The San Francisco 4th and King Street station feels disarmingly relaxed for a train station that’s a major transit hub. Maybe it’s because most of the trains actually all go to the same stops — Redwood City being one of them. On this particular Wednesday morning, I’m banking on getting on a “Baby Bullet Express”. It’s the most direct of all the trains, so I’ve learned, and it’s the one that I want.I’ve flown to San Francisco from Toronto for the CMX Thrive conference, and if the electric scooters you can rent on every corner are any indication, I’m about to find out this Dorothy isn't in Kansas anymore.
I’ve never been to San Francisco before, and as a self-admitted nerdy community manager, I immediately start geeking out as my train blitzes past the likes of the Salesforce tower and digital signs on every corner for tools like Notion. No big deal, I’m just in the land of products spearheading the community work I admire so much.I quickly find my way to the Fox Theatre and see a rainbow of lanyards mixing and mingling outside. It feels a bit intimidating, I will admit. I became an “official” community manager during the pandemic and so I’ve never actually met any of my fellow CMXers in person. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve made the trek from Canada, and even though they say never to do it, I want to meet my community heroes.
And as fate would have it — maybe less fate and more careful design — I meet my first at the registration table. There really is no one better than Krystal Beachum to put your nerves at ease. She’s the Community Engagement Manager at CMX and the fearless leader of the Communiteers (which I’m proudly a part of). After being greeted by Krystal I knew I was about to be a part of something special.First up was “The Art of Re-Gathering” with Priya Parker. It’s why I was adamant about getting on that baby bullet bright and early. This session was the perfect way to kick off my CMX Thrive summit and, in many ways, framed my entire experience there. “Community is created, invented and shaped,” Priya reminds us. I interpret this as community not being a happy accident — it’s by the design of community-builders and there’s lots to unpack around what that design is exactly.
I’m struck by the recurring theme of embracing simplicity that starts to emerge from the speakers. Laura Nestler, Reddit’s VP of Community, talks about not overcomplicating community metrics. Laura asks this straightforward question: “Is this metric pushing the needle forward or not?” Katie Ray, Head of Community at Metadata.io, talks about the need for community managers to create a simple Governance Sheet. It’s a clear way to identify to stakeholders what support is required for community initiatives and at what cadence. Many community managers know all too well the challenges of navigating an ever-growing to-do list while being part of a small team. In “Keep your Community by Measuring Value, not just ROI”, Brian Oblinger reminds us to speak the language of business when speaking about community internally. It’s a simple statement, but one that could have huge impacts on the outcomes of your conversations.
The sessions are packed with a-ha moments, but perhaps one of my biggest community learnings happened outside the walls of the Fox Theatre. Jenny Weigle, Community Strategist extraordinaire, and Pablo Gonzalez, Co-Founder of Be The Stage, put community-building on full display with their late-night “Community Karaoke Mixer” that capped off Day 1. Karaoke has got to be one of the scariest phrases in the English language and, somehow, they managed to turn this nerve-inducing act into a supportive and joyous experience for all. Their enthusiasm and ability to make everyone feel genuinely included made for an evening that warmed the cockles of every community professionals’s heart in attendance.
What CMX Thrive and late-night karaoke showed me is that Priya was right: community is created, invented and shaped. Perhaps what she forgot to add is that these things are also outcomes of strategic thinking, failed experiments, moments of automating genius, scalable wins and an operational infrastructure that holds it all together.