Interview with Venessa Paech, founder of Future Culture

Venessa Paech

Venessa Paech is an internationally renowned online community expert. She has built and managed a wide array of online communities for ASX companies, start ups, governments and non-profits (including Envato, REA Group and Lonely Planet). In 2009 she founded the Australian Community Manager Roundtables and in 2011 she founded Swarm, Australia’s national community management conference. In 2015, she commissioned and released the Australian Community Management career survey with Quiip and Dialogue Consulting.

More recently, Venessa began consulting with ParentPaperwork, an Aussie startup replacing paper forms in schools worldwide. She’s excited about being part of this opportunity and to work with some incredible founders and unique product.

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Venessa has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and an MA in Virtual Ethnography. She is a published scholar on online communities, and a popular speaker and consultant on our digital lives and identities – from trolling to personal branding.

Community engagement is your dealio, what’s your 30 second pitch when explaining to a noob what community is about?

Community is a group of humans who form relationships around a strong common interest. You can have communities of place, of circumstance, of passion, of practice, and combinations of all of these. A community is a specific social structure that is more about relevance than reach. Communities can form across a social network, but the social network itself is not a community (unless its members define it as such). Communities are highly resilient and powerful things!

You’ve just started on a new adventure; can you tell us a bit about Future Culture?

Increasingly, companies struggling with engagement, sustainability and productivity are looking to communities that get these things right. They’re interested in how they can transform a business into more of a community, and their leaders want to lead less like a traditional CEO and more like a community manager (from the inside out rather than top down).

Community professionals are being tapped to meet the market and appetite for organisational transformation – a market where there are already strong contributors in environmental design, cultural analytics and collaborative technology solutions.

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Future Culture is a consultancy that connects these layers with human lens.

What are some of the benefits you can provide a business and do you have an end game in mind each time?

We draw on decades of experience building communities in organisations of every type and size, and specialist knowledge in the social science of communities, to help companies build cultures that work.

We audit, train and help build strategies can help constructively transform communications, HR, marketing, operations and more. Community models offer better engagement, cost savings, operational efficiencies and productivity wins. The end game is all about company objectives, and how community management frameworks and practices can help accomplish them.

I’d say sustainability and adaptability are a key part of the shared end game. No one wants to take something new on board only to have it date or fall apart in the near future. Future Culture hopes to apply what community managers have refined over decades to an organisational and workplace environment hungry for new approaches that work, iterate and last.

You’ve played community manager at some crazy awesome companies since early 2000s, what has been the biggest disruptor in the space and how has that changed the way community roles engage with the business and its audience/people?

The rise of social media and the analytics that sit behind it. The challenge is that social media marketing and audience building isn’t the same thing as community building, so it’s important practitioners distinguish the two for their individual value. The upside is that everyone is interested in the space now – they’re aware people are talking about them, whether they like it or not. The smart ones want to listen, understand and add value to those conversations. Community building can offer huge value in commercial contexts, including pure audience building. Ask a community manager about persuasion and motivation and you’ll take away stores of goodies!

When it comes to community, culture and technology, do you have any tips for a business to ensure all three are given much needed flexibility and guidance to enrich its people?

Always remember to put people first. When people are genuinely at the centre of a business, actions and decisions around community building, culture and technology will be guided by the needs of those people. Relationships are the heart of everything and no fancy software or office can ever replace trust, empowerment and respect.

I’d say of the three – focus on building your community, which will forge and codify your culture, then identify technology solutions that best reflect and match that culture. These often happen in quick succession and they are somewhat interdependent – but what you want to avoid is investing in a piece of technology to address a cultural matter, before looking at your people first.

Technology at its best is used to free and enhance what humans do best. It should help you

Favourite flavour of ice-cream?

Ahh, now the really tough questions! Give me peppermint or banana and I’m a happy woman. Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is pretty much a perfect creation.

Apple or Samsung?

I’m torn! There’s so much value in an ecosystem, and I love the harmony of user experience in the world of Apple. But walled gardens can produce problems, and an overly proprietary web risks marginalising voices and opportunities. If I had to choose, I’d choose Apple and lobby for them to keep interfacing with the rest of the world as much as possible.

What do you think the next big thing in tech will be?

I think 2016 conversations will look much like 2015 – AI, wearables, Internet of Things, VR. All incredible tools that can be game changing, but are a way off mainstream embedding yet. Security and the vulnerability of our technologies will continue to occupy the conversation, and this leads me to my very non-tech answer – people is the next big thing in tech.

We’ve left ourselves behind in technology discourse for a while. The sheen is wearing thin in Silicon Valley and I’m hearing lots of proactive reflection about how we put the humanity back into our technology; how we ensure it doesn’t eat us alive, but empowers us to do more, better.

If you would like to reach out and connect with Venessa, check out her LinkedIn and Twitter.