AMA with Willa Tellekson-Flash, Director of Community at Public

Is community-building hyped in 2021? How do you build communities that are thriving while ignoring the noise?

There's a lot of hype around communities, but it's for good reason. Human connection is powerful, and it's exciting to see that we're spending more time thinking about the different ways that that power can be harnessed to provide value. We have so much choice as consumers in 2021 — I see community as a major loyalty driver that allows brands and companies to create long-lasting, deeper relationships with their customers.

What's one thing about communities that you've learned and is very close to you?

Community is rooted in humanity, and so some of the most basic principles of how we learn to treat one another apply directly to community-building. Kindness and respect sound simple, but they really matter. And taking the time to learn people's names and find out what they're curious and passionate about goes a really long way when it comes to creating relationships that aren't surface level. The Public community has continued to grow rapidly, but as we scale, making sure that people feel seen, included, and valued are some of my biggest priorities.

Investments are at risk if they are driven by misinformation. What steps do you take to moderate a community and build a place of trust for your community members?

Fostering appropriate, thoughtful interactions is central to our Community Guidelines, and we don't allow purposeful sharing of misinformation. Additionally, though, I think that one of the most important ways to prevent harmful spreading of rumors & misinformation is to foster a community that cares about one another and has the best interest of other members in mind. As a result, our community members are more likely to be motivated to share news and information that they're fascinated by or excited about to have a fruitful conversation with fellow community members. And, in the case that someone tries to disrupt this environment and share something misleading, other community members are more likely to call them out and look out for one another. This makes moderation more scalable.

What can other community builders learn from your experience building a fintech community?

Money can be an uncomfortable conversation topic for many people — it's personal, and not something that we've historically engaged in open conversations about. Opening up conversations around sensitive topics while challenging is also something that I feel is really valuable to our society. The more comfortable we are talking about something, the less shame there is around it. Whether you're trying to build community around something like money or personal finance, or something else "taboo" (I used to work in the reproductive health space, for example, and also felt this!), creating environments that are safe for people to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions without fear of feeling judged will allow for more genuine participation in your community. Rather than shying away from sensitive or intimidating topics, I see it as far more valuable to think about how we can open more doors.

What are the best ways for marketing and community teams to work together?

Successful marketing provides their customer-base or audience with solutions, while successful community building creates spaces where community members help one another. (I think I first heard this from David Spinks!) As a result, Community teams know a lot about how we as a product/company can better support our community and share insights with the Marketing team about how we might position launches and releases to best address our community. At Public, because product launches and marketing campaigns so directly impact our community, the Community team is included in every launch plan and campaign rollout, and I believe we see more success in our Marketing efforts as a result. Additionally, I think it's important to remember that Community teams often have treasure chests of stories and highlights directly from the community that the Marketing team can weave into brand building and brand storytelling.

How do you bring inclusivity into a community?

Public was built to make the stock market more accessible to everyone, and to do that, we need to change the environment and culture of investing. We want to move away from the homogeneous, exclusive circles that have typically dominated the stock market and ensure that everyone feels empowered to participate. In our case, our community makes investing and the stock market more human and thus more approachable to people who may not have previously felt like the stock market was “for them.” As far as welcoming people to the investing community, I focus heavily on helping people find their entry-point. You may not believe you're "qualified" to share your thoughts on investing, but you probably have really valuable expertise that you may not realize. Maybe, for example, you have strong opinions on Spotify vs. Apple music — that conversation is relevant for investors in Spotify and/or Apple! Or maybe you use Chewy to buy products for your pet — your experiences with them are also really valuable in conversations within our community. Helping people find their entry-point is really important to me because it welcomes a wider range of voices to the conversation. All that said, I also want to acknowledge that when it comes to investing and wealth, there's a large racial wealth gap in our country, and people within our community have different experiences with money and finances as a result. I have a lot to continue to learn about ensuring that everyone feels a sense of belonging when participating in our community, and feel strongly in the importance of continuing to work to actively build our community so that all of our investors can connect with other community members who they share common ground with.

Advice to someone getting started in community building

Start by being more intentional about building community in your personal life — hone your listening skills, make thoughtful introductions, get curious about how humans interact. All of this will seamlessly translate to being a stronger community builder professionally.

Follow Willa Tellekson-Flash on Twitter.

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