Patrick O’Keefe: Community Manager

MBTI: I took an online test back in 2015 (found it in my email archives) and was ENFP.
Educational Background: I was homeschooled for grades K-12. I graduated high school a year early and was already working in online communities, so I just continued down that path. The only reason I would have gone to college would have been to play baseball.
Current Computer/Mobile Device: I use a Google Pixel 2. It’s the first top of market phone I’ve ever owned. I was able to get 50 percent off through T-Mobile! My main computer is a Dell Inspiron 3668, with three old 19” Dell 1907 FP monitors. I am way overdue for a monitor upgrade. My laptop is an Asus Zenbook UX305UA.

Patrick's Google Pixel 2 home screen
Patrick’s Google Pixel 2 home screen

If you could do just one thing to improve the planet right now, what would it be?

Is this sort of a snap your fingers like Thanos thing? If so, ending slavery and trafficking of all kinds seems like a good thing. If not that, then health care needs a reboot. Who profits from it? Who pays for it? Who dies from a lack of it? Let’s start there.

What do you do for a living?

I am the director of community at The Community Company, where we build community-driven programs for global brands and media companies. I lead a small team responsible for our online engagement efforts, where we connect our members, across our portfolio of communities, including Forbes Councils and the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Aside from money, what else have you gained from your job?

Health insurance. Ha. No, seriously, when I was interviewing for various jobs, one thing that popped up with several folks is that I had always worked for myself. It didn’t matter that I had launched these communities or managed communities for this long, or that I wrote a book that was read by thousands of community pros, or that I had spoken or consulted for these companies.

They just wanted to see some logos on my LinkedIn. And because I didn’t have them, I was less likely to be seriously considered. The irony is that I’ve turned away opportunities at Apple and Facebook. But much smaller companies, who dream to become them, would pass over me.

What was your childhood dream?

To be a baseball player. I wanted to be a rocket scientist first, but the baseball player dream was the bigger one.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a while? If so, what is it and why haven’t you?

There are different things. One thing I can share would be writing another book. It’s just a time thing. Day job, my work outside of that (like my podcast and, family, friends, girlfriend, my health. I’m balancing it all, as well as a move to Los Angeles. Also, I feel like I need just to shut off for a while and stop being influenced by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

Will Smith released a rap teaser, and it opens with this: “At my peak, I was doing a television show, a movie and an album every year. So, it was like, churning out that creativity, what happens is you get to a point where you get empty.”

I can identify with that. I put out a couple of books, and I was writing about community at least twice a week, and I was hosting a podcast, and I was managing a bunch of communities, and I was participating in industry conversations, and I was speaking at conferences and events. And it can just get to a point where you want to step back. And that’s what I did. Of course, the vacuum you leave creates a small opening for people who act like they built The WELL in the ‘80s.

What are you looking forward to most about Los Angeles?

Moving in with my girlfriend! After that, going to Disneyland and exploring the West Coast. I’ve spent so little time out there.

What are your favorite apps/tools that help you do what you do?

Infusionsoft as a CRM and GoTranscript for podcast transcription. I use a bunch of tools, but those are two that perform well in my experience.

What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you?

When I was a kid, I discovered the internet and “made websites” when that seemed like a joke job. Then I built online communities. It didn’t always feel like the greatest or most promising thing for a kid to do, and my parents didn’t understand it. To them, I’m sure it looked like I was sitting on the computer all day (and I was). And then, as I mentioned before, I didn’t go to college.

My parents didn’t put any particular pressure on me to go to college or hurry up and get a “real job.” That may not seem like much, but a lot of people didn’t have that sort of encouragement to explore and find what they wanted. That doesn’t mean parents who try to push their children are necessarily good or bad parents.

I’ve had my ups and downs in my career, but I never felt like my parents weren’t proud of me or that I was letting them down. I think that’s an incredibly kind thing to do for your kids.

What makes you angry?

I am in a general state of disbelief at the level to which other Americans are willing to tolerate from Donald Trump that which would have previously been considered intolerable not long ago. He is the embodiment of so many traits that, conventionally, you would not want your child to embody.

In a way, it’s one of the greatest con jobs of all time. If it were not real, if it were not my country, it could be hilarious. He’s pretty much everything a stereotypical elite is: born into money, handed every opportunity, rich, from New York, privileged in every single way. And yet he convinced a bunch of poor folks that he’s just like them. He played them. He attached himself to the issues that single-issue voters are willing to disregard all other principles for; it’s brilliant.

Even now, he does it. He treats the average American as if they are the dumbest person walking on this planet. He lies to them, directly and often. He sells gaudy hats with the stars and stripes “in honor of Memorial Day,” and talks about respect for the flag. He praises brutal dictators, as long as they have a kind word for him.

