For the second episode of Zenzi Asks, I headed out on a gravel road in the outskirts of Northeast Boulder to meet Cali Harris, the Communications Director for KULA Causes, a company that, at just 2 years of age, has become the world’s largest online platform for charitable giving and a technology platform for loyalty programs. Already impressed by the company, I became even more so when I arrived at the KULA ‘farm’, and was warmly greeted by Cali, who offered me a quick tour. Surrounded by trees, a pond, and lots of greenery, the small ranch style building that serves as KULA’s headquarters felt wholesome and fitting for a company whose very mission is shrouded in goodness.
Cali enthusiastically explained how KULA Causes evolved from the idea that there must be a way to make both creating customer loyalty and charitable giving easier, without having to ask people to dig in to their pockets. So ensued KULA Causes, enabling companies to create meaningful brand loyalty through a technology that allows consumers to transfer unused reward points, frequent flyer miles and so forth in to actual cash donations. Moreover, KULA has a database of over 2 million charities and non-profits in more than 50 countries, allowing users to give to a cause that they are truly passionate about.
As we began our interview, my first impression of Cali was confirmed: she’s passionate about pretty much everything she does, and she does a lot. Not only does Cali work full-time for KULA Causes as their Communications Director, but she is also the co-founder and host of the Colorado Community Managers meet-up group, and the witty and intellectual voice of @caligater on Twitter. Did I mention that she’s also in the process of getting her master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and currently finishing her thesis?
Let me make it clear though – her passion and seeming ability to ‘do it all’ is not at all unsettling. Au contraire. In fact, it is beyond impressive and truly motivating. She’s the kind of girl that you’d beg to be your mentor and friend because you know you’d be in good hands. No wonder I thought, that she is an exceptional Community Manager.
Sitting on a bench in the late afternoon sun, Cali and I discussed everything from her favorite blogs, to her advice on community engagement best practices. Her answer to that question in a nutshell? ‘It sounds simple, but be outward, be nice, and follow the Golden Rule. I think that’s how a community can be built in a way that’s more than just marketing.’ Read on for more words of wisdom and other insights from our interview, and check out the video here.
Zenzi: How would you describe yourself in 140 characters or less?
Cali: That’s painful. I think my actual twitter bio is only ‘squee’ right now because I get really excited about things, so I squee. So that’s pretty accurate.
Zenzi: You founded the Colorado Community Managers Meet Up Group. Tell me a little more about this.
Cali: Its been going on a for a year and a half now. I thought, we need to build a community locally of community managers, because a lot of time community managers and social media people have their role in the organization or company they work for, but they don’t often have a team or colleagues that are doing the same thing. So, we got kind of Meta about it! It started just as a small little meet up group and has grown since, but what we focus on is best practices, and new trends in community management, and a lot of times ‘horror’ stories so we can learn from each other’s mistakes and lend and ear to each other.
Zenzi: The fact that you started this group might be a giveaway, but are you as social offline, as you are online?
Cali: I’m actually totally an introvert. Yea, it’s the classic nerdy thing to answer – the computer is the barrier! No, I’m pretty social. I like to go to some of the local events, like the meet ups that happen. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in Boulder, and I’m really fortunate to be in this community, here.
Zenzi: Among other things, you specialize in marketing and content strategy. How does that process begin for you?
Cali: So the first thing I always start with, whether it’s marketing or specific content strategy, is an inventory – a huge inventory! It sounds boring, and maybe it can be, but taking inventory of everything you have under your marketing banner, whether it’s a list of where you are online, marketing collateral, any content, little blurbs…For example, what’s your twitter bio vs. your boiler plate for a press release? This lets you know where it is, what it looks like, and how you can use it in your ‘bigger strategy.’
Zenzi: As part of your strategy, do you have to set measurable goals in terms of audience numbers, revenue, engagement, etc?
Cali: Yes, definitely, and its so hard to know always where you want to be and what that magic number is. It’s like, okay, we’ve had this many conversions on the website to sales, or this many visitors, but despite saying it’s difficult it is something I measure. Sometimes it is amount of engagement; sometimes it’s as simple as page views online. In addition to that quantitative measuring however, I also do a lot of qualitative measuring, like writing down user stories and case studies around what has worked and what hasn’t, because that’s something you can look back on. It’s not as sexy as the numbers are, but I find it to be really useful to have those stories.
Zenzi: On a lighter note, what is the first thing you do in the morning when you go online?
Cali: Email, with Twitter pretty close behind. It didn’t use to be email, and it was only recently that I started using this app called TimeHop, which feeds you that day last year, and what you were doing based on your social feeds. I get on, and I don’t know why, but it’s a lot of fun to see what I did on this day a year ago. But I don’t check work email until I get to the office, because it’s this cycle you get into, and you’re like, ‘gotta check, gotta check,’ when really, you’re not going to be able to act on it, just mull about it, and then you stress.
Zenzi: What are your favorite apps?
Cali: I use Evernote all the time, to take notes, collect writings, do content strategy, save pictures, save websites. I use Sprout Social for all my social media, which is really great. A fun one is Whack Pack. You open it, and you say, ‘Give Me a Whack’ and it gives you these cards that are a way to think about something creatively. For example, it gives you a scenario, and you’re facing this creative challenge and it says ‘do the opposite.’ It’s kind of hokey, but it’s awesome when you’re in a rut. I also just like that it says ‘Give Me a Whack!’
Please note: A few responses have been abridged, and are not direct quotes.
Photo Credit: Cali Harris