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Q&A with Higher Logic’s 2023 Most Valuable Community Manager Brittney Wilson

Brittney Wilson, Senior Manager, Support Communities at HealthStream, was the 2023 Champions of Community Most Valuable Community Manager Award winner. In her words, Brittney shares her experiences and insights on how to leverage community to drive outcomes in the following Q&A.

From your nomination, it sounds like you are an accidental community manager. Can you tell us a little bit about your career path and how you ended up here?
I became a Registered Nurse because I wanted to help people and had career aspirations of eventually becoming a physician. My first year as a nurse was very challenging, as it is for most nurses. I felt isolated at work and sought a community connection through Twitter. Because of that experience, I started a blog, connected nurses to the resources I had found, and learned a lot more transferable technology and marketing skills. This helped me realize how much technology could be used to enhance the lives of nurses and the patients they serve, resulting in a transition into nursing informatics and product management. Ultimately, the call to connect people to information and each other could not be ignored, and I made the full transition to online community management while staying close to my healthcare roots

Tell us about your role as Senior Manager, Support Communities at HealthStream.
My work at HealthStream is exciting and challenging. I manage the community platform, powered by Higher Logic, and our overall community strategy. We have a variety of needs that community fulfills and it’s my job to align our resources and expectations with the  needs of the customers and business. Like many community professionals, I wear many hats and have a great amount of autonomy in my work. Some days I’m drafting a strategic presentation full of KPIs for a quarterly review. Another day you might find me deep in a spreadsheet analyzing library views as compared to customer support cases over time. I spend a good amount of my time focused on relationships and creating a shared vision and finessing community goals to ensure they are always meeting the needs of our customers and the organization.

You were challenged to revive the HealthStream Community in 2018. From then until now, what are some of the successes you are most proud of?
Here are a few of the most impactful:

  • Strategy: We’ve taken the time to develop a cohesive strategy for our community that incorporated the needs of our customers and our business. It has always been a collaborative effort.
  • Building Relationships: We focused on building relationships and leveraging those to accomplish work that would have otherwise been impossible.
  • Technical innovation: We were early adopters in leveraging our newest identity technology for authentication and helping develop new APIs and methodologies to help customers have a greater understanding and exposure to all our solutions. Going from two community platforms without a common authentication workflow and then launching a brand new, integrated, and scalable solution was a herculean effort.
  • ForwardThinking Enhancements: We’ve kept the overall planning pipeline of our company in mind when requesting development or  Knowing what has been  planned and what customers need can help you see how community can fit into the equation. If your needs align with those, it’s much easier to progress. For example, we now have three plug-and-play community integration models on our learning management system that can be set up with single configuration versus software development. These allow us to scale much more quickly and with a low long-term cost.
  • Cross-Functional Community: Our community has been positioned as a resource for cross-functional use and is now an integral part of solutions across the organization. This has given me the ability to share insights and experiences I’ve learned from other teams throughout the organization so we can develop streamlined approaches and processes.
  • Data and Visibility: We’ve focused on capturing and reporting data in meaningful ways to the right audience at the right time. We’ve developed a proprietary WE (weighted engagement) score that gives us an understanding of community health with a single metric the we can compare to other data trends in the organization. We’ve also developed a robust product management and reporting process that allows teams to directly see the volume of work we produce and how it impacts the products they are responsible for.
  • Customer Focus: The community team advocates for HealthStream customers through their needs in the community and their ideas and enhancement suggestions for all our products.

Over the past couple years, you all have honed your strategy to align with the Technology & Services Industry Association’s Community Progression Model. What steps have been taken to put that into practice and how has that shifted the overall strategy?
Aligning with an industry model has been a huge help. Leveraging the model has allowed us to gain support and credibility more quickly because these aren’t our original ideas: they are industry-backed best-practices. When we take on a new project or receive a new request, we always ask ourselves if it aligns with these goals and where it falls on the spectrum. If we are stuck with what to do next to progress in a certain area, we consult the model to see the logical next step. We organize each goal or task in our strategy by Who, What, Why, and Internal Stakeholders so the alignment to the shared vision is always visible.

What are some of the ways you have leveraged user data to drive forward the community and support company outcomes?
We’ve leveraged user data by developing a proprietary weighted engagement (WE) score that allows us to have a single metric to indicate the health of the community. Using this metric, we’ve been able to correlate a rise in community engagement with a reduction of support cases by as much as 35% in some months.

We also create dynamic content experiences for users based on products they’ve purchased. For example, if a customer is an administrator for our SafetyQ product, they’ll have access to view and download course story boards within our community. Before implementing this workflow in the community, customers would have to contact customer service and individually request specific storyboards. This eliminated hundreds of support cases by automating access to this content to a controlled group in a trackable way.

We also leverage community feedback from customers and staff. When we learned about the  impacts to our customers from the Great Resignation, we looked for ways to lessen that pain point. We found that offering live training for free and making it easy and accessible to register via community would make a positive impact. We advocated for this and got approval. We also consolidated all our onboarding and training resources, including recordings of live training, into a single location so that newly hired HealthStream Administrators could get instant access to all the tools they needed to be successful. It solved a massive problem for our customers. This innovation resulted in winning a Gold Brandon Hall Excellence Award for “Best Advance for Leading Under a Crisis.”

