Creating and Growing Your Community with Authenticity with Michelle Frechette

How I Built It
How I Built It
Creating and Growing Your Community with Authenticity with Michelle Frechette
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Michelle Frechette knows a thing or two about building a community. Not only does she do it for multiple WordPress businesses, but she’s cultivated quite the community on Twitter! As someone who’s trying to grow my own community, I had lots of questions for Michelle and she generously answered them all. Learn all about what it takes to grow a community today. Plus in Build Something More, how to help those underrepresented in your community.

Show Notes

Transcript

Intro: Hey, everybody and welcome to Episode 225 of How I Built It, the podcast that offers actionable tech tips to small business owners. Today’s sponsors are Linode, The Events Calendar, and TextExpander. You’ll be hearing about them later on in the show.

Today’s guest is Michelle Frechette, and I am so excited to talk to her. I was on her podcast a while back, WPCoffeeTalk. I heard her on the Matt Report recently talking about building community of which she’s built several. Michelle is one of the most authentic people I know and that’s the topic of our discussion today: building a community and the importance of being authentic while doing it.

She gives me lots of great Twitter tips which is great because I’ve been kind of down on the platform lately and she gave me some advice for not being so down on the platform and how she has been growing her Twitter account by about 100 followers a week which is absolutely incredible. So by the time this episode comes out, hopefully, you will see some changes in the way I use Twitter as well. But all in all, this is a great episode. I’m excited for you to hear it.

Before we do, I do want to plug my membership and community in the members-only part of today’s episode. We talk about her project Underrepresented In Tech and the importance of that, and building a good community around that as well. So if you want to hear that, if you want to hear all of the extended ad-free episodes, you can head over to buildsomething.club and sign up for just $5 a month.

That $5 a month will get you access to a members-only community, bonus episodes, extended ad-free episodes, and live streams, and lots of other great stuff. So again, that is over at buildsomething.club. Head on over there today and sign up for just five bucks a month, you can cancel anytime. Or you can get two months free for signing up for a year at 50 bucks a year. So again that is buildsomething.club.

All right, now let’s get on with the interview.

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Michelle Frechette. She is the head of customer success at GiveWP and the podcast Barista over at WPCoffeeTalk. And I know I just sounded like Linda Richmond there from SNL, Mike Meyers character. Welcome to WPCoffeeTalk.

We’re going to be talking about building community today because Michelle has done an incredible job in multiple places doing that. And I am working very hard to build up my own community because I’m about four years behind the eight ball on that. So before we get into that, first of all, let’s bring in Michelle. Michelle, how are you today? Thanks for joining us.

Michelle Frechette: Thanks for having me. It’s really good to be here. I’m doing well. It’s finally spring here in Rochester, New York. It snowed last week, but we’re not going to talk about that.

Joe Casabona: Man, oh, man. As a native New Yorker who used to live, who grew up an hour north of the city, I can say to all you people in the city that Rochester is actual upstate. Just because I’m north of you doesn’t mean I’m upstate because it did not snow where I’m from last week.

Michelle Frechette: No. I’m about an hour and a half east of Niagara Falls if that gives you an idea.

Joe Casabona: And how close are you to the Kodak factory? Is Kodak factory still there?

Michelle Frechette: Kodak does still exist. It’s much scaled back from when I was a kid. I’m about a 20-minute drive from Kodak.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Michelle Frechette: They’re in Rochester and we’re in the suburbs.

Joe Casabona: Nice. My cousin went to RIT and lives there now with his wife. So I’ve been up there a couple of times. Got the grand tour.

Michelle Frechette: Next time you’re in town, we’ll go grab a beer together. How’s that?

Joe Casabona: Sounds great. Awesome. Like I said, we’re talking about building community today. I heard your episode from the Matt Report, which I thought was great. I will link in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/225. I mean, I enjoy talking to you, I was on your podcast. But I selfishly wanted to talk to you about building community.

Michelle Frechette: Sure.

Joe Casabona: So before we get into all that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Michelle Frechette: Sure. I’m the head of customer success at GiveWP, as you said. And what we do in customer success here is we work with over 100,000 active installs of GiveWP, which are mostly nonprofit organizations around the world. So I like to say I help people make the world a better place. And that’s what we get to do in customer success. Because most nonprofits are doing what they can to improve themselves either locally or globally or sometimes both. It’s an honor really. It’s exciting and it’s an honor to be part of that process for sure.

