Oftentimes in Community Manager forums the question comes up “What are some skills I should learn to become a better Community Manager?”. The usual go-to answers are to develop ones skills in time management, empathy and analysis. Easier said than done, right?
In this new blog category I’m calling “Raise Your Game”, I’ll share some peripheral skills that have helped me as a Community Manager – ones where you can actually get started with immediately and begin bringing your best to your position.
effectively raise your game
Know how you learn. Do you learn by example or hands-on? Work within the parameters of how you process new information for the highest ROI.
Whittle while you work. Don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you have to absorb everything you read. Break things down during your workday or work week and take note of one takeaway.
Rome wasn’t built in a daybut they were laying bricks every hour. Start small and remember that even if you’re moving zig-zag, you’re still moving forward and learning new things.
Knowledge Nuggets from Adrian Speyer‘s article and presentation Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community. What’s shared here is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of content so I encourage you to dive deeper by reading the article or watching the video.
There’s an opportunity for there to be a space – a digital home so to speak – for everything customers need to be successful – a center of excellence – but with community permeating all aspects of this – so the conversation is not to the community as much as it is with the community. It would touch all aspects: help, learning, connection, discovery, and thought leadership.
Adrian Speyer, “Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community”
Communities should be the central hub for all customers to be successful along their journey – from pre-sales to learning best practices
Communities should “broaden their horizons” and move past being just a support community.
Stop using the word “support” and use “success”
Focus on outcomes – what makes the customer happy (max ROI)
Stop working in a silo. Think laterally and involve teams in a “Center of Excellence Advisory Board”
Understand your customers by building personas.
Focus on your members, finding the right people to run the community, and develop a robust plan (don’t just wing it).
This takes time so don’t expect immediate results. Rather, focus on micro-successes.
My Action Items
Redefine my communities as Centers of Excellence where customers find value beyond support and focus on highlighting content that will make them successful such as virtual events to connect with peers to discuss strategy and share their experiences (best practices and pitfalls).
Extend CoE concept to internal teams – product, engineers and developers. Hearing product feedback will help make the product better, improving customer experience and building trust in the company.
Reach out to other teams – especially those in the field – to better understand what is keeping their customers from being successful (e.g. knowledge gaps) and develop community opportunities for them to connect and learn from others.
Empower customers by partnering with them to develop customer-led/focused community programs so that they can share their success stories with others.
Everyone wants to be a thought leader. But what’s the point of leading if no one is following?
There are so many influential and brilliant community managers creating amazing content – books, articles, webinars, videos – that I’d like to start highlighting them as a thought follower. Author Todd Henry said in his article Forget Thought Leaders – We Need more “Thought Followers”
[Thought Followers]…are people who immerse themselves in the brilliant, challenging thoughts of others, commune with great minds, and then follow their own thoughts wherever they might lead. They have a disciplined Study Plan that challenges them to think about important problems and allows them to stretch their thoughts and explore uncomfortable places.
They aren’t afraid to humbly submit to the great insights of others and consider their implications to their own work. They are fiercely curious. They love process. They set aside time to savor great writing. They understand that brilliant ideas are excavated and assembled, not self-generated.
And this is what I plan to do starting in 2022 whether it’s listening to a podcast, reading a book or article, or watching a webinar or conference session. I’ll summarize each with my top 3 takeaways followed by my action items. I hope to follow my summary posts with my results as well!
Most community managers are on a team of one (as I am) so my advice focuses around that – especially when Community is new to one’s organization:
Don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks. Select up to 3 initiatives to focus on for that particular quarter or fiscal year. Is it growth? engagement? Your calendar and any task manager software are your friends!
Become familiar with your new organization and how it fits with your community. Go to your intranet, make a list of all of the departments and create bullet points on how they could contribute and benefit your community – tactically and strategically. This list will help you promote community internally and find allies that will help make your job easier.
Have an open-door policy to talk about Community. Find active community members (internal and external) and call them up to learn how they use community and what could be better. This information provides incredible insight into user behavior
Welcome new internal team members, introduce yourself and the Community’s value to their department. Newly hired folks need a buddy…so why not have it be you? Not only will you be their lifeline within the company, you can show them the value of Community. Similarly, newly hired folks want to be recognized and seen by their managers. Share how the Community would benefit their careers within your org (i.e. Give them something they can share on LinkedIn!)
