The community for community builders.
I'm so glad you asked. The LEGO work was some of my favorite of my career! :)
When I joined LEGO, there was literally zero connection between the Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs) community and the company. Never had been in all the years LEGO had been around. My boss, Brad Justus, was the first person from the company that had ever posted to the fan forums on behalf of the company and his first post, as well as my hiring set in motion the first process of formally connecting with the adult fans.
It’s important to understand that at that time, the world was a very different place. We didn’t have the social/community options we do today…. Or even the understanding from colleagues that are just expected in the marketing mix. Hell, we didn’t even have much budget.
So rather than trying to re-invent the wheel with official forums and events and activities for the adult fans, I took a different tact: I tried to elevate what existed with the adult fans already. These folks were ALREADY putting on amazing events, running their own kick ass forums and sites, building image sharing sites. Why would I want to compete??
Even when I started getting relatively small budgets, I spent most of it on travel and projects that helped add sizzle or support to their existing projects. Sometimes because I simply couldn’t do as much with my pitiful budgets. Sometimes because their message of “I don’t work for the company, you too can do what you see in front of you by simply buying LEGO sets at the store like I did” was a better, more powerful message to kids and families.
I didn’t see my job as building parallel or competing programs. My job as a community professional was making their activities amplified, in the world and within the company. I encouraged them and taught them how to get on TV or in the local papers. I convinced my colleagues (sometimes with logic, sometimes with begging and blackmail) to support their events. I helped to create products that appealed to the “small” market of “not boys 7-12” because I just knew that if we could get nerd friendly sets out there, we’d have a massive audience of buyers all over the world. And you see that in the shelves of Target and the desks of offices around the world today.
After years of this kind of “support work”, I moved to formalized programs including the LEGO Ambassador program. lan.lego.com/
This program was meant to formalize the connections between each of the local clubs around the world and our small team. Instead of an ad hoc whack-a-mole conversation process between our tiny team and scores of local clubs and club members all over the world, the LAN was a more formalized way to connect leaders from each club with our team. This helped communication to and from the community.
The important part to recognize here though is that this “community” was a true community in that it was a group of people collectively coming together to do great things. Not just an online platform run by a company. It was a worldwide network of fans who had largely allowed me, the company rep, to join them in their journey. I had to add value or would be politely asked to leave. Or sometimes not so politely asked to leave! Years later, after I’d already left, the company started building their own official platforms. But don’t think that “community” means that you have to build your own platforms. If the community has great stuff in place, spend your money on supporting them! You’d be surprised at how far small amounts of money can go in the community. And sometimes the impact can be far greater (and on multiple vectors) vs. official projects!
PS: You can watch a presentation I gave about Super Fans that included some of the LEGO story here:
There’s also an older slide deck about the LEGO fan story here (although not as helpful without the voice over… reach out if you want to know more :))
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The community for community builders.