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And shout out to GiveWP. I used GiveWP. Actually, let me nail down the nomenclature here. The plugin is called Give, right? And the website is GiveWP?

Michelle Frechette: We kind of call it all GiveWP now.

Joe Casabona: Okay, cool.

Michelle Frechette: It’s just friends [unintelligible 00:05:26] at WordPress.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. So I used GiveWP for my WordPress Year in Review project. And it was good. It’s a great plugin. You did a great job with that. I learned recently that it was a fork off of Easy Digital Downloads. Is that correct? Is that public knowledge first of all?

Michelle Frechette: It is because we’re open source. We’re in the GitHub repo and we are also of course on wordpress.org because it is a free plugin to download. Of course, it’s freemium. So we have the premium add-ons. That’s how I can pay all the people that you see on the Give team, if you visit us anywhere in our offices here, like you said, in Rochester. It’s all out there. And you can see where it came from. You can fork it yourself if you want to. I mean, hey, it’s out there.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. I happily paid for the ConvertKit add-on, because it made segmenting my list very easy.

Michelle Frechette: Yeah, for sure. And over at GiveWP, you all do a really good job of communicating with your customers. I had Matt and Devin on the show early on in the 50s episode. 55, I think it was, talking about how they built Give and the importance of customer support and the processes there. So it’s really cool to have you on a couple years later kind of talking about how that evolved into a community. But that’s not the only thing you do either, right?

Michelle Frechette: No.

Joe Casabona: You’re active with Big Orange Heart. There’s another thing that you work with, right?

Michelle Frechette: Yeah. I do an awful lot. And people are always asking me about that. I think that building community is more than just one silo or one vertical. So I’m involved in a lot of different things. If I’m passionate about it, then it’s easy for me to be involved and to help grow those communities. So definitely Big Orange Heart is close to my heart. I’m actually on the board now of Big Orange Heart.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Michelle Frechette: So I do a lot there, as well as being a volunteer and as working with the Wordfest events that we have, because I recruited you for Wordfest, the first time. And then also I have a project out there with Allie Nimmons called Underrepresentedintech.com where we’re building community and working with underrepresented folks to be able to be found. So here I am a 52-year-old woman with disabilities and technology on your podcast. And there aren’t a lot of people like me on podcasts around there.

So we work with people to be able to be found. We work with organizations like your podcast and other podcasts to help match those people up. As well as I am very committed to helping people in our community find jobs. So one of the things I do to build community is every Wednesday I tweet out a whole list of job openings in WordPress. All of those things work together, the Give community, Big Orange Heart.

I also mentor WordCamps. I’m on the Rochester WordCamp and I also work with our local meetups. So all those things work together to build community in different segments of the community. But there’s an awful lot of overlap when you’re talking about WordPress, especially.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll just shout out Underrepresented In Tech because, again, after hearing you on on the Matt Report, I went and looked through the listing, grabbed a few names. So a few upcoming guests as this episode publishes will come from Underrepresented In Tech. So that’s a really great resource. Because it could be hard.

When I first started the show, I got some criticism for only having white guys on. It wasn’t a conscious thing. I just reached out to my network that just happened to me mostly white guys, for whatever reason. I mean, you know, probably for a long time tech was mostly white guys. We actually talked about this in computer science class, like why in the early 2000s was it only white guys, when in the 70s it was actually like a 50/50 split. And we kind of wondered what happened. Of course, the class being all white guys, we had no idea because we were also there. Anyway, that was a weird tangent. But Underrepresented In Tech, really, really good directory.

Michelle Frechette: Thank you.

Joe Casabona: I found a lot of really good guests that I think fit in with the theme of this year. So I’m super excited for that. So you do all of this in the name of community. Now, these are all public communities. How do you cultivate that? Well, first, let me say, has things gotten easier in the pandemic? Have you found that people just want to connect online because they can’t connect in person?

Michelle Frechette: Well, I think that’s true. The pandemic hasn’t made it easy for us. When we first started going to well… we weren’t having in-person meetups, we’re having in-person WordCamps, and doing all this online. Our attendance at our local meetup is less online, but the people who come, come every single month. And we’ve been getting people from all over the world joining our Meetup group online to be able to talk through the different products and issues and questions and topics that we put together well in advance.

