TechHub Meetup insights - Community management: from prospects to loyal customers

We had a very lively debate last night at TechHub Bucharest about the role of community management for your product and your startup. Our guests offered some great advice from their personal experiences, which were both different and comprehensive. So we're going to lay them out here for you, so you can use them whenever you need to.

General aspects of community management

Definition: A community manager is someone who communicates with a company�s users, development team & executives and other stakeholders in order to clarify and amplify the work of all parties. They probably provide customer service, highlight best up-cases of a product, make first contact in some potential business partnerships and increase the public visibility of the company they work for.

Some agree it should be a first hire after a solid engineering group and before hiring a marketing specialist. The fact is that community management should be a position by itself, not a task among many others. Early on, this role can be played by a founder, but after that, you need to hire someone.

Benefits: * Can reduce legal risk when a company engages extensively its users * Provides a bit of distance from the product and can prioritize user requests * Works as an evangelist for the company�s products & the voice of the customers in internal discussions * Can gain maximum benefits from early adopters * Is the key link to the development team * Has a hybrid role: marketing, web, Q&A, writing, support, analysis * Works closely with product & marketing, feeding them information from the community.

Skills: writing, customer relationship management, working well with other departments, reporting, gathering customers feedback, helping & wanting to help others.

The stages of building a community: 1. Building an audience (getting interest and getting people to give you their contact info).
2. Turning the audience into customers (offering a good product + marketing + good customer support/relations).
3. Turning customers intro a community (by engaging with them, talking to them, finding out what they like/need/want).

Here's what we asked our guests:

1. A user base does not equal a community, so what are some practical steps to make in order to figure out what your audience is and which channels are the right ones to use to get their attention? * Find like minded people. * Be careful about the message you want to conve.y * Find the channels that those people usually use and go there, pulling them towards your product community. (FaceRig tweeted to Youtube celebrity Ray William Johnson about their crowd-funding campaign video, he likes it and it took off like fire when Ray gave them some visibility). * Be creative and don�t rely only on classic marketing channels. * Be honest about what you�re building and provide them with all the information they need.

2. What are the benefits and the costs of building a community?

George: * The best things you can get from a community is getting your KPI�s improved. * There is a difference between social media and online communities. Communities are meant to support your users and help them better use your product. * The cost of building a community includes changing the product to achieve product/market fit, coding, community management and avoiding and managing crisis that appear

Dragos: * FaceRig hired a part time community manager for 6 months. They couldn�t have succeeded without this function. * They also relied on the direct appeal aimed at the community, who became an integral part of the product�s development.

Ben: * Community management should be the honest voice of the startup. Everything you do online should be around your business or related to it. Until you have to, don�t get a community manager, especially if you�re a founder. Once you start listening to investors and everyone else, you�ll get distracted by what actually matters. And what matters is making money. If you�re not listening to your customers that you�re listening to other who are trying to make money off you.�

3. �People don�t buy your product because they like the product. They buy your product because they like themselves.� How do you make your users feel good about choosing to buy or use your product?

George: Move your product towards the message that your users want to express for themselves. Align it with user expectations.

Dragos: make sure that your product covers all the areas of the Big 5 factors of personality that describe your audience and create appropriate rewards for each and all of them.
Ben: The majority of product who buy a product never use 90% of the capabilities of that product (like an iPhone or an Apple laptop), but they like to believe that they�re in the 1%. We�re a generation that is being sold to and we�re manipulated into that. But you have to understand that when you�re selling the product, you�re manipulating too. What it is about your product that makes it special, better, it is going to make people happier? Probably not. But you�re going to tell them this, so be aware why people buy your product, because most likely it�s because their friends are buying it and they don�t want to feel left out.

4. How do you build trust in your product as a startup? How can you differentiate yourself to stand out?

Dragos: Be honest about and try to really relay your enthusiasm. Tell the community the truth, even the hard truths. Make them feel like they�re part of the journey and that the success of the product will be theirs as well.

George: differentiation is key to achieving success. There are a lot of products that are copies of something else, but if you don�t have the kind of marketing money that will help you get exposure, you most likely won�t succeed if you don�t stand out. You have to be creative and really realize what people want. You can either be lucky to build something without proper testing, or you can test your idea thoroughly and get it to as many people as possible as quickly as you can.

