The Lithosphere: Through an Employee’s Eyes
I have always been a fanatical user of message boards, with my deepest interest in them as an internet cultural fixture happening in the late 1990s. Taking a job with Lithium in late 2006 made perfect sense as it allowed me an exciting opportunity to passionately coach both Community Managers and business stakeholders on how to use Community as a business solution.
Over 12 years ago, having a community here at Lithium was an obligatory afterthought. After all, how could we call ourselves a Community company when we did not have a Community ourselves? The extremely small Lithium team back then (less than 20 people!) launched a legitimate Lithium community instance early in 2006. After a few months, there were only a handful of posts in our forums and a few blog articles from of our leadership when I walked through the door later that year. Candidly, we launched our very own community instance too early! From its inception, Lithium worked with huge brands, and so their huge communities were wildly successful. Businesses with smaller audiences need to be very cautious around community endeavors (a best practice that we still caution potential customers with every day). Unrealistic audience size projections as well as poor promotion are the two most common reasons for Community failure.
Call it the result of hasty enthusiasm of our little company back then in 2006, but our initial community instance failed to ignite. We had not reached a level in our B2B high-tech business to supply a large enough audience for a community to be successful. Fortunately, our business grew over the next two years, and with it, so did our potential to have a thriving community.
There was a colossal amount of work to be done back then for our company, and we all wore many hats as we were still a small, bootstrapped startup that wanted to cast a big shadow. Our community instance that had began in 2006 had no named business stakeholder, no Community Manager, and no real business objectives before it morphed into the Lithosphere as we know it in 2008. One could say that for 2 years we labored simply to help Lithium the company grow into the oversized shoes that were the beginnings of the Lithosphere Community.
We had folks like @AdamA and @DougS join the company on the developer side during that time. We had @KrisS join our moderation team too (he has subsequently gone on to become an absolute ace on our support team). @AdamN had been one of the earliest contractors and moderators at Lithium going back to the early 2000s. He has since became extremely active on the Lithosphere, especially once he got a degree in Computer Science and became a full time employee working as an engineer within our services team. Adam was the first person to reach 200 Accepted Solutions.
@RobbL was the first Lithium Customer Success Manager (CSM) in 2005 and my first manager here at Lithium. You can now find Robb sitting on a beach enjoying retirement, but he’ll occasionally resurface to do some contracting work for us in the training and education department. There are so many others that came along from 2007 through 2008 that are part of the Lithosphere’s story too. It is a shame that I cannot name them all. What cannot escape being noted though is how there were a select few of us that desperately wanted our small community to turn into something more to serve our customers, as we now had a potential audience size to make a community really live and breathe. Of course, to make that happen we needed some internal governance and direction to get us there.
First, Marketing stepped-up with a budget for redesigning the old 2006 Community instance and coordinated with an agency for a design. Kudos have to be given to a former member of our Marketing team. One of the hardest working people ever to grace the halls of Lithium, Ei-Lun Yokomizo. She left Lithium a few years ago to help raise two beautiful kids with one of Lithium’s founders, Kirk Yokomizo. Lithium <3’s the Yokomizo family!
Ei-Lun was instrumental in coordinating the launch of the Lithosphere as we know it, but I have to also give a lot of credit to our first Lithosphere Community Manager, Scott Dodds. Scott had come out of our Lithium CSM academy that @RobbL had put together, and with help from our former Chief Community Officer, Joe Cothrel, Scott evolved into leading a new Best Practices team. Who better to be a Community Manager of Lithium’s newly reborn community than a Best Practices team leader? That was Scott, for sure! He has since gone on to apply his Community expertise to other companies and remains a friend to many of us who are still here at Lithium a decade later.
The idea of finally getting to use our very own Lithium community instance as a showcase B2B high-tech business solution immediately gained traction with Lithium’s customers. All eyes were on our Community to see what the company that sold them this business solution could and would do with this tool. In parallel, an internal rallying cry started. Lithium’s Engineering, Customer Success, and Support team members joined in on building and iterating upon the community too. However, with all this enthusiasm of both customers and employees alike, we were still missing something. If our community was to be (re)christened with a new look and real operational ownership, it needed a name!