And because I have a really nice network of people, I’ve been able to get some pretty top-notch speakers to come in. Everybody in my local meetup is like, “Wow, we got to talk to Chris Wiegman. Wow, we got to talk to team again. Oh, my goodness, Chris Badgett from LifterLMS talked to us and gave us a discount code.” You know, those kinds of things.

And part of building community is getting people outside of your own tiny group to have influence and to influence them and to kind of have this overlap between different communities and different groups that there are. And I think that that has a huge impact on how we look at things.

This year, we had only online WordCamps. A little over a year ago, I went to Miami, I was at WordCamp Miami. That was the last time I saw any of you in person unless you work in my office right here. So to go from being able to shake hands and hug people and have a cup of coffee or grab a beer at the after-party and things like that to only being online offered a set of challenges for sure.

But the beautiful thing of it is it also offered a bunch of opportunities. I got to speak at WordCamp India this year. I never would have been able to afford to fly to India and be part of that community. But I’m part of the India community for a number of reasons. One, I spoke at WordCamp India. People knew who I was. But others like I honestly build a huge community through my podcast, which I know we’re going to talk about a little bit too because I have people from all over the world. Six continents so far and over 25 countries has been represented and they’re guests on my podcast.

Somebody from India is on the podcast. I get a whole bunch of people from their group paying attention to what’s going on. And that community really starts to thrive. And I don’t have a forum for WPCoffeeTalk community. I don’t have a Facebook group or… we use to call them forums, where we just log on to a website in threaded forums.

Joe Casabona: Oh, yeah, the forums. What was before that? There was something else.

Michelle Frechette: I don’t know. ICQ, and all that kind of stuff.

Joe Casabona: The Chat Room and things like that.

Michelle Frechette: Exactly. But just through for Twitter. I find that I’ve been able to really do a lot of community building through Twitter. And I’m introducing people. Every couple of weeks, I’ll do a traditional follow-through like, “Hey, these are the people you should be following. But like, hey, recommend somebody I should be following. And I’ll recommend somebody back to you.”

So networks start to grow that way. Because it’s just not just be going, “I am the authority in who you should follow. Here are 10 people you should follow.” And everybody’s like, “Whatever. Michelle, we don’t want to hear you.” Those are just links that add symbols. Right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right.

Michelle Frechette: But if you say to me, “Michelle, you should really be following Joe Casabona because his podcast has a lot of really good things to say,” I’m going to say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s awesome. Well, here, you should follow Matt Medeiros because he has a lot of cool things to say.” And I just named two white guys, which is against my rules.

Joe Casabona: You’re talking to one.

Michelle Frechette: I always offer two or three people and they are varied the way I suggest. But I also want to make sure that people are really connecting with people outside of their normal circles, because that’s how we grow and that’s how we have rich experiences, is what we can learn from each other through diversity especially. I find that the more diverse that a community is, the richer it is and the better experience that we’ll have.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I read a book recently called “Range.” And it’s about how maybe you shouldn’t be a specialist professionally. Like you shouldn’t just focus on the thing that you do. You should be a generalist because it gives you more perspective and helps you problem solve.

I think the same thing applies to the company you keep. If you are in an echo chamber, you’re never going to grow. You’re just going to have a bunch of people with the same opinions as you. And then I go visit my parents and his neighbor say something insane to me that I’m like, “How can you possibly think that’s true?” And it’s true because everybody he knows says it’s true. I think that’s so important.

Michelle Frechette: The question I always ask myself is do I want a circle or do I want a sphere? A circle is flat. If I’m standing on a circle, I can only see in a 360 degrees and then up and around me, basically half of a sphere. If I have a whole sphere, I get the entire experience. So if you think of both sides of the world, that’s just the side that you’re sitting on. And if I have the whole community, which is global, it becomes that whole sphere is so much richer because all of us together can have those shared experiences.

We’ll also see different things that we can share with one another. It’s not just your peripheral vision and forward. It’s everybody else standing around you and their peripheral vision and forward from where they are. And so it’s just a much bigger picture that we could all see when we work together.

Joe Casabona: I absolutely love that. I’m probably going to make that the audiogram for this episode.

Michelle Frechette: I love it.

Joe Casabona: And we are only a few minutes in. So maybe not.

Michelle Frechette: I drop a lot of knowledge.

