How Taylor Harrington turned a lifetime of community building into a Head of Community role

We continue our Rosieland Community Interview series with Taylor Harrington, Community Manager for Groove. Groove is a social app bringing co-working to those on a non-traditional path.  We dive into how Taylor went from camp counselor and event organizer to head of community, what it takes to help build community from the ground up, and lessons to share with future community professionals.

Getting to know Taylor Harrington, Head of Community at Groove

What’s your background and how did you find yourself in community?

From running workshops at a craft studio, to being a camp counselor to designing BYOB (aka bring your own book) events, to hosting rooftop flower parties, and more…community building has been a part of who I am at my core ever since I was young…now, I just get paid to do it full-time!

I'm the Head of Community at Groove, the social app that brings together the coolest humans—people who have all said, "Forget the traditional way of doing things…I'm going to build my own business and live life in a way that feels so me”. Inside Groove, they can start on-demand coworking sessions, high five each other, set goals for the week, and share their wins.

I joined Groove as the first full-time hire in June 2021, building the community from scratch (there were only 23 members when I started). I just love how this role combines my passion for bringing people together and spending time with humans who are paving their own wacky, wavy career paths. As my grandma says…it’s crazy that I get to make friends for a living!

Prior to joining Groove, I built powerful, online learning experiences with best-selling author, Seth Godin, on a tiny team of six. I wore a bunch of hats and built a ton of projects, mostly related to storytelling and community.

Outside of work, you can find me wandering into tiny coffee shops in NYC, reading another book to conquer my annual Goodreads challenge, playing a board game, or planning a new kind of gathering.

What do you wish you knew before embarking on your community journey?

It was a really hard process to figure out what I wanted in my first community role and a lot of it came back to: Who am I? What’s the magic I add to this world?

I wish I knew how normal it was to go through a deep, full-on reflection period to better understand myself before jumping into a community role. There was literally a day when I was so tired of reflecting that I just said, “Forget this”, bought myself a yellow sunhat, went to the zoo solo, and ate a frozen banana covered in chocolate and sprinkles.

As many people’s “what’s next?” stories begin, I was laid off. Akimbo had changed ownership (Seth was no longer the owner) and the new leadership decided to eliminate my role. That was really the forcing function for me to reconsider what I wanted to spend my time creating and if my title in digital marketing still represented the work I wanted to do. During that transition time, I started to meet people who had “community” in their titles for the first time. It felt like I was peeling back a theater curtain, realizing that all of the people like me were hanging out behind the curtain. I wondered, “How can I be a part of that?”

Luckily, the community world is one of the most welcoming corners of the internet and filled with sweetest humans, eager to make friends, so it was fairly easy to find resources and get connected to supportive groups once I knew the curtain existed. Even though there are a ton of resources out there and I found some early on in my job search, I still had to learn a lot through doing and reflecting to help me get to where I am today.

I talked to dozens and dozens of community builders, read a stack of books, listened to hours and hours of podcasts, did a bunch of fill-in-the-bank and journaling exercises, attended virtual workshops, applied to jobs, and interviewed for some. The most exhausting part was my constant reflection on who I was and what I wanted (and didn’t want) in a role. It’s such a vulnerable process to look for a new role, especially one that’s so wrapped up in identity (which, I’ve found most community roles are).

It took me a few months until I landed a job I love. To get there, I had to do a lot of hard work to better understand myself so that I could better identify what a good fit might be. It wasn’t until I was in my role at Groove for several months that I realized my experience wasn’t so crazy, other community leaders went through similar deep reflection periods too when making the leap. So, if you’re in that right now, I see you and you’re not alone. You got this and that deep work on you will help you get where you want to go.

What would you do differently if you had to start over?

If I could start over, I’d get really clear about who I want to build community with sooner. If you’re building a community-led product, you end up spending so much time with community members. They better be people you enjoy being around.

I didn’t have this clarity when I started the process and it could have significantly reduced the time I spent learning how important this was to me. The big AHA happened when I was in the final round of an interview at a company where something didn’t feel right in my gut.

Eventually, it boiled down to the fact that the members of this community were people who didn’t want to be there; their boss had signed them up. I realized through that interview process that I wanted to build community with members who were fully enrolled in the journey, amped up to be a part of it. Another community builder would look at that role and be really excited about that challenge. Not me, not then.

So, I pulled out of the interview process. It was scary. I didn’t have another opportunity where I was more than two interviews deep at the time. But, I really believed that getting clear about the members was going to be the thing to help me find my next project. And, luckily, I was right.

If I had to start over, I wish I had this clarity earlier because it would have helped me decide which opportunities were a good fit much sooner and narrow my search, but, alas, the timing wouldn’t have lined up for me to find Groove if that was the case, so I’m grateful the lightbulb moment happened when it did.

Understanding the community model and growth

Tell us about the Groove Community Community mission and 'superpower'.

I could gush all day long about Groovers, I love ‘em.

As I mentioned, Groove is the social app for people whose work doesn’t fit into a neat little box, these are people who have busted open the box and have decided to do things differently (think: freelancers, writers, creatives, people who have started their own businesses). Inside Groove, they can start on-demand coworking sessions, high five each other, set goals for the week, and share wins. By simply being themselves and showing up, members remind each other that it’s possible to keep living life on their own terms—and that sweet burst of encouragement to keep going is so energizing. I’m so inspired by all the cool humans I’ve gotten to know, all from the comfort of my own apartment.

