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Meet the 2021 Engagement Experts

Higher Logic is recognizing these influential leaders for their exciting work in engagement. Meet the 2021 Engagement Experts.

In 2020, we all had to come up with new ways to engage our audience and stand out. Today, Higher Logic is recognizing leaders who impressed us with their fresh and inspiring engagement strategies.

Our 2021 Engagement Experts are champions of their members and customers.

The Engagement Experts are people who:

  • See the value in continually learning from their members and customers and creating spaces for them to learn from each other
  • Know that improved programs and products, inspiration, and growth will come through increased customer and member engagement
  • Believe that the power of connection is worth investing in, from new ideas and inspiration to increased satisfaction and loyalty
  • Communicate the tangible business benefits of improved customer and member engagement

We wanted to shine a spotlight on their innovative leadership for your benefit.

Are you ready to meet this creative group?

Before we dive in, don’t miss our Experts’ must-have insights for your engagement strategy.

Introducing the 2021 Engagement Experts

Georgina Donahue

Georgina Donahue

Current role: Director of Community, Pragmatic Institute

Most Successful Engagement Tactic: “New member welcome calls, by a long shot. Twice a month we hold small, informal calls to get to know new members, give them a personal tour of the community space, and help them to meet some new friends right off the bat.” (Don’t miss the full Pragmatic Institute community story.)

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Kristi Faltorusso

kristi Faltorusso

Current role: Vice President of Customer Success, Intellishift

2020’s Impact on Engagement: “I’ve seen a huge shift in the attitude and mindset around engagement in a big way in 2020. Navigating a global pandemic which required a shift to working from home and quarantine, people had a strong desire to stay and feel connected to other people. Communities have empowered and enabled people to build connections. In 2020, I built hundreds of new relationships because of this shift, and as result it has made me better.”

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Emily Cowan

emily cowan

Current role: Online Communities and Social Channels Manager, American Society of Anesthesiologists

Most Successful Engagement Tactic: “So far our single most successful engagement activity has been the ‘Write a Happy Story’ contest we held over the Thanksgiving holiday. It had been a long, hard year for everyone, and we needed all needed a little pick-me-up. The challenge was to write a happy anesthesiology story in five words or less, and the winner (drawn at random) received some ASA swag. It was our best-performing thread for the month! What’s great about this is that it’s quick, anyone can participate, and it applies to virtually any interest or group.”

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Ellie Wu

Current role: Senior Director, Customer Experience Transformation, SAP Concur Technologies Inc.

Most Successful Engagement Tactic: “Curated networking with peers has been a personal favorite and provided the best feedback from participants. Being able to share and learn with others looking to tackle similar problems develops a synergy and creates growth through meaningful connections. It’s an engagement activity that can continue to create more ongoing value.”

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Heather Wendt

Current role: Content and Community Manager, Association of Christian Schools International

About Heather: In Heather’s role at ACSI, one of her responsibilities is to identify strategic plans and community processes. In addition to the usual ways of using a member community (peer collaboration, education, professional development, etc.), Heather and team creatively engage members in their online community with special programs like collaboration networks, contests, book clubs, and ask the speaker sessions.

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Katie Cammer

katie cammer

Current role: Senior Manager, Growth and Expansion, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association

2020 Engagement Highlight: “We saw about a 20% increase in community engagement/networking events in 2020 over 2019 and the average number of events attended per member increased by 200% over 2019. These types of events were small, often specific to a local geography, that allowed our members to stay connected even though they couldn’t be together in person. The follow-up engagement in the community speaks for itself.”

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Kelly Gardner

kelly gardner

Current role: Web and Communications Manager, American Physical Therapy Association

2020 Engagement Highlight: This year, Kelly took the opportunity to automate manual processes for teams outside of Marketing and Membership. For example, the Finance team faced a labor-intensive project every time they had to process credit card payments and declines. She created several automated workflows to help the team handle these processes, streamlining member communication and increasing staff capacity.

