An interview hosted by Bailey and Kevin with Lindsay Russell who led Facebook's investments in some of the platform's most active and important users: Group Power Admins. Five years into Lindsay Russell’s time at Facebook, the company made a big shift. Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would have a new focus: building communities. Yet at the time, only a handful people at Facebook were focused on the platform’s biggest community-building tool: Facebook groups. According to Lindsay, groups were a “sleepy part of the business” up until that point. So when she joined the small team, they started looking at the product with renewed vigor. Lindsay’s team learned that a sliver of groups were “off the charts” active, and these successful groups had one clear commonality: a remarkable admin. We sat down with Lindsay to learn more about her experience spearheading Facebook’s big pivot towards supporting admins who were cultivating communities.
“Every party needs a host. Every team needs a coach. It's no different online than it is in our real world communities.” - Lindsay Russell
At Facebook, Lindsay Russell was a part of the team that used data to identify, validate and supercharge the company’s biggest community building investments to date.
In their research on what makes a Facebook group active, even vibrant, Lindsay. and her team realized that successful groups had one clear commonality: a remarkable admin. These admins were spending hours every day running the platform's most engaged groups, where users were talking about everything from infertility and miscarriages, to gender politics in Nigeria, even dog spotting and cruise-going.
That core insight led Lindsay and her team to spearhead a novel effort within Facebook’s walls: investing in the community of power admins who were essential to the product’s success. If the groups team wanted to supercharge their product, they’d need to supercharge these power admins–empowering more of them to fulfill core tasks for their groups. With the help of power admins, Facebook groups would affect more people and sustain itself longer than the product and marketing Facebook teams at HQ could have managed on their own.
In this episode of the “Get Together” Podcast, we sat down with Lindsay to learn more about her experience spearheading Facebook’s big pivot towards supporting communities. What can we learn about building successful groups from her research? What investments helped community leaders spark and stoke their communities? Tune in for more.
👋🏻Say hi to Lindsay on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/lindruss
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Welcome to Get Together. I jumped in with the dog earlier, so excited. Woo.
Speaker 2: This is our show about how to bring communities to life that can bridge the gaps between us in a digital world. I'm your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at people and company and a co author of get together how to build a community with,
Speaker 1: Oh, I'm Kevin. I'm also here. Kevin Wynn went to Bailey's co-hosts on this podcast, also a partner at people in company,
Speaker 2: Each episode, we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds, thousands, more members today we're talking to Lindsey. Russell. Lindsey was one of the driving forces behind Facebook's growing investments and it's exceptional group admins, five years into Lindsey's time at Facebook, the company made a very big shift. Mark Zuckerberg announced to everyone that the product would have a new focus on building
Speaker 2: What does it mean at the time few people were focused actually just in terms of resources, on Facebook's biggest tool for doing that it's groups. So Lindsey joined a ragtag small team and she started her work by listening and learning from these power admins, the people who spent hours and hours every day of their lives running the super special, what they call life-changing groups on the platform. These folks hosted groups that talked about everything from infertility or miscarriages, gender politics in places everywhere from America to Nigeria, to fun topics like dog spotting and how to decorate the doors of your cruise ships. Lindsey became the translator between these exceptional group admins who are driving so much activity on the platform and the product teams at Facebook, inc. And eventually Lindsey and her team rolled out a whole slew of projects to connect these power admins to one another, creating a community between them, including their community summits, Facebook groups, just for these power admins and now of community leadership, fellowship and residency. So Kev, you know, what did you think about our conversation with Lindsey today?
Speaker 1: I would like to answer your question with another question, which is, what did you learn from your conversation with Lindsay? You know, what stood out to you? I loved sort of listening to you and Lindsey interact a bit because there's your experience at Facebook. And I feel like you got to ask some of the questions about how the conversation and focus on communities has changed from the time that, you know, you were working there to now. So summing all that up and looking at our last little convo with Lindsey, what suits out to you?
Speaker 2: I guess some added context for the listeners who don't fully know, but I was on the Instagram team that's to work with the early community, the like iPhone graphers and the creatives who were using the product like the very earliest days before there was even good search tools, no video, nothing like that. I was on the team before we got bought by Facebook. And one of the predominant feelings that I had when we got to Facebook campus was sort of, I think, self doubt of we had done all these things to cultivate a creative community on the platform and to highlight exceptional users, to be transparent with them, to support them. And I kind of felt like a lot of people at Facebook were like, Whoa, Whoa. Like, you know, behind those people are numbers and the numbers are so powerful and that is the truth.
Speaker 2: That is the source of truth, but it was sort of cathartic for me to hear like Facebook reach his own conclusions that were kind of similar to what we were doing at Instagram, but they did it by going at the numbers first, by looking at the data, by looking at the trends, by looking at the signals and walking back from the numbers and seeing, Oh, actually these really passionate people, special community members are having an outsized impact on the platform, which was what we had seen at Instagram. And also like how much that eventually brought empathy into the company. And that just was not the case when, when I was there, I didn't feel like it was the case when I was there. So to see that transition is really rad.
Speaker 1: Yeah. I pulled some like maybe secondhand inspiration, like listening to Lindsay, talk about cherry pick and select and hear about really amazing group admins and their stories and injecting those stories or bringing those people in and it back into Facebook and, you know, senior leadership being like, Oh, very interested to check that out. The engineers sort of being rallied to work on that sort of stuff in it. It was just cool to hear about that experience of being that Bunge out into the world and having to translate and bring back some of these stories and how that could though affect a lot of people internally, both from like how they can do their job better, but also just being inspired about the work they do and the people they serve. Yeah.
