Community Series | When to Place an Emphasis on Community
How do I know when to invest in building a community for my product?
The first few episodes in our new series have highlighted the power of community when it comes to product. But it is clear that each story – and community – is unique. So how do you know when and how to place an emphasis on community?
In this episode, we share stories that give indicators that placing an emphasis on community is the right decision for a particular product. We’ll also learn how each product and community requires its own individual assessment in order to thrive, along with an interesting revelation about values you place at the center of your efforts.
Listen in to hear part three of our series on community.
Past Episodes Mentioned:
- Scaling a Product While Building a Community with Sara Mauskopf
- Building an Audience Before Your Digital Product Launches
Resources Mentioned:LISTEN NOW
Anna Eaglin: We are back with more from our community series highlighting the power of community when it comes to product. Better Product, the only show that takes a behind the scenes look into how digital products are created.
Christian Beck: The business is built around them and how you too can innovate better product. I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: I'm Anna.
Christian Beck: Welcome to today's show. It can be easy to assume when developing a new product community is going to just happen and when it does develop it will be exactly what you need it to be. But the reality, it's never that simple.
Anna Eaglin: To be clear. This goal of building community is attainable and can of course be an incredible asset. Yet there seems to be some situations where it just comes more naturally.
Christian Beck: All right Anna, I'm curious, are there certain indicators where putting an emphasis on community is the right decision with a particular product?
Anna Eaglin: I think from what we've seen, a couple of things stand out. So one, let's talk about Drift, for example.
Christian Beck: Let's do it.
Anna Eaglin: Dave Gerhardt talked a lot about how no one was talking to product marketers. No one was assembling product marketers and they built a community for product marketers before they ever released the product. And so I think that really shows that when you have a community that no one's really speaking to as a community, you have a great opportunity there to pull them all together and then you have a captive audience.
Christian Beck: Yeah. And I think it also helps you figure out what would best serve that community. In terms of Drift, they based the product off of what they were learning from the community. So I think it's not just a way to sort of figure out how to use community is leveraging a tight knit community as it is, but it's in taking that and baking it into a product.
Anna Eaglin: For sure. I'll give you an example. A community that I'm a part of as a user researcher, we for the longest time nobody was building products for us and no one was talking to us as a community. And as soon as I think, Dovetail is a good example, User Interviews is a good example. As soon as people started talking to us as a community, we felt so heard, we felt so listened to. And I think it builds a loyalty. Even if they don't have a product. The fact that they are talking to you and they know your struggles, that's huge.
Christian Beck: Yeah. So Anna, do you think that that community can be replicated by others or do you think it's the same for every single thing? Is it different? Is it good for some and not right for others? How do you think that works with product?
Anna Eaglin: From what I've seen, there are times when it makes a lot of sense. When you are gathering or creating a community where it's a very niche audience and they have a lot of the same issues and they seem to know each other. I think community makes sense. If you don't know who your target market is and you're testing yourself in different markets or different areas, it doesn't make sense to build a community. Let's take a closer look at some examples where community was a natural fit and what that tells us about the community product relationship at large.
Kyle Pendergast: You'll think it's weird because it's like online. You're like, oh, that's weird. Why is it local if it's online? But a big reason for that is because people connect to your locality more than if we were just some generic e-sports gaming company name. When they see Indy or even if they're from Indiana or the Midwest or they have family or relatives or whatever, they can connect with it so it makes it a little bit easier from a marketing perspective to get people initially in.
Anna Eaglin: That's the voice of Kyle Pendergast co-founder and CEO of Indie Gaming League, which runs online intermural video game leagues in Indianapolis. Their mission is to create a community of gamers across the globe. Community is built into the essence of the product. Even if you're not a gamer yourself you are likely aware that gaming is very communal. For better or for worse. We'll discuss the challenges associated with developing a positive gaming community in one of our upcoming episodes. But for now I want you to focus on Indie Gaming League's mission because there was never a question as to whether they should place emphasis on community. It is literally what they're all about. From the culture of gaming to their focus on a specific geographical area. So Indie Gaming League whose sole mission was to build a community started with three large opportunities they could lean into for funneling users into their platform.
Anna Eaglin: And now they're continuously learning from the ever-growing community. They were able to build from preexisting communities. Because of their ability to connect so closely with their users they've been able to scale their platform in a way that makes for the best experience possible. They're also learning what their community members are willing to pay for, allowing them to monetize in natural ways.
