Employee Spotlight: Martin O’Brien

By Rob Fawkes on 11 Oct 2021

Welcome to our series of Employee Spotlights, which is inspired by the community spotlights we often share in our communities.

Community Spotlights highlight one member of the community and allow other members to get to know them a bit better, which is exactly what we’re looking to do here as well. Since we see the team here at Standing on Giants as a sort of community, we wanted to introduce you to our ‘members’, and as we think the whole team deserves to be celebrated, you can see this has become a long-running series! 

This time, we sat down and talked to one of our long-term employees Martin, who’s been a community manager for O2 for several years and has recently become Head of Community.

Can you please give a short introduction of who you are and what you do at Standing on Giants?

Sure, my name’s Martin, I joined the team in 2016. I currently work as the Head of Community for O2, which is one of Standing on Giant’s oldest clients. I took over that role at the start of 2021. Before that I had been working as a Community Manager, also for O2, for 5 years.

Martin O’Brien, Head of Community

How did you come to join the company? 

I originally interviewed for a job with the Airbnb team, which I was offered but I couldn’t accept because there was travel involved (different times!) which I couldn’t commit to at the time. A couple of days after I had declined, I got a call that there was actually another role they were recruiting for, which was the Community Manager position for O2. At that time it was headed by Toby who’d been managing the community alone for a while. The community had been very successful with him at the helm so it was time to bring in some support! He took some well-earned time off the week after I joined, so it was a baptism of fire! But it was ok, I knew my way around and got stuck in. 

Was there ever a time you felt was challenging, either in the community or outside of it, in the business? 

Yes, certainly the pandemic last year was very challenging, inside and outside of the community. Especially between March and  May, it was very tough as also the customer service channels within O2 were minimised. The volume spiked about 500 percent, there was a lot of panic, a lot of uncertainty – people were out of work or furloughed or losing their jobs and that had a knock on effect as people didn’t know how to pay their phone bills. So we had a lot of very stressed, very angry customers coming to the community asking for help, who really needed to speak to someone. So that was a very challenging time, making sure we had all the relevant information up, making sure we signposted the best way to advise people how to get help for their various issues. 

We created a new community board as a landing space for new customers. On this board we set up our store and customer service advisors so they could provide account support on the community for the first time. And we created a process of network support to allow experts to fully handle an issue in the channel without having to arrange call-backs or point elsewhere – simply using the private messaging funnel – which we still have in place today. As a result of the critical role it played during the pandemic, the community is now a key asset in the O2 crisis management strategy. So we turned a crisis into a success.

Yes, I can imagine that that must have been hard. And your Head of Community role, was that something you were looking to do, something that you were aspiring to do?

It was a little surprising when they offered me the role. I guess it had always been a long-term goal, either on O2 or another community. But it wasn’t something that I was actively working towards, so yeah it was a lovely surprise and a little bit scary as well. 

What do you think about community management in general? Why is it a great career? What do you enjoy about the work?

 These two are probably very closely linked for me. There is a huge variety of things you have to do as a community manager – there is the data analysis, people management, dealing with conflicts, content creation, managing client relationships. There is also always something unexpected happening. Every morning when you come to work can be different. There might be a major incident on the client site and you have to take care of the situation or you may read the loveliest posts ever. It never gets boring.

What is one thing that you learned recently, industry related or not? 

I definitely think I have learned a lot  about people management skills. It’s definitely been a big adjustment, just learning how to be a supportive manager. Delegating tasks was a big adjustment for me. The fact that you have to let go – not that you don’t trust your team but you feel responsible. In the past I had at least a heavy involvement in the tasks that were on deck and now I have a team to take care of certain things. So learning to relax enough and to trust your team to do a good job. I think I learned a lot in that regard in the past six months. 

What’s the best thing about working for Standing on Giants? 

I suppose the best thing is that the company just treats you like a grown up, there is always a lot of support from the team and management when you need it.  Nobody is micromanaging you or getting on your case about little things. I think it shows a lot of confidence in the employees and a lot of trust. It  feels very empowering. 

Is there somebody who inspires you in your career or personal life?

Oh that’s a good question, and this might be a bit of a random answer maybe but Arnold Schwarzenegger was always somebody who inspired me, purely because I love his attitude. He had three very distinct, incredibly successful careers. From the outside you would say that that person had no business doing any of those things, so just the fact that he could put his mind on something and achieve it, is very inspiring. He started off with body building, I think initially he went on unauthorised leave from the army to take part in his first competition. Then he moved to America, a brand new country, and he became the champion bodybuilder. You know, with a very limited grasp of English, he then moved into the movie business and became one of the most successful people in Hollywood, and then he did a similar thing with politics. So yeah, I always found this ability to just switch careers and just make a go of it very inspirational. 

Last question, what’s something that not a lot of people know about you? 

Over the course of my lifetime I have broken five bones, and all of that happened down the right side of my body. So I broke two fingers, two toes, and my cheekbone. And I’m left-handed, so that worked out nicely. 

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