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MAR 18, 2021 - 50 MIN

Community Lessons from GitHub, Google & GitLab with Jono Bacon


In this Speaker Series, leading consultant and author, Jono Bacon shares decades of experience in how communities supercharge your business, brand, and teams.

  • Introduction
    • Supercharging your Business, Brand and Teams with Communities
    • Service: Consumer, Champion and Collaborator
    • Social Capital: Access, Contribute, Self Respect, Dignity, Impact and Belonging
    • Value Tactics: Community vs Company
    • Community Participation Framework: Casual, Regulars and Core
    • Incentive Comparisons: Stated and Submarine
    • Growth vs Engagement: Mentoring, Collaboration and Wisdom
  • Q&A
    • Defining "Community"
    • Managing Communities within an Org Structure
    • When Community Becomes its Own Executive Function
    • Business Based Communities vs Cause-Based Communities
    • Building a Community with Early Alpha Products
    • Product/Brand Based Communities vs Tech-Based Communities
    • Open Source Community Operations
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Supercharging Your Business, Brand and Teams with Communities

Welcome, everybody, it's great to have you here, I hope you're all safe and well, wherever you may be in the world. So today we're going to be talking about communities and communities I think are interesting but they're complex as well. A community can be anything from a knitting circle in a coffee shop through to a giant technology community. And my goal today is to walk through the value of communities and what I've learned in building communities over the course of my career. And then essentially a framework that I've designed in how I work with clients, for example, as a consultant in how to build communities in a more predictable manner.

As a bit of background, I spent my whole career building communities. When I started out, I'd never even heard the term community manager or developer relations, it wasn't really a thing. I used to lead community at GitHub, XPRIZE and Canonical. I've been consulting full time now for about five years, but used to consult on the side for about four or five years before that as well. And I've worked with anything from small, early stage startup companies, digital assets, HackerOne in the earlier days, Mattermost, places like that through to large businesses like Santander, Deutsche Bank, Microsoft, Google, etc. And also an advisor and an investor in various companies as well.

So the beginning of this journey for me, was when I was growing up in northern England and northern England looks a little bit like this. It's very picturesque and beautiful, but quite boring when you're a kid. And when I was growing up, I heard my parents, my grandparents, my aunties, and uncles all kind of complaining about the same thing, which was the people don't really know their neighbors like they did back in the good old days. And there was this kind of sentiment that video games and movies, and the internet was kind of killing the sense of community.

What I think is interesting is that, in many ways, we've seen the opposite happening, especially happening online. In the last 10-15 years, we've seen the growth of communities, such as Wikipedia, where people have come from all over the world, to create and document knowledge, we've seen the huge rise of Open Source that's powering data centers, and clouds and devices and power grids. We've seen the maker revolution happening where we've bridged bits, and atoms, and people being able to innovate in terms of devices and gadgets in other areas.

We've seen the democratization of funding with Crowdfunding, I personally have been involved in two Crowdfunding campaigns. One was, you could either describe it as a huge failure or a huge success. At Canonical, we wanted to raise $32 million to fund the development of a smartphone, we raised $12.7 million. So kind of decent results, but not quite there. And then also, I ran a Crowdfunding campaign at XPRIZE, where we needed to raise $500,000, and we raised just under a million. And this is passionate community people supporting the mission that you're focusing on.

There's countless examples of this. Harley-Davidson, 1700 local user groups, sold all over the world. HashiCorp has built an amazing business around their Open Source projects. We've seen the huge library of modules in npm, we've seen the enormous impact on the open web with Mozilla. There's countless, countless examples of this. One of the coolest ones is HitRecord, which was founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I actually met at a conference. HitRecord is where people come together to create creative work, some people will do the music, some people will do the animation, some people write the script. And many of these have been showcased at Sundance, and he actually ended up writing a bit of content for my book People Powered.

A good example of this is Fitbit. Like with Fitbit, people don't go to the Fitbit community to just talk about the Versa or the charge, they go there because they're interested in getting fit. They want to know about intermittent fasting, a better running stride, how to swim more effectively, how to reduce injuries, and Fitbit has designed a community that facilitates the outcome that people want, not just focused on their products.

That is the first thing I wanted to emphasize is if you want to build a community, you got to focus on what your customers, what your audiences want, not just about what your business is providing. Because when you can tap into those pain points and those roadblocks, it creates the necessary seed that you need to create a successful community. And what's neat about this is that when you are able to do this effectively, community can generate huge amounts of value, like customer support and engagement. People can go there and ask questions and get help.