Ben: when it comes to software products, trust comes in many forms. When you�re new, you can get away with many things, like bugs and breakdowns when it�s in beta. You can�t get away with security breaches though. Your product being trustworthy is the same as your product being trustworthy. If you wrong your users and you don�t care enough to fix it, then you�re doing a very poor job.

5. Can good community management help you achieve product/market fit in the early stages? Can an engaged community help you scale?

Ben: your community is the market. Product/market fit is defined entirely by the expectations that your community has from your product. If you pivot too quickly and too soon, you might lose your community, so make sure you know how to steer it the right way so you don�t lose it. Always think of the market first. It�s actually market/product fit. Your product has to be secondary to the market. If you assume that your product will change the market, you will most likely fail.

George: it�s very important to know how to get feedback from the community, because it may lead you in the wrong direction. If you�ll ask your community what they want, they will tell you �money�. But money is not the end goal and will unlikely act as a great motivator. The way your community can make you smarter about your product is by testing it. Look at your metrics and do a lot of user testing in order to track product/market fit. Usually, what you think is important for you is not the same with what the community wants.

Dragos: Know what questions to ask the community, because people don�t want total freedom. You have to be able to take the answers with a pinch of salt, because it�s not a black and white situation.

6. What are some effective ways of tending to the "tribe" of early adopters, and making sure they become product ambassadors?

George: your product should send the right message. You need to find those people who connect with your product. The heavy users will want very different things from your product than the rest of 90% of mass users. Use the hardcore audience to get feedback, but don�t get distracted from focusing on your mass audience as well. Also, in terms of virality, know if you�re interested in enabling only those dedicated users to share their experience in their circles or if you want to make it easy for almost anyone to share information and opinions about the product.

Ben: your first customers should never be charged for your product, because the value they offer in terms of information is worth so much more. Your first users will most likely be your hard core, most bought in users. The Pareto rule applies here: the first 20% of your users will the people who use 80% of your product. But all your money is going to come from the other 80% of users, who use 20% of the product. Those first few people don�t need to be educated about the product. They want to help, to push it, to make it do things. It�s about working out the value between information and knowledge of your highest possible users. The majority of people will only use one, 2 or 3 features maximum. Make sure you get rid of features before you add more. Early adopters are always going to tell you to add more features, but the rest of your paying users will want things to be simpler, easier to use. Don�t gt caught up in the echo chamber of your group of friends and network of startup founders and techies who will only tell you what you want to hear, because it�s not the same thing as reality and revenue.

George: I strongly believe that you have to charge your first customers. You have 3 major questions to answer: i. Acquisition: you can test this without having a product.
ii. Retention: this can be influenced heavily by the community. Even if you�re doing a mistake, the community should stick � that�s when you have a good product.
iii. Monetization: you can test this without having a product. Test for all of these.

Dragos: charge your first users, but give them awesome deals. FaceRig gave the first users gifts that would never be available ever again and access to things that are one time only. Make them feel special. Get people a place to gather if you want them to become ambassadors, a place that looks like your product. Social media is not a community and your community should not be in social media.

7. �It's good to engage your users personally, but that's not scalable. That's why it's so important to connect users with each other.� What are some key steps to take in order to grow your community?

George: a forum is a great way to get feedback from your community, but realize that the people there don�t represent 100% of your users. It�s very important that every user be able to build his/her own community about the product.

Ben: you can scale a community by letting the community manage itself. Use moderator, get people ego boosts by making them a respected leader within the community. You end up moderating the moderators. Create hierarchies and give them separate rewards that don�t cost a lot, but have very high emotional impact. Make yourself as a founder very available to them, let them friend you on Facebook. You don�t have to make every customer your best friend, but you can do this with customer representatives. I don�t believe in a separation between founder and community. People want to be able to know that they can reach you, that�s all.

Dragos: Personally engaging with the community is hard work. For FaceRig I almost missed New Year�s Eve because I was online, writing messages. When the community got too big, we empowered the users who had already started answering questions to do so for new comers. It really pays off to personally connect in the beginning, but at some point you�ll have to start delegating.

PS: Holotech Studios (the team that created FaceRig) are looking for one or two experienced programmers specialized in C++, who are not affraid of startups. If you're interested, send your resume and cover letter at jobs [at]!


See you soon, at another edition of our TechHub Meetups!