Kyle Pendergast: What we do know definitively is that operating a well organized, well-structured league backed by a positive community of gamers just creates a lot of a network effect and brings in a lot of people continuously. And that's, I think, what we're focused on, just making it really big right now is continuing to make league experience the best that there is and making sure that the community experience around that is the best that it can possibly be. Because I think our philosophy is we'll learn about what people are willing to put money down for and what they're not as we continue to get more people in and test different things. And that's I think our primary goal right now.
Anna Eaglin: There's no debating that the success of Indie Gaming League relied on building the biggest community possible. But just because it isn't always that obvious, it doesn't mean it won't work. Take Drift, for example. Dave Gerhardt is the VP of marketing at Drift and they started out with an idea. What if marketing was a two way conversation? So they set out to change the way marketers interact with potential customers. The first thing Dave was tasked with? That's right. Build a community. There's just one problem. There was no product. So how do you build a community when there is no product? As it turns out, you start with a conversation.
Dave Gerhardt: So we had no website traffic, no leads, we had no blog, we had no podcasts, we had none of the things that we have today. And so my only mission, the only mission David got me was, I need you to build an audience for us. And that was like so fun because it wasn't a hard to think about challenge. This was exactly what I love doing. I just started blogging. Started creating content and launched our podcasts, right? And then started building an email list. And so it was just momentum like every day to come in and create more new stuff because we weren't ready to market our product yet. And so my mission was to build up this audience that could be like a moat for us.
Dave Gerhardt: So when we were ready to launch instead of trying, because I think most companies and I could talk for hours about the benefits of marketing before you have a product, but I think most companies they come up out of nowhere. Nobody's ever heard of them and they're like, "Hey, you don't know who we are but use our product." And even if you have the best product in the world, people don't believe that unless they know you, unless they trust you unless you have a brand. And so for us it was brand and company first and then product.
Anna Eaglin: It was a bold move. A move that paid off. The conversation Dave and the team at Drift started struck a chord with marketers who were hungry for a change and by the time their product, which was completely focused on creating conversations was ready they had an entire audience ready to dive in.
Kyle Pendergast: A moat meaning like you have a competitive advantage you have of somebody to launch to, right? You have people that are already in your store. Imagine you open up a new store and there's already people there, right? So, moat being most companies don't have anybody to launch to. This is you have a built in audience and so you already have an audience of the people that you want to sell to. You've already built a relationship with your dream customers before you even were ready to sell to them.
Anna Eaglin: Community made sense for Drift. They knew their idea of conversational marketing would resonate with people, but in order to get them to actually buy in, they put their core belief in practice. They started the conversation and use the resulting in community to ensure that when Drift went live, it would solve the exact problems their new users needed it to and because of their approach their users felt heard.
Kyle Pendergast: People don't want to hear from a logo. We all want to hear from real people because buyers today are more skeptical than ever and so nobody wants to be sold to. Nobody wants to be marketed to. And so the way you can cut through that is to be real.
Anna Eaglin: Speaking of listening to your community, we heard on a previous episode how Sarah Mauskopf of Winnie used her community to help narrow the focus of her product to connecting parents with childcare. Early on, Sarah looked to a number of metrics including NPS, or net promoter score, to better understand user behavior and how her community might thrive on the Winnie platform.
Sara Mauskopf: I think we were trying to figure out what metrics could really indicate that people were happy with our product and be early indicators for things like retention and what, I wouldn't say we were shocked to find that childcare was the big thing that was changing people's lives. Like we had a lot of people telling us and feedback from users and we could see what they were actually searching for on Winnie. So a lot of the same things were pointing at childcare being the real pain point that we were solving. And so part of also instrumenting NPS was to understand if we'd be able to see that in the data. Like maybe there was another thing people were doing on our platform that was also changing their life just as much, but no, it was around finding daycare and preschool.
Anna Eaglin: Additionally, as Sarah and her team worked to expand their product geographically, they saw a clear uptick in traffic to Winnie leading them to investigate the most valuable parts of their product to their new user base. And again, the answer was clear. Parents were searching for childcare and they were also looking for connection. Understanding the data allowed Sarah to focus Winnie on the right things while investing in her community as a vital asset both now and in the future.