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: I can’t drive this point home enough because it helps you grow as a person. I constantly tell people I would rather be told I’m wrong and correct than going on thinking I was right. And I know that for at least some portion of the population, that’s not true. Make me feel dumb in the moment so that I’m not actually dumb the rest of my life. That’s how I feel.

Michelle Frechette: When I was a kid, we hated broccoli. My two brothers and I we just hated broccoli. I think a lot of kids like broccoli.

Joe Casabona: A lot of adults on this podcast don’t like broccoli.

Michelle Frechette: I’m a big broccoli fan now because when we were kids my dad lied to us and convinced us that they made chocolate out of broccoli. So we started eating broccoli. Well, when you have a worldview that’s implanted in you early on from somebody whose words you trust so implicitly, you actually become like a 16-year-old who tells their friends that they make chocolate from broccoli, and everybody else in the cafeteria at school looks at you like you’re a moron. So yes, absolutely, tell me the truth so that I don’t go spreading the rumor that they make chocolate out of broccoli in high school.

Joe Casabona: Yes, absolutely. I read something fantastic. This is a small tangent. But I read something fantastic online when I became a parent that was like, “I want to tell my kid a small innocent lie that they’ll repeat when they’re in college, like each state or each star on the United States flag directly represents a state. So the first star is for Alabama. And I just think that’s so funny. I’m glad it at some point got corrected.

Michelle Frechette: I think it was like this one point I was eating broccoli and I was like, “Hey, wait a minute. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Joe Casabona: Wait a minute. I’ve done that many times with my dad but for things that if I want to keep a clean rating on this podcast I can’t repeat. He would just say something and I was too young to get it. And then like years later, I’m like, “You’re disgusting.”

Michelle Frechette: “How dare you?”

Joe Casabona: How dare you? I’m a gentleman. This is great. Expanding your community. Building it through Twitter I think is really interesting because… how do I put this nicely? I am on Twitter and I do not like being on there. I think I see too much of what I don’t want to see and it bums me out. Not in the World News sense. More in the like, why is everybody being so negative right now sense? Or like the misinformation sense? Where I’m like…

Michelle Frechette: Just don’t follow those people. I don’t see a lot of negative in Twitter. Here’s a couple things. During the last election, I muted a whole bunch of words I didn’t want to see. So if you say those words, they don’t show up in my newsfeed. So learning how to use the tools is super important. But then also, I think that… I don’t think you’re a negative person, Joe, but what I’m going to say is you get back what you put out there, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Michelle Frechette: If you look at my tweets, I mean, you’re going to see just a ton of positivity because I really want to put positivity out in the world. That’s not to say I don’t put my social justice ideas out there. But I try to put them in a positive light and I try to raise people up, and like I said, try to connect other people to one another and talk about the good things because I think that that actually perpetuates more good things.

It sounds like the New Age thing like you attract what you put out there, but it really is true, at least in my case. Because when I read down through my newsfeed, I’m happy and I’m excited and I love the things that people are sharing. I love to reshare them and I love to engage with that kind of stuff.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s great. I love that. You say catch more bees with honey or whatever.

Michelle Frechette: Flies?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, flies. I guess you don’t really catch bees with honey. You still honey from the bees.

Michelle Frechette: They make it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, they make it. That’s true. So you catch more flies with honey or whatever. I think that’s so great though. And it’s true. Every week or so I do look at my own timeline and I’m like, “What’s the ratio here? Was I complaining too much?”

My yearly theme for this year is the year of opportunity. And one of those things was take the opportunity to offer actual feedback before just poo posting on Twitter. I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job of that. DoorDash, for example, I did tweet negatively to them. Not even to them, about them. Because somebody was like, “You should use DoorDash.” And I’m like, “Let me tell you about the time that DoorDash tried to walk into my house.

Michelle Frechette: Oh, my!

Joe Casabona: But I called them, I spoke to their customer support, I told them, and then I cancelled, instead of just like going on a Twitter rant or whatever. So I think you’re absolutely right. Now, do you use the Twitter app or a Twitter app?

Michelle Frechette: I use the Twitter app. For the podcast, I have somebody that helps me. So Caitlin White works with me, because I slack at my own social media when it comes to my projects. I mean, I’m on there all day talking about people and projects and things like that. But as far as like, “Hey, I should tweet out old episodes and things like that,” she’s partnered up with me on that.