Always think strategically. Connect with internal team members who are influential in making decisions and would encourage their department to participate more in the community. Take them to coffee or lunch to understand their current work struggles and leverage that information to demonstrate how your community will help make their jobs easier.
(Last but not least)Take that vacation…and enjoy it! Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a day off or a vacation. Come up with a process where you can casually check emails (or train a back-up) while you’re on vacation. You will be more influential and valuable when you’re refreshed and well-rested.
Workshop Presentation from Support Driven Expo (SDX), June 2018.
Encouraging your fellow employees to engage more with Community members can be a challenge, and it’s not a behavior that can be changed overnight. When you set strategize and plan realistic goals – no matter how small – you’ll gradually find yourself with more internal Community advocates.
In 2.5 years I went from being a new Zuora employee – not knowing anyone – to enlisting 80+ internal global volunteers for a Community-sponsored “Learners’ Lounge” at Zuora’s annual conference, Subscribed.
Where It All Began
I didn’t go to college expecting to become a community manager. In fact, I’ve worked 15+ years as a civil/structural engineer and my claim to fame is that I’ve designed some parts of the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA!
What’s Zuora? Zuora creates cloud-based software on a subscription basis that enables any company in any industry to successfully launch, manage, and transform into a subscription business.
In a nutshell, Zuora can be used by any industry and can be customized. As you know, when you customize software, things can conflict and that’s where the Zuora Community can help!
About the Zuora Community The Zuora Community is a space where anyone can talk about the Zuora product with their peers, Zuora staff and partners. Users can ask questions, share solutions, and use cases with each other as well as request product enhancements from our product teams, interact with engineers and other internal teams.
Struggling to motivate internal employees to participate in your community is a common issue – people see the value, but are busy, don’t know how to begin, etc.
Being the problem solver that I am, I decided to monitor the community to see what people were saying – who were the people within Zuora that users want to talk to?
A couple months post-launch, I discovered that my internal celebrities were:
Product Managers: Users share their ideas and can interact with product teams to influence the product roadmap.
Subject Matter Experts: SMEs know everything which means that users get faster and more accurate solutions.
Engineering: Users want to know about upcoming maintenance and when issues are resolved.
3 top teams = identified. Now, how to get them more involved?
Dream Big, but Start Small
My first goal was to encourage teams to simply consider the Community as an option to solve any of their issues. They don’t need to know how the Community will help them (that’s my job!), they just need to reach out to me and we can brainstorm together. We called it our “Think Community” initiative.
Since I started at Zuora in 2015, these 5 tactics helped internal teams “Think Community” and include the Community into their processes.
Every company culture is different so what might’ve worked for me, might not work for you, but I hope that my suggestions will help inspire you to come up with some of your own.
Feel free to use my PDF worksheet that you can use for your own internal team engagement strategy.
Customers are your bread and butter which is why you want to begin collecting any positive quotes about how the Community has helped them.
What Type of Quotes Should I Collect? Gather quotes that evoke emotion from the poster and the recipient – in this case, use responses directed toward an internal employee.
For example, the Community member quote “WHOA! I honestly didn’t think this would even get a response! Awesome!” shows how impressed, happy and surprised the original poster is. The recipient, on the other hand, is one of our product managers and when he reads this response, he feels pride and a sense of accomplishment, which helps get him one step closer to participating again.
Executive Buy-In is Crucial for Internal Engagement. When you find a great quote, email a “thank you” email to the internal recipient and cc: his/her manager. When upper management sees one of their team member’s positively interacting with customers, that’s a career and morale booster.
Develop Your Plan
One of my first tasks was to make a list of strategic and tactical goals for every department within Zuora so that you know which teams would be the easiest to convert to your Community. The ultimate goal of this task is to find that one team who’ll be your poster child with awesome success metrics and then knock ’em each out one by one.
Steps to Create Your Strategic and Tactical Plan
Using your intranet, write down each department within your company.
Under each team, write down your end goal strategies. For example, do you want your SMEs to answer more customer questions, or do you want your product team to post monthly release notes in your Community?
Next, write down how you hope to accomplish your strategies – will you send SMEs 3-5 questions a week for them to reply to, or maybe you’ll draft the most recent release note as an example to show the product team?
If you’re stuck, take one of the team members out for coffee, lunch or a walk break to find out what problems they’re facing in their job; people tend to vent about work when they’re socializing. That’ll be your “in”!
