Learning from Community Management AMA Session with Edu Giansante

Last month, we hosted our first AMA (ask me anything) session on Tribe Community with Edu Giansante – similar to the established format of AMA we asked Ed questions that our community members had posted earlier. The AMA session was dedicated to various facets of community management with a special focus on ambassador programs, gamification, engagement, product ideation, customer success, and new business development.

There were some amazing questions and the discussion around those topics resulted in golden nuggets that can be practically applied by community managers. In this post, we’re going to compile those questions and dive deep into them based on Ed’s insights as well as our own experience as a community solutions company. Now let’s get started.

Q: What is, in your experience, the most reliable indicators for community growth?

Essentially we should look at the community activities as a strong indicator. So, KPIs can be selected to show if a community is active or not and how it is growing.

Ed breaks down into two parts:

  1. New communities: sign-ups (essentially converting lurkers into members), number of net new posts & replies (converting members into active members). Simple and straightforward
  2. Mature communities: logins (returning members), thread depth (number of replies in a given thread – indicates levels of contribution), and overall MoM traffic.

These are great points, especially the number of responses as a measure of community contribution.

At, Tribe, when it comes to community growth, we tend to first examine how the following questions can be answered:

  • What’s the rate of new user acquisition for the community?
  • What’s member lifecycle growth?

This can be measured by breaking down the members into new, current, and resurrected (previously dormant) users. Run a comparison of new and resurrected members with the dormant (outgoing members). This ratio should be more than 1 to ensure that you are truly growing in the early stage.

Further in the growth stage, answer the following questions

  • What’s the stickiness of the community? This can be measured as a ratio of Daily Active Users (DAU) to Monthly Active Users (MAU).
  • What’s the retention rate of active users over time?

Learn more about the key community metrics here.

Q: How do you measure growth when a community gets closer to being self-sufficient? (aka members help each other without much moderator intervention and the headcount stabilizes)

In the maturity phase, the growth can be measured based on the depth of the discussion. We’re looking at understanding member cohorts at a deeper level and mapping that to the engagement as well as contribution.

For example, you might see members from a specific persona driving user engagement and contributing high-quality content. The metric at this stage can be the following:

  • rate of member movement from passive segment to active segment
  • number of replies on community posts

Q: Do you have any tips based on your experience on how companies can align community needs and business goals?

The main issue with communities is that the community objective is not aligned to the company, but rather to the department owning it. If a community sits under support, it will be a support community. If marketing, it will be a lead-gen community. Same for product management, customer success, and so on.

You’ll rarely find cases like Airbnb, where the community is core to their business: the (super)hosts. That is because there’s a win-win approach (just like GiffGaff, Salesforce’s MVPs). Why did the Airbnb community succeed? Because the desire to make money out of your spare room drove the need to understand the market better, get support, and get set up quickly on the platform. Because the better are your photos, the better are your reviews, and the more responsive you are, the more money you make. Simple maths.

The other key examples in this space are Lululemon, Sephora, and Xbox Ambassadors.

In the case of Lululemon, what makes this retailer stand out from the other competitors like Nike and Under Armour is the ability to infuse community in the retail strategy. For example, unlike Nike that works on broadcasting marketing messages via celebrities and ATL campaigns, Lululemon operates more at the grassroots level.

They have merged the ambassador program with the experiential retail by identifying and recruiting the local influencers from the communities formed in the stores. This ability to engage with the influencers at the ground level allows LULU to build an authentic sense of belonging.

Learn more here.

Q: How do we segment the audiences based on what they expect from the community? How do we go about setting the expectations from the members to ensure that our community goals are met?

Cohorts can be used for new members. Let’s get practical:

  • Within your first login, you could be directed to a ‘start here’ page and have 1 single category visible: get help.
  • On your second (or third, fourth, etc) login, you’re then ‘upgraded’ to a level where you can see more categories and get advice on what to do next
  • 3 months in and you could finally see the prompt for Ideation to encourage the members to start contributing with ideas

That would make their experience easier (increased contribution, no burden) and smoother. Think of it as a videogame. You can’t start at a level where you have to have full ammunition or the fastest car. You get something to learn first. Communities are no different.

