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What a community can do for your product – for product managers
Today we are talking about building a community for a brand or product. Which reminds me that this episode is sponsored by the Product Mastery Now Community—that’s right, we have a community for listeners of this podcast. Do you want to meet the podcast guests and ask them questions? We make that happen because community members are invited to the live recordings, which take place three months before they are published publicly. Want additional expert sessions? We make that happen too. Want to join a mastermind for peer-learning? That’s also part of the community. You can also search all the past episodes (over 400 at this point) to learn insights on any topic. Find out more and apply to be a member at ProductMasteryNow.com/Community.
So this episode is about communities. What can a community do for a brand or product? It can provide growth, help clarify messaging that resonates with your ideal customer, and provide co-creation opportunities. LEGO, Starbucks, Wyze Consumer Electronics, and many more companies have found customer communities essential to their growth.
To help us explore what is involved in creating a community, Bri Leever is with us. She is a community strategist who designs and implements communities for brands. She is also the person who helped me create the Product Mastery Now Community, and she shared many valuable insights with me in the process. You’ll find her at Ember Consulting, which she founded to help companies build meaningful communities. She and her colleagues also post dissections of public communities on Youtube at her Bri Leever channel.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:49] Why should product people care about communities?
I like to frame community work in a product-driven perspective—What’s a problem our customer has, and how can we create a product that can help solve that problem for them? The community-led approach asks, What’s a problem our customer has, and how can we foster a space where that customer can start to solve that problem with other people who are solving a similar problem? When you’re coming from a product perspective, once you’ve solved the problem you lose insight into how that problem continues to evolve for the customer. The community-led approach creates a space where that conversation about the problem is happening. You can stay extremely attuned to the problem you’re trying to solve, whether you have a product that helps solve that problem or just foster the community space.
Product and community work well together because a community gives you the landscape to test new ways to solve that problem and keeps you attuned to how the problem evolves for your target customer.
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[6:51] What are some different kinds of communities?
- Ambassador community—community members have sales incentives to sell products.
- Customer support community
- Product community—where you can get input from your top customers
- Customer success community—focused on learning, especially for highly technical products that requires a course to enhance the customer experience
A healthy community is highly cross-functional and hits different objectives across different departments in your organization. Usually the best place to start is to pick one, get some traction, and go from there.
[8:55] What is an example of a public community that does many things well?
The LEGO IDEAS community is a product community where members can propose a CAD design of a new LEGO set, people can vote on it, and it can be brought to production. There was on highly engaged member who had earned a special badge in the community, which they had put in their Instagram profile. When someone’s status in an internal community becomes so important to that they share it externally as an identifier, that’s when you know something really powerful is happening in the community.
Another example is the Spotify community. They have focused their community efforts more on their product, the Spotify app. One of my main critiques is they have not fostered micro-communities for their artists.
[14:26] What are some practical tips for making a community happen?
To get started, regardless of where you’re at in the community-building journey, get on the phone with your top customers. You have to understand what your customers are looking for and what types of people they’re looking to connect with. Get on the phone with 30 or 100 people. You’ll have a community strategy born out of those conversations. A slightly more scalable approach is hosting a focus group with some of your top customers, which is something Chad and I did when launching the Product Mastery Now community. There was one member up at 2am in Eastern Europe for the focus group. It was crazy how committed these people were that they were willing to get up in the middle of the night to be part of co-creating the community.
Although it won’t work for every community, consider making your community a landscape where you are connecting experts to people who are trying to learn something. In a brand-led approach, the brand puts out content to teach people in the community. In a community-led approach, the community is a place where people collaborate and create content together. A great way to make your community a landscape like that is to make is a gathering place where experts and lay people are able to meet. One of the first mistakes I usually see in communities is the brand just produces content rather than creating a space where members can create content with each other. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to be involved in the community. There’s actually more work because you have to be more thoughtful about how you are prompting people to participate. It’s a lot easier to write an article than it is to influence people’s behaviors to create something themselves. Avoid thinking you have to have a ton of content to have a community.
We tend to equate chatter with conversation, but having lots of comments doesn’t necessarily mean there’s valuable conversation happening in your community. Not everything needs to be super serious in your community, but watch out for vanity metrics to inflate your ego more than metrics that matter for the community.
[23:13] What are your thoughts on looking for a technical platform to host a community?
We’re not talking about a community of people commenting on social media posts. We’re talking about a dedicated space where you are fostering not just your relationship with your customer but also relationships between customers. That is so important and valuable it necessitates its own dedicated space. People think they can build communities on Facebook and Slack. To me, there are three pillars of community—events, conversation, and content. Slack provides only conversations. Facebook groups don’t foster a dedicated space for community. Analogously, it’s hard to foster community at a Starbucks inside a Target store than in a beautiful boutique coffee shop. You need a dedicated space that is safe and exclusive to your community.
Instead, use a community platform. I tend to build communities in creator community platforms. The Product Mastery Now community is an example of a creator community. For creator communities, there are three main platforms.
The oldest and most well-known is Mighty Networks. I do not recommend it because the user experience is incredibly difficult to navigate and it’s built on old technology.
Circle is where we built Chad’s Product Mastery Now community. They’re an asynchronous platform that started with a heavier emphasis on conversation, but they’ve built out a lot more functionality around events and content. They also have courses now.
Heartbeat is the newest one. They are more events-centric. If the events pillar in your community is the strongest, Heartbeat might be a better fit. They also have courses and conversations.
Circle and Heartbeat are fairly templated. You can change the format of the spaces, but they tend to be really easy to get up and running and cost-effective because they’re not completely customizable.
[29:49] What are the mistakes you’ve seen made in community design that we should avoid?
Pay attention to habit formation and how you’re incentivizing people. This should follow three steps: prompt, action, reward. Think about all the actions a member could take that would be a win for the community—creating an introduction post, volunteering to lead an accountability group, or proposing a new idea to the community. Then work backwards to figure out what the prompt for the action is. Consider supporting resources, such as training. Then figure out what the reward will be. Nine times out of ten it is not a financial reward. My favorite type of reward is recognition, and it is the most powerful type of reward, even more than financial rewards. Influence habit formation through those three steps in order: prompt, action, reward.
Often, people designing communities make the mistake of reversing that order. In ambassador programs, influencers are sent the product and asked to post about it, Don’t hand out gree stuff hoping it will inspire people to take action. It’s not going to work. Provide the reward after the action.
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“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.