community, which means that they can, to an extent, run it the way they see fit. But in the end, it's a different type of space.

One thing I learned at Reddit is how all of these different sub-Reddits structured their interactions, guidelines, and rules. There was such a wide range of rules and ways to enforce them. Nowadays, I'm a believer in intentional moderation and setting the container, so to speak, in terms of the type of interaction we want to see.

​What kind of trends have you been spotting in the community building field, and what do you expect to see in the coming years?

The gradual development in technology has made it a lot easier for customers, members, users to talk to each other. To me, that is the key difference between community versus an audience or brand approach: members talking to each other. At the same time, many people have experienced communities throughout their entire lives, so they inherently know the power of communities in the online virtual sense. In the start-up and tech space, I think people now start to realize the benefits of building something collaboratively with their audience. After all, having space for users to talk to each other directly impacts improving marketing, product, or the cost of technical support, for instance. 

​Have you got any advice for people who are building out an early community around a software start-up?

There's plenty of amazing resources out there these days that didn't exist when I was getting started. Whether it's a newsletter, a Community Club, or people talking about stuff on Twitter, Discord, or Club House – there is a community management industry. Many of these people learned what works and what doesn't; they have valuable insights and are happy to share.

My advice for those who are getting started is to connect with other community professionals who have been doing this for a while. Read their posts in newsletters, watch their videos, learn from them.

My advice for those who are getting started is to connect with other community professionals who have been doing this for a while. Read their posts in newsletters, watch their videos, learn from them. No one has all the answers. But hopefully, someone can point you in the right direction. Other than that, be curious about your users and the people whose problems you're trying to solve.

Do you think that every software start-up should create a community?

In general, there are two main types of community where it would make sense to build with users. One would be when you're making something for an existing community, a niche category, or a subgenre to something. For example, if you realize there's not a good app for people who play pickleball.

The other situation would be trying to create a new movement around something, starting a community around something central to what you're doing. In the latter scenario, I think it'd be hard to do it without community. Then again, I'm biased because I believe community is always important. But you can be successful in some areas without focusing so much on community.

​How do you get inspired to do your work? Do you have any blogs, books, or podcasts to recommend?

I'm a big history fan. I read a lot of history from around the turn of the 19th century. That period fascinates me because it's long enough ago to be different, but it's recent enough for me to picture what it was like. That's a source of inspiration for me. I follow a lot of different community members on Twitter and LinkedIn, and I try to be in other communities – whether it's professional or just for fun. I'm constantly seeing interesting initiatives and events and wondering how/if to implement them at Teal. 

I also try to take cues from offline community professionals and organizers. Some people have been working on community in spaces for hundreds of years, and though much of what they've done differs in scale and speed from the online world, the basics are pretty much the same.

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Steven, Lennart, Gino, Frank