Speaker 2: Facebook sort of had a culture of like winning and what Lindsey described was a culture of service. And I think the stories she brought in from people like Lola, who's been on our podcast, these different group admins. So we're changing lives. It changed like this whole culture of a product org and maybe beyond by just bringing stories, bringing real people's stories. And so, yeah, I'm really excited about this episode. I think for anyone working at any kind of tech company, there's a lot that you can pull out from Lindsey and thank you to Lindsay for sharing everything that she learned and went through with us. Let's get into it. All right. Lindsay Russell, welcome to the podcast. You're an old friend of mine. We've we've reconvened in recent years and I'm so stoked to pick your brain today on the podcast listeners. You're lucky. This is going to be a good one. I want to kick off just to get to know you a little bit personally, with your own story. You are a, I'm going to swear a little bit on the podcast. Bad-ass smart, ambitious driven, kind, soulful. You know, you worked at Facebook a long time, but before there you were like in iBanking and went to Stanford business school. And I'm just curious, like tell me how you ended up working on Facebook groups specifically. How'd you get there
Speaker 3: First of all, thank you so much for that introduction. That was amazing. Yeah. Facebook in 2012, after graduating from Stanford, I spent a year on the business marketing team and then I was one of the first employees of the brand new consumer brand marketing team. So I was on the brand team, but I was always really fascinated by the product marketing team. Like I thought they were very cool. They worked on like product launches and Facebook's such a product driven culture that I was really stoked when I got the chance to join the product marketing team in 2016. And I was working in another area of the business when a friend who was like a director of marketing, overseeing groups, she kind of hit me up and asked if I would be willing to temporarily help out on the group's team for like three months because they didn't have any people and they needed another set of hands. So I ended up joining and ended up staying on the group's team for three years. But back then, you know, groups was like a pretty sleepy part of the business, like had been around forever. There was not like a ton of awareness that there were these like huge mega amazing active Facebook groups. Like I think we knew there was like potential to do more with Facebook groups, but it was definitely like under invested in from a product and marketing perspective. So
Speaker 2: It's now a huge part of Facebook's company. It's a huge part of their like ad spend. It's a huge part of their product team, but there's a lot of like hundreds of people working on the product. But can you say a little bit about like that switch to focus on it from it being a sleepy product? What drove that?
Speaker 3: I mean, funnily enough, it really all came from Mark. I mean, I remember the 2016 elections that happened. There was a ton of soul searching happening inside of Facebook. And I remember Mark had gone away for the holidays and had written this kind of like long philosophical email to some of his like insight circle at Facebook about how he wanted Facebook to do more, to help people come together and build community and be a force for positive impact in the world. And, but it wasn't long before he actually published this note in February of 2017 called building global community that really talked about kind of him laying out a thesis around wanting Facebook to be a force for positive change, helping people build supportive communities, you know, in a world where attendance and activity and a lot of like traditional sources of community like churches and unions and bowling clubs like is declining. That was sort of his vision that got put out in 2017. And like, it was immediately obvious that groups was declared this like product proof point. We had to respond to what he was saying. So that really kickstarted a lot of people at Facebook by taking a fresh look at how people were using Facebook groups to connect and like a lot of followed.
Speaker 2: What were some of the first projects that you decided to put on your plate as someone who's just going to come over for three months and help out a little bit? Like what were some of the immediate first things that you knew had to be done?
Speaker 3: The guiding light for all of this work was really this idea that great communities have great leaders, like groups don't work without a community leader on the scene. You know, I always say like every party needs a host. Every team needs a coach. Like it's no different online than it is in our real world communities. And the group scene back then had just started to kind of focus on this. The group seems started to kind of put a team together to look into admins and we started digging into the data and were shocked.
Speaker 2: So let's go, yeah. What did you see in that data? What did you see? Tell me
Speaker 3: It was like this big kind of surprise waiting for us to find it, which was that there was this sliver of groups that were like off the charts, active, crazy levels of activities, super active admin, super active moderators. You know, there's millions of groups on Facebook. Anyone can start a group on Facebook, but there's only some of them that fit this particular pattern. And so we started calling these meaningful groups and we started thinking about like what it means for you as a person to be meaningfully connected to a group. And you know, a lot of times when I talk with people about Facebook groups, they'd be like, Oh yeah, yeah. Like, I think I, like, I think I'm in a group. I don't know. Maybe it's a page. Like I don't really know what it is. And I would just say the kind of groups that I've talking about or groups that people literally say, like they would die if they didn't have access to it.
Speaker 3: These are the kinds of groups that provide a sense of belonging. That is like, there's nothing else like it really online. You know, there's so many groups on Facebook, there's parenting groups, there's hobby groups, there's military groups, there's professional groups. There's really fun groups. Like I think about a group back in the pack, which is for people who are slow runners and they don't want to feel excluded from the running community. Oftentimes they're like more on the elderly end of the spectrum and they want to run. It means a lot to them, but they're going to come in last and they know they're going to come in last. So there's a whole group dedicated to like cheer each other on. And sometimes they'll meet up at these marathons and take pictures of them finishing in last place together, hand in hand. There's really fun, stuff like that.
Speaker 3: And then there's like really serious support groups. Like I think about a group like mama dragons, which is a group from others in the Mormon religion who often experienced a crisis of faith when they have a child who comes out as gay. And this group's mission is to prevent LGBT Mormon suicide. Oh my God, there's just stuff like, you know, those support based groups are really powerful. Like there's groups for veterans and healthcare and parents of kids with autism and caretakers of family members with spinal cord injuries and women dealing with infertility and miscarriage or mastectomy. Like, it's just really amazing how people come together. And if you have something in your life that's affecting you when you tap into other people who have that same personal interest or experience in it, like you can connect in a really deep way. So people say all the time, like these kinds of groups, there'll be only reason why I still have my Facebook accounts.