Q: Based on your experience, what are some of the most effective rewards that can be offered to MVPs?

The most useful rewards manifest in the form of “access”. It has to be something special that none else can access — ranging from early access to product features and additional privileges to access to the leadership team.

Q: How do we implement an internal MVP program? Primarily we’re looking into people within our organization (from different departments) who would be inclined to actively contribute to the community development.  

The short answer is – “you can’t”. Employees who want to contribute will contribute. Regardless of rewards.

If you need their contribution to sustain certain goals, then make it their goal as well. If a sales team needs to beat X USD in revenue every month, it’s their goal to work towards that. If you want employees to engage in the community, set goals: post 1 a week, reply to at least 5 questions, etc. and tie that to their bonus/performance goals.

Q: What are some of the most effective ideation techniques to work with community members when we’re looking to bring the Voice of Customer into the product strategy?

Make sure you have a feedback loop process in place with your product team (in other words: alignment with their sprint cycles and beta access to community members in place). Once you have that, pick your 5 most helpful members (not most active) and get them into your beta program. Invite them to calls with the product team monthly (get the product team bought into this idea). You can scale this at a later stage.

Ensure that you respond to the suggestions with clear reasoning on why you think the suggestion is not good or good. That way the member doesn’t feel that the effort is getting ignored. Not responding or ignoring someone’s suggestion is probably one of the worst things you can do in a community.

Check out this guide for product managers to generate ideas from online communities.

Q: What are some good examples of gamification in MVP programs? 

Think of loyalty programs: you’re often in certain hotel chain (no matter where in the world) and when you get there they’ll greet you by name, get you to your favorite room, with a great view and once you’re there, there’a little surprise: a hand-written letter from the manager with your favorite chocolate and wine.

Now think about the process behind it: having your name, frequency of hotel use, top locations, favorite room style, floor, food habits (if you eat in the hotel restaurant, that can easily be tracked against your bill. Ensure that system is global so no matter where in the world when I pull your name, I’ll know what to offer you.

That’s how ‘gamification’ works in the real world. You get to know your MVP, give access, easiness, reduce friction, and make the person feel valuable in exchange for my loyalty to you. Once you have these lined up, it’s unlikely someone will change hotels because they don’t want to lose all of that comfort and status they’ve achieved.

The trick is about applying the same gamification mechanism in online communities by offering the members things (access, status, etc.) that they would not want to lose.

Q: I’m curious about the non-scalable programs. Could you give some examples?

The devil is the details. For example, if you have an MVP program in which you need to send personalized swags and notes. It won’t be possible to scale such programs.

Q: How do we ensure that our community members are at ease when discussing our products and features? The concern is that since it is a branded community, the community members might not be at their candid best.

This is a common type of concern and the best way to address this is to have a specific ask (theme/feature/topic) you’d like to get feedback on.

If things get off track, you can simply say that this is not related to the discussion. Second, you’ll be surprised by how much at ease you can get them if you make a simple phone call before the VoC is done. Literally, pick up the phone, introduce yourself, talk about the process, and ask whether they’ll be interested in being part of it. People are usually vocal and candid when they’re behind a computer and need that first rant. If you call them, it’s an opportunity for them to vent, get your acknowledgment, and join the VoC much more relaxed and feeling heard.

Q: Do you have any tips on how to foster collaboration and ownership within communities (specific to open source software projects) to start, coordinate, and grow community-driven projects?

You should run a Hackathon! That will get them into teams (therefore fostering collaboration between teams) and have a prize for the winner.

Q: What are some effective incentives or tactics to get customers to engage on the community site in the early days? Many say “they’d love to” but when push comes to shove, they don’t.

That’s a great start — it is clear that you have started engaging with the members and evangelizing the community. The one question you should ask yourself is: What’s in it for me? (as a customer). What do they get by engaging in the community, other than boosting your stats?

Here is a detailed post on how to grow an online community from scratch.

Q: What kind of content would you make available to a community in order to raise engagement? For example, videos, articles, etc.

A big thanks to Ed for starting our AMA series with a big bang! Stay tuned for more AMAs in the future.

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