He’s succeeded, and incredibly so, at lowering the standards to a point where many Americans have been duped into believing there aren’t any at all. D.C. is the “swamp,” so Trump can’t be any worse. CNN or The New York Times or The Washington Post had to apologize for an error in a story, so naturally, they can be trusted no more than you would trust Fox News, Breitbart or I made that last one up, but does it even matter? They’d believe it if it said the Clintons led an underground ring of ball pits aimed at abducting children.

As long as you don’t admit something and apologize for it, it didn’t happen. That’s Trump’s world, and his supporters are complicit. It feels like the truth means less than it ever has.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

Puff Daddy is my life coach. I’ll go ahead and give that as an answer, instead of saying something like my Mom and Dad.

For what are you most grateful?

Having people who care about me.

What does it mean to allow another person to truly love you?

I think honesty is in there somewhere. Just being honest, and being able to be yourself.

What inspires you?

Music, rain, going for a walk and seeing a challenge I know I can find a solution for.

What’s something you can do or know how to do better or differently than most people?

In the online community space, I genuinely believe in the importance of highlighting those who have come before me. I take pride in knowing the history of this work, and in paying respect to the legends of those who came before me. It kills me when folks don’t realize that the work we do is cyclical. When a new person acts like they just invented or “professionalized” the industry, the originators snicker.

But at the end of the day, when it comes to building and managing online communities, I believe I can hold my own with anyone.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I won a modeling competition when I was a kid. It was something I wanted to do, so I did one, and the boys’ category was just me and some older guy, but a win is a win. I had different looks and everything. And then I retired. My Mom asked me if I wanted to do it again, and I didn’t.

What do you feel your impact is on those around you? What would you like it to be?

I keep a small circle. I would like to hope that my influence is, in general, one that is empowering them toward bigger things. It is a sad, strange thing when your friend or your boss doesn’t want you to advance in this world, even if it means leaving them.

When I interview community managers who will report to me, I tell them if they want to move up in this field, that’s what I want for them, too. If they work hard, in a couple of years, they will be promoted, take my job, or they will be moving on to a new opportunity. Those are my expectations for them because those are the expectations I have for myself.

When you make sacrifices for your work, do you tell people or keep it to yourself?

It depends what you mean by sacrifices. I don’t want to be a martyr. However, depending on what it is, I’ll share that with my podcast listeners, my friends, family or girlfriend. Who I tell, and if I tell, is probably determined by how sensitive it is.

What do you do to recharge yourself?

During a workday, I might take a walk, talk to my parents or brothers or get an iced latte. Beyond that, I try to unplug from my notifications for a while and do other things. My work allows me to work remotely, so I can always take a trip and work from somewhere else. That can help.

Where is your favorite place?

I don’t have a favorite place. I’ve been to a lot of cool places.

What’s the top three coolest places?

I need to travel more. I have done virtually no international travel. But I love theme parks, so Orlando is excellent to me. I like being in the woods and hiking, so I’ll say Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, because of some family memories. And I love New York City for all sorts of reasons. They may not be my top 3, but they’re up there.

If you could take a one-month trip anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?

I’m guessing “Europe” is a bit of a cop-out. But I’ve never been to Europe, so if I could pick a couple of countries, I’d do that. Travel around, look at the architecture, go to some museums, eat some food and take some trains.

When it comes to your personal and professional accomplishments, how do you celebrate your victories? How do you keep track of them? Do you keep a list? Add it to your resume and LinkedIn? A trophy room in your home, etc.?

Professionally, I do think it’s crucial to document fact-based success. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else will. That’s how you have to approach it, and then be pleasantly surprised if anyone does. Community pros can be shy about this, but we have to be willing to ask for that next opportunity.

I don’t know that I keep track. I don’t journal or anything like that. My celebrations are usually low-key. Maybe we can take a trip, but more likely, we’ll go out and do something fun and have a good meal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Just ask. The worst someone can do is say no.

What scares you most?

Achieving my greatest success when the people who would care the most are no longer here.

How do you define success?

Big picture, I think success is being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. I’m not there.

Smaller picture, I find success in everyday life. An increase in numbers, the next step in a relationship, achieving a stable balance in my work and personal lives. These are all things I count as a success before I move on. I think it’s important to celebrate the small victories. Quickly, but still.

Who is your favorite person to follow on social media?


You ran a Bad Boy fansite for over seven years. What is it about Diddy that drew you to him?

Initially, the sound. I became a fan in 1997, and it was the sound. My parents mostly listen to rock, and I can bop along to most music, but when I heard what Bad Boy Records was making in 1997… I’ll be listening to “Victory” until the day that I die.

What is a song, album or playlist that everyone should hear?

I have no idea. Any song or album I thought of, I was like, “should” they hear it? Like musical tastes are so different, and I respect that. It’s odd to me when parents are proud that their kids like the same music as them.

