The Community Layer marches on this week as we travel back into the rabbit hole of online and onchain community building, marketing, and identity. Our guest Max Pete, a.k.a. the One Hand Wonder, takes us on a candid exploration of the evolving landscape, gathering people online through vulnerability that shines in his interactions with so many who appreciate the work he puts into the space.
Max was recently awarded a Top Community Organizing Voice badge on LinkedIn for his exceptional content for the industry. He’s also coming off the heels of a successful Community Lead role at SuperHi, an online education platform for creatives.
As the community industry swells and contracts, Max tells the story of how the pandemic led him to take up space. Where he felt a calling to create vibrant connections with everyone he met. We get a look into why he thinks having an explorer mindset leads to finding the strategies that suit us most, no matter where we find ourselves in our careers.
We’ll dive into topics like needing tools for better discovery and collaboration that connect complementary communities (highly aligned incentives), modeling human-centered values like vulnerability to create safe spaces, and overcoming life’s limiting challenges.
While the Community Layer aims to explore much that web3 and onchain communities offer, this piece specifically highlights the challenges and triumphs of a broader industry. Founders, community managers, marketers, and anyone passionate about connecting people, this is for you!
Each community builder I’ve come across has such interesting origin stories for the spark that led them to this work.
Max may have discovered a love for community work in high school, but it wasn’t until a burnout on design and ad work that led him to the Freelance Founders community. Freelance Founders offered him the right outlet at the right time, leading to one of his first community-building opportunities by consistently showing up as his most authentic self.
"I was just really involved in [the community] when I was a member, I was helping other people," Max recalled.
I’ve heard this story repeatedly from community members who move into roles in the same way. I’m telling you, it works for a reason.
This “explorer mindset” concept came up multiple times in our chat. Recommendations on all sides surround community professionals who do this kind of work for a living, so how do we pick where to spend our precious free time? As if we have much to spare.
Max encourages us to dig deeper by following threads and conversations with those at the edges of our spaces, not just the most popular, to really find our people.
"It's mostly just the people I follow on social," Max said, emphasizing the importance of social listening and word-of-mouth when evaluating new communities to join.
Instead of just posting and scrolling, dig into the comments. Click on profiles of people and see what interests them, see who they’re responding to. It might take you off the beaten path, but you’ll also run into the most interesting characters along the way.
We also talked about the need for interoperable discovery mechanisms, something that onchain communities should look to tackle and is harder to do for current closed social ecosystems. One such solution lies in digital identity and verifiable credentials, even options like Mailchain which offer composability between platforms. This is a huge unlock for how communities interact with members and partners going forward as we continue to explore the Community Layer.
Maybe if there were more community discovery platforms, we’d be able to tailor our online experiences more closely than the 3-4 sites that rule the web currently.
One of the advantages of being part of the sea of online community builders is this collective fascination with human-centered conversations. Really getting down to the connections we grow together.
There’s great importance in modeling behaviors, and no better way to do that than through being open to change, feelings, and transparency.
As Max explained, "I consider myself a very vulnerable, transparent, open-book type of person. I just kind of speak what's on my mind."
If you follow Max, you’ll find many instances of this laid out in public, shares of imposter syndrome, mental health struggles, and all that comes with the emotional labor of this industry.
His philosophy on this is, "If I expect people to be as vulnerable, I need to make sure I'm doing that too," and I don’t think anyone would challenge him on that. Take note: this is how to nurture trust and deeper connections with members. Not by burying ourselves in the work.
He recalled the "Self Care Club" channel from his previous role as Senior Community Lead at SuperHi, where members openly discussed issues like anxiety, depression, and burnout. Through modeling vulnerability himself, Max facilitated a space where people felt comfortable asking for support.
As someone who is forever online, like many of us, Max told me how vulnerable social media posts resonate so much more than posts only showing off achievements.
"Those posts always get more engagement, always resonate with more people than the post that's like 'Hey, here's my advice,'" noted Max. "People want to see that realness."
The way I look at it is this: people don’t join a community for whatever product you’re selling. No, they join because of the value you provide, the values you lead, and the authentic connection. That means getting a little vulnerable sometimes. This might leave us a little open, but it means we’re able, as community professionals, to let others in, and I like that part.
We talked about an app Max recently shared on LinkedIn that could help with expressing vulnerability called How We Feel, which has personally brought me joy as well. Here’s what he had to say about using the mood tracker, “I’ve had what I thought a lot of days feeling anxious and down this month, and while there definitely were days like this, the majority was positive. But in my head, I give too much power to the negative, and without reflecting, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see the bigger picture and balance of positivity too.”
As the community industry has recently retraced a bit through multiple layoffs and restructures, we dug into how to find roles, move when in one, and move out of one into another. Max's advice here applies to both online and web3/onchain companies.
One of the potential issues we face, surrounded by so much talent in our industry, is being unsure when we should move out of a role. We see peers in our chats and socials talking about how successful they are, getting promotions or fractional roles left and right. Max says the answer lies in a combination of self-awareness and cold, hard data.
"At some point, you just know you've gone through the challenges. You've checked off the boxes," Max said. Those boxes are the ones you form together with your team, so expectations are clear and present. For some, there’s nothing worse than having no roadmap to success. Don’t take the opportunity to craft your own role for granted.
Now that you’ve co-created your expectations, as many of us do, the important part is actually taking action. Sure, we know to advocate for ourselves, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be.
As Max learned, you can't rely on others to spontaneously recognize your worth. You have to put in the work to document your accomplishments and have consistent conversations about promotion.
Max uses tools like Notion to track metrics every 90 days and document the community growth he's driven. "Keep documentation of your work and what you're doing and ask, ‘How do I get to the next level’? Tell me what I need to do," he recommended.
We also got a chance to talk about the ever-present challenge of the community builder destined to wear all the hats. You'll find many community professionals in smaller companies with limited resources in dual roles.
These are all separate roles, but in the early stages, they often come bundled. How nice of them!
In speaking with dozens of others, this is a running theme in the industry that I’ve experienced myself. There’s this constant whiplash of ping-ponging from task to task, which is normally fine, but throwing in the wrench of doing multiple entire skill sets gets a bit tricky.
Through documentation, we’re able to move up into a more specialized role once more hires are brought onto teams. If you do this consistently, you’re able to hand down learnings to new folks and create sustainable systems that help cement your value to a team.
For Max, carrying the weight of two skill sets at SuperHi led to digging deep to find his passions. He hopes this particular challenge leads to companies and community professionals alike coming to the agreement that "There's going to be this cycle that repeats until people realize we just can't do five roles at once."
He believes the onus here falls on employees and leadership to reshape unrealistic responsibilities that lead to burnout and hinder personal growth.
Max is truly a gem for the community space, sharing much of what he’s learned throughout his career in music, design, community, and marketing. Whether it’s on stage speaking for the first time in-person at Talkbase Community Rebellion Conference or focused program management work, Max chooses a feelings-first approach to community building.
The community industry is still in its early stages and growing, but it’s up to those passionate about the space to shape how it matures over time. Max believes we can do that by sharing our resources, being open to change, and really letting our unique light shine.