Create a V2MOM
Using your list above, pick a team to turn into your Community superstar and further detail so that you can have measurable results.
At Zuora, we use Salesforce’s V2MOM Method which really helps map out your action plan. It’s short and simple enough to help you stay on task and execute your vision.
While a V2MOM appears short and easy to fill out, it requires a lot of thought. Be as detailed and honest to yourself as you can be as this will be your roadmap toward success.
Plan on completing your V2MOM within one fiscal year so that you can have a success story.
After you’ve written your V2MOM, assign realistic due dates for when you plan on executing your Methods and gather Metrics. Stick to this schedule and continue to revisit and refine it throughout the year.
Socialize Your Community Internally
Marketing teams create externally, so why not create an internal Community newsletter to showcase how other teams are using it.
Your newsletter is a great way to encourage internal teams to continue or start to “Think Community”, praise individuals or teams that have had success with Community and also educate employees on Community basics.
Include call-to-action areas so people know who to reach out to if they have Community questions.
At Zuora, we have an internal point reward system where employees can exchange points for gift cards. I started giving out “Think Community” MVP awards to individuals who’ve reached out to me about using the Community or introduced others to the Community. That rewards program really helped boost awareness.
Create “How To” Decks
As I talked to more employees about our Community, I found that most of them were eager to be a part of it, but they didn’t know how to do it or how their team could participate.
I recall going to our Beijing office and talking to one of our engineers there. He said that his team really wanted to engage more in Community, but they weren’t confident about how to do it or even how to get started.
From that conversation, I created this onboarding deck and continued to create decks for our account executives, customer success managers, partners, support teams and more.
If your company has an internal channel, create promotional content using Canva. Above are some examples I used to try to get more volunteers at Zuora’s annual conference, Subscribed.
Another idea is to create an internal hub where employees can get Community 101 and FAQ tips.
Lastly, why not take a team member out for lunch? Eventually, the conversation will steer toward work and you can casually mention how you’re helping other teams succeed via the Community, which in turn will plant ideas in their head about how they can leverage the Community for their team.
DM me via @lanalyzer314 on Twitter. I’d love to help brainstorm ideas, look over your V2MOMs, etc.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to other people talk at conferences about community management and never thought that I’d be asked to actually be on a podcast…but then it happened!
Out of the blue, I received a Twitter DM from Patrick O’Keefe from Community Signal which is a bi-weekly podcast for community professionals.
I’ve heard of this podcast before and always thought that the guests were people who had done amazing things so I was definitely surprised when Patrick asked me to be a guest on his show. I was super excited about it, but also nervous because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say.
To gauge whether or not he had a show, Patrick sent me a questionnaire and I answered it as detailed as I could because I wanted to be picked. He wrote back saying “We definitely have a show!” and we setup a time to chat.
There’s nothing more annoying than fielding the same question…over and over again. When I was going through my Lithium training, the instructor said that the rule of thumb was that for every person who has a question, you can assume that 25 people have that same question.
That’s where FAQs in your Community help – especially with deflected tickets. When I was a Meetup forum moderator, I kept a cheat sheet of FAQs so that I could copy and paste the answer.
For the Zuora Community, nearly all of the questions are technical; customers usually search Google for their answer, which is why it’s crucial to have FAQs for error messages, security issues, “how tos” and so forth.
Customer Solutions Articles (CSAs)
Since we’re on Lithium, we have our support agents write what we call “Customer Solutions Articles” based on questions asked in their Zendesk tickets. They post the question as the original post, followed by the reply in the subsequent post. Then they mark the reply as an accepted solution. Right now, we don’t showcase our accepted solutions (I know, I know….I’ve logged that request with our IT team), but when we do, those will show up.
Each CSA is given a “Customer Solutions Article” label so that I can track the number of label views.
Quality Controlled CSAs
In our first year, we used to have a Q&A process, but that took forever to get something posted so the community would get, at most 5 CSAs posted a month, if the agents didn’t have many fires to put out. The number of views were around 1000 page views/month and the “Customer Solutions Article” label was consistently #1 – not bad for a brand new community!
The problem with this process was that there was a lot of back and forth – checking, editing, rechecking – such that the CSA queue was getting longer and longer and it wasn’t a priority.