Speaker 3: So not everyone is in one, but if you are like, it quickly becomes the most important part of your Facebook experience and also a really important part of your like real world support system. Once we kind of were able to get our hands around that, like it became pretty obvious that this was going to be a really big part of Facebook's future. And in fact, we even ended up changing the mission statement or remark changed the mission statement to give people the power, to build community and bring the world closer together. That's a big accomplishment, put a little star in that. One of the most powerful companies in the world changes its mission statement. NDD I mean, there was just this huge sense that like, this is the right thing to do. This is something we have to do. We owe it to these people who are in these communities. I think you can definitely take the cynical approach and be like, Oh, it's more engagement. We can run more ads against these people, but having been on the ground, I can tell you that that was not the vibe at all. Like, it was very much a sense of like service that we owed these communities that existed on Facebook. I'd love to hear that
Speaker 1: The word meaningful is interesting. It sounds like, well, so when you use the word meaningful, it's less of a measurement of like, is this meaningful to society, but really meaningful to the people that are involved? Is this something, as you said that like they would, they would die if they, if they couldn't be able to participate in this, it's just such a meaningful part of their life
Speaker 3: Definitely is not Facebook's assessment of whether that group is meaningful. It's actually what members self report as their relationship with that community. You know, Facebook's very sophisticated in its measurement and polling and ability to kind of tease these signals from the noise. And I think it was very progressive what they did and really coming up with a very psychological view of what it means to be a part of a community like on a tribal level. And then actually asking people who are in these kinds of groups, like, does this describe your experience in this group? Yes or no. And so we were able to kind of get pretty good at understanding what groups were meaningful to people and which ones were, you know, we, Kevin and I have been talking to just like hundreds of different community organizers and in the place of having like the tools or teams or data to like analyze trends, we've just kind of done pattern recognition ourselves to see these are the steps that we see leaders doing across the board.
Speaker 3: And the thing that's amazing about a scale like Facebook groups is that you can see a much clearer picture, like what the trends actually are about what makes a good group leader. What are some of the things that you guys saw are like really important for a Facebook group leader to have, to be able to run a group that's meaningful? Like what different roles do those people need to play? Like I said, there's so many different groups on Facebook and they're all really weird and cool and different from one another. But what they all have in common is a really active and engaged community leader in the context of Facebook, that's the Facebook group admin. And oftentimes the group moderators as well. The research team at Facebook is amazing and they had done this really cool year long study partnering with psychologists and academics and looking into what are the qualities of a meaningful group from like a sociological point of view. This became really a framework that helped us understand more about what kind of made these group admins ticks what the research shows is that there's five kind of core qualities to a meaningful group. So I can go through them if that's not too,
Speaker 4: No, we love it. I was just like, yes, drool coming onto my microphone right now, please go ahead.
Speaker 3: The person's life. So meaningful groups always provide a real strong sense of identity. Like it's part of who you are. You identify with the people and the topic. There's a really strong element of usefulness. These groups fulfill a need. They're not fluff. They're not just kind of fun. Like it's a place that you turn to for support or for fun. So there's a really natural flow of activity and engagement. It's not forced like there's a poll. People really want to, there's something that people are getting from being a part of this that's useful in their life. There's a really strong sense that your voice matters. So you feel part of a larger conversation. There's a feeling that you belong, that you have a right to be there and share your opinion. And then there's often really elements of like a really distinct culture. And I'm sure you guys have seen this with some of the communities that you've worked with, but like tons of like group norms that are reinforced with traditions, shared language, rules, jokes, you know, hashtags, little sayings that may not make sense to people on the outside, but have a lot of like tribal meaning to the people who are in them.
Speaker 3: And I think about groups like dog spotting, like anyone who are either you guys in that group.
Speaker 4: No, but I'm dog spotting all day.
Speaker 3: Yeah. Kobe. Yeah. Like it's a really Epic group. Jeff Wallin who founded it is incredible. They've actually like done a new Yorker piece on all of the, kind of like idiosyncrasies that are in dog's body. There's a whole language that they created around the activity of a dog spot. And there's just really funny, kind of like turns of language that they do in that group that everyone knows. And everyone uses and people like celebrate and kind of reinforce with how they like and comment on posts. And then the fifth thing is really basically kind of the most important cause it's table stakes, which is a sense of safety. So there has to be this sense of psychological safety that there's not going to be violence, or there's not going to be a lot of kind of fear. If you put yourself out there or speak up in some way, that's something scary is going to happen to you.
Speaker 3: And that's a lot of what admins do actually. It's kind of make sure that norms get enforced rules, get enforced, bad actors get removed. So that there's that ongoing sense of safety. And then I would just tell you, anecdotally, like from my observation, like a lot of these groups are really mission driven. So they're finding ways to bridge kind of their online activity into real world impact. And the real world piece of it tends to make the online group feel more serious and more meaningful and more real to numbers like wow, people are really going to meet up in person and go do something together. Like that's kind of serious, you know, organizing a lot of mission driven in person. Activities is also kind of a hallmark of these groups and the community leaders. The one who's kind of holding the space for all of this, it's kind of organizing all of this. So this stuff doesn't just happen by accident.
Speaker 2: So we've interviewed Lola Alma, Lola from female in Nigeria. I will now female in we've interviewed this woman named dr. Gummy Sola boy a day who started a group called ask the pediatricians, which connects doctors with parents who don't have access to medical information or doctors. We also spoke to Libby Chamberlain who started pantsuit nation, which is huge, obviously in the U S and it's so interesting hearing you say that last point about the physical component. It's almost like Facebook groups can be an incubator for like a real world movement that someone wants to see where you're just like, Hey, anyone out there, low lift, prototype anyone out there, like also care about this. And then once they've collected lots of hand raisers, they're able to do so much with that. It doesn't just start and end on virtual communication. It naturally flows out into the real world, but I had never thought about it that it's almost like a very simple way to incubate kind of just like group power in a way, and just see it as anyone else care about.