The committee charged with the (re)launch consisted of Ei-Lun, Scott, and myself. We put our heads together, collaborated with a few other passionate employees via an internal naming contest and landed on “Lithosphere” (as an aside, credit should be given to @TashinaK for coming up with the actual ‘Lithosphere’ name as an entry in our naming contest that was subsequently chosen as the victor). Our Lithium 2006 community instance was officially (re)launched with the new Lithosphere name in 2008. The somewhat musty community instance that had been idling slowly down the road since 2006 got a UI redesign, received real operational ownership within our company, and was bequeathed the requisite best practices of proper promotion and user guidelines. A new infusion of users (our very own Lithium customers!) moved in quickly to participate. It was truly a EUREKA moment for our company.
I was 2+ years into my Lithium journey in 2008, and my obsession with getting customers help now had a new vehicle. Prior to the Lithosphere (re)launch, I had spent most of my days fielding emails from both customers and fellow employees alike about best practices and the innards of our technology. If the questions (and my incredibly thorough) answers via the email medium did not contain sensitive information, then why weren’t these email dialogues not happening on our community? The shelf life of an information-dense email is very short — and these conversations seemed better suited to live in the Community. So I did something very bold. I started replying in email, to both Lithium’s customers and my fellow employees alike, with the same response whenever they would ask me a question. I would tell them, “ask me on the community, and I will answer you there.” Initially, I received some pushback from people I was corresponding with when I dropped that line on them, but I continued to enforce this new way of communicating with me.
Like so many others who have participated and/or sponsored community initiatives, I wanted our community to help mitigate everybody’s heavy reliance on email when collaborating to solve problems. So many customers and Lithium employees would complain to me about not being able to find the prior emails I had written them with extremely thorough answers to their questions, so why not have my dense content be available in a more centralized place? Why was I answering the same questions over and over via email? I have asked so many of our customers and Lithium employees to join me on my Lithosphere journey over the years. I thank you all that have ever indulged my broken-record email response; “ask me on the Lithosphere and I will gladly answer you there”.
And why would they not want to come along? After all, navigating a community is no harder than using a table of contents in a book, and the threads of conversation read just like a theatrical play or cinematic screenplay. The true beauty of community is found in a simple rhetorical functionality, a seemingly spartan feature-set, and finally, the mechanics of pedestrian gamification principles that underlie Rank and Reputation for all community members. It is, in my opinion, the heir apparent to the printing press insofar as enriching one’s own knowledge is concerned.
Because of my ‘please ask me on the community instead’ technique that I was gently applying throughout the day, I became the first Lithium Oracle (i.e. – I accrued 100 Accepted Solutions on the Community) in 2010. I received a plaque from our Lithosphere Community Manager which hung prominently on the wall in my home office for a few years. There have now been close to 20 Lithium Oracles ranks bestowed since then. It is a rank that is harder to achieve than many people think.
A few years ago I decided to move away from answering questions on the customer side of our Lithosphere community, as there were now 5 active Oracles helping our customers there, and instead focus on gathering Accepted Solutions over on the (private) employee side of our community. Helping out over there makes me feel like I have more of an impact on our playing field, because the more I help Lithium employees, the more they can help our Lithium customers. There are many collaboration tools found in the workplace these days, but I still adhere to the mindset that community forums are the most effective for maximizing the distribution of knowledge and expertise. Some would say that I’m still kind of a web 1.0 guy, but hey, I met my wife on a message board in 2003 and we’re as happy as can be, so go figure. I’ll wear that web 1.0 jacket as a badge of honor!
In my opinion, the Lithosphere community has matured and evolved just like Lithium the company has over the years. Sure, anybody who has been on the Lithosphere for a while knows that the community has had its fair share of clunker designs and layouts over the years, so there will always be room for improvement. Stumbling every once in a while is when we learn how to improve things, right? But I’ve never been more bullish on our community, our employees, and our customers’ communities than I am today. This place works pretty darned well, and I am very proud to have been riding shotgun the whole time. Happy 10th Anniversary, Lithosphere! You do your job, I’ll do mine, and perhaps we shall have a little bit of fun along the way.
JakeR, Senior Business Value Engineer
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, @JakeR!
I’ll also shout out @JulieHamel for her excellent work piloting the Lithosphere for a number of years.
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