At the beginning of our 2nd year, the CSA queue got to ~60 pending articles waiting to be quality-checked. So we said “Screw it…let’s just get the articles out there for our customers!” There were some folks who were hesitant on letting incorrect information float around the Community, but my opinion was that it’ll create a great discussion; any engagement is good engagement to a Community Manager, right? 🙂
So, we released the Kraken…
Did all hell break loose? No! Our CSA views skyrocketed to around 4000 views/month!
One can easily assume that a percentage of those views resulted in a deflected ticket as many customers didn’t ask additional questions in the CSAs. We also had very few corrections.
Wait…it gets better!
Requiring CSAs Upon Ticket Closure Results in Metrics of Gold!
If agents posting CSAs at-will increased the article views 4x as much, we should require agents to write a CSA (if it makes sense) before they’re allowed to close a Zendesk ticket. Sounds evil, right?
We followed this process for a few months (no more than 2 quarters) and the Community was overflowing with CSAs. Imagine how many tickets an agent sees a week and translate those tickets into CSAs. It was awesome and the metrics supported it.
One month prior to this requirement, CSA labels were seeing an average of 4000 page views/month. The month after, CSAs skyrocketed to 7000 page views/month.
While these numbers are impressive, we found that agents were getting burnt out and a little sloppy writing their CSAs, so we went back to posting articles at-will. Still, our CSA metrics hang out around the upper 7000 page views/month.
FAQs are Your Best Friend
It takes time to build up a FAQ, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Our agents were reporting that customers were asking fewer lower-hanging fruit type of questions, which made their job more interesting and customers were getting their questions answered.
Start out with 10 FAQs and built it up from there. Remember that browsers will crawl your site when people Google their questions so keep SEO in mind.
Getting internal engagement in your community can be challenging. Here are some onboarding tips to encourage internal teams to participate more in your Community.
Share these tips using a Powerpoint presentation with fun graphics to make it less dry and more engaging
Create a Powerpoint presentation for each team as each team has different needs.
Internal Team Onboarding Deck
Slide #1: Explain why you need the internal team in the community.
Knowledge that no one, but an internal team member, can answer
Customers respect it when a staff member responds to them
Best means for efficient and effective resolution
Slide #2: Share where the internal team can shine in your community
Share the link to a specific user group and/or discussion forum
Is there a place where users share feedback? Users would love to have their enhancement ideas acknowledged by an internal team member. It’ll make them feel really special!
Slide #3: The “What’s in it for me?” slide
How can the internal team benefit from internal-customer engagement? Getting inside the mind of a customer/user is a great benefit.
Personal/career growth is a shoe-in to attract team members to participate. Are there blogs/posts they can write that’ll showcase their expertise on a certain subject?
Slide #4: Explain how to engage with users/customers
This slide is meant to teach team members how to respond to your users. Most people are afraid of engaging because they worry that they might look bad or they may make the company look bad. Use this slide to alleviate their concerns.
Explain the result of certain responses and behaviors.
Explain how to manage difficult conversations.
Keep this slide short and simple to understand
High-level Example from my Powerpoint deck for our Engineering team:
Ask for clarification. It’s ok to ask customers questions too!
Explain reasoning behind current design/timeline
Share specifics, but don’t be too specific (don’t share private information).
Result: Customer feels reassured simply by having an educated response.
Example of how to say “no” to customers (from my Engineering Team deck).
Sometimes it’s okay to say “No”…But is there a good way to say “No” to Customers?
Be Honest. Customers can tell when you are being insincere.
Empathize. Begin with a phrase of empathy – “I understand…I wish we could…”
Be Positive. Always end your response with something positive and express your appreciation/acknowledgement for sharing their concerns
Offer alternative solutions/workarounds.
Result:Even if customer is disappointed, they won’t feel like they wasted their time to write because their concerns were heard and listened to.
Slides #5-7: Provide 3 examples of existing posts from other team members.
Using the concepts from Slide #4, cover how the team member used each strategy to answer a user’s question
“Difficult Conversation” Examples I covered in my deck:
Internal team member sharing bad news with a customer about delivery date
User complaint and how the team member alleviated the user’s frustration
User found a bug and the team member tried to solve the bug with a workaround. Turns out, it really was a bug that was being worked on by another internal team.
Slide #8: Provide you contact info for them to reach out to you
Be available should they have questions or need you to review their post responses.