She’s using TweetDeck to be able to access those things. But for me, I just sit on my phone at night, scroll through everything or get on the computer during the day. I do use Buffer to schedule some of those kinds of things. But not on my personal account, nothing’s ever scheduled. My personal account, if you see it get posted, I just posted it.

Joe Casabona: It’s nice. Nice. I guess that’s a really good follow-up question. Because I’ve been doing all of the podcast stuff through my own personal… I do have How I Built It Twitter, but I’m much more active on my personal Twitter probably for the same reasons you just mentioned. But I haven’t hired somebody to manage my social media. Maybe that’s the next task for my VA.

Do you find that you’ve built the community for WPCoffeeTalk because you had a separate Twitter account maybe? Because it gives people a place to coalesce around a brand instead of a single person?

Michelle Frechette: Yes and no. Because they’re connected to my personal brand too. So every time I post something out on WPCoffeeTalk, I also retweet it for my personal brand. I call it my brand. I feel like I’m such an influencer.

Joe Casabona: #Influencer.

Michelle Frechette: Send me all the swag because I have 4,000 followers.

Joe Casabona: I find that that’s good enough right there.

Michelle Frechette: It is. I’m actually at about 4600 right now.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Michelle Frechette: It’s really interesting in the last couple weeks I’m getting about 100 followers a week, which I thought was-

Joe Casabona: What?

Michelle Frechette: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And it’s just because of volume I swear to you. It’s because of volume. It’s volume and it’s putting good things out there that people appreciate. It’s staying engaged. I probably tweet no less than eight to 10 times a day. Just silly stuff that pops in my head. The other day, I was like, “Oh, I want to engage with people. So let’s do a poll. Like what do you think is really important to have at a picnic? Hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad or something else? Tell me below.”

Joe Casabona: I saw that poll.

Michelle Frechette: I always make that so fun. The fourth one should always be like, “Put something else below” because nobody wants to get pigeonholed into your… like, “There’s not a vegan option here, and there’s no…” kind of thing. When you let people talk about their things below, then you start to open up real conversations.

Those tweets are fun because people can engage about silly things. I’m not asking hard-hitting questions like, what’s your favorite Jelly Bean. And why is it red? Just things like that. But that’s the kind of thing that people see you as fun.

Also, I almost never self-promote through those things. I will always promote and retweet my podcast stuff. But I’m really talking about the other person. So when you were on my podcast and I retweeted it for my personal account, it was like, “I had such a fun time talking with Joe. Listen to everything he had to say.” It wasn’t about, “Oh, look at me. I have a podcast.” Right? So it’s really about always promoting other people and doing what I can to raise other people up.

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And now let’s get back to it.

Joe Casabona: So I use Publer for all of my scheduled social media. What I love about Publer is they have labels for all of your posts and then you can set a schedule based on the label.

Michelle Frechette: That’s cool.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. So I could say like, “Anything labeled question should be published at 9am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday or whatever.” This also allows me to make sure the next three tweets in my timeline aren’t from the sponsors or whatever. Or like too self-promoting. Like I have two promo labels where they’re spaced out, and so that’s not all you see or whatever.

But when I was doing a weekly question, I was getting really good at like, what’s your favorite app? Man, people love talking about their favorite app.

Michelle Frechette: Or their favorite anything.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I will say I don’t know my favorite Jelly Bean, I mean, if we’re talking Jelly Belly, but my favorite brand of jelly bean is the Starbursts.

Michelle Frechette: They’re really good.

Joe Casabona: I think so.

Michelle Frechette: They’re really good. Yeah, for sure.

Joe Casabona: So maybe in Build Something More, we’ll talk about our favorite jelly beans some more.

Michelle Frechette: Let me tell you-

Joe Casabona: Go ahead.

Michelle Frechette: What is really interesting is years ago in Facebook, before I was even active in Twitter, before I was even part of the WordPress community, I was watching other people interact or brands interact and looking to see what was really useful. This one guy, this Putnis blogger, he doesn’t even have a site up anymore, but this blogger I used to follow religiously would always post like, “Right here and now, tell us something, something, something.”

So I thought, “I wonder if my meager following I could do the same thing.” So I started putting out like, “Right here and now, tell us dot, dot, dot.” It was like, What’s your favorite kind of pie? And that’s it. I had over 180 people respond with their favorite kinds of pie?

Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. Did you do any data mining on that to see what the…

Michelle Frechette: Of course not. I couldn’t like… this is like… what is the name of the…? Mrs. Fields? Yeah, Mrs. Fields pies. They should look at my data because that’s good stuff. Then a couple weeks later, I’d be like, “What’s your favorite Jelly Bean? I would ask something every couple of days, but it wouldn’t always be food. I just obsess about food.

Joe Casabona: Likewise.

Michelle Frechette: The Jelly Bean one got over 200 responses because it’s something quick and easy. Everybody could just say a flavor. When I would ask a question like, tell us your favorite clean joke, five people responded because it took too long to answer.

Joe Casabona: They had to think about that. That’s so interesting.

Michelle Frechette: And they would have to type it out. And they are afraid that people will judge them based on the joke that they tell, as opposed to just giving a flavor of a pie or a candy, or favorite board game. Those are the kinds of questions.

Number one, people love to give their opinion and they like to be validated about their opinion. So you can build community by asking people for information that they want to share about themselves, and then interacting with their response in a way that validates.

Joe Casabona: I love that. Again, you said, build community. It doesn’t necessarily need to be on Twitter. It could be-

Michelle Frechette: Yeah, it could be anywhere.

Joe Casabona: …in Facebook, in Circle, which is where my community currently is. I love that. And you’re right, it should be quick and easy. People don’t want to be judged. I almost made a joke yesterday because my daughter’s so smart. Independently verified, I will say. I’m very careful about not bragging about my kids unless someone else says it.

I will say my son is a big old troublemaker. He’s 10 months. And I was like, “She’s so smart and he’s a troublemaker. If they ever team up, my wife and I are in trouble.” And then I was going to say that’s why I’m pitting them against each other now. And I’m like, anybody who knows me knows that’s a joke because I love my kids and I’m a doting father. But you never know, on Twitter, someone’s like, “You shouldn’t do that.” And I’m like, “No, I don’t.” Like, look at the last picture of me with my kids.

Michelle Frechette: One of the things I’ve also learned is that hashtags they used to be for getting information. It’s a way of categorizing information, tagging information. So you can go like, yes, hashtag WordPress is not a way to just kind of give a punch line, for example. It’s a way to say, I wonder what their people are talking about a WordPress today. So you can click the hashtag WordPress, you can search it, and you can see that kind of stuff.

There are two ways to use hashtags. That’s one way, which is the way it was designed to be. The other is to punctuate whatever it is you’re trying to say. So like #ihavenofilter. Nobody’s really looking to see who doesn’t have a filter. That’s just a way to say I have the filter without saying, hey, I have a filter. It’s just like saying that. So there’s different ways that you can use hashtags to kind of like… Like you could be like, #Idon’treallydothatkindofthing.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Love that. Gosh, it’s May, right? I’ve been on Twitter since April 1, 2007, and I’m getting schooled.

Michelle Frechette: It’s a long time.

Joe Casabona: I know. I joined on April Fool’s Day.

Michelle Frechette: Of course, you did, Joe.

Joe Casabona: Which I find hilarious.

Michelle Frechette: I do too.

Joe Casabona: And I’m getting school. Every like six months or so I’ll like delete some amount of tweets. Which I don’t like doing because I’m like a packrat. But like, I don’t know, I was… what did I say when I was 20? That’s like, probably really dumb and insensitive now because I was 20 and damn and insensitive.

Michelle Frechette: You know what? Your Twitter account is kind of like a microblog though.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s true. There’s some really good stuff on there. I will say I’ve gotten better in the last few years. So I don’t know that I’ll continue that trend. But I’m like, “I don’t remember what I said in 2007. But I’m sure there’s something there that was regrettable.” Anyway, I’ve learned a lot about Twitter.

But the thing that we talked about, again, can apply to any community. Now, let’s say I’m starting from scratch and I want to build a community. I didn’t prep you with any of these questions…

Michelle Frechette: You did not.

Joe Casabona: So sorry if I’m blindsiding you here. But I feel like you’ve done a really good job with a few of these communities here, some of which were starting from scratch or at least very little. Like Big Orange Heart is relatively new, Underrepresented In Tech is very new.

Michelle Frechette: Brand new. In November.

Joe Casabona: But there’s already a lot of good information in both of those places. So if I was starting today, what do you think my approach should be?

