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Transitioning from Live Events to Digital: Community Spotlight on LaunchDarkly’s Dawn Parzych and ToggleTalk Ashley Dotterweich

Welcome to the Heavybit Community Spotlight Series, where we highlight the people that make up the Heavybit community, and the interesting projects and ideas that they’re exploring right now. This week we’re turning our spotlight to Dawn Parzych, developer advocate for LaunchDarkly. We chatted with Dawn about how LaunchDarkly has adapted their digital community programs while real-life interactions are impossible, and why infusing brands with humanity is more important than ever.

Before COVID-19, what were the focal points for LaunchDarkly’s developer advocacy team? Were you going out and interacting with people in person, in communities, or was it mostly online?

My focus has been primarily on writing, things like writing tutorials or blog articles. Lots of engagement online with local communities as well as broader people on Twitter and in Slack.

I also did a lot of local community work in Seattle. I co-organized a couple of meetups, and went to general community events in the Seattle area. I also spoke at events maybe four to six times a year.

We have five advocates on the team. Other people within the organization did much heavier public speaking, so they were traveling 20 to 30 times a year, and others focused more on writing code samples.

Let’s talk about ToggleTalk. What is it, and what inspired you to start it?

ToggleTalk is a weekly Twitter chat. We post a topic and a series of questions, then and open it up to the Twitter universe. The goal is to have everyone tag their responses with the hashtag #ToggleTalk and, through that, we generate conversation.

At the end of every week, we write a blog post on the things that we talked about, what we learned, and other resources and articles for you to go watch, listen to and enjoy if this topic interests you.

It came about because we realized that in person events weren’t going to be happening. A lot of my ideas for content come from talking to people at events, and hearing the questions they’re asking. So, we had this idea to do these weekly Twitter chats to stay engaged and understand the needs of the community.

ToggleTalk has only been going for a few weeks. Can you tell us more about how the concept has evolved? Any lessons you’ve learned?

Initially we were going to have somebody different hosting every week. Then realized that we still needed to figure out what worked and what didn’t. If we were changing the host of the event every week, that would add too many variables every week. I hosted for the first three weeks, and then last week, we switched and somebody else will run it for three weeks.

But I think we are starting to see more community and organic growth. I hosted it for the first three weeks and I found that over those three weeks, engagement had increased. By week three, there were people that were participating because they saw somebody else talking about it. Still not getting everybody to use that ToggleTalk hashtag but it’ll come.

Also, one of the conversations we’ve been having as we’re figuring out what’s working and what’s not working is whether we need to host these at a specific day and time. It’s on Twitter, and those posts are there forever. People can still engage with that content after that “event” is over, but we still structure ToggleTalk as something that happens at a specific time. I think there’s value in replicating that sense of “Oh, I bumped into people and we had this conversation about this in the moment.” We’re still trying to figure out how to get that conversation to continue even though we want it to be time bound.

We also do a Test in Production meetup,  and we’ve moved that to a weekly digital event on Twitch. That led me to think that we should talk about the same subject during ToggleTalk on Wednesday that the speaker’s going to be talking about at our meetup on Thursday, so that we can drive people from Twitter to the meetup. So now we’ve started to figure out how we can coordinate the two events.

Has there been anything about ToggleTalk so far that has surprised you or has been unexpected?

I think the amount of work that goes into doing this. You think, “I’m going to do a Twitter chat for an hour.” How much time can that take? It’s figuring out what the subject is, doing community outreach, getting people lined up, getting the questions drafted, and then writing the analysis and blog post afterwards. This one hour Twitter chat is probably about eight hours of work for the week.

I also found that it’s a lot for one person trying to reply to everything and manage multiple Twitter conversations at the same time during ToggleTalk.

Have you noticed any crossover between the audience of the live events you’ve done in the past and the fully-digital events you’re doing now? Is that something you’ve been tracking?

We’re not doing these things to capture leads — we’re trying to provide information and value to the community, but at the same time we want to know, “Are the same people coming and participating in these things?” It’s hard to track people between live and digital events — and even between different digital events that aren’t gated, it can be challenging.