Enormous brand recognition is people feel part of your mission, feel part of what you're trying to achieve and attach themselves to that brand. Education and mentoring, creating blog posts and content and events and building technology such as with the Open Source community, product feedback, lead generation, building relationships, it's all kinds of benefits that can come out of this.

However, this is no simple rodeo. If you're going to do it effectively, you need to design it so that it delivers firm value for your audience. And when they get that value, then they can start creating value for you as well. And that's what I really want to dig into in this session that I think will help you to differentiate. Now I'm a big believer in half the battle with being successful in anything is the philosophy and the approach that we take.

Service: Consumer, Champion and Collaborator

If there's one thing I've learned across my career, and I've seen it with other people, and it certainly applies to communities is that if you want to be successful in anything, if you operate on a foundation of delivering service, then you're more likely to be successful. And this is an idea that I've unilaterally stolen from Seth Godin, who's a fairly well known marketeer. And he basically says, if you provide service to other people, if you invest yourself in their success, then good things will happen to you.

This is part of the reason why communities work. Because if we dial it back a little bit, and we take a look at what a community is, fundamentally, a community is a network of brains. OK, if we just think about the people who are dialed into this webinar right now, and the people who watch the replay afterwards, every single one of you has got different experiences, different skills, different perceptions, different ways of interpreting the world, and different levels of time. And when we can generate a mission or an ethos that people are passionate about, and we create the environment where they're able to share that time, share that experience, share those skills, we then create an environment that can generate enormous opportunity.

If you think about a startup, you've got 50 people working at a startup, you're limited to those 50 staff members, that's the resources that you've got available to you. But if you design a community that's effective, that delivers outstanding value for your users, for your customers, then you're not limited to those 50 people anymore, because your community members become part of the team. I've written a couple of books on community. The first one was the Art of Community, which is published by O'Reilly. But I wrote People Powered as a business book, it's published by HarperCollins, because increasingly, I have people coming to me, who were new prospective clients, people who are founders and executives, and the Art of Community's way too needy, like it's 500 pages, it's too in depth, people would be lost after 11 or 12 pages.

This is really designed to provide an overview but with a really crisp blueprint that I'm going to be walking through in this session. At the end of this session, I'm going to give you a link where you can go and get some free chapters in the book if you're interested in learning more. So let's start right at the beginning, all communities can be basically boiled down into one of three models. The first model is what I call consumer. Now, when I was showing Ted these slides, Ted was like, "You don't mean like consumer products, right?

So I want to make sure I'm clear about this, I'm not just talking about consumer products. A consumer model is where people who are passionate about the same thing come together to talk about it, to be part of their tribe, it could be Taylor Swift, it could be GitHub, it could be the open web, it could be heavy metal, whatever it might be, but people come together because they're interested in the same thing. The relatively straightforward community's put together, you create a shared clubhouse where they can hang out, a Facebook group, Slack channel, a forum, and then people come and congregate.

Most communities that I work with, focus on one or the other two models, the first is called the champion model. And this is where the community kind of goes the extra mile. So what happens is, you bring people together, because they've got a shared interest. But they create content, they run events, they run ambassador programs, they provide support and guidance to other members of the community, they start becoming champions of your cause. They start becoming creators of material that serves that cause and we'll talk about how you do this a little bit later on.

The third model is called a collaborator community. This kind of breaks down into two types, inner and outer. Now an inner collaborative community is where people work on the same piece of software, or the same piece of technology. So collaborator communities are all about collaborating on the same things. Collaborator communities, more specifically are about, for example, Open Source, or it could be Wikipedia. So you're working from the same set of code or the same set of information. And therefore, to create a collaborator community, you need to create, essentially, a level playing field where everyone can play on the same team. And this could be complicated.

For example, with Open Source, you get projects like Kubernetes, where you've got Microsoft and Google and Facebook and Apple and various companies who are invested in the same project, all playing a role in it. And that's quite a complicated community to build. Now, the outer collaborator community is people who want to create technology that runs on another platform. So Google app, an iOS app, a WordPress plugin, those kinds of things. And with those communities, typically, you want to provide a great SDK, great developer experience, and get people to be as successful as possible, as quickly as possible.

So when we talk about developer communities, we're usually talking about outer collaborator communities and they're very, very different in collaborator communities. So, as I'm going through this, think about the kind of communities that you're interested in. You may have more than one of these models. You may want to have both, let's say an inner collaborator community for an Open Source project, as well as a user community, which will be more of a champion community, you don't necessarily have to limit yourself to one.