Michelle Frechette: So one of the things that defines community is that we have something in common with those people. So where you live, your town is a community because you all have that physical space in common. The WordPress community is a community because we have WordPress in common. Underrepresented In Tech is a community because we are working to help people who are underrepresented. And so we have those different communities based on commonalities.

So the important thing in trying to build a community is what do you have in common that people would want to gather around? So with my podcast, for example, that thing was knowing more about people in the WordPress community and being able to like… As you know, I asked the same set of questions to every single guest. There’s no surprises. It’s not like, “I wonder what she’s going to ask next,” because they’re always the same set of questions.

But people want to hear what was Joe’s biggest WordPress mistake and what did he learn from it. Or what was Matt Mullenweg’s hidden talent that nobody knows about. Those kinds of things. People want to tune in to hear the differences between us because we all have those things in common anyway.

With GiveWP, when I joined give WP a little over three years ago, we didn’t have a Facebook group. We had 40,000 active installs. In three years, we’re over 100,000 active installs, we have over 2,000 people at our Facebook group. And we continue to grow. Yes, GiveWP is an amazing product. So we all are gathered around that and fundraising.

But also the customer success team, we do outreach. We reach out to make sure that people are successful. We call them. We do Zoom calls with them to make sure that they understand what are webhooks and how do I… A lot of people building WordPress websites and fundraising are not hiring developers because they’re bootstrapping. So they’re building it themselves and they have no idea what a webhook is. So we get on a Zoom and we walk them through those things. And so we’re invested in each other’s success.

And you don’t have to have a paid customer success team to be invested in the success of the people in your community. So if you ask people what they need, you give them resources and information, you help connect them to one another, that’s how you build community.

Now, around the How I Built It, it’s because people want to learn how to do better, right? They want to learn how they can do things better. What’s the right hashtag that other people aren’t using? What’s the right hashtag you can start to use to build community around that if you’re looking at Twitter. If you want to have a Facebook group, how do you get people in there? You start to add that to your weekly newsletter, and people are like, “Oh, there’s a place I could join them and we could have conversations around this.”

And then maybe once a week you’re like, “hey, let’s do a 20 minute Q&A. And anybody can join in a live Facebook chat and we can talk about those things.” So there’s a different way. It’s going to be different for every community and each group based on what that group’s needs are and how they want to communicate with one another, etc., but there are ways to do that.

Just this week alone, I tweeted out “I bought Elementor Pro like two months ago and I haven’t used it yet. Somebody hold me accountable because I just spent 100 bucks. Hold me accountable to do this.” So Elementor actually, though, they direct messaged me and they’re like, “Let’s see if we can get other people who are interested in doing that they have accountability group.”

I have seven people right now in a Twitter DM, we’re doing daily accountability and getting either a redesign or do design up and running. And I’ve just built a community of eight people, including the Elementor person. It’s a small community, but it’s a community. And if it works well, Elementor can take that idea and run with it and build other communities around it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, they could do like the 30-day Elementor challenge or whatever, right?

Michelle Frechette: And that’s what we’re doing. Yeah, exactly.

Joe Casabona: That’s amazing. I should join that group. I bought Elementor before the prices went up or whatever. I’ll pop you into it, but we’re going to hold you accountable for doing stuff.

Joe Casabona: All right. Sounds good.

Michelle Frechette: I’ll make a YouTube video about it. That’ll be my accountability because we’re always looking for good content for the YouTube channel.

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Joe Casabona: It’s advice that comes up time and time again on this show, if you want people to do something, ask them. And so as you said in my newsletter, at the end of my longer takes, because my newsletter has kind of converted to like a long form newsletter and so just links gathering, at the end, I say, “What do you think?” The discussions happening over at the Build Something community. And there’s a free tier and there’s a paid tier. I frankly need to be better about my paid tier. I really just want people in there right now.

Michelle Frechette: Sure.

Joe Casabona: And showing up I think is the other thing. I’ll tell you, I’m part of two communities outside the WordPress space right now. One is the SPI Academy. That’s Pat Flynn’s Academy. One is Swipe Files, Corey Haines. And the Swipe Files one is very active. And I think it’s because Corey is in there every day. He shows up.