We’re starting to use SproutSocial to track engagement, but that relies on people using that hashtag, which is why we’re trying to get people to use the hashtag as well. We are still looking at ways that we can measure that engagement.

But there’s definitely interest in participating in live events. When I was doing outreach to try to find people to participate in one of the ToggleTalks, I reached out to a person and they’re like, “Oh, I’d love to do that but I can’t do it at that point in time but if you do any meetups or other events, let me know.”

Are there any teams or campaigns that you drew inspiration from while developing ToggleTalk?

toggletalk launchdarkly mascotI get inspiration from a lot of different places! Part of the ToggleTalk launch was introducing Toggle to the community. We have used this astronaut character called Toggle for a while, but have never really introduced them to the community. When we came up with this idea for ToggleTalk, we knew that Toggle had to be the face of this, similar to how GitHub has Octocat, and PageDuty has Pagey. We wanted to take Toggle and introduce them to the community with a story.

Right now especially it’s important to remember that we’re all human. One of our core company values is that it’s people first —  work is not your life. So we’re trying to put a more human “face” on our community initiatives, and Toggle is maybe a human or human-like creature underneath the uniform. That was part of where the inspiration came from, of this character that we’ve used in limited places around the organization and we’re going to make them a little bit more front and center for our community.

What does serving a community during COVID look like for you? Are there different things you need to take into consideration as a developer advocate, and a point of contact with the LaunchDarkly community?

Part of what I keep coming back to is having to reset expectations. It would be great to go and do all of these things but is that what people need right now? I know a lot of people are overwhelmed. Right now, they’re having to adjust to working remotely, working with kids and roommates and partners and parents or whoever else it is that they’re working with. This takes a toll. Especially when you don’t have that social aspect of things, or all of the social things are online.

It’d be great to do more community stuff online, but do people have the energy and the capacity for that right now? Is it a two hour event? I hit the end of the day and, yeah, I’d love to go and do a social hour with my friends but I’m exhausted. I’ve been at the computer all day, I’ve had to try to get my kid doing as much school work as is humanly possible and take the dog for walks and do all this other stuff and I just don’t have the energy at the end of the day.

I think doing smaller events, things that can be done on demand when people have the time, is something that the community needs. We’re constantly asking people, “Hey, what is it that you need?” They might not have an answer, but when they do, we try to fulfill that need.

Are there any habits that you’ve picked up or adopted or realized about your own workflow now, or lack thereof? Anything you’d like to keep after we all go back to some sense of normalcy?

One thing that I’ve always done is I’ve taken the dog for a walk before my day starts. I’ll go out, I’ll go for a walk, then I’ll start working and I do the same at the end of the day. That helps me separate that day — that’s my little commute, right? I’m walking to work. The walks have slowly gotten longer because it’s the one hour of the day that I have to myself. I think I want to keep that.  And then after dinner, we’ve been going as a family and doing walks and I’ve really enjoyed having my family with me where it’s like we’re all out of the house and not in our work and school environments.

Since you have been working remote for a while, would you have any advice for folks who are still adjusting to it? Any tips that you’ve learned over your remote work time?

For me, the “commute” is really important. I know it’s not possible for everybody, but I have a dedicated work space. I used to be like, “I’m going to go work on the couch or the kitchen table.” But now I do my work in my office. Figuring out a routine that works and the other piece that I’m even having to do more of is block your calendar out for focus time, figure out when you do certain tasks better and block time out for those. I write better in the morning and so I’ll block my calendar out in the morning so that I can get my writing done.

I’m also a strong proponent of putting things on your calendar. If you’re having trouble with a schedule and having time slip away, but things on your calendar. Even things like “Eat lunch” or “Step away from your desk for five minutes.”

For more of Dawn’s tips on remote work, see her article for Opensource.com on Setting yourself up for success while working remotely. Check out LaunchDarkly’s ToggleTalk every Wednesday on Twitter, and their Test in Production Meetup on Twitch on Thursdays. 

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