Communicating with customers through online communities and conferences to help product managers succeed.
You need to be using customer communities in your product management work. I was told that SEMRush, makers of a digital marketing platform, had created one of the most effective international communities — one that was not only valuable to product managers to learn about the needs of customers but also one that customers and influencers wanted to join.
To explore how they build and use communities, I spoke with the Head of Global Marketing, Olga Andreinko. She currently leads all SEMrush branding across 50+ countries. In 2018 she was recognized among the 25 most influential women in digital marketing by TopRank. Most importantly for us, she shares her experience creating online and face-to-face communities in ways that specifically help product managers be more successful, creating products customers love.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:50] What’s the power of having an online community around a product?
In an online community, customers can recommend your product to other customers, and that endorsement is much more powerful than anything that you can say about your product.
Another key benefit is the ability to create communities of users and influencers (i.e., lead users, existing customers, potential customers). Product developers can hear feedback and ideas from users, but also from influencers, who are a step ahead of the users in critiquing the product and working toward the future. At SEMrush, we host a user conference and a private conference with 40 influencers so our product owners can hear from both communities.
It’s important to segment carefully to identify influencers. First, I learned the goals of our product owners to select influencers with appropriate personae. We use digital marketing agencies to choose companies we would like to work with. I then look at the tools the influencers are using, what they speak on, and what feedback they have provided before. Finally, I divide them into groups based on the best fit between product owners and influencers.
[15:14] Tell us more about planning an event allowing product managers to talk to customers.
We invite only people we’ve seen in the real world, not just online. Since influencers will be sharing their strong opinions, it’s important that they respect and interest each other. They see value in working with us because we expose them to new markets. There has to be good chemistry. We make sure that those we invite are important to our company and would also be seen as influencers by others. Before the conference, we allow attendees to meet each other through a Facebook group and other social media sites, without sharing personal information. After the event, we maintain the community by continuing the Facebook group. We bring some influencers back each year.
[23:34] How is this event worth the investment in time and money for your organization?
The attendees cover their own travel costs, so we have high-quality speakers to make it valuable for them. Our product owners implement the feedback in their tools. Referrals from influencers benefit SEMrush. We also measure our success by the strength of the online community afterward.
[27:04] What are the alternatives if you can’t create an online community?
We started the community by just chatting with influencers on social media and email. We offered them free accounts in exchange for honest feedback on our tools. We weren’t asking them to refer the product, and we didn’t mention the conference. Influencers are always happy to share feedback. We then began short phone conversations between product owners and influencers, and identified the strongest influencers who were really willing to work with us. If there’s already a conference in your city, you don’t need to organize a whole event. Just identify the speakers who would be willing to talk with you and arrange a meeting with them. Invite the Agile coach or Scrum master to help you structure the meeting so it brings value to the product managers.
[30:40] What do you do throughout the year to foster your online community?
We have a private Facebook group for our paid users. We ask them some questions about the tool when they join the group. In the group, they have quick access to customer support and share a lot of thoughts about the product with other users. We also have influencers, or power users, in the group. We share updates about the product every week or two, and our product owners address questions. We also have a dedicated community manager.
Bonus Question: What are some of your favorite questions to ask to keep conversation moving in an online community?
There are two types of questions. I ask some questions that engage customers but are not tool-related; for example, sharing insights from a book I’m reading really sparks discussion. I also ask questions about tools community participants are using, which help us get feedback.
“If it’s in my head, it’s already possible.” –Olga
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator 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.