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The Future Of Marketing is Community with Samantha Stein | Social Studies Podcast

Social Studies Podcast is a talk show produced by TINT about marketing, social media, and technology through the lens of the industry’s most innovative minds. Hosted by Nathan Zaru (@YES). In this episode we welcome Samantha Stein, marketing and community manager at Vint. You can find her on Twitter at @steinsamantha  and tweet us with comments and requests @TINT.

Nathan Zaru:             Hello and welcome to another episode of the social studies podcast.

Today, our guest is Samantha Stein, community and marketing manager at Vint.

Samantha, welcome!

Samantha Stein:      Nathan, thank you.

Nathan Zaru:             Stoked to have you. You know, every time … Not every time… I bring in a lot of podcast guests, and if it’s the appropriate time of the day, I like to offer everyone adult beverages because we have a decent bar here. You’re the first person to request wine.

Samantha Stein:      Yes.

Nathan Zaru:             Cheers to that.

Samantha Stein:      Nice glass.

Cheers, cheers.

Nathan Zaru:             All right, I’m [inaudible 00:00:31]

Samantha Stein:      For the record, he has a glass. He has beer here.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay, beer. Sure.

So, you’re at Vint. V-I-N-T. Not to be confused, of course, with Tint.

Samantha Stein:      Correct.

Nathan Zaru:             Did you guys rip us off or something?

Samantha Stein:      We did. We were sitting in South Park trying to brainstorm a name, and we couldn’t come up with one, so we’re like, “Hey, let’s go with Tint. Nope, Vint.”

No, so actually, funny story. We were sitting in South Park last summer and we had a bunch of our new interns there.

Nathan Zaru:             Hold on a second. What’s South Park, for all the listeners all around San Francisco.

Samantha Stein:      Oh, yeah! Yes, South Park is a hub in San Francisco, Downtown San Francisco, where tons of start-ups are based around the area, and both of our offices are coincidentally based there.

Rewind to last summer, sitting at a table with a bunch of interns in the park having a nice lunch, joking that someone’s going to rip off our name, that it will be a company called “Tint.” You know, just a slight modification. Didn’t know what Tint was at the time and see someone walk by in a “Tint” shirt… And we all were just speechless, and then I met Nathan. Fast forward to today.

Nathan Zaru:             Fast forward to today, here we are. For the record, Tint’s been around for a few years. We were first. Vint is not Tint. Tint is not Vint.

Samantha, do you want to tell us a little bit about Vint and about what you do?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah! So, Vint’s a mobile app. We’re on-demand personal training, so Vint gives you a team of personal trainers that get you fit at times and locations that work for you. You download the app; it’s a subscription; you pay a monthly fee, and you never walk more than a mile to join a session. It’s always four spots, and it’s a great way to meet your neighbors and friends and get into great shape and build healthy habits.

Nathan Zaru:             Great, and you’re the community and marketing manager.

Samantha Stein:      Correct.

Nathan Zaru:             Can you tell us about who you are and what you do?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah. My name is Samantha Stein. I live in San Francisco, the most innovative city in the world.

Nathan Zaru:             Oh yeah.

Samantha Stein:      What I’m really passionate about is helping people build healthy habits and helping to mobilize people to create change in the world.

You can rewind to when I was a kid and when I was getting my soccer team to protest not being able to wear tank tops. There were all sorts of mobilizing action that I was attracted to throughout my life, and fast forward to today, and I’ve really tried to [inaudible 00:02:35] health and fitness. That’s what brought me to Vint and to build a community around people who also want to change habits to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Nathan Zaru:             Today, I think you’re going to talk to us about how the future of marketing is community.

Samantha Stein:      Correct.

Nathan Zaru:             What is that? Community managers are the next CMOs?

Samantha Stein:      That’s what I believe, yeah. So what are Chief Marketing Officers, right? They’re the people in charge of engaging people with your product, with your brand?

Nathan Zaru:             Selling your brand, selling your product hopefully.

Samantha Stein:      Correct. Yeah, so what are people saying around product and brands today, that they should be what-driven? Community-driven, right?

Nathan Zaru:             Community-driven.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             There’s a little company called Airbnb, really good at that kind of thing.

Samantha Stein:      I’ve heard of them.

Nathan Zaru:             You’ve heard of them?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah. Today, how this really works is you want to engage an audience, so how do you create that audience? A lot of people start with calling it this concept of community, and it really starts, oftentimes, with an idea that people then mobilize into an offline movement. Then they want to engage those people online as well, and those became the future of your marketing efforts.