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Kim FitzSimmons

kim fitzsimmons

Current role: Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, American Association of Endodontists

Tips for Getting Buy-in on Your Engagement Strategy: Share the value. “Online communities allow you to keep a pulse on the value you’re providing to your members. It provides deeper connections, information sharing, and allows you to be part of the conversation that is taking place with your members.”

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James Woods, Melanie Giuliani, Norah Alsudani

blue prism

Current role: James is Community Manager; Melanie is Online Community Manager & Strategist; Norah is Community Strategy Director at Blue Prism

2020 Engagement Story: High engagement is one of Blue Prism’s founding community intents, and the team keeps pushing the boundaries. Blue Prism’s customers named the Community as the #1 feature that has extended the capabilities of their teams and their use of the Blue Prism product. Blue Prism Community have also rolled out several programs to keep their customers engaged, including 24-hour hackathon challenges, local User Group sessions, an incentivized mentoring program, and an MVP program to highlight top users.

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Brandon Vogel

brandon vogel

Current role: Social Media Strategist, New York State Bar Association

About Engagement: “I define engagement as lots of discussion that’s an indispensable part of our members’ day. Our discussions went up 50% at the height of the pandemic. Members needed the connection that only our community could provide.”

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Marjorie Anderson

Current role: Product Manager, Digital Communities, Project Management Institute

How 2020 Changed the Way We Engage: “Engagement has become less about ‘what can we get people to do to keep coming back’ and more about ‘what’s the value we can add to create a lasting relationship with our members.’ It’s less transactional which, in my mind, is definitely a step in the right direction.”

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Tirza Austin

Current role: Manager, Online Community, American Society of Civil Engineers

2020 Engagement Highlight: “We developed a virtual roundtable series to support our members during the pandemic. We had over 1,200 unique registrations over the past year. We listened to the community to create topics and questions and continued the conversation in our discussion forums. We saw community activity increase by 62% from the previous year.”

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Beth Arritt

beth arritt

Current role: Staff Vice President, Marketing, American Association of Airport Executives

About Beth: Beth was busy improving how AAAE communicated with & engaged members this past year. In fact, Beth earned Higher Logic’s 2020 Super Forum Award for Top Digital Marketer of the Year.  Here are just a few of her highlights:

  • Creating and using subject scoring to deliver personalized news, resources, news, and ads to members
  • Automating many staff processes, saving hours each month
  • Building an email nurture program for the AAAE accreditation program

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Ashleigh Brookshaw, M.A.

ashleigh brookshaw

Current role: Manager, Community Engagement, American Society of Safety Professionals and the Founder and CINO of C2M Digital, LLC

How 2020 Changed the Way We Engage: “Virtual engagement is no longer optional but critical to sustained organizational culture and business success. Businesses are learning they need to pivot and/or implement online community and virtual engagement to stay relevant or better serve their customers.”

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Sarah Lesway-Ball

sarah lesway ball

Current role: Senior Director, Global Experience Marketing, Juniper Networks

About Sarah: In her work at Juniper Networks, Sarah has transformed the traditional community and reference programs into a full-scale engagement platform, including engineering communities, joint storytelling, speaking opportunities, and annual awards. She’s passionate about building thriving communities and amplifying brand advocates through joint storytelling.

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Ariel Brandt Lautman

Ariel Brandt Lautman

Current role: Director, Information Systems, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

Tips for Getting Buy-in on Your Engagement Strategy: “Communicate the value. When done right, our online member community helps our members solve problems before they become problems. They help the members help one another. Giving people the ability to answer their own questions is very empowering. And it allows us to understand members’ needs in a very organic way. It means we don’t have to field as many surveys – we can look at the community and understand what people are talking about. It gives us that opportunity to understand what members need from us and what kind of resources we can provide to them.”

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Chris Detzel

Current role: Community Program Manager, Reltio

Most Successful Engagement Tactic: “In the past, I’ve had great success with webinar programs that included four types of webinars: Ask Me Anything sessions, technical webinars about our products, product roadmap, and new product webinars. These webinars were interactive and created more ways for customers and partners to engage.  Customers were able to engage more in the community and create more engaging content.”