My parents encouraged us to find our tastes. I’m the oldest of three, and my tastes skew toward rap and hip-hop. My middle brother listens to a lot of rock music. And the youngest is into electronic music. There is some crossover, and there are artists that we both or even all of us appreciate, but still.

“Victory” by Puff Daddy is my favorite song if I have to choose one. Then I thought of the album it came from, No Way Out, which I regard as a classic. Then I thought about a safe answer like Ready to Die. All of that aside, how about Camp by Childish Gambino (with the bonus tracks)? It’s a pretty diverse album, style-wise. From “Freaks and Geeks” and “Bonfire” to “Bonfire” and “Kids (Keep Up).”

What piece of literature has influenced you the most?

Without being too facetious, I read a lot of Berenstain Bears books. There are a lot of useful lessons there. A more serious answer might be Hank Aaron’s biography. I can remember reading it as a kid and being amazed.

What’s your favorite lesson from The Berenstain Bears?

Don’t talk to strangers! Although, I went ahead and did so. But as a kid, I watched the VHS tape that went with the book so many times.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

Details matter.

What are you currently reading or is the last book you read?

Can audiobooks count? If so, The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve read online recently?

Articles about the premiere of Explained on Netflix. Kara, my girlfriend, joined the company in December, and this is the first show to be released that she was substantially involved in.

In conversation do you tend to talk or listen more?

I think it’s a reasonable balance. I see myself as an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get going sometimes.

What are you looking for when you have a conversation with someone? What topics do you want to discuss?

I don’t think there is necessarily any rhyme or reason that applies across the board. It’s more related to the person: what they do, what their connection is, what brought us together.

Do you have a favorite restaurant? If so, what is it?

I don’t know if I have a favorite, but I’ll name a few. Hemingway’s in Orlando, Prune and John’s Pizza in New York City, LemonFish in Hollywood, Founding Farmers in D.C. and Joe’s Stone Crab in D.C. or Miami. Chains? P.F. Chang’s and Mellow Mushroom.

What is your favorite comfort food?

I don’t think I have one.

What is your favorite food to prepare?

Pizza, grilled shrimp and tacos are the first things that come to mind.

If you were able to see into the future about your life, what two things would you want to know?

I’m not sure I’d want to know. That’s a scary prospect to me. I want to take it as it comes.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

I am not known for my spontaneity. Even a lot of the things I do that seem spontaneous are planned. My spontaneity is something like my girlfriend is flying into Norfolk, Virginia, but her flight is canceled, so we agree to meet in D.C. that night instead. Nothing earth-shattering.

Do you have a mantra or quote that guides your life?

Stay focused.

Alternatively, “I’m a marathon runner, not a sprinter.” — Diddy

What is your most significant accomplishment? Is there anything you hope to do even greater?

Professionally, I think Managing Online Forums is my greatest accomplishment. I wrote a book about online community from 2003 through 2007. It was available in March of 2008, and we put a book about forums in every Barnes & Noble in the country, which wasn’t a small feat (and my publisher, AMACOM, deserves most of the credit for that).

Though plenty of things came before it (works by Howard Rheingold, Derek Powazek, Amy Jo Kim and others), most books targeted at community work came later, and pretty much all currently active online community pro resources did, as well. It was early in that sense, even then.

I do think my greatest work is ahead of me, but I am not quite sure what it will be.

What has been your biggest disappointment in life, and how did you handle it?

I have been fortunate in my life. My biggest disappointments, though they meant something to me, aren’t that big, in the grand scheme of things.

When is the last time you cried and why?

Cried might be putting it a bit dramatically, but I teared up a little when I was talking to my brothers about how I’d be moving away from them both. We’re close, and it’ll be tough. My middle brother went away to college and lived apart from us for a while, but not that long. And I’ve never lived away from my youngest brother.

I don’t remember the last time I straight up cried, but Toy Story 3 was a disaster. Movies make me cry so easily. No more Pixar movies. I’m good.

What is happiness to you?

Knowing that the people closest to me are happy and healthy. I was at SXSW one year, and someone asked me, “What’s wrong in your life?” I think he was trying to seem smart or intellectual or something. But as long as my people are healthy, the rest is gravy. We can overcome the other challenges.

What would you regret not fully being, doing or having in your life?

Being present with the people who mattered most. It is a frightening thought to reach the end, and realize that you took time away from them, only to spend it on things that made no difference.

When you are 80, what will matter to you most?

Family, I hope.

How would you like to be remembered?

It’s hard to answer this without sounding cliched. I love the Martin Luther King quote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I try to live my life that way.

Who would you like to answer these questions?

Brandon Eley, Denzil Coleman and Carol Benovic-Bradley.

Connect with Patrick O’Keefe

Follow him on Instagram and Twitter

Listen to his podcast, Community Signal