Sara Mauskopf: And so there were a bunch of these things going on at the same time where we had just expanded that to all of California and we were hearing from users that it was changing their life and we were seeing tons of direct traffic, which indicates there's this word of mouth effect going on. And we were seeing ourselves start to rank in Google and get tons of search traffic for the first time. And then we were like, okay, we should probably also try to understand what parts of the product are really important because we're a tiny team and we can only do so many things and at that point childcare also we saw on the metrics it was doing much better than everything else.
Sara Mauskopf: And so it was sort of all these factors at the same time over a period of a year that we were kind of seeing all this stuff happen. So it took a lot of seeing the same thing in multiple different ways for us to realize, okay, we really need to take this seriously and that means we don't get to do all these other things. We can just do this one thing.
Anna Eaglin: I want to share one more example with you today that I think speaks to this idea of knowing when to lean into community. On our last episode you heard Christian and I speak to Adam Fry-Pierce and Mike Davidson of Envision. A digital product design platform putting an emphasis on community. We heard about some of their initiatives, like the design leadership forum and designbetter.co. But is there something inherently communal about the service they're offering? According to Mike, it's all about the nature of the users they're serving.
Mike Davidson: You know, our work is so visible, right? It's funny, I went down to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago to meet with a few companies and I met up with a couple of engineers that I know down there and they were asking me how things had gone over the last year for me and how I was enjoying Envision. And one of the things I mentioned was I thought it was really great that I had probably met about a thousand designers. These are engineers. And one of them was like, that's cool, but why would you want to meet a thousand designers?
Mike Davidson: I had to think about it and I was like, huh. I want to meet a thousand designers because I'm oftentimes familiar with their work because I've seen it or if I haven't seen it I want to see it. And I think the nature of our work is so visual and so demonstrative that it makes it easier for us to do things like that. I think in the engineering community how many engineers have seen another engineer's code? Not many. Right? How many product managers have seen another product manager's product briefs? Not many. But because design work is so visible out there, it makes it a lot easier to sort of connect around our work and even critique our work on places like Twitter or elsewhere.
Anna Eaglin: That's interesting. Right? To Mike, the very nature of design work is something that fosters community simply because it's so visual and collaborative, but it goes even deeper than that. According to Mike, today's designers are being asked to do more and more, learn new skills, use new tools, produce progressively better work. All of this drives designers to learn from each other. Envision saw this trend taking place and stepped into create a place to make collaboration easier and more effective.
Mike Davidson: I think there's also the pressure of learning new tools, right? So as a designer we feel like our main job is to produce great work and produce positive change in the world, but we also have this kind of painting in the back of our heads at all times. Like am I current on the tools that I need to be current on? Have I learned to react yet? Do I need to learn Java Script? Do I need to get into AR? Do I need to get into VR? There's always a pull of new technologies and so by connecting with other designers in our profession we get a better feel for the sorts of things that we may want to learn and the sorts of things that we can maybe ignore.
Anna Eaglin: As great as all of this sounds. The folks at Envision knew that this whole idea only works if there is a core value at the center of this community they wanted to be a part of. The goal is to bring designers together and collaborate and learn from each other. That core value had to be something that would drive a positive experience for everyone. Something that would allow Envision to grow and scale their community to meet the needs of their users. And that something was empathy.
Adam Fry-Pierce: Because empathy is at the core of how we operate that comes out and wanting to be better understood and also better understand others in the field. Right? And to Mike's point, because our work is so visible, there does come this moment where almost all of us have had those top two questions, right? Is my work good enough and do I know enough for this to be accurate? And the only way to really answer that is just to put it out there. And I think that you see that you know the reason why some of the best work in the world continues or some of the best companies that continue to ship some of the best work in the world they are built by the teams that are actively wanting not only to show their work but to ask for feedback on that work.
Anna Eaglin: Knowing when to place an emphasis on community is important for anyone in the process of developing a new product, but it's not the only thing to consider. Community can help you understand your users needs and how to make a better product. Focus on serving specific users based on a core value shared by all. Yes, this is challenging, but not every community naturally creates a positive environment and not every suggestion is necessarily right for your product. So that's where our journey leads us next. We'll talk with Scott Belsky, creator of Behance, about the unique approach he took creating a community and how the lessons he learned are still paying dividends in his role as chief product officer at Adobe.
Anna Eaglin: We'll also dive into some stories to help you navigate your user feedback carefully and productively. Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Until then, visit innovatemap.staging.wpengine.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always, we're curious, what does better product mean to you? It is up on Twitter at Innovate Map or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christian Beck: I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: And I'm Anna and you've been listening to Better Product.
Christian Beck: Better Product.