How to Keep Talking: A model for community conversations

Louis Rosenfeld

Conferences are just polished, time-boxed versions of conversations that are already underway within a professional community. (And so are books, for that matter.) Meeting once a year with your peers can be a wonderful, life-changing experience—but what about the rest of the year?

Isn’t the conversation is more important than the conference itself?

What if we inverted things, and emphasized the conversation over the conference?

Filling the dead space between conferences

That was our thinking at Rosenfeld Media back in 2017, just after the first DesignOps Summit. To keep the conversation going during the 362 days there wasn’t a conference taking place, we started hosting monthly videoconference calls—free to anyone interested in design and research operations—with guest speakers and engaging discussions.

Those monthly conversations drew as many as 200 participants, and have led to a nearly 3,000-person strong community, with a newsletter, a growing library of resources, professional curators (Alison Rand and Kate Towsey), and a variety of other goodies.

The community model worked well—so well that we decided to create a second community to keep the conversation going for our Enterprise Experience attendees, curated by Uday Gajendar. It’s now passed 4,000 members. And we’ve inverted the model with our third community—Advancing Research—which started as a conversation and now is giving birth to a new conference.

The community conversation model is really simple, technically. We manage membership via a MailChimp list, videoconferences and recordings via Zoom, and each community site via WordPress. Nothing too fancy, no bloated platform to manage—which means it’s not too difficult to experiment with new ways to support community conversations.

Dear Uday (and Kate and Alison)

Like what we’re launching now: a series of advice columns.

Advice columns? Like Dear Abby?

Exactly. The topics our communities cover straddle the intersection of novel and thorny. Novel in the “no-one-else-I-know-deals-with-these-issues” sense. And thorny in that successful UX requires us to understand and navigate social, cultural, and other inherently messy human challenges.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you can appreciate these challenges, because they drive you nuts every day. And I’m betting that you regularly find yourself wishing there was someone kind, smart, and helpful that you could turn to for advice.

Well, now there is. Our community curators—Uday Gajendar, Kate Towsey, and Alison Rand—are taking on the Dear Abby role for Enterprise Experience, ResearchOps, and DesignOps respectively. If you’re a member of one of those communities, they’ll try to answer your question. Or find someone who can.

We’ll be selecting new questions for each community monthly, and will publish our advice columnists’ answers on their respective community web sites. In fact, the first question (and answer!) just went live:

Will it work? We’ll know soon enough.

What experiments have you tried to keep the conversation going in your community? Any you recommend we try? I’d love your advice.

PS Rosenfeld Media’s communities are free to join, and they’re so packed with fantastic content and conversation that some are growing as fast as 15% monthly. I hope you’ll check them out.

Louis Rosenfeld

Written by

Founder of Rosenfeld Media. I make things out of information.

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