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Patricia White

Patricia White at asndt

Current role: Membership Specialist, American Society for Nondestructive Testing

2020 Engagement Highlight: “The concierge program has received high praise from our members. All too often, an email can get passed over, and a broadcast ignored because they seem impersonal. We call every new domestic member and welcome them to ASNT as part of the concierge program. The program informs our new members how to review their information, tells them of special programs based upon their career path, and introduces them to possible volunteer opportunities. When I talk to our new members on the phone, it allows them the opportunity to ask questions that they may have otherwise left unanswered. Getting to know who our most recent members are and having them say how nice it is to hear from someone leads to more engaged members.”

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Aslan Noghre-kar

aslan noghre kar

Current role: VP, Enterprise Community, Change Healthcare

Most Successful Engagement Tactic: “Community champion show & tell meetings. These are calls where community champions get together and present their learnings or interesting work they’ve been focusing on to the broader community. The true value happens in the chat and interactions that members obtain in an informal virtual event setting.”

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Ari Hoffman

Current role: Director of Customer Advocacy, Coveo

2020 Engagement Highlight: “We did a digital awards program that was incredibly successful from a customer, company, and prospect perspective. We tiered our awards into an “Inspire, Explain, and Do” campaign that allowed others to engage in the journey in a meaningful way.

  • Inspire: Interviewed the winner’s boss to publicly celebrate them on social
  • Explain: A short 5-10 min video interview with winner discussing why they won the award
  • Do: A webinar diving into the how and what the winner did to achieve success

We celebrated 17 customers in 3 categories across 4 lines of business. The results were incredible, from engagement, to customer visibility, to opportunities. We saw customers getting celebrated and awarded internally by their organizations, we saw new deals (net new, upsells, cross-sells) come in, and most importantly, we were able to drive awareness from social to our website without paid advertising by demonstrating that helping sells.”

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Jeanne Martinez

jeanne martinez

Current role: Online Services Administrator, International Legal Technology Association

2020 Engagement Highlight: In 2020, Jeanne and team leveraged their online community platform to deliver their annual event in a virtual environment. They had to transition their in-person event to a virtual event in a little over 6 weeks, which was a huge feat. They saw great results: The virtual conference included five days of educational tracks, networking, and an exhibitor hall, surpassing the expectations of their attendees.

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Brian Oblinger and Erica Kuhl

oblinger and kuhl

Current role: Independent Consultants, and Podcast Co-Hosts at In Before the Lock Podcast

Tips for Getting Buy-in on Your Engagement Strategy (Brian): “It’s all about mapping what you’re doing to the high-level objectives of the business and participating in the success of those initiatives. Community can no longer be a silo, it has to be part of the solution at the highest of levels.”

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Kelly Schott and Jim Storer

schott and storer

Current roles: Kelly is Lead Community Manager; Jim is Co-Founder at The Community Roundtable

Tips for Getting Buy-in on Your Engagement Strategy (Kelly): “Get the data! Define success for your community. Talk to stakeholders, talk to executives, talk to members, and see what people are looking to get out of the community program. Determine what metrics you can pull and start collecting those that match what will help you measure success.

(Then) find data or benchmarks to compare to. If you cannot find any industry reports or best practices, benchmark against yourself. Show how much the community has grown or produced over time and create a projection moving forward to show to stakeholders.

Most Successful Engagement Tactic (Jim): “We have a weekly Work Out Loud thread in TheCR Network and it consistently gets solid engagement. What I like most about it is that it creates a predictable cadence and creates transparency into what others in the community are thinking about and working on. Invariably, this thread creates opportunities to connect that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. It also helps to create accountability, which our members love.”