Speaker 3: And they're, they're there. And one of my favorite episodes that you guys have done is with Nikita from chronic con. And she mentioned that she started, the first thing she did is she started a Facebook group and she had like a couple of hundred people in it. She was like, wow, it's not about the number of people. It's about the depth of conversation and connection that's happening. Like there's something here. So we see that a lot for sure.
Speaker 2: And you know, you also said earlier that these, these admins are the hosts at the dinner party. You need to have them. We overlapped at Facebook for a little while. And I think having worked at Instagram, we sort of had this sense that these outliers really drove a lot of engagement and content creation for other people. The creative folks that came up with interesting visual ideas, people would start to copy them and copy those hashtags. We saw that and sort of believed in this, these leaders are special model. I think Facebook historically has been more of a what's the average user and let's build for that average use case. So this switch with thinking about admins as the unlock for the product overall, this one type of person is a pretty big switch for a product team at Facebook, to think that way, how did you go about building a bridge between the product team and these admins and getting the product team to understand those admins, understand their insights. And can you tell me about like that journey and where it took, you have Facebook by Facebook? The power admin
Speaker 3: Audience is a small audience. It's large for every other company, but for Facebook, it's, it's relatively small, but you know, they're really punching above their weight in terms of the impact that they're having on the platform. And so I think that that's what made people willing to go there. Do you think there's such an interesting corollary to the incredible work that I know that you and the early folks that Instagram did around having this very keen kind of ability to tap into who was making culture on the platform and who was kind of where these like micro pockets of activity were happening. But one of the first things that I tackled was actually super accidental, but it had a lot of impact on the team. And it's actually something that the team still does to this day. And it all started with Lola, who I know you have had on this podcast.
Speaker 3: I girl, Lola what's up. So, yeah, employee who had been emailing around to anyone who could listen about this incredible group, she was a member of called female in Nigeria. And she was like emailing the PR team, emailing anyone she could think of to just be like, Hey, someone needs to have eyes on this group. Like, this is insane. What's happening. And it had been forwarded to a bunch of people. And somehow it ended up in my inbox because I was like this random person working on stuff related to group admins. This is like super early days. There's like a team of like three people working on Evans. I literally just cold emailed Lola. And she wrote right back to me, I set up a phone call with her and she just came bursting out of the ether with a million like brilliant questions and ideas and problems and stories about her group.
Speaker 3: Like I almost couldn't even process it all. Like it was sort of, you do what, like you have, how many people in your group, we honestly did not realize that there were groups as large as hers using Facebook groups. And she was having so many technical issues because of the product really wasn't well set up for, to accommodate large groups back then. So I kind of absorbed all of this on this call and I like staggered back to my desk and I checked my email and already in my email, Lola had followed up with a PDF deck for top 10 feature requests that we could build to make it easier, like formatted crowdsource from her team of moderators. Very simple. I've been waiting to share this with somebody. She was like, this is my one shot. Like she thought she had one shot to like lob this over to Facebook.
Speaker 3: And she had very specific requests that ended up being like basically a roadmap of what the team built. And like I said, the product needed a lot of love. Like it was buggy, it was bare bones. It really was not well set up to do what she needed it to do. So I didn't know what to do, but I knew other people on the team just like, had to know about this phone call. I just said, like, someone else needed to know that like Lola existed. So I set up another meeting with her and I invited the engineers and the product managers. And so we pipe Lola into a conference room on VC on like crappy wifi connection. And I'm facilitating the meeting and I'm literally like, can you tell them what you told me? And we went through her top list one by one.
Speaker 3: And it was such a moment of consciousness raising as a team and like radical empathy building for what terrible trouble. These super users were going through, trying to use groups to run these incredible communities. And the engineers of course, were all fired up and wanted to help Lola. So after this, like the team really wanted to hear more from admin. So I partnered up with the research team and together we made up this thing called admin series where every week we would host pretty informal talk with a group admin. And this really got folded into the DNA of the groups team, even engineers and product managers, who sometimes are like less interested in having to deal with users a lot became like crazy passionate advocates for these group admins. The product team was super engaged all the way up to our director of product who was a big sponsor of this idea and like really encourage the full team to attend.
Speaker 3: I kind of became this admin Wrangler and I started flying some of these admins to Facebook's campus to host these meetings in person. Literally just maybe we have fro yo for you,
Speaker 1: Just a detail question. You said it was a very simple format. Like what would happen at a host admin event?
Speaker 3: I often try to really see myself as a translator because a lot of times admins, you know, they're very intimidated to be meeting with Facebook and much less an executive at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. It's like, that's a big deal for someone because these people are actually fairly pro Facebook. They have a very keen understanding that like they can't have their group without Facebook, Facebook enables their group to exist in the world. And so they're very, very sensitive to Facebook. And so it's a big deal for them to be talking anyone from Facebook and they get nervous. And so I was sort of able to see them for who they were and what they were really doing. And I was able to be in the weeds in their groups. I would always join their groups. So I'd be like creeping in their group and interacting and seeing what they were doing.
Speaker 3: And so I had a really good sense of who they were, what they were about that allowed me to basically facilitate these meetings in a way that let them shine. Basically I could kind of keep them on track in a way that let them talk. And in a way that felt like really representative of the community that they were building. But to answer your question, Kevin, it was really just pretty basic Q and a like, you know, how did your group star, you know, what's something that you're proud of from your group. What's been like an incredible story from your group. What's your vision for what your group could be. If you had a feature request, what would it be?