I can give you a better example of that. Our founder, Louise-

Nathan Zaru:             Founder at Vint.

Samantha Stein:      Founder at Vint, correct. She was like, “Hey, I wake up every morning, and I workout all the time, and I’m helping people become healthier. I want to be able to channel all of my passions towards this and create this company called Vint.”

She has this vision. She starts getting people together and gets passionate athletes to train their friends, people who wouldn’t oftentimes workout, who maybe need that extra motivation who don’t know what to do at the gym. She creates a community, where they’re having breakfast. They’re going out together; they’re working out; they’re leading healthier habits.

Then, those people start to engage maybe also online with the company, saying like “Hey,” on Facebook, “I had this really great experience doing this workout. What should I eat after this?” Someone else gives a ton of feedback, saying like, “Have this smoothie or that.”

It’s actually creating content around this, and so this becomes community-driven content.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay, so you said community-driven content.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             I was curious, actually, where does community come into this?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             If the future of marketing is community, so I would think that this community exists before a company exists?

Samantha Stein:      I mean, it can and it can’t. It really depends on the evolution. You can have a community that then you mobilize into a company that then you’re maybe monetizing off of that community, or maybe you were like, “Hey, I have this idea. I know people are going to buy this product. I’m going to build a community around it,” and then they’re going to buy the product.

Yeah, that’s a little bit like, “Did the chicken come before the egg?” It’s not always one or the other, but it’s always essential to have a community today, I believe, to actually have a product that’s going to grow and succeed.

Nathan Zaru:             Maybe let’s back it up a little bit.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             If the future of marketing is community, what are the types of people doing this future of marketing, or community managers?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Exactly what’s a community manager, and what are the different roles of community?

Samantha Stein:      That’s a great question, and I think it’s actually kind of a complicated question. People are often really confused about what is a community manager.

Nathan Zaru:             Sure.

Samantha Stein:      I’d say the first person to really bring to life the idea of community manager would be a company like Airbnb or Lift or these other share economy companies.

What it is is you’re bringing together all the people who are your supply side in a marketplace. For Airbnb, it’s their hosts. For Lift, it’s their drivers. You’re mobilizing them to take action together and to learn from one another.

Nathan Zaru:             That’s the role of the company, so what is the community manager do in all this?

Samantha Stein:      Exactly, so the community manager is the one who has the content creation towards them, mobilizes them, maybe to create their own content, so empowers them, will help organize them socially both online and offline, through offline events, and also through social media, through forums to help them engage and answer one another’s questions and learn from one another, best practices.

Nathan Zaru:             When you think about marketing, you think about advertising and PR and kind of shoving a message down someone’s throat, perhaps, or buying attention.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Does that work with community?

Samantha Stein:      No. I think if something comes off as unauthentic for community, they won’t engage, and someone will quickly speak up and say, “Hey, I disagree with this practice,” which sometimes you can even do intentionally to activate your community and help them mobilize to discuss an issue that maybe needs to be discussed or to help change your product in a way that is more fitting to them.

Nathan Zaru:             For traditional marketer folks, like a marketing managers … Does that mean all marketing managers should be shooting to become community managers, or are there practical ways that marketing people can bring community into their everyday practices?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah, so I think it’s really cross-functional. Let’s back up a second. I think that people oftentimes today are like, “Oh, community manager. That’s super innovative. We want to have that at our company,” but they don’t understand what it is. They’ll just say, “Hey, I’m hiring a social media manager, but I’m going to label it community manager.”

Nathan Zaru:             Yup, yup.

Samantha Stein:      … Or, “I want a CS person, a customer service associate, and I’m going to label that community manager.”

What a community manager really should do is advocate on behalf of your customers but work really cross-functionally, so work with the marketing teams, work with your product teams, also work with your customer service teams … But it really should be it’s own independent department. In the future, maybe marketing will actually fall underneath this department or they’ll remain independent from one another.

How can marketing managers today really interact with community?

Nathan Zaru:             Yes.

Samantha Stein:      What they can do is really check in with the community managers and be like, “Okay, what are you hearing from your audience? What needs to be communicated to them? What do they empathize with, and what do they aspire to be,” so that you can really market to those things … But also, maybe even more importantly, understanding where there’s a lack of knowledge among your community, right?

