On July 13, we hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the CMX Slack community with Laura Small, Director of Community at 7 Cups of Tea. Laura brought with her over 2 years of experience at her company, 7 Cups, and a background in affiliate and brand marketing.

Laura shared insights on managing a community for those looking to find confidential support and online therapy and imparted her lessons on community management — and managing your own self-care.

We were happy to catch up with Laura, not only for her community management skills, but because 7 Cups just celebrated their third birthday.

About Laura and 7 Cups

  • Laura has been Director of Community at 7 Cups for two and a half years
  • Her background is in affiliate and brand marketing for the Dr. Oz Show, where she worked for four years
  • 7 Cups is an on-demand emotional health and well-being service that securely connects real people to real listeners in one-on-one chat
  • The goal of 7 Cups is to build a supportive and compassionate island on the internet where everyone is welcome
  • The community hosts about 130,000 supportive one-one chats every single week
  • The team has hired 3 full-time team members who were former community members
  • The community interacts in group support chats, forums, and a feed

The AMA Highlights

  • To keep your community positive, create firm guidelines.
  • When planning community events, give your volunteers a signup sheet where they can take ownership of creating part of the experience.
  • Make feedback a part of your community process.
  • Create and build a community culture where fear does not dominate.
  • Self-care isn’t special. You should do it all the time.
  • Avoid “compassion fatigue” by taking breaks as part of your regular community management routine.

Want to read the whole thing, in its entirety, on our CMX Community Managers Slack channel? Join our community.

Community Management Lessons from Laura Small

@Sarah Lang: How do you keep your community constructive and positive?

“Keeping the community constructive is an ongoing process. I’ve been very deliberate about ensuring that it is positive. It can be hard. But essentially, the goal for me is to have enough positive to overpower the negative, and to have firm guidelines.”

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What are best practices for giving feedback to members?

“When a listener is in a chat and the member leaves a text review for them, that text gets used to give the listener feedback on a specific skill they can work on. So if it’s empathy, we’ll let that listener know that they can improve in this area.

We get about 3,000 of these reviews every week. Thankfully, most are positive and show that the listener is doing a good job. Inappropriate or hurtful behavior is managed more strictly.”

@Sara Sigel: What is your favorite online party you’ve thrown and how did you get people to attend and engage?

“My favorite… oh my! It would have to be the time I somehow got an entire chatroom to do an entire choreographed dance… but that was not my most engaged party! Every July, we do 7 Cups birthday parties. Since we just finished one, it’s fresh on my mind.

As for our engagement, we increased in one-one chats and forums by about 15% during the event, which is always fun to see. To get people to attend, I created a signup sheet. Volunteers can sign up to lead an event and then I announced all those special events every day. We have about 200 events in total with mixed engagement across the entire community and varying parts of the site.”

What type of members do you see becoming bullies and what tactics do you use to deal with bullies?

“People who are being bullies have generally been under the radar until they act out and I get to know them. In terms of managing them, we have a bunch of product enhancements in place such as censoring for phrases, spam filters live chat room warning system, in-chatroom muting…etc.

But in terms of culture and community building, our goal is to have the community function as antibodies. We always want the good to be able, and have the tools, to overpower bad behaviors. Sometimes we can’t keep them out, but we can create and build a culture where fear does not dominate. We also encourage that if you see something, say something and to use the tools you have to get these people ‘off the streets of our city.’

I also recently updated our community guidelines to be a point system. A specific behavior = X points, depending on how many points you have, certain restrictions will be put on you and your account. It took a while to develop that, but it’s been pretty effective.”

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How do you reward and incentivize the community?

“At 7 Cups, we have levels and badges, which people love. Good behavior is also rewarded in shout-out threads, which is where people are loving on one another and calling each other out for positive contributions. Good behavior also gives you special privileges such as forum editing abilities and moderating abilities.

Listeners receive cheers and written text reviews for all their contributions to the community. We work hard to avoid a fiercely competitive environment. With so many people contributing wonderfully, why only highlight one person?”

Laura Small then posed a question back to the the AMA group: When you are doing self-care, do you find it difficult to really let go? If so, how do you manage that?

She defined self-care as: “Taking care of yourself. Especially when you are burned out.”

Then she explained: “I’ve become better at this as I have gotten older. Things don’t get easier, you just get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. My advice is to be deliberate about it and make time for it.

I realized community members at 7 Cups were not doing self-care and I had to create a self-care program around it and information. I was seeing compassion fatigue mostly on the listener side. These listeners in our community give and give, but they were forgetting to take care of themselves too.

We have a self-care badge that we give to people who do regular self-care and track it in the community forums. We also have a self-care pop-up on the listener side. For every 500 messages you send, you will get a pop-up banner: “Hey, you should take a break.”

Sarah Lang shared her definition and opinion of self care: “I think as you go through all-of-the-things, you begin to realize that there isn’t anything that can’t wait for you to do your thing. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the term, as it makes it feel like it is something special, when really, we should all be doing it all of the time. Ain’t no job more important in your life than taking care of your life. I just wish it didn’t have to exist as a term and it could just be what-everyone-does. You know?”

Damon Klotz also contributed to the self-care conversation: “I’ve been a community manager in the mental health space before and it’s incredibly important to find ways to look after yourself when you’re so used to listening and helping others.”

self care

How do you track ROI and community success?

“We measure success in three ways at the moment:
1) Engagement and Supportive messages exchanged every day, week..etc.
2) Number of subscription upgrades
3) Quality of chats, which we measure based on positive review counts”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your community career so far?

“People will surprise you and you should let them.”

Lessons Learned

Want to stay tuned to learn about future AMAs? Join us in the CMX Slack channel and subscribe to the AMA calendar.

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Alexandra Bowen

Alexandra Bowen | @AlexandraABowen

I have a passion for tech, community, design/cities & sustainability. Looking to change the world where those intersect. Little things make all the difference