David Spinks, founder of CMX Hub, has been the face of the community space for nearly a decade, but he start start his career aiming to be the industry’s darling. It was a mix of fate, and following his curiosity, that led him to launching CMX Hub. We’re thrilled we got to catch up with David and talk about the start of his career, the trends he’s seen in community over the years, and how he thinks community software will change with emerging technologies.
Mobilize: You’re known as a leader of community leaders. Did you always know that was your path?
David: I've always been interested in community and how tech can bring people a true sense of belonging. But for a long time I didn't plan to do it professionally. I really wanted to be an entrepreneur and create something new. Community didn't seem like something that brought a lot of career opportunities.
Nevertheless, my first job out of college was as a community manager. This was before that was really a common job title in tech companies. After several years of working in the space and meeting a lot of others doing similar work, I started The Community Manager with Jenn Pedde and Brett Petersel. We were one of the first to start writing about community strategy. During that time, I met a lot of other community professionals and we developed a decent reputation in the community space.
People started referring to me as "the community guy” When people asked about community, someone would say "Oh! You have to go talk to David Spinks he is the community guy." Still, in my mind I was like, “I don't want to be the community guy. I'm an entrepreneur.” And they were like, "No, no, no, you're the community guy."
I pushed back because to be honest, I didn't have a lot of pride as a community builder. It wasn't a reputable thing that was going to skyrocket my career. I though community management was this low level job.
Finally, there was a point where I was just like, "F*ck it. I'm still really interested in building communities. I'll lean into being "the community guy". Let's see what happens. I remember that decision vividly, because from that point on it felt like I was swimming downstream. Things started to click.
Mobilize: It’s funny how that happens. Now, you have CMX, and host a global community conference around the world. Since starting CMX, how have you seen the industry change?
David: It’s growing. All of the leading startups and tech companies are investing in community in some way. And when that happens suddenly the big brands and all that start to follow. Now we are starting to see more and more of the big brands start to invest in community.
Even the major platforms like Facebook, their entire narrative now is around community and building a global community, a classic community. Facebook just changed their mission statement to be focused on bringing people closer together by empowering community. Community is in the spotlight and that's only going to grow.
There's still a long way to go in terms of really defining that value and understanding what this means for a business-built community, but I think it's moving in the right direction.
When we started no one looked at community as a discipline. They didn't look at it as a profession. It was just a job title that some people had at some companies. I think now that's all changed.
Mobilize: Since more companies are turning their heads to communities, what types of communities do you think would be good for them to invest in?
David: The question isn't should you build community. Every business already has a community. They should focus on making their community as strong and healthy and connected as possible. Then what kind of programs can you create that will empower your community to contribute to the business and mission in some way.
When you start looking at that, that way it's like, "OK we have a community, let's make it healthy. Let's make it engaged and then let's figure out what are the things that we can build around this community that will help us achieve our business goals."
To do that, we usually refer to the SPACE model. That's where you can break down the specific value that the community is driving for the business. SPACE stands for support, product, acquisition, content and engagement.
Mobilize: What would you say is the most popular program right now for businesses, or one that has the most hope for success?
David: We just did a big study with over 500 companies into the value of community. It's interesting because the most common community program right now is still support, which makes sense. It's been around for the longest time, at last the last decade. Support forums are pretty common. But the data also showed that the most common programs that businesses are moving to are product (collecting insights and feedback from members) and acquisition (growing the business). So community is becoming less about traditional support, and becoming more integrated into innovation and growth.
Mobilize: Since more companies are investing in communities, there have been more opportunities for aspiring community managers. What do you think is the ideal background for a community manager?
David: Community managers come from a wide range of backgrounds. It's such a new space that there isn't an ideal background. There's no or very few college curriculums that will teach you this work.
Most community managers are coming from marketing. They're coming from education, a lot of them were teachers. Some have a theatre background. They're coming from political organizing, building community on a political landscape.
They're coming from non-profits, which at their core always have an element of community because they're trying to get people to contribute, and volunteer, and be involved. It's coming from places where this concept of human connection, volunteerism and contribution to the community already existed. Now it's just being applied in the for-profit landscape.
Mobilize: What are the biggest challenges that businesses face when they need to create a community?
David: The biggest challenges they face is still just proving their value and being able to communicate their value. That's it. I think there's a lot of amazing community managers out there who are very good. They're natural at building community and connecting people.
The ones who aren't, that's a lot of the work we're doing. You can learn how to structure a community engagement strategy. It's getting that validation, getting that by and having the tools and the technology and the resources that you need in order to properly collect data. Measure it and connect it back to your business.
Mobilize: What future trends if any do you foresee happening in the community space in the next couple of years?
David: I think technology in the space is going to evolve quite a bit. Mobilize is actually doing a really good job of thinking about integrations. That will be really important. Community tech won't be able to live in a silo the way it does today.
I think that's the direction that all SaaS is going in. It's very much about integrations. In order for the community space to grow, we need more people working up individual problems in the space.
If each platform company is trying to do everything, then you're not getting a diversity of products and focuses that are going to make it work really well.
Beyond technology, I think a big tech reckoning is happening and there will be a massive recognition for the need for community management. Humans have created these massive digital spaces, but have done little to ensure that the content and conversations on these platforms are high quality, and have a positive impact on society. This digital society we've created needs to be managed and cared for, and community managers are specialized to solve this problem.
Mobilize: What do you read to keep yourself inspired in the space?
David: I recently read Sapiens. It's one of my favorite books I've read in the last 10 years. Right now, I'm reading Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, which talks about community organizing in order to create change. I also listen to a podcast called "On Being" a lot right now which is just about being human. It talks about love, it talks about connection, it talks about loss and perseverance, ethics and religion. I draw a lot of insight and inspiration from that podcast. I also read a lot of philosophy books. Philosophy as a Way of Life is a great one.