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As part of our series highlighting how Culturevists are developing our company cultures and customer communities, we interviewed Mike Grafham.


Hi Mike, for those of us that don't know you, can you introduce yourself?

I’m passionate about helping people change how they get work done. I do that today by helping to design FastTrack, which is the service that helps Microsoft’s customers be successful with Office 365. Previously I ran customer success for Yammer.


How do you define 'community'?

Community is people working together to achieve a common purpose.


Can you describe a time that you saw the value of a community? Maybe something that wouldn't have otherwise happened without one.

We see the value of community all the time with Yammer. One of my favourites was the community of boiler repair people. They would talk with other repair people when they encountered a situation they couldn’t solve at a customer’s house, and often get tips that would mean they could fix the issue there and then rather than having to go away and return.
The most powerful recent example was the story of r/place – creating this incredible canvas by everyone just placing one pixel at a time. This was only possible with everyone working together and I love it as a metaphor for communities generally.


Can you describe a time you saw a community lead to something that the 'owners' of the community might not have desired? What did you learn from this experience?

I think this happens a lot less often than people think. We used to see competing companies come and turn up to some of the community events that Yammer held. Initially, we thought that we should just stop them coming, but in reality including them meant we had more people aligned to the general purpose and people were associating the community with our product rather than theirs, so it turned out to not be as big an issue as we had initially thought.
We used to see many examples of customers not talking about what we wanted them to talk about (e.g. talking about issues with features, not about changing how they worked), but in retrospect that was really helpful in understanding whether we 1) were encouraging the right type of person in the community and 2) how closely we should actually be listening to the issues that are being raised.


If someone's trying to convince a decision-maker (who's also the budget-holder) that they should invest in building a community, what do you think they should say or do?

I don’t think a community is a separate thing to what you’re doing as a business. It’s just one approach to achieve your objectives. Viewed through that lens, you can get a community started with very little investment by just making it part of what you do rather than this independent venture. Framed like this, it’s a lot easier to get support and investment.


What do you think are the main things to consider or focus on when building a community?

Have a clear common purpose, that isn’t about you but about what you represent. People associate with ideas more readily than products. Don’t think of community as a technology, or separate to the core of what you’re doing – just make it part of what you do. Don’t confuse community with content marketing, they’re completely different things.


What should guide people's decision-making when they're deciding what to measure?

Measure things that are relevant to your business today. If you’re having to invent community-specific measures, that’s an indicator that it’s not positioned in a way that’s relevant to your business.

What things do you think should be controlled by the people who have formal authority/ownership of the community (if there are any), and what should be for the community members to control? How do you make this work in practice?

Those who lead the community are responsible for setting the tone and for ensuring that everyone is clear on the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Beyond that, it should be a joint approach with the community, because the more you try and get people to behave a certain way, the less naturally a community is going to grow.


How much do you help the community feel a sense of belonging as one group, and how much do you tailor things to subgroups within the community?

Watch for size. Human nature means it’s challenging to get people to feel close to one another in groups greater than 150, and 7-8 is generally the ceiling for meaningful intense work. So pick your groupings accordingly. I’d also suggest only splitting groups up when they ask for it – they’ll tell you when it’s getting too busy/complex.


How would you describe the link between community and culture?

Your community reflects your culture.



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