Now, I'm a firm believer that if you want to do anything well in life, whether it's running a business, whether it's building communities, whether it's being an artist, or a musician, we have to be intentional. It's at the core of what I focus on with my clients. The reason why is that the best experiences in life are journeys. So let me give you an example. How many of you have been to Disney World? Feel free to mention in the chat, like how many of you have been there?

For those of you who have been there, from the minute you show up and park your car, to how you go and buy your tickets, and how you go around the park, and where the parades are, and what time the restaurants open up, and where the special shows are. Disney has designed the optimal experience for their guests to have, so they have the best possible time and to get as many guests through the park as possible. You can't do that on a whim, you have to look at data, you have to understand the guests journey and what they're interested in, and then design the experience based upon what they're looking for.

It's the same thing with great restaurants. And I'm not just talking about like Michelin star restaurants like this one which is one of my favorite restaurants is in San Francisco. But I'm talking about any restaurant that's got good service, right? There's a reason why most of us don't go to buffets and I'm talking about obviously, it was much easier before we had the pandemic where, for many of us were going out to restaurants all the time. There's a reason why we don't go to a buffet is because we value that experience from the waitstaff. So how you show up, how you get a table, when they bring you the menus, when they bring you water, how they ask if you need anything else, everything is carefully curated in the very best experiences.

Same thing with video games, if you buy any modern video game from how you pick up the controls and do some simple things, it walks you through how to get started. So we need to do the same thing with communities. The one thing I can definitely tell you is a mistake that a lot of companies make when they're building communities. And I see this happen all the time is they think, "I need a community." So what they do is they hire a community manager or developer relations lead who comes in, who's primary experience and primary expertise is an outreach. So they do a lot of social media, do a lot of events and conference work. And they do a great job at that. And there's a real valuable skill in that kind of evangelism and outreach.

But then if the community's not efficiently designed, when you bring in those new people, if they stumble getting started and getting value out of that community, then you lose them. In the same way that if you're a marketer, and you run a Facebook ad for people to come and register for your webinar, if you can't express the value of that webinar, and why it's worth an hour of their time, they won't register. So we need to make sure that we put the necessary homework in place to build the right community experience for people to come in.

To do this, what we need to do is we need to understand the psychology of why people join communities. Now, don't worry, because I know usually when people say psychology, usually that's code for I'm going to waffle about social science in the next 15 minutes. And then you can start doing your email. I'm just going to talk about this very briefly, because I think it's important.

Social Capital: Access, Contribute, Self Respect, Dignity, Impact and Belonging

Let's say you want to build a great piece of software, you need to understand the machine or the hardware that it's running on. If you want to be a great chef, you need to understand the tools and the ingredients that you're working with. It's the same thing with communities, the fundamental outcome that people want in a community is a sense of belonging. When you feel part of something. Many of you will experience this today in your companies, in your families with your friends, you'll feel like you're part of something like you're welcome, that you're not just welcomed, that you're counted on.

Now, that's the ultimate goal we want to get to. The way that we get there is we first of all need to give people access, we need to get them started with 'here's how you come into our community.' This is the reason why you join, here's the place where we're going to spend time chatting to each other, here's the incentives to keep you moving forward. When you start getting value out of a community, you then have more and more of a proclivity towards contribution, you want to share your ideas, share your perspectives, maybe create some content. And when you contribute successfully and people respect those contributions, it builds a sense of self respecting yourself.

Think about when you join a company, you're all nervous, and you don't really know anybody. And you have like the nervousness around those initial contributions. But when you start doing work and people like it, then it builds your confidence, builds your sense of self respect. Now, when that happens over and over again, it builds a sense of dignity, where we feel like we're actually doing good in the world. And when you have that sense of dignity it gives us the confidence to have an impact where we can say, "I think we can do better than this, I think we can confront these bigger problems, these bigger challenges, we can get faster, more efficient, more capable."

You never have that sensation towards impact at the beginning of joining a company for example, or joining a community because you don't feel confident enough yet. But when you feel that you can have an impact and you can make that impact happen. That's what builds a sense of belonging. And what happens is, social capital is essentially recognition and validation, that's what drives this forward.

So we need to make sure that we bake into our community, regular validation, regular recognition so it moves us along that psychological journey. Fundamentally, we need to go from easy access to generating a sense of belonging. Now, the tricky thing, let's be honest about the world that we live in. I managed to reach out to the University of Southern California, and they sent me a groundbreaking new image that they took of the inside of someone's consciousness, and it looks like this.

