This entry is going to start out weird, get sappy, and then turn practical. It concerns something that has been a big part of my life, and this network, for some time now. The community. I'm not writing this to wave my hands at the paradegoers as my convertible passes by, but rather to try and fix some of my thoughts and celebrate the fact that I've moved away from the center of this thing I helped build.
I back a few other Patreons. Mostly it's a way to show support for shows I like, but it's also shown me what life is like on the other side of the creator/consumer divide. One of the campaigns I back is run by the 5by5.tv podcast network. A lot of the shows I used to like on the network have since left, but it continues to give me shows like Back to Work, Road Work, and The Podcast Method. It's worth a couple of bucks just for that.
But I was more intrigued when I found out, by some twist of parallel evolution, that they had also started opening up access to a community Slack channel around the time that we started doing the very same thing. I was curious... What's happening on the inside at a podcast network that's much more popular and successful than my own?
They have a channel for the aforementioned Podcast Method show that ostensibly is a place for podcasters to talk, share stories, and help each other out. But here's the thing: Nobody on this Slack talks to each other. They come in, ask questions directly to the hosts, and then bow back out. In attempting to participate and share more, I felt sorely out of place... like the overeager student who sits at the front of the class and answers the teacher's every question (make no mistake, I was totally that kid in high school).
This is crazy, I thought. Here we have a network so successful that it sustains a handful of full time podcasters. They have an order of magnitude more Twitter followers than we do. There are lines of communication and listener participation, but they run solely between the hosts and the listeners, not between the listeners as well.
But the community isn't part of their product.
Understand that I say it that way only because it's the most efficient way to express the thought. It feels gross and business-y. But somewhere along the line, I'm not sure when, we started making choices that made you guys a central part of the Duckfeed experience.
I spend enough of my days talking about things like "communities" and "marketplaces" and things like that are normally buzz words used by marketing hucksters trying to engineer an artificial way to boost numbers. Open up some forums, allow user reviews, discuss it in the comments... All of these are tied to Key Performance Indicators in some way. It's a sham.
When I talk about community, I'm referring to a culture of helpfulness and inclusiveness where people who have one thing in common (knowing our names) talk with each other and help each other out, without anyone from Duckfeed being involved.
The biggest and most helpful example of this is our Slack channel. You could perceive it as a Cool Kids Club, or a walled garden we hide in to hear nice things about us. But that's a vanishingly small portion of what happens there. And your club can't be very cool if the cover charge is $2.
No, what happens there is that people greet each other enthusiastically when they join channels. They greet each other enthusiastically when they pop in first thing in the morning. They help each other out, organize co-op sessions, and share game keys with each other. This happens regardless of whether or not Gary or I are watching. Put crassly, it's a turnkey delight operation.
Even before we had the Slack, we had (and still have) our Facebook groups where community members like Jeremy, Allison, Jala, and others stepped up to share cool stuff and generally raise the tone of the conversation.
Or, if you want a non-online version, any time we've held meetups, everyone gets along with each other. Myself, Gary, Brayton, Nick, we can filter throughout the room, but everyone seems to enjoy each others' company.
At a certain point over the past year, I realized that the community is one of the best parts about what we make. We can continue to churn out shows, improve our craft, and develop new ideas into finished works... but pound for pound, the community that surrounds us has created far more actual human value than we ever have. You outnumber us in the best possible way.
Pause a moment and consider that. Minus a few awkward interactions and unpleasant conversations, we fell ass-backwards into what feels like one of the more positive and constructive place on the internet.
I can't speak to how we pulled this off. In general, we value smaller numbers of more "dedicated" (or -- "involved") listeners over larger numbers of less engaged listeners. In doing so, we've strived since the beginning to make the kinds of shows we like to listen to, or reflect ourselves the most accurately, and it follows that doing so will attract like-minded people. We've been good about providing a venue for listeners to talk with each other, and providing a bare minimum of ground rules so everyone knows what to expect from each other.
That's all I can say.
The practical upshot is that when someone decides to listen to our shows or contribute, they'll find a place that's welcoming. And this will draw them in closer. And that will probably make them more likely to tell more friends, or donate, or whatever.
The emotional upshot is that I can sign in to Slack, or check our Facebook pages, or read comments on the Patreon posts that feel like a warm breeze at my back. It helps drive me forward and makes me feel good that people can be so generous, kind, and funny.
I don't have any more Tips 'n' Takeaways for anyone who is making their own thing and wants to share in similar successes. Like everything we do, it's just been a gradual accumulation of good things and minor successes over time. And that's cool.