Speaker 2: This idea of dogfooding is so big in tech, but with a company like a Facebook, it's such a big platform that even like me trying to use this platform as an employee to be savvy about it, you're seeing such a small amount of it, but I'm sure that must have like trickled a lot of these groups into the employee's lives, like a much more regular cadence, a guy who was the first community manager at SoundCloud once told me that he had to act like a sponge. So he would go out into the world and soak up all this water from all of these users and then squeeze it back into the company and like the right way at the right time, you sort of described this as translating. So you take a really loud minority and they are deep users. They have a lot of opinions and you're this like bridge between them and engineers who are tasked with solving problems that affect millions of people and that's a hard bridge to cross. And so I'm wondering what are some things that you looked for to create the spaces in between where a product person or an engineering mind could really get value from the stories and insights of a group admin
Speaker 3: You are just like having here, like everyone's problems and you can't solve all of them. So you have to,
Speaker 2: You can't say change the system. Yeah.
Speaker 3: And so it's like, you know, ultimately it comes down to prioritization and roadmapping, which is really hard and I'm not in control of that. That's the product team's role in the company. The word that I kept coming back to in my time in this work was really about advocacy and being an advocate. What does it mean to be an advocate just continually trying to flood the system with as many voices and anecdotes as I could, and trying different ways of sharing the feedback and prioritizing the feedback. Cause we just had a tsunami of feedback that we got from power admins. There was no way that we could do everything that they wanted us to do or fix everything they wanted us to fix. It was really an ongoing conversation between us and the product team. And the fact that we were embedded in the product team was really valuable. I don't think you can do any of this. If you don't have a product team that's willing to listen to the end user,
Speaker 2: You've done so many things with group admins, not just like infiltrate insights into the product team or begin to have this series of meet and greets. You scaled their needs into actual programs that are run by Facebook teams. You get created structure around them. One of those things, as you've had, there's been Facebook communities, summits where product teams have shared with admins. What'd you see with tech companies sharing with reporters, it became Facebook sharing with admins what's going on and having an open dialogue in person. You sparked the Facebook community leadership program, which is a residency and fellowship that offers support and the real funding to group admins who need it. And you also were the kind of spearhead for these Facebook power admins groups. And I want to jump into that a little bit. How did you come up with this idea to create the Facebook power admins and what was the value of doing that?
Speaker 3: When we first started, we had set up some focus groups in Chicago with a bunch of power and power admins is a term that we came up with to describe group admins who are running these super meaningful groups. So on a day to day basis, they're like approving posts. They're approving new members, they're dealing with conflict. They're talking all day with like their team of moderators. If they have an external brand associated with the group, promoting the group to grow it to new members or organizing meetups or get togethers. When we say power admin, it's not like a product term. It's kind of a term that we came up with to describe the type of community leader that's running these really meaningful groups. So we went out to Chicago in 2017 to just talk with some of them and figure out, learn more about them.
Speaker 3: We got into the focus group and at first it was really awkward because we had all these people together. They didn't know each other. And they had a really hard time identifying with one another. Like there was one person who was like, well, I run a dog group and there was another person who said, why, you know, I run a mommy group and another person who says, well, I run a neighborhood watch group and they'd say, well, I don't think I have anything in common with these people because our groups are different. But as the day went on and everyone kind of loosened up and started talking more to each other, they realize that they actually, even though there are groups on the surface look different, like they were there with their kind of actions and behaviors as an admin, they were all doing very similar things.
Speaker 3: They wanted to grow their group. They wanted to keep their members engaged. They wanted to keep it a safe space. They want it to have like kind of a positive impact and a purpose with their members. And by the end of this day, like the energy was so high because the admins were really connecting with each other. And you know, it's a thankless task via group admin. Like it's lonely work. Oftentimes your friends and family don't understand why you're spending so much time on your phone. Like it's unpaid and it's tough. You know, admins will close a post and people will yell at them and call them a sensor or call them a Nazi. They have to break up fights in the group. So, you know, for them, for admins to find other people who are like them, like it was like finding their own tribe.
Speaker 3: I don't think any of these people ever knew that there was another person who like them out there. So it was really magical. We actually got kicked out of the research facility at nighttime because people didn't want to leave. And we were hugging and taking photos and I'll never forget this woman broke into tears. And she said, this is the first time I felt seen. So we were like, Oh, we have to do this. And that kind of core insight, this insight, like when you connect these types of power admins together, they have so much in common, so much too that they can help each other with that's really what led us to launch our first two major programs for community leaders, which was the Facebook power admins group and the Facebook community. So
Speaker 2: Amazing. So tell me about the Facebook power admins group. You guys have all the insights in the world about how to run a good group. How did you get that thing off the ground? Who were the first people you invited and how'd you spark the company?
Speaker 3: Yeah. So the Facebook power admins group, this was my baby. When I was at Facebook, spent a lot of time on it and had an amazing team that was also involved. It gets a little bit Netta. Like these are official groups run by the groups team for power admins to connect with each other, for advice and support and with Facebook to get the latest product updates.
Speaker 2: It's like the Avengers, or like
Speaker 2: I see. They layman's terms like kind of look like an ad type thing that was like, Hey, we have this thing for you. We can send those to people we recognize. Yeah.
Speaker 3: And the first one was just in the U S and I was the admin. So I was doing it in my spare time. In addition to all of my product marketing responsibilities, kind of just as like a side thing, you know, right from the bat off the bat, like I really always wanted to keep it very transparent. These are like really sophisticated users. These are really awesome. People like no marketing spin, no press releases. Let's just be normal. Let's just be real people talking to one another. I always use a lot of emojis, gifs, typos, like language of the internet. Like people would give me stuff that we wanted to post into the group. I'd always rewrite it to make it sound kind of voice. And we call the power ovens group pads,
Speaker 2: Meaning like the comms team would give you things to put into the,
Speaker 3: I got a product announcement. So be like, Hey, there's this new product. So there'll be product messaging that I would get. And we would say
Speaker 2: So. So you were translating back, not only were you taking the power admins and translating them to the product team, you're taking the product, even translating them themselves.
