#ExcelInCommunities – Interview with Nurit Gazit, Museum of the Jewish People
To continue our series of interviews with community builders, developers, thinkers and managers, here’s an interview with Community Veteran nurit Gazit, Chief Digital Officer at Museum of the Jewish People – Beit Hatfutsot
Tell us a little bit about yourself, kids, pets, hobbies, favorite color/ice cream flavor/book?
Hiya! My name is Nurit Gazit. I’m 37 years old, and I’ve developed and managed community-based products and services for about 15 years now. I’m married to Raviv who is a musician, and we have a 13 years old son called Daniel. We also have a ginger retriever we adopted called Bond, and a white cat called Piu Piu. We all love ice cream very much, thank you for asking (pistachio and chocolate being the leading flavors), but more than that we love baking chocolate chip cookies. So cooking and eating are central activities in our small family. We also love technology, sci-fi and of course music, music, music.
You lead Israel’s most successful online communities in 1999, which was a novice profession, task and a completely new technology to the average person, still it became a massive success, how can you explain it?.
I think that the major reason behind the success of the IOL communities back then can actually be extracted to a single word – Sharing. Human beings are social creatures, and being social is manifested by sharing of all sorts of things – sharing of knowledge and wisdom, sharing of empathy, sharing of enthusiasm, sharing of burden, and of course sharing of success and achievements. Sharing simply makes everything more real and alive, or at least it makes us feel this way. We just didn’t call it sharing back then, it was Mark who really nailed the word, wasn’t it? ☺
That, and the fact that we Israeli are so talkative and opinionated, but let’s not go into the reasons of that…
What was the challenge of growing so many communities all at once?
The two major challenges were the same challenges every young company or start up is facing:
- Scalability – communities, and actually all UGC-based services, are a living thing, and when the conditions are right they tend to grow without you being able to control it too much. So making sure we can scale our resources and methods of work was a big issue.
- Balance between the new and familiar – people are afraid of changes, and at the same time they expect them, and get bored very quickly. So we wanted to make our users feel that we are all moving on together and evolving into something bigger and better, while not making changes too big or too fast.
Today communities are exploding online, do you see any difference to how they are today from what they used to be?
Yes and no. Essentially our needs as human beings haven’t changed much during these few years, so looking at today’s communities and social platforms, they all seems more or less the same, give or take a trend or two. On the other hand, sometimes new technologies create new needs. I’m at awe with new initiatives like Wikipedia or even Waze, which take the notion of the contribution of the masses a few steps forward.
What’s the secret ingredient of a successful community?
That’s a million dollar question, and there is more than one ingredient obviously. One of the things I can say without a doubt is to stay humble, and not to do too much. Let the community grow the way it wants to. Don’t forget you are there to serve them, and not the other way around. Take small steps and see where the wind goes. Making members feel the impact of their contribution is another important thing.
Focus and specification are also very important. I have discovered that the more specific the community is, the more relevant it is for its members. This way they feel free to participate and engage with other members, and they are more passionate about it.
What’s your advice to someone looking to start a community online?
Don’t. I’m kidding, but not entirely… I guess what I mean to say is that starting a community shouldn’t be a goal. What should be a goal is to answer a need or fix a problem. If a community is the tool to do that, then go for it, slowly and gently.
What would be your advice for someone who just decided to launch a community on how to get it right from the get go?
I would take the “lean start-up” approach. Start with one or two features – comments, or chat, or bulletin board, whichever is right to accommodate the site or service, and listen to what the community has to say about their wants and needs. Also, pro-actively ask community members for their opinion, expose some of them to future plans, or even make them the decision makers by putting up a poll or survey. Also, make sure you have a community manager right from day one, someone whose only goal is to be one of the community members, and feel the pulse of the community. It’s also a good idea to delegate some of the tasks or activities of the service to specific community members.
What would you say is a community biggest challenge and what’s your advice on how to approach it?
Making every single one feel as if you listen to him personally, even if he doesn’t say what he needs with so many words. This might be possible at the beginning, but obviously becomes harder and harder as the community grows. Also, the need to accommodating each and everyone’s needs, which is something you will be tempted to do as the community grows, and is doomed to fail. However, if your service is good or interesting enough, you will see that the community sometimes changes and evolves along with the service. Rewarding the leaders is also important challenge, as you need to keep them satisfied, but at the same time you need to stay true to your service and not to give too much power away.
What’s a successful content strategy to a solid community?
This is very much dependent on the type of community, size of it and the subject the community is dealing with. For example, a community of parents of children who suffer from a certain condition would probably require M.D.s who would provide professional content, while a community of mountain hikers would thrive around the content of its own members and nothing more. It’s usually some sort of combination of the two.
You would also need to think about ways to handle troll and fraudsters and to monitor content contributed by the community members. But don’t forget that if you have come to the point where you have trolls and problem makers, you are probably doing something right, as they don’t bother with small and insignificant communities.
Any other words of wisdom?
Remember that you are a community member just like any other community member, and that the community as a whole is smarter than the individual. Don’t patronize. Listen, if you don’t always follow on the request. Don’t forget that at least big portion of your community members, if not the most of them, would be silent. You need to be able to listen to them too, by means such as analysis of data, anonymous surveys, etc. Be nice. And take it easy – this isn’t a “life and death” profession, it’s about make life a bit nicer. And wear sunscreen. Just kidding, don’t do it, unless you come to visit Israel in the summer….