What marketing managers want is to engage with their audience, and where can you do that? Exactly where there’s a gap of knowledge and people are seeking answers to questions.

If you ask your community manager, “Hey, what is it that our audience wants to know but doesn’t know yet that we can draw in new people?” Your community manager can deliver those insights like none other if they’re doing a great job, right?

Nathan Zaru:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Samantha Stein:      They’re interacting with people. They know what’s going on.

Nathan Zaru:             Sure, absolutely, so the community manager can pull data and insights out of your target audience and your customers, right?

Samantha Stein:      Exactly.

Nathan Zaru:             But can they also help push and disseminate information towards them as well?

Samantha Stein:      Of course, and they should.

Nathan Zaru:             How?

Samantha Stein:      How? Myself included as a community manager and what I think is a really essential skill is being a social connector and being able to identify people who are able to take on responsibility and want to be heard and have natural leadership tendencies.

A good community manager isn’t the person that’s saying like, “Okay, I’m going to give 100% of communications and marketing to everyone and help spread information throughout this network and community.” Instead, what they’re saying is like, “These are the key people to help me spread and train. Make sure this information is correctly understood and to help me advocate on changes or anything that’s growing or whatever could be,” and to empower them to do that for you.

Nathan Zaru:             Sure.

Samantha Stein:      Right, I want to tap into the networks of people already in my community to help it grow. Instead of just saying like, “Hey, I’m going to, as the community manager, announce this to everyone,” instead, maybe I’ll take ten key people from my community and say like, “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m really excited about it. Here’s why our team decided to do this,” and really bring them into that process in an intimate way and then empower them to share that news with other people.

It’s not just that they’re sharing it with the community that already exists, but they’re also engaging in audience that exists beyond that, which is their personal network as well. You’re growing without having to over-invest effort yourself. You’re empowering others to help you.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay, so let’s talk about Vint then.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             You’re a community manager and a marketing … Or, sorry, you’re a community marketing manager, right?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             We’re talking a lot about the trade-offs between marketing and community manager, but you’re the same person.

Samantha Stein:      Yes.

Nathan Zaru:             Can you talk about how you’ve incorporated these strategies and skill sets in your job?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah, I can.

Part of the reason why I’d say I have this title is we’re a really small company right now, so I need to be two people … But I think in an ideal world, there would be two of me, and they would be separate roles.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay.

Samantha Stein:      Part of the way that I incorporate this currently is I build an ambassador network. I always do check-ins with members of our ambassador network and say like, “Hey, are there new product features you would like to see and what would those look like?”

I could easier just like decide, “Hey, here’s what I think we should do [inaudible 00:11:02] product and then work with product and release it. Instead, I’m like, “Hey, you guys. I really want to you into this process. Tell me what features you want to create. I’m going to have you send an NDA, because we’re beta testing these features, but I really want to bring you in the process and have these driven by how you use the product and where you want to see it grow.”

For example, we have messaging in our app, and they’re saying, “You know, I have like ten clients or sometimes twenty or maybe it grows to fifty…”

Nathan Zaru:             Who is “they”?

Samantha Stein:      Oh, sorry, our instructors, so this would be our personal trainers.

Nathan Zaru:             Vint’s typically a mobile experience. People can request workouts, stuff like that?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             You’re talking about personal trainers have a lot of clients.

Samantha Stein:      Yes, exactly.

Nathan Zaru:             Gotcha.

Samantha Stein:      The clients message them in the app.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay.

Samantha Stein:      They’re saying like, “Hey, it can be really unruly to start to archive and handle all these convers-”

Nathan Zaru:             All those messages happening at once.

Samantha Stein:      All those messages, yeah. We want to be able to prioritize them and figure out which ones … Almost have like a better CRM tool for their clients.

Nathan Zaru:             For their clients themselves.

Samantha Stein:      Instead of just saying like, “Okay, that’s good advice. I’m going to go take it to product.” Instead, I intimately involve them in the process, and every time we create a new prototype for what this could look like, I share it with them and then have them give me feedback. Then, when we release it, I have them actually present it as, “Hey, this was community-driven. We, as instructors, came up with this feature. We’d like to share it with the rest of the instructor community. Let us know your feedback. We’re really excited to see what you think.”

Nathan Zaru:             Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow, so it’s almost like you’re key users at Vint have a seat at the product table.

Samantha Stein:      They do! At every table.

Nathan Zaru:             At every table.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Let’s say you use their feedback and then go build something new and cool, and you release it. Then what?

