Meet Chris Catania, Head of Community at Esri.
Chris currently lives in Southern California but spent most of his life in Chicago. He loves cooking and eating great food and never passes up the chance to eat a good Chicago-style deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwich or hotdog. Those Chicago dishes are hard to find in Southern California but he has his ways of finding the delicious food that’s around hime.
He loves live music, trail running, playing baseball, climbing mountains, cooking and spending time with his wife and kids. He learns a lot about life, leadership and community building in all those passions and activities.
His community management journey began in 2005; he was a music journalist and decided to start his first community, a concert fan community called Live Fix Podcast, a podcast that explores the power and purpose of the live music experience. It’s a concert fan community that’s always his living laboratory for testing, learning and growing his enterprise community building work.
Since 2005 (so more than 18 years), he has helped leaders build community-driven organisations that leverage the power of community and collaboration to deepen trust, increase loyalty, build better products, drive engagement, save millions and grow top-line revenue. He also loves speaking, coaching and consulting and leading workshops to empower leaders to leverage community as a strategic asset in the workplace and a competitive advantage in the marketplace. You can find more about his work at chiscatania.co and follow him on LinkedIn.
At Swarm this year Chris will talk us through How To Transform Stakeholder Skeptics Into Community Champions
What’s unique about working on your community?
In my work at Esri I help lead the efforts to manage and grow the Esri Community. Esri is the market leader in GIS (Geographic Information System) software and our community brings together more than 340,000 members worldwide, with more than 50,000 active monthly.
It is one of the largest gatherings of GIS professionals on the internet. Geospatial thinking has been around for decades but it has now begun to be used at scale across organizations.
GIS professionals are some of the most creative, smart and inspiring people in the world and it’s been a joy to create a community for them to find solutions, share product ideas and grow their career.
Their work has a massive impact globally and it’s an honor to help create a community that helps our customers make the world a better place with the power of GIS.
What’s your favourite community right now and why?
Oh, man! That’s a tough one to answer. I have so many to share! I’ll go with the communities that have recently helped me grow as a community building professional and give back to the community professional.
Last year, I started Community Pros of LA with Jenny Weigel and Nicole Niss. When I moved to LA from Chicago there wasn’t a community of community building professionals in LA and I wanted to connect with more of us in Southern California. So we started the community and it’s been awesome getting together to co-work, network and support each other in our work. We invite anyone local in LA or visiting to join us!
My other favorite communities are ones that have been helping me grow in my career and help give back to new community professionals. Dinner5 with Jake McKee, The Community Community hosted by Nikki Thibodeau, and Community Hacked. I’ve found value in all of those communities because they have been great places for senior level community pros to connect and get support for leading teams and engaging the C-suite.
The Community Roundtable is always on my go-to list for research and insights and I love how those communities also bring together new and experienced community pros so we can help each other. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of those communities because they are aligned with my mission to engage leadership and help grow and mentor other community professionals.
I believe an emerging trend and the future of community in general is in the power of private niche communities that help professionals and add value to organizations and the customer experience. I’ve experienced this trend personally and I see it happening more and more in my enterprise building work too.
What do you consider the most exciting thing about the community management space today?
What’s most exciting is also what’s most challenging. I get excited about opportunities to make things better and I see tons of opportunities to help more leaders outside the community industry see the value and potential of a community-driven company. We need to get out of the community management echo chamber, learn the language of other business areas and show the value of community on their terms in their language.
What is also exciting is the emergence and development of two trends: AI and geospatial thinking. There’s no doubt that AI is going to change the future of community. Because of this, community professionals need to study AI and get very familiar with the impact and potential of it within the community management space. Leaders are going to be asking about it more and more (if they aren’t already) and we need to be able to guide and consult on the best use case for AI and Community. Embrace AI and don’t fear it. Play with it and understand all the use cases so we can help leaders understand how to use community and AI together.
Second, geospatial thinking is very underrated in business overall, and this is especially true with community management and geospatial thinking. We value the who (people), the what (content/contributions), the when (time), but we don’t value the WHERE enough. There’s so much location-rich and community-centric shared value and insights are left on the table without looking and analyzing community building through a geospatial lens. We need to start thinking more geospatially when it comes to our enterprise community building strategies. I believe community-first companies think geospatially when leveraging the power and competitive advantage of community.
What do you consider the most challenging thing about the community management space today?
The most challenging aspect in community management is two-fold:
- Getting leadership engaged and bought in, and
- Helping community professionals build up their business acumen so they can clearly communicate the value of community to all the key leaders across the business in CX, sales, support, customer success and product development.
I’ve been in the community industry for a long time and I love helping leaders understand what a community is and how it can transform their company. I’m also passionate about working to bridge the gap between community skeptics/community-curious leaders and community builders. I’ve seen many leaders go from skeptic to champion and I want to help further that mission and create more community-driven companies and leaders. I hope five or ten years from now we can look back and say we have closed that gap.
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now that all community professionals should read/watch/listen to?
Great question! I love watching movies and documentaries, reading books and listening to podcasts. The thoughts and experience of others inspires me and fills me up. I learn a ton about leadership lessons, storytelling and community management insight you might not think of. I watch cooking shows and shows that dramatize cooking. I watch MMA (mixed martial arts), boxing and baseball games. I love the determination, community and strategy required to be elite in those sports and use what I learn to navigate business situations and develop strategy.
Cooking gives me great insight and allows me be process my thoughts and get inspiration for community. The connection between preparing a meal and building community is strong and I’m always looking for metaphors and pulling example from sports, cooking and podcasts to use in my talks, presentations and conversations with leaders.
Right now I’m hooked on and love watching The Bear, Beef, and Marvel’s “What If?”. Gary Vaynerchuk’s latest book “12 and a Half” is great and full of community parallels. I also learned a lot about having vision, developing as a leader and creating a culture of collaboration reading Chicago Cubs former manager Joe Madden’s book “The Book of Joe”.
I’ve really enjoyed Yurii Lazaruk’s Community Life Show Podcast because his interview style gives a beautifully personal touch and he opens up a welcomed view into the life of community builders. You can check out my episode here.
Why should community people come to Swarm?
Throughout my career I’ve always been a huge fan of Swarm Conference. I’ve loved the talks and people who share their work. I’m honored to be a part of the experience this year. I’ve used the insights from previous Swarms in my presentations and conversations with skeptical leaders. And those insights have helped me transform skeptics into champions. I would tell anybody to attend because you’re going to hear from some of the best practitioners in the business. You’ll get insights, ideas and best practices and make new connections that will make you a better, more strategic and more equipped community builder.