Speaker 3: Yeah. And that was something that I always felt really strongly about because a lot of times with product messaging through no fault of anyone's, you can kind of end up talking to yourself a little bit or like it's very corporate speak. It's gazing. And like, I just wanted to strip all of that out. It's like, dude, this is the problem we got you. Here's what we built. If you don't like it, tell us why. Boom. Just tried to take like a lot of the, kind of like artifacts between your Facebook and your user. Just like we're all together in this instance,
Speaker 2: Spirit of service too. I think that you're talking about, you're like, it's a different orientation than to customers or like someone you're going to conquer or something like that. These people are magical. Yeah.
Speaker 3: You know, you started real profiles and obviously it's everyone else's real profile. So it's just very human. Like it's just very real. And right off the bat, we immediately saw like a ton of conversations and dialogue starting between these power admins, just like we had in that focus group. I told you about people felt really excited to be invited to it, like to have access to a real life. Facebook staff was really exciting. They were asking a ton of questions. I mean, we'd see posts with like hundreds of comments and it was amazing to see it was, it's a super active group. And I just learned as we went and honestly, like everything I know about community management comes from watching it and listening to these group admins. So like, I'd see how they did their rules in their group. And then I'd try my own hand at it or I'd see how they dealt with issues.
Speaker 3: And I deal with my issues and I'd mess up. And they messaged me and tell me how I messed up. By the time the group got to about 8,000 members, like I couldn't do it solo anymore. There was just so much, so many conversations and so many comments and so many posts. So we hired our first community manager and eventually that U S group today it's around 20,000 members and we ended up launching four other groups. So we launched a group in the UK, Langham, Brazil, and Germany. And today I think there's around 50,000 members across those five groups. So like our members, the value prop is like they get the latest product news from Facebook. They can test new features and admins are super sophisticated power users of Facebook generally. So they're very product focused. If you change a button or a setting, it's going to mess up their whole workflow.
Speaker 3: So like, they're really stoked here. Any product update, no matter how small it might be. And it's a place for them to connect with other power Evans for advice and support like, Hey, this thing happened. And like, I don't know what to do. And for Facebook it quickly became this like huge source of product feedback for our product teams. Our product teams were all in those groups. They were active in them. They were constantly a topic of conversation and product meetings in terms of the content that we've, we posted a ton of content. We posted multiple times a day, every day, it kind of fell into two pillars. One, we did a lot of education. So we educate on new products, new fixes, new best practices. And then we do a lot of stuff around engaging power admins with one another. So we do just like fun content.
Speaker 3: We'd go live where we'd share like behind the scenes photos or like do admin spotlights or like everything was tailored around the admin audience. It wasn't generic content at all. Like it was very specific to help people recognize what they had in common with each other and to really create this shared identity of what it meant to be a power admin. And what was really cool is that this group and all of the power out in groups themselves became meaningful groups, which made us power admins ourselves. So it shouldn't accomplish totally. So it like forced us to step up as community leaders. And like, of course just have even more empathy for, for what these admins deal with because their product needs where our product needs. Like we all had the same issues
Speaker 1: With so many different types of groups and I get that there was an effort to try to figure out what was in common in your head. Do you, do you have a way to like, think about the different types of admins?
Speaker 3: You know, we did have like a lot of further segmentation within power admins. Certainly we saw some differences just in like personality and temperament, like across different regions, just cultural differences. Like when you create a group, there's like a group type that you can choose. For example, someone ran a buy sell group has kind of different needs than someone running like a health group. There's like a ton of neighborhood groups, for example, or local groups on Facebook. We wanted to build a product that actually would work for any type of group. Admins are a really interesting audience for Facebook because they're kind of this hybrid audience. Like when you work in marketing or product, you're used to seeing the world and like consumer audiences, business audiences, developer, audiences, influencer audiences, whatever admins, they're kind of this blend. I used to always say, they're one part content creator. Cause they're just like totally expressive and communicative. They're constantly posting graphics and going live and trying out new features, anything they can do to like communicate with their community. They're just like voracious content creators. They're one part influencer because they're kind of as micro celebrity, micro influencer within their world, people really care about what they say, they follow what they say. And then they're this kind of this a developer also, which is that they're super super users of the product. They know the product almost better than anyone
Speaker 2: I want to ask about this summit that you guys have put on. Why host a big in-person summit when you have all the software in the world to connect people, you are at the headquarters of it. You know, we're in this, we're all sitting at home right now. Like it's COVID-19 era like, but right now we're stuck in our houses. I'm just trying to get at like what can't be, what can't you recreate without just actually putting people in the room? Like, why did you,
Speaker 3: There's really nothing that can replace the magic of a really well done in person event. I mean, poor one out for all of the events it's supposed to happen in 2020, you know, but yeah, we had this idea for like, it was first called group's con because we love the cost of college and like comic con, we ended up calling it the Facebook community summit because we knew we were going to have some like mega awesome new features for group admins. And we wanted to do basically a launch event to really kickstart and signal our investment in community leadership on Facebook. So it was like, okay, we're going to do this event. You know, we were also kind of inspired by the groups that we were learning from these really active groups on Facebook, which is that some of them are, are only online, but a lot of them, most of them are doing stuff in person too.