Samantha Stein:      Then we release it. Then, once again, we ask for feedback and say we’re always open to it. We’ll actually have the ambassadors say, “Hey, I was talking to-”

Nathan Zaru:             The ambassadors, I see.

Samantha Stein:      Our instructor ambassadors

Nathan Zaru:             Gotcha, gotcha.

Samantha Stein:      … Who are, let’s say members of the community that I’m empowering to take on extra leadership responsibilities.

They’ll come to us and say like, “Hey, I heard this from this many people. Here’s what I think we should do.” We’ll take that into consideration, and we’ll just have people email in or say like, “Hey, I’d like to stop by and give you feedback.”

Nathan Zaru:             It sounds almost like these ambassadors are like your PR, your mini PR people.

Samantha Stein:      They are.

Nathan Zaru:             Right? Because they’re bringing the message to the community for you, right?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah! I mean, you can almost create a parallel between this and a political campaign with all your grassroots organizers. These are the people who are mobilizing us for action. For marketing, I also want to bring up another point. It’s not that we just do this for product. This is also a key to our marketing communications.

On our user side, which would be our Vint members, so people who workout with Vint have the subscription, all check and say like, “Oh, who’s done the most number of Vint sessions?” I’ll reach out to those people and invite them to be part of our copy beta testing group.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay.

Samantha Stein:      What that means is every time I come up with … There’s a big campaign that’s going to be launched around the holiday. Maybe it’s like we’re redoing messaging in the app of how things are titled and communicated.

I’ll say like, “Hey, does this really speak to you? On a scale of 1 to 10, what would you say [inaudible 00:13:58] this?”

Nathan Zaru:             Start over. I want to be clear that our listeners understand. So Vint has the users, people who use Vint to get workouts and the trainers, so this is the users? You’re talking about the power users, so people who use Vint probably several times per week, right?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah.

Nathan Zaru:             Couple times per week, right?

Samantha Stein:      Almost every day.

Nathan Zaru:             I see, so this has become a regular thing for them just like Uber, right?

Samantha Stein:      Exactly.

Nathan Zaru:             Okay, so what do you ask them?

Samantha Stein:      I’ll ask them to be part of this copy beta testing group, so this is a way this would be very helpful for marketers to have more community-driven communications and campaigns.

I’ll say like, “Hey, I’m working on this campaign. I’d like to bring you into the process. How much does this speak to you?” I’ll share images with them I’m working on. I’ll share the design. I’ll share the [inaudible 00:14:38]. I’ll have them give me feedback and feel like they’re part of the process.

This is actually really important also because it creates a commitment curve.

Nathan Zaru:             Oh.

Samantha Stein:      Right?

Nathan Zaru:             Right.

Samantha Stein:      They’re already power users, but maybe I bring in some people who aren’t, and as you have these small asks and then larger and larger asks, you’re really engaging people to commit more and more to your product, your organization, your cause, whatever it may be, whatever you’re marketing towards, whatever you’re behind and passionate about.

Nathan Zaru:             So, commitment curve. I think I know what you mean by that, but do you want to explain exactly what that means?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah. Let’s just picture a line that’s a curve going up on a graph. Let’s say I’m organizing a political campaign, right?

Nathan Zaru:             Okay.

Samantha Stein:      I’m not going to ask you like, “Hey, can you host some people at your house because they’re going to come and go door to door asking people something for this campaign.” You’re going to be like, “No, you’re crazy. Of course not.”

Nathan Zaru:             Of course not, but work up to it, right?

Samantha Stein:      Yeah, but what if I just ask you like, “Hey, do you mind signing that you agree with this petition?”

Nathan Zaru:             Let’s say I do, probably.

Samantha Stein:      Yeah, so maybe then I’ll ask you for a bigger ask and a bigger ask until I ask you for like the greatest ask, which is maybe like, “Hey, will you actually join Vint’s team?” or “Will you join this political campaign?”

Nathan Zaru:             Sure.

Samantha Stein:      By then, you’re like, “Well, yeah. I’ve already invested all these things. I’m obviously behind it. It means a lot to me.”

Nathan Zaru:             I want everyone to listen closely because I’ve been saying this less eloquently for awhile, but now I have a great word for it: commitment curves.

Samantha Stein:      Yes.

Nathan Zaru:             Samantha, and the future of marketing is community. Thanks so much for enlightening us today.

Samantha Stein:      You’re welcome. Thank you.