You have been called a true community builder who excels at building relationships internally that allows you to collaborate with multiple teams and stakeholders. This can be a challenge for many community managers (and others in general). What advice do you have for people wanting to build stronger relationships and more collaboration with peers, stakeholders, etc.?
I believe building relationships internally is a fundamental success factor for true community builders. If you desire to build communities, you must deeply understand human needs, psychology, and motivation. You also must genuinely value connection and shared experiences.

Here are my tips:

  • Read and learn as much as you can about human nature, psychology, persuasion, habits, and corporate communication. These are some of my favorite books on these topics:
    • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
    • How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age – Dale Carnegie
    • Influence – Robert Cialdini
    • Pendulum – Michael Drew
    • Hooked – Nir Eyal
    • Will it Fly – Pat Flynn
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Pick a few community leaders who share wisdom and learn from them. LinkedIn is a great place to stay connected and up to date with the growing community industry.
  • Attend industry thought leadership webinars and stay connected to evolving community trends. HUG Connect has been great to get little nuggets of wisdom and new ideas that we can incorporate.
  • Align yourself with values-based organizations that excite you. Everything is so much easier to accomplish when your values align with the work you do.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t able to build a relationship you think you need to be successful. Look for a new path, consider a new perspective, and understand not everyone will like you or agree with what you are doing.
  • Understand that your job is not to convince everyone that the community will fix everything. Your job is to be there for people when they realize the community could solve one of their problems.
  • Listen more than you speak.

Speaking of giving advice, what advice would you give companies considering community?
Adding a community to your company is a big decision that can result in huge wins, but it can also be a big budget draw if you don’t give it the attention and time it needs to be successful. Most prominent brands, businesses, and associations would benefit from community. I would offer the following wisdom:

  1. Stop considering and start planning.
  2. Understand that community success is about more than technology. Anticipate investing in quality community professionals to lead your community program and allow them the runway, autonomy, and support to be successful.
  3. Be committed and ready to commit to the community for the next 3-5 years. It takes time to build your strategy, select a community platform partner, develop integrations, draft communication, evangelize internally, and all the other tasks associated with community success. Don’t expect instant results.
  4. Build a strategy and do not let competing community ideas and whims distract. Trials, betas, and tests are great, but not if they reduce your ability to be successful at your community’s primary goals.
  5. Don’t expect a community to solve every problem, but pick a north star, such as reducing support cases, and let your community shine at what it can do best.
  6. Community is not a field of dreams. If you build it, they may not come. The assumption that putting your customers, members, or others together in space will suddenly spark discussions is a poor one. Your community will need to have discrete value to participants to make the effort to create an account the first time and worth their emotional bandwidth to come back.
  7. Don’t chase engagement for engagement’s sake.
  8. Pick a technology platform for your community that supports your near and long term goals. This relationship will be one of your most critical to success long term. Don’t make assumptions that data will be easier if you go with the vendor that already has your data in it. Think through all your needs and consider how some technologies (like automations, a comprehensive CMS, and a microsite model) can get you to your long-term goals.

You don’t have to give away any secrets, but what do you envision as next steps for the HealthStream Community?
Our community strategy is built for growth, and we have some exciting things planned. Our first major accomplishment was creating a space where people could get to information and tools they need. Our next major push will be to lean more into thought leadership and create a deeper feeling of belonging. We’ll be focusing on ensuring our users feel comfortable sharing their accomplishments, recommending best practices, and sharing lessons learned. We’ll be creating more exclusive content for our community members, such as expert advice and thought leadership specific to the problems the healthcare industry is facing.

Who is someone that influenced your career and who you are today? 
I could probably write an entire book on this. I try to use each career opportunity and life experience to learn and grow. At HealthStream, there have been two  leaders that have served as strong mentors and advocates:

  • Kim Sulger, VP – Customer Experience, has been a manager and mentor of mine for years who has always helped me gain perspective and push through challenging situations with diplomacy.
  • Jeff Cunningham, CTO, has helped me feel more connected to the technology and strategy of the organization at large and influenced needed technology enhancements.

Community professionals would benefit most from knowing about the two community thought leaders that influenced my career most.

  • Rich Millington (FeverBee): Read his books and subscribe to his blog. He is a straight shooter and everything he produces is filled with practical, data-based recommendations. If you’re new to community management and need fundamentals, always start with Rich’s stuff.
  • David Spinks (CMX founder): When you’re ready to get a deeper understanding of human behavior and the emotional aspects of the community, dive into David’s work. “The Business of Belonging” illustrates these principles well.His course and content over the years have uniquely focused on the human element.

By learning from these community leaders, I deeply understand how to build indispensable communities that create a sense of belonging.

Anything we didn’t cover that you would like to share?
The HealthStream Community crossed an important tipping point between the first 18 months’ efforts to build the foundation and drive membership through value—and  today where it is  an indispensable aspect of our customer experience strategy. As COVID forced the industry shift to more virtual support modalities, we were ahead of the curve and quickly pivoted to address our customer’s 24/7 self-service needs, which has proven to be a competitive differentiator for us.

Nominations are now open for Higher Logic’s 2024 Super Forum Customer Awards (formally also known as the Champions of Community Awards). To submit an award by the deadline of February 16, 2024, visit superforum.higherlogic.com

 

Laura Craft