What tools and technology do you use to run Groove?

We have our own mobile app and also a Slack channel, which serves as our community bulletin board; however, we are currently designing new features to add the best parts of Slack right into the app. The goal is for everything to live in the app, so folks don’t need to toggle between two places to get the full experience. Although, where we house our support is still a question…I love how community-led it is right now in Slack.

Describe the business model for Groove and how you arrived at that decision.

Groove is completely free for now. We’re a venture-backed business and closed our seed-round in late 2022. It’s too early to say for sure how we’ll charge in the future, but we’d love to keep part of it free forever.

As of right now, new Groovers do need to request access to join by filling out a few questions on our website or coming through an existing Groover’s share link.

What did you find worked well for bringing growth to the community?

The first one that comes to mind was when we manually cold DMed a bunch of potential Groovers who we thought would love it and also have a niche audience, filled with people who really trust them. Talk about not scalable!

We’ve also had a couple of incredible champions who have really shouted from the rooftops how much they love Groove and have brought in some of our most active Groovers today through sharing it in their newsletters and on social media. For full transparency, we didn’t pay them or ask them to do this. They started doing it because they loved Groove and wanted to be the cool cat sharing the new shiny thing that was changing their lives. Since then, we’ve had fun surprising and delighting them with our love and appreciation in different ways.

Another would have to be having established networks of our own and finding interesting ways to talk about Groove on a regular basis. A lot of early Groovers and our biggest champions have been people my teammates or I were connected with. Not necessarily close friends, but people we met at an event once, or used to belong to the same club, or who were in the same online cohort as us (or had taken an Akimbo workshop in my case). Josh, our Co-founder & CEO, and I started posting consistently on Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Being that top of mind with our own audiences really helped us grow this community from day one.

What types of community generated content (CGC)has worked well?

We've had a lot of fun and success with the Groover Solopreneur Toolkit interviews and ADHD interviews on our Medium. We selected several Groovers who really embody what Groove is all about to jam with us for an hour while we record the conversation, and then we turned those into easily digestible Medium articles. New Groovers who read these were able to see themselves in these interviews and feel like they belong here (we shouted them out many times in our newsletter and Slack), and even found out about new tips and tricks to try. The Groovers interviewed felt special they got the chance to share their story.

Last but not least, the Groovers who know those that were interviewed got to see a new side to them and have a deeper appreciation for that community member. When we first started doing these, we were also sharing the audio recordings, but to be honest, we didn't get a lot of listens, so we decided to hit pause on those. If we had put them on a more accessible platform like Spotify they may have gotten more hits...and if we shared the links to them directly in the Groove app, but we weren't set up for that at the time when these were published.

The weekly wins and goals folks share in Slack (which will soon be integrated right into the Groove app) are another fabulous form of Groover-generated content. Everyone responds to the prompt and then cheers each other on. It serves as a fabulous asynchronous activity that makes the coworking sessions better together, because you know what folks are up to (including friends you might not see in a coworking session that week).

Lessons from failure and what’s next for Groove

Share one community failure and what you learned from that experience.

Back in 2021, we tried to gamify Groove and it totally backfired. It really taught me the importance of focusing on what makes us different, instead of trying to fit into something we’re not. We had seen other social apps gamify the experience. Groovers had referenced their steaks on Duolingo and how accountable they felt to show up consistency, we thought, “why not us?” Let’s see how that works here.

So, we launched a leaderboard within the Groove app. At the time, it was a step towards encouraging people to Groove more often. In hindsight, it was our first lesson on the effects of unhealthy competition…and what happens when you don’t really build a feature with the community. This one was built more for the community.

To be featured as one of the top 5 on the leaderboard, you needed to complete one of the highest numbers of Grooves (aka coworking sessions) in the last seven days. At first, Groovers were so excited. And then…some started to become a little obsessed, watching if they fell behind. A few shared with us that they would open the app throughout the day just to see if the positions on the leaderboard had shifted. People had started equating “more Grooves = better”.

Without realizing it, we were creating a culture of pressure around productivity. And to the community’s enormous credit — they complained. One by one, the most active Groovers asked to be taken off the leaderboard, to reduce their anxiety around being on it. It was clear that this method of encouragement wasn’t a good fit for the Groove community. We nixed the leaderboard and instead featured a different “Groover Spotlight” each week, where we showcase who a particular Groover is and what they love doing inside of the coworking sessions — rather than the number of Grooves they’ve done.

It’s hard when you’re building something new to not follow the other playbooks already out there for how to boost engagement, grow, etc.. But, ultimately, this experience taught me the importance of doubling down on what makes us unique.

What's next for the Groove community?

Now, that we’re officially deeming ourselves a social app (not a productivity app or an accountability community…this on it’s own is a whole other lesson for another day), we’re committed to reimagining what it means to gather online—to be a social app without feeds and that doesn’t waste your time. As Groovers have said, the magic of Groove is that it feels like a grown-up version of social. We’re focused on making the current experience even better. And, when deciding on what Groove should remind people of, we like to err on the side of comparing Groove to IRL examples…not other tech.

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Taylor and the Groove community journey.  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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