The people running SPI, they are great. I think his name is Non. I hope I’m saying that right. Sorry, known Non. It’s N-O-N but there’s like an accent over the O. He’s great and he’s in there all the time. But he’s not Pat Flynn. I suspect a lot of people joined because they want access to Pat and he’s not in there. If it’s your community, be there, be generous with your time and show up.

Michelle Frechette: So be authentic. That’s right. So authenticity is huge. Because if you say you’re going to do something and you don’t follow through, that community is going to turn a walk away. They’re not going to turn on you. It’s not like the pitchforks come out, right? So I think they’re going to turn on you. But it’s going to fizzle out because if you promise something, if you’re authentic, and you follow through on those kinds of things. If you have to pivot, be honest about it. If you have to scale back, be honest about it. It’s not that people are going to be super disappointed, as long as you’re forthcoming with that kind of thing.

The other thing that can really help to build a community has to find champions. So sometimes we call those influencers. I hate that term. I really hate that term. Because I picture all these like girls taking pictures on Instagram. But find champions who believe in what your cause is, who are excited to sign up.

So do I get paid for any of the work that I do outside of GiveWP? The answer’s no. Like I don’t get paid for my podcast. I have some sponsors, sure. But most of it is in-kind stuff. Trust me, it does not pay me even minimum wage for the amount of time I put into it. I don’t get paid for the volunteer work I do at Big Orange Heart. All that I do is help build and pull more people in who can also then influence one another. So getting people in there who are champions for the cause really helps.

Joe Casabona: That’s Fantastic. I love that. That’s somewhat related to an earlier episode from this year and the last year, where I talked to Tessa Kriesel about developer advocates. I’ll link to that in the show notes as well. Gosh, we’ve been talking for a long time here.

Michelle Frechette: Sorry. I can go on and on.

Joe Casabona: I feel like we’re like kindred spirits. I feel like we can just talk for a long time.

Michelle Frechette: For sure.

Joe Casabona: As we wrap up, you’ve offered a lot of great advice. I do need to ask you… Well, first, before I ask you, I do want to tease in Build Something More, aside from jelly beans, I would love to talk to you a little bit more about Underrepresented In Tech and how the idea came around, and how you’re getting people to join that. So if you want to learn more about that, and I suggest you do, because a bunch of the guests for the show, in the next few weeks will be from Underrepresented In Tech. But before that, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Michelle Frechette: Like you always say, the secret is never something that’s hidden. It’s just something that we don’t see. So I think authenticity is huge. When I’m my authentic self, I am a goofy person, I am not the most professional person you’re ever going to meet. I am not a blundering idiot either. But you’re always going to find the mostly unfiltered me, you’re going to get the real me. And I think that authenticity goes far a long way.

I fall over my words sometimes, I don’t always remember what I want to say, but at the end of the day, hopefully, I’ve dropped a few knowledge bombs that really help people along the way. And I think true authenticity is absolutely the most important thing. Be human—show people that you are a human being.

The worst kinds of celebrities out in the world are the ones where you feel like they are just up on these pedestals. The ones that people really want to get to know are the Chrissy Teigens of the world because she just seems so relatable. And why is that? Because she’s not afraid to show that she fell down, or she dropped the milk, or whatever it is. That’s super important is that authenticity.

Joe Casabona: I love that. I think that’s so true. I mean, to echo what you said, I don’t think I’d be able to be fake if I tried to be honest with you. I used to think I was so stoic and I could hide my feelings. And then I ran into an acquaintance on campus and I was having a bad day and she goes, “Is everything okay? You look really sad.” I’m like, “Do I? I thought I had like my man face on.” My wife has confirmed that I’m really bad at hiding my feelings. And I just lean into it. This is me.

Michelle Frechette: That’s right. Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, Michelle, this has been an absolute pleasure. If you want to get more of this conversation, be sure to sign up at Creator Crew for our conversation in Build Something More. But if you are leaving us after the sign-off, and you want to learn more about Michelle, Michelle, Michelle, where can people find you?

Michelle Frechette: Absolutely. So you can find me on Twitter @MichelleAmes. All of my projects are connected at worksbymichelle.com. And my podcast is WPCoffeeTalk.com.

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. I will link all of that and more in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/225. Thanks to our sponsors for this episode: Linode, The Events Calendar, and TextExpander. Really great slate of sponsors for today. Michelle, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Michelle Frechette: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Joe Casabona: Thanks to everybody listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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