Speaker 3: So there, there just is this component to like unscalable in person events that really adds a lot of depth to online communities. I know we'll go back to that one day and you know, it's a shame that we are kind of on pause right now, but that's, that's sort of why we wanted to do this event. I don't think it was any more complicated than that. So we've actually done three of them, by the way. We did one in Chicago in 2017, one in London in 2018 and one at Facebook HQ in 2019. And the first one in Chicago, you know, it's a two day event there, by the way, there was like a huge, amazing team working on this. So I'm speaking on behalf of all of them, right.
Speaker 2: Organized by me only. Yeah.
Speaker 3: Yeah. But like Facebook hosts a lot of events, but we wanted it to be very bespoke to this community leader audience. So we opened up applications, ask people to tell us about the community that they were on. The first event was just open to group admins. Now we have a more expansive definition of community leaders. So the 2019 Facebook community summit, for example, was open to like anyone who was leading a community using any Facebook product. So it could be an event organizer. It could be a small business owner. That's using a Facebook page. It could be a WhatsApp group, chat thread owner. It could be an Instagram account, but the first one was only Facebook or bad men. So we got over 3000 applications. We ended up picking a hundred of them and we let every group bringing two people to come. So we had 300 people total, like they all had to be from the group. So people would bring their moderators real, super active members or whatever it was the first time they had met in person despite talking online for years. So like, you know, it just made it really extra special. And Mark gave this incredible keynote, which ended up being a really pivotal moment for Facebook because he announced this new mission statement that was all about building community. And then Chris POCs got up on stage and revealed these new products that the team had bill and people absolutely lost their minds.
Speaker 3: Nothing that anyone had seen before. I mean, Chris announced scheduled posts and people screamed like just, just like the animal, like screen it's so much so that he like took a step back on stage and he was so taken aback. So people were super amped on the products, a series of workshops and, you know, Facebook has a gangster events team. So it was just gorgeous. The whole event was amazing. We had this beautiful wall that spelled out the word together and flowers and everyone took photos in front of,
Speaker 2: Oh, let's take notes. We can do that next.
Speaker 3: I highly recommend it together. Flower wall, you know, you guys know for running events. So if there's a million decisions, big and small that you make, but then like halfway through day one, we all like stopped and looked at each other. We were all running around and we were like, Holy shit. Like this is amazing because people were really connecting with one another. It was just this explosion of heartfelt connection. And it was so validating for these people who consider this, their life's work. We had a ton of press there. So people got to tell their stories to different press outlets. And now it's this flagship event. And I think what makes it different is it's not like a bunch of talking heads on stage saying like, this is what to do, and this is how to do it. And like, you know, we know best, we're very crystal clear and humble about the fact that the community leaders are the ones building community, not Facebook.
Speaker 3: And they've been doing it long before we ever got on the scene. So we have more to learn from them than they do from us. And actually the most important thing is for them to learn from each other. It's basically like a giant festival. It's all about celebrating them. I mean, these are people who embody the mission, embody what a lot of people are working towards. And then I get a moderation tool and you get a moderation tool and you get a moderation tool. It's not far from the vibe. Like how can we like just roll out the red carpet. That's awesome. You know, and execs come and lots of Facebook staff is there. And then after the event is over, they're all in an alumni group. So they all kind of have this as a ongoing source of support long after the two days are over. And those groups are also really active. So yeah, it's been an amazing thing to be a part of.
Speaker 2: I just think like we interviewed this guy who was the head of the star Wars fan club and star Wars started to do their big fan meetup, which is huge just before they started remaking movies again. And it was a launch tactic. It was like, if we want to get our biggest fans amped about the fact that a new movies coming up, the best way to do that is get everybody together in person wearing costumes, geeking out. If Chris Cox had written a post, I was like, we have today like announcing scheduled posts. I'm sure people would be like, you know, secret fish shake, standing, sitting at their computer, but there wouldn't be like an audience with a guttural roar. And there's like a way that we can amplify each other. I think by physically seeing each other's reactions and facial experiences and that sensory experience that the ceiling for that enthusiasm creation is just, I think a lot higher in person, the internet hasn't really been able to replicate that in the same way.
Speaker 3: Like from the Facebook group staff perspective, we were like, shook us. Like we were like, this is like, we gotta keep the pot from boiling over here. Wait till you see what comes after the schedule post. Like, you know what I mean? Like it's like, it was almost like a security thing when he can't like the stage. Like we gotta like keep them. So it was really just a really Rawkus joyous occasion. And everyone just made so many amazing connections. And a lot of those people that I met there, I still like am super connected with. So it's like, Oh my God, you're Barb. You run carnival cruise, decorate your doors. Like I know your story. I love your story. Give me Barbara and her husband, Jim run this group. That's decorated dedicated to people who like Cru love to cruise and love to decorate their doors. They get all artsy Craftsy, and there's a whole story behind it. And it's actually, it's become such a trend in the cruise industry that like industry has come out with like decorate your door guidelines based on Barb's rules. Like it's like, thank God they came decked in like head to toe, like matching suits. And they had swag of their little mascot. They're having fun. It's like hugs. And like, it's very personal. It's very, it's very human.
Speaker 2: When I first got into Facebook in like 2012, I think within here two years, the company first started using community like at the all hands and the all hand strategy. And I felt like in 2012, the word was getting used maybe more as a euphemism for like our entire user base is our community. And it felt like just sort of a trendy word to use. And so Facebook had adopted it. I'm wondering like how that word community or the understanding of what a community is changed in the consciousness of Facebook employees or Facebook's leadership in that time of really investing in growth
Speaker 3: Did really shift the work around the group admins. It just made it so real. I mean, it's so tangible. There was just this infusion of user empathy into the product org and our exec teams. I mean, the mission statement changed. I mean, there were a whole teams at Facebook now that are dedicated to community products, community partnerships, but I can tell you that in this phase and what it is today for Facebook, it's super real, super intense. I mean, Kevin, you always say can't fake the farm. And I think that's really true because of these stories that we would hear of how people's lives were changed by being a member of these groups. You know, I think about a group girls love travel. That's a group dedicated to solo female travel all around the world. And there's like a story that the founder had told me about someone who was in Thailand, traveling alone.
