If you’re running a product-led or brand community, sometimes you can feel pulled in two directions. You want what’s best for your community, and what’s best for the company. How do you hold these two sides of the equation, while keeping everyone happy?
As a community builder, your first job is to deeply understand the current business needs and challenges. Get as much time as you can with leadership to understand where the business needs to go in the short and long term.
Developing a wholesome community strategy
Here’s what’s helped me develop a community strategy that meets the needs of our whole community (brand and users):
- Understand the mission of the company. Where do we want to be in 20 years if we had all the resources in the world? (You’d be surprised at how many organizations do not have a solid mission.)
- Have a small set of very specific business goals, completely unrelated to community work. These should be solid for at least a business quarter, ideally over the next 6 months to 1 year.
- Understand the resources you have now. Push against the “just ask for what you need” approach that many leaders take. You need to understand what your budget is for the next 6 months, and what company resources you can rely on. A great strategy in any department starts with guardrails, you’ll need these.
- Next, as you’ve heard time and time again in Rosieland, study your people. What are the needs of your community members? You won’t be able to meet them all, but take time to understand them. What are the motivations of your community members? What makes them feel connected, valued, and supported?
Now, what community member needs also align with the organization’s mission, goals, and resources?
An example from Etsy
I was an early team member at Etsy. We were growing very quickly and onboarding was a challenge. Selling online was new to most of our members and they needed a ton of support. We didn’t have enough team members to meet the needs of the Etsy seller community. At the same time, we noticed that many sellers were more than willing to help others get started.
The Etsy Forums were a great place for members to help each other with their most pressing questions. How do I price my work? What happens when I make a sale? What if someone wants to return something to me? Answering these questions helped a seller who was farther along on their journey recognize how much they had learned and had to share, and like they were an important part of the Etsy mission––and they were!
We rewarded these helpful community members with lots of praise and recognition. I would spend extra time supporting them in their journey, and that energy made its way back to the community tenfold.
What other areas can community work meet the needs of the organization and its users?
Acquiring new users/customers
A hoppin’ community space, one that is helpful, generates new connections, ideas, and true support, can be magnetic. When your community members are happy, they will share the word about your community with their networks.
Once in your community’s ecosystem, there will be natural ways for this new community member to find out more about your brand or product from those who are already fans.
Here’s another Etsy example: on Etsy’s ‘birthday’ we really wanted to have a global celebration, however we had little resources. How could we celebrate this day in a big, global way, one that got a lot of attention on social media, but also brought the community together?
We came up with the concept of a yearly Etsy Craft Party. We asked anyone from the community to hold a gathering –– any kind of gathering! –– and to collect RSVPs and to tell us about it.
The parties with the most RSVPs received a box of handmade swag and goodies from the Etsy team. This resulted in hundreds of parties on the same day every year with hundreds of thousands of attendees! Each party generated photos that were posted on social media, and some Etsy sellers even got the attention of local press!
Communities are also a great place to look for stories of user transformation, something a marketing team is always looking to gather and amplify.
Support communities, like Spotify’s support forum, can reduce support costs, for sure, but they should also meet the needs of your community members, the ones that are asking for help and the ones that are the most helpful.
Sometimes helping another person feels so good because it allows you to recognize your own mastery in that space. How can you recognize this mastery?
You’ll also want to have a paid support-focused Community Member on call in these forums during the busiest hours. Consider that helping another user out publicly is a very valuable use of time –– usually when a question is posted publicly, there are probably hundreds of other users out there with the same question. They just haven’t taken the time to post it yet. It’s important to have team members being helpful in these spaces, so your community doesn’t feel like they’re going it alone.
As an organization grows, it’s easy to become further and further away from the real experience your users have with your brand or product.
In my last community role I ran Lyft’s Driver Advisory Council, our only community program. We grew this program to 150 drivers across the U.S. and Canada, and looked for the most influential and helpful drivers to participate. Through this program we created powerful feedback loops. Our council members were embedded in their local driver communities and gathered and deeply understood pain points, stories, and ideas. Our team used this feedback to help our product teams get closer to the true driver experience, influencing future product and policy road maps.
Real user stories, feedback, and ideas are so valuable! Consider tracking feedback submitted and responded to, along with how many ideas led to implementations.
The best brands and organizations support transformation in their users. They’re taking someone through a journey to a better place. How much more powerful could these transformations be if the user has a group of people supporting them along the way?
A customer success team usually gives a user a dedicated team member to support their journey with the organization. As a company grows, it can be harder to support everyone in their unique journeys. Community programs can give your customer success teams insights and support to reach more people, and see more of them reach success.
Consider community programming like accountability groups, book clubs, co-hort courses to support the work of your customer success team.
Questions to ask if you’re developing a new community strategy
- What are the basic needs of your users?
- Which of these could be met by community work?
- How do these needs also support the organization's goals?
Mission & Values
- What are the organization values?
- What community work can exemplify and amplify these?
- What transformation in your users also serves the organization?
- What are the most pressing needs of the business right now?
Need some examples to get your wheels turning?
Dig into how some of our favorite brand communities work: