Read the full interview HERE

We interviewed an executive that built the PowerSeller Program for eBay and then managed the Global Community at Zynga to explore how to build online communities.

We cover:

  • What makes a healthy online community
  • How eBay launched and scaled the PowerSeller program to drive retention and higher GMV
  • How marketplaces approach serving both for B2C and B2B suppliers
  • Why gamification is not crucial for all online marketplaces
  • How to think about driving engagement and retention in online communities
  • Risks for supplier revolts due to marketplace imbalances
  • Online community comparison between eBay sellers and Farmville players

How would you compare the similarities and differences in the community of Zynga Versus eBay?

We just spent a while talking about B2B community and managing engagement in B2B setting. At Zynga, it was a major pivot for me. I went from managing one and a half million small and large business sellers in a selling program, to 300 million global gaming fanatics, on 120 Facebook pages, in 17 languages. That was a pure consumer pivot. I will say this, that the same mechanic applies to every community. It’s impossible for me to tell you exactly what it is, I’m going to hold to my thesis that it is an art and a science. The science part is easy. You artfully go in, you understand what the player or the customer wants, you match that with a company goal and you give the player what they want at low cost and at scale to you. That satisfies them and makes them do the thing that the company wants them to do for its ROI.

I’ll give you a great example. At Zynga, we drove 12 million dollars of incremental revenue through our social posts alone. This was before Facebook ads. This was before Facebook was even an ad platform. It was just a social network. How did we do that? Farmville players are completists. They want to have every cow, every crop on their farm. They were getting new players all the time. Some new players had never bought the rainbow cow from last month. We would just dredge up old items out of inventory and post it on social and say. “Hey, farmers, did you ever know that we had a blue and pink cow? Go buy this virtual item right now for 50c.” Just by helping them complete their farm – I stand by that when I say it was a win/win; they really wanted to do it – we drove $12 million of incremental revenue.

How did you look at the purpose or the needs of that gamer versus the seller?

That’s where it goes to the art and science part. The art of it is, you’ve just got to get inside of your customers’ head. There are a million ways to do that. A great way to do that is just pick up the phone and just meet a few. Gather a few over pizzas and find out more about them. Watch their gameplay from a customer experience, user experience perspective. When I say that there’s an art and a science, you might remember I told you that I went to these sellers’ warehouses. I got to see how they did their thing. I wanted to see how the gamers gamed. From game to game, it was very different. The Farmville demographic were middle-aged midwestern women and the Mafia Wars demographic were urban males. We had to take a little bit from everybody. We had to learn a little bit from everybody.

How did you look at driving the daily active user growth or engagement?

One way to do it is to, again, find out what they like and schedule in stuff of what they like. At the time, we scheduled in stuff of what they liked on social. For example, we had a massive 150 million global Farmville fans on Facebook, but about 100,000 Farmville fans on our forum. The forum people were all the payers. We knew that about them through data. Those people just loved Farmville. Once a month, we would have a cooking contest, so they would each bake a cake and decorate it with a Farmville theme and vote on who won that month. Whoever won just received in-game coin and in-game gifts. That was an incredibly motivating and engaging tactic for that group. We tried it with the Mafia Wars groups, which is a bang-you’re-dead game, not terribly cooperative, more competition. When we held that cooking contest, people were doing spaghetti with severed hands, Mafia themed food. Not all tactics are transferrable, but we were very eager to test and optimistic about if it worked in one game, maybe it will work in another game.

What did you learn about humans and their purpose and what they care about and how they engage with other people? Those stories, it seems like there’s a common thread among communities that drives social engagement with humans.

To do this work, you have to love the human race. You actually have to. By that I mean you don’t have to be an extreme extrovert, like I am. A lot of people who do online community work are extreme introverts, and thank god they’re there, because they’re only happy when they’re communicating through a screen. I love to employ those people. But you actually have to be an extreme empath. You have to really be sensitive to the human condition. Once you care about humans, then you learn how to care about what they care about. I think that is an incredible business lesson. In some places it’s called an emotional quotient; there are names for it. Really, if you just give a shit about your customer and understand what they want, then you’ll work to give them what they want. You’ll sincerely and transparently work to make it better for them. Since you’re employed by an entity, if you can marry it to a company goal, then you’ve made a career, as I have.

I love the human race and I don’t want to sound corny, but that’s what keeps me in it. I wait for the magic. Magic happens when people come together over a shared passion. When we said at the beginning that I was a comic book nerd, who went to business school and eBay came and found me. I just want to return the internet to the gestalt of the pre-internet San Diego Comic-Con of the 1990s. What happened there with people who loved comics was magical. When they met other people from other places that shared their passion for Justice League or Ironman or whatever, marriages happened; it was holy, spiritual communion. The internet collapses time and space to allow us to do that with each other like magic. Like magic. As a person who now runs Oz, runs communities, runs huge convocations online, you’ve got to think about what kind of society do you want to have and build that society. You said, I’ve learned a lot about humans. Absolutely. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve always toyed with, should I go back and get a PhD in psychology? Every time I think about it, I’m like, actually, I could teach a PhD in online psychology, because I’ve had experiences with millions of humans from all over the world, from every walk of life, who love every kind of thing.

What was it about those early comic days online that drove such a magical experience?

No, they were offline. The magic was you discovered this thing, you were this quiet introverted kid, who wasn’t into sports or whatever and found comic books as a beautiful mythology. We don’t have Greek gods in America. We don’t have Mount Olympus, but we have Superman. It’s an American invention. It’s a very deep desire to believe in something bigger than yourself. When you travelled to a place where you could meet other people who shared that desire, it was religious. It’s a beautiful thing to see and it’s a beautiful thing to feel. Today, there are still analogues, even in this online world. For example, if you’ve ever been to an esports convention, where fans go and watch their heroes play videogames against each other in an arena. The feeling in the air is very energetic and positive and supportive. Really very special. There’s something like that everywhere. It’s why people go to sporting events. It’s why they have a shared communion with the other sports fans of that team. It’s why people get out of bed, to go check in with their Instagram friends. We have something in common.

Read the full interview HERE