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Venessa Paech

venessa paech

Current role: Director, Australian Community Managers

About Venessa: Venessa is a global authority on communities and community management. She has led Community for, Lonely Planet, Envato, and Australia Post among others. She founded Australian Community Managers (ACM), a network for community managers, in 2009. She runs the annual Australian Community Manager Career Survey and with ACM, authored the first code of ethics for the region.

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Lauren Sopko

lauren sopko

Current role: Senior Director, Collaborative Systems, Internet Society

About Lauren: Lauren leads the strategy, execution, and management of technical solutions at the Internet Society, making sure that all things tech run smoothly to support a smooth member experience. Her goal is to keep user experience in focus, increase adoption, and return on investment.

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Deb Seys and Cathy Liu

deb seys and cathy liu

Current role: Deb is Director of Customer Programs – Content and Community; Cathy is Community Program Manager at Alation

Define Engagement: “Engagement is built into the heart of our product. Alation is passionate about helping our customers create a data culture, and we are supporting that mission by connecting with our data users in the community.”

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Pam Rosenberg

Current role: Manager of Learning and Development, Risk Management Association

Tips for Getting Buy-in on Your Engagement Strategy: “Figure out who your community ambassadors [or community super users] are. Write job descriptions for them so you’ll have proper expectations. When you begin, especially if it’s new to your members and your industry, set low expectations and don’t be afraid of failing.”

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Matt Lawson

Current role: Manager, Online Communities, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, Inc.

2020 Engagement Highlight: “Everyone in the world was making a rush to figure out how to adapt to COVID so that work and life could continue. Communities already had the upper hand in this regard. So what we needed to do was not think about new and niche engagement methods that work, but rather double down on the day-to-day activities that already make us a great place for this situation; so that our channels can remain open, welcoming, and active for engagement, which the Higher Logic platform’s automation rules are great for.”

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Tom Morrison

Current role: CEO of MTI Management, Metal Treating Institute

2020 Engagement Highlight: “MTI did weekly check-ins during COVID where we collected answers to four questions. We then communicated the results weekly back to members through our community. These became vital to members in making key decisions in their plants.”

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Reggie Henry

reggie henry asae

Current role: Chief Information and Engagement Officer, American Society of Association Executives

Engagement Story: Reggie and his team use Collaborate, ASAE’s online member community, as members’ town square. Members can initiate engagement and connection, collaborating in ways they never have before. Reggie wanted a place where community could happen, where people realized that they had a voice.

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Abby Hammer

Current role: Chief Customer Officer and Head of Products, ChurnZero

About Abby: In Abby’s work at ChurnZero, she’s Head of Products and Chief Customer Officer. It’s a unique role where she can advance their mission of creating an awesome customer success platform with the actual customer experience at ChurnZero.

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Nick Berry

Current role: Digital Marketing and Publishing Manager, CPA Australia

Advice to Engagement Strategy Newcomers: “Planning and preparation. Some of the most important work in building a successful community is done prior to the launch. Planning and preparation are key, start small and build big, and don’t do everything at once. Get support and buy-in from key business stakeholders internally.”

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Congratulations to the 2021 Engagement Experts!

We hope you were inspired by the work the Experts are doing to engage their members and customers this year. And if you want to unlock the value of engagement for your organization, stay tuned for more insights, tips, and strategies from the Engagement Experts throughout the year.

Jay Nathan

Jay has spent several years in different functional leadership roles in which he has developed a methodology for building, scaling, and operating customer-centered organizations. Jay began his career as an engineer and data architect at Blackbaud before moving into Services and Product leadership roles over the course of 8+ years. With roots planted firmly in the software industry, Jay moved on to become an executive at PeopleMatter which sold to Snagajob in 2016. In 2017, Jay founded Customer Imperative, a consultancy focused on B2B SaaS, which eventually developed the Gain Grow Retain customer success leadership community. In 2020, Customer Imperative was acquired by Higher Logic and Jay joined the team as Chief Customer Officer.

Jay earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Information Systems from Appalachian State University.

Jay loves to connect with and hear from customers, send him an email at