Speaker 3: She had a medical issue. She had to have emergency surgery. She woke up in the hospital and two members of the group were by her bedside. So she wasn't alone. Like I think about like the military mom and network, that's a group that's dedicated to supporting our troops, our vets, our families, and it's run by an amazing admin named Jerriann. And like, if something happens in that network, if someone is killed in action or if there's a suicide or if there's a family who's in financial hardship and they can't afford to get Christmas gifts for their kids, their first call is to Jerriann like, it's just very real. And you know, the product is a big piece of what is enabling that I'm a big believer that you can have as many marketing ideas as you want, but there's so much power and impact you can have by building products that scale across all of these use cases.
Speaker 3: And Facebooks are really big, gnarly, complicated machine with like lots of moving parts. And people have lots of ethical concerns and questions and feel certain kind of way about Facebook. And like, I get it as an employee. We all have those same questions too. But for me having done this work, I will always believe that Facebook is a force for good in the world because I've just seen it with my own eyes. And like these groups would not exist extent that they do without the reach and the tools that Facebook provides think that it means something today that it hasn't meant before, but it's a shame that community is such a buzz word because it can mean a lot of different things to different.
Speaker 2: When we go in to a organization company that is starting an investment in a community, they have a hunch that might be able to foster a community. We make them write down names for any possible, like who category of people that they want to invest in. If you can't write down five names right now, for any of these groups of real people who are already in your world, then you may not have any there. They're like, this is not sufficiently real sufficiently tangible. And I think one thing that's been so rad through this interview is how many names and how many stories did you just pull out of your head? You know, it's like the Harry Potter one, just pulling it out of your temple, the pen, the pen, sorry, that pencil. Yeah, there we go. The pen save. And I think that that that's the test, you know, it can, it, those people, those really passionate people can affect many, many, many more people and that's the community strategy and what makes it so interesting, especially with digital products, but I think you have to be able to make it real.
Speaker 3: One is, you know, we did a lot to tell these stories externally, but these stories are also really capable of influencing people internally. You know, we had gotten a new CMO at Facebook. You'd organize this like big, fancy all hands for the whole marketing department, all staff float in from all around the world. And at the last minute they asked if I could like arrange the Q and a on stage with a group admin. So I called Lola. I asked her if she could fly out, like the next day she got on a plane. She and I were like so nervous. We were like prepping what we were going to say. And we got on stage and we did our thing. We told the story of Finn. I asked her questions. She told her story and I didn't really know how it was going to go because sometimes these things are kind of a snooze Fest, but like you could hear a pin drop in this room, hundreds of people.
Speaker 3: And when we finished, we've got this huge standing ovation and people were crying. I mean, Facebook marketing, staff, tears in their eyes, they mobbed us. Lola was lady Gaga. Like it was insane. And people said that they were so incredibly moved by her story and so proud to work for a place that enabled her to do the work that she was doing. The stories are really powerful. And I think that, that, that was a big piece of the work is that it was very front and center. And for me, it was a real privilege to be their advocate in some ways, along with many other people and get to kind of tell their stories. I love that. I think that's a great way to wrap it up. Thank you guys for the opportunity. Thank you so much. Thank you. If you want to connect with Lindsey, you can reach her on Facebook and see if she'll add you as a friend. Her profile is facebook.com/linde, Russ, L I N D R U S S. Who's also on Twitter. Her handle is Lind Russ. Same thing, L I N D R U S S.
Speaker 1: Hey Bailey. If you had to start a Facebook group, Facebook community today, like actually today, like when the, within the next 45 minutes, what sort of group would you start?
Speaker 3: Easy, baby. I have recently adopted two baby chicks, Angie and Sonny. My entire camera roll is full of photos of them. And I also need advice. I need advice. Yeah. I need like a place to dump my photos. And I also need to know is one of them a rooster. One of them is pretty like aggressive and starting to show signs of that. I'm kind of nervous as a rooster. They're able to jump out of their like little container that they sleep in now by their wing power. And like, does that mean I need a bigger container? Like I have some questions for people. So it would be like all baby chicks all the time. Like I'm not talking about adult stage chickens. Like I want like growing chickens. That's that's my Facebook group. What about you Kev?
Speaker 1: Probably like a, maybe like a quarantine kitchen sort of zone. It's just like, I've always cooked a good amount and that, but now it's like at another level and I really enjoy it. And it, you know, it's a privilege to be able to be at home with my partner, cook delicious foods and like really leaned into that. So I think it might be a group where you own, you post the foods and maybe there's like some weird rules around. You could like the captions or comments are like extremely limited or you just answer one question or all you do is just like put the name of it and the date, you know, how delicious it was or like three adjectives to describe it. Something a little bit artful, but yeah, that's it quarantined. Okay.
Speaker 2: Well from the recipe and the photo of your actual food must be
Speaker 1: No, it's a photo. It's a photo of the food that's cooked. And then the photo of your empty plate. It's just always like that. It's just before and after there it is, there it is. Hey, if you want to find out more about us people in company, you can head over to our website, people and.company, not a.com, but a.company.com. Also our book get together is available on Amazon. You can find it at
Speaker 2: Oh, and last thing, if you don't mind reviewing this podcast and, or clicking subscribe, it really helps us show up for other people in the podcast or who might want to hear stories.
Speaker 5: Lindsay's that would be great. Yes. Thank you.