Here's someone with more than two decades of online community and social media strategy and management experience. Blaise Grimes-Viort hosts the Guild Community Collective on Guild (join free here) and is a social media and online communities consultant who is also active in local community groups.

Blaise has a wealth of expertise in all things community.

Hi Blaise - tell us all about you

"My father was an ICT teacher in the 90s when I was a teenager - we had plenty of computers in the house along with a dial-up internet connection, so it all started exploring BBSes, ICQ, and other live chatrooms.

I completed a MSc report on the culture of digital piracy groups, which were one of the first large scale online communities, and the bug took hold.

I joined a User Generated Content (UGC) management agency at the beginning of my career which gave me opportunities to work closely with the BBC, PlayStation, and Orange before heading off client-side and the world of magazine publishing.

I built out both forum-based entertainment communities for Boots-backed start-up Handbag Publishing Group which was acquired shortly after by Hearst UK. At that point I worked with editors for the full stable such as Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Harper’s Bazaar, and Netdoctor on establishing and growing dedicated community spaces.

As social media platforms took hold around 2008, I increasingly consulted internally on how to develop engagement programs and campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

I switched back to agency-side in 2010 by joining content moderation agency eModeration, to grow their strategic and community management capabilities.

With successful work delivered for companies as diverse as Nissan, MTV, Oreo, and Oprah Winfrey Network, I spent a short time as Chief Innovation Officer concentrating on pivoting the agency’s functions from service delivery such as moderation and community engagement, to consultancy-led and launching strategy, insights and creative teams over the following years.

I became Chief Services Officer as the agency rebranded to The Social Element and took on new clients such as Mondelez, Shell, and PlayStation.

In 2020, having established the full spectrum of capabilities at the agency, I felt I had completed what I had set out to do and took a break.  I then returned to consulting with a growing stable of clients under my own steam, primarily around developing community-focused organisations, both in terms of engaging with external networks and working with employee groups to increase collaboration effectiveness."

You’re running the Guild Community Collective community on Guild - can you tell us what it is and why you wanted to be part of this?

"The focus of the Guild Community Collective is to welcome all practitioners, whether running established community spaces or looking to launch one.

The aim is to provide a space to learn from each other’s successes as well as discuss new developments in the industry.

Through building large teams of multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary social media and community managers in most industries, I’ve always enjoyed facilitating knowledge-sharing and the many benefits that come from networking.

One of the first events I ran was the inaugural UK Community Manager Appreciation Day in London at the beginning of the 2010s, and with the renewed focus on community-led organisations I'm excited about the opportunity to bring together people who engage in this next phase for the industry."

The Guild Community Collective is a dedicated space for community managers, social media specialists and anyone interested in building and managing online communities

Who should join the Guild Community Collective (and what will they get out of it)?

"If you are a community or social media manager, community builder, or community strategist of any level of experience, you are welcome to join in the discussions we will be hosting.

The core focus is on sharing best practice, ideas, inspiration, interesting content and resources, getting feedback from the group on ideas and initiatives, developing partnerships and making useful industry contacts and connections.

We'll be running virtual, in-person, and hybrid events in 2022 and beyond where we hope many of our members will be able to meet."

Could you give us a quick idea of the atmosphere or ethos in the community?

"We are at the beginning of our journey, so it’s a great time to jump in and get to know people and help define the direction of the Collective.

We want to create a collaborative, friendly, and supportive culture, with strong peer support where people feel there's no such thing as a silly question.

With so many companies investigating how community can enhance their activities, a vibrant and fast-paced evolution of both ethical and technical advancements, and the emergence of web 3.0, I’m expecting some fascinating debates!"

Are there any threads or activities that you feel work well in the Guild Community Collective or in other communities you’ve been part of?

"Any discussions around operations, such as strategic workflows and work routines are always enlightening, as they help both challenge and rapidly improve any existing processes by receiving help from other people’s experiences.

I’m looking forward to our first event; as much as online discussion is accessible thanks to the asynchronous nature of the medium, consolidating relationships face to face always leaves a lasting glow and leads to a deeper and more intense exchange of ideas.

I noticed a few international members join up recently, which is exciting as being introduced to thinking that is relative to different cultural environments always leads me to consider my work in new ways."

Is there anything you find challenging about managing a community?

"Beyond digital fatigue, which is always hovering for us all given the number of online meetings that now take place, being able to encourage strong connections between people without leading to exclusive and closed micro-groups developing is something I always find fascinating to manage.

On one hand, you want to see relationships intensify, on the other new members will not participate if they feel jumping into a tight-knit community is socially daunting."

What do you love about the Guild Community Collective?

For the past year or so, I’ve been reconnecting with many practitioners, having been so focused on business growth matters at my last agency.

So, seeing people I recognise signing up and having the opportunity to hear their growth and learnings is something I love."

"The breadth of conversations has been reinvigorating and given me many opportunities to discover tools and techniques I wasn’t aware of."

What would your advice be for other consultants or experts who are wondering if creating a community on Guild would work for them?

"What I’ve enjoyed most with the Guild platform is the fact that it marries easy-of-use with stripping back of all distracting aspects of other social networks.

The focus is very much on discussion in fast-paced groups, and I’d simply recommend jumping in and getting a group going.

There is a large community of professionals in many industry sectors to engage with, many very active, and Guild has features such as events planning which provide additional ways to create community routines.

The functional learning complexity is low, and there are free and low cost pricing options, so no better time to use it to build your own community, especially given how reactive the Guild team is in providing support."

What are your ‘top tips” or tactics for launching and succeeding with a community on Guild?

"Thorough planning is critical for me for a community program to be successful; being clear about what your goals are, how they fit within organisational targets and where the community can support overall growth plans makes a huge difference in attaining positive outcomes.

Having such a plan in place will also provide a strong foundation for effective monitoring and measurement of progress, which means you will be able to modify your approach as you go without being unsure of why certain activities are working or not and what to do next.

I’ve written articles for the Guild blog covering these topics, so keep an eye out in the coming weeks for in-depth guidance on how to go about this!"

"We are spoilt for choice now with practical advice and information on developing online communities, so what follows is really only a flyby of some good starting points.

Starting with Social Media news, Matt Navarra’s Social Media Geekout newsletter is a reference, aggregating anything worth knowing about networks updates. Agency The Social Chain maintain Social Minds, an always-evolving database of news, along with some great prompts for what could be integrated in your planning and how. Invite only, it’s well worth the effort to get in.

In terms of podcasts, I always enjoy Oblinger and Kuhl’s In Before The Lock, with some community industry news and a hot topic of discussion twice a month. For more focussed one on one interviews Patrick O’Keefe’s Community Signal has a huge database of insightful conversations with many community managers from leading brands.

I love what the thinktank Better Communities is doing, around promoting online communities as not merely vehicles for financial benefit, but platforms for deep relationship building, hooking both customers and employees into the process itself of business, to develop offerings that are for their own benefit, not just the bottom line."

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