The world is filled with distractions and junk, whether it's watching the Tiger King on Netflix, or trying to register to preorder a PlayStation 5, or whether it's dealing with a pandemic, or just dealing with work or family, all these things are distractions that take us away from building a community in this particular context. So what we need to do is we need to understand what makes people want to do something new. Why should they come into your community? Why should they come and spend time there, as opposed to doing one of these litany of other things?

The simple reason is value, they've got to be able to get something out of it. And this means we need to invert the value proposition, we can't create a community that's just adding value for your business, we need to create a value proposition that fundamentally focuses on the community member and what they can get out of it. So what we need to do when we think about value is break it into two pieces.

Value Tactics: Community vs Company

On one hand, we want to generate value for our companies, but then also value for the community members. Now for the community members, this is often solving problems, building skills, career development, networking, or having fun. Having fun is often one of the most critical things that people want, they just want to enjoy their lives and do that in a way that's intellectually stimulating as well. But the value for your community members is different to the value for a company.

For a company, it's going to be user growth and ecosystem growth and feature development and support and brand recognition, all of these pieces that move the mechanics of our business forward. So what we need to do is we need to focus first of all on the community, what can they get out of it. And one thing that's not reflected in these slides, but I just want to share this very briefly, if you want to make any kind of content or value proposition resonate, whether it's your product, whether it's content you put up on your blog, YouTube videos, or whether it's people joining your community, the key thing to focus on is, what is the pain that your audience is suffering from?

What are they struggling with? What are the roadblocks that are standing in their way? If you can figure that pain out on what they're struggling with, and you can create communities, content, products that serve that pain, you will get much better results more quickly. To give you an example, how many of you have seen articles like '5 ways to improve your business,' '7 key goals that you should have for your business this year,' those articles are boring, no one cares about them.

But if you had another article, which is, '5 paperwork bureaucracies that you can get rid of today,' and using the buzz feed style way of doing it, '7 ways in which you can become more efficient in hiring people.' What you're doing is you're zoning in on the pain points that people have such as bureaucracy and hiring people. And then you're providing content and value that serves that. So think about what is the pain that your audience has got, and then design the community value proposition around that. And it's important to do this because the tricky thing is, we often talk about value at the beginning of something, and then we get into the tactics and we forget about it.

When you're dealing with forums and Slack channels, and all these day-to-day pieces, it's easy to forget the reason why we're doing this.

Community Participation Framework: Casual, Regulars and Core

So the way in which I approach this is I've designed something called the Community Participation Framework. And this is basically a model that I designed over the course of my career. That means that we can A) be intentional about how we build a community and B) make sure we bake in at the right pieces of value at the right places. So let me explain how this works. First of all, we focus on who our audience is. And I evaluate this in two areas.

One is what kind of activity do we want them to focus on? Support, creating content, performing engineering work, running events, do you want them to translate material, think about what you want them to do, and what you want them to get out of the community. And then think about their attributes, are they an executive? Are they an engineer? Are they a hobbyist? For example, I'm working with a company right now, we're building a community of executives that are focused on decision making and kind of thought leadership. They're never going to go to a forum. Executives don't hang out in forums. They are very receptive to Zoom conversations and one-on-one engagement and email. But I'm also working in another company where we're building a developer community and they are much more receptive to online collaboration platforms such as GitHub, obviously, but also forums and Slack channels. So these attributes, and what you want them to do is going to determine a certain amount of what your community is going to look like.

Now, when you focus on that audience, and again, focus on their pain points and how you can serve them, what you want to do is you want to get them to solving a piece of pain that they've got as quickly and easily as possible and that is outlined by the star. So that star is the first piece of value that they get out of the community. Now remember earlier on when I talked about how some companies will do community, and they'll go into a whole load of outreach, first of all, and then people will kind of come into the community and they may get stuck. That's because they haven't been through this piece. They haven't thought this part through enough.

The simple reality of the internet in general, is that every time you ask your audience to do anything, you introduce a point of friction. So for example, if you want someone to sign up for an email list, if you ask them for their first name, their last name, email address, company, industry, role, social security number, name of firstborn child, if you ask for all of this information, they're not going to sign up. If you only ask for them for their first name, and their email address, much more likely to sign up. So the goal that we've got is reducing friction points when we're designing that first experience to anyone.

We need to make sure that those friction points are really low in our community. The way we do that is with an onboarding experience. So I break it down usually into the six areas, like why should someone come and participate? What's in it for them? This is where you sell your value proposition, and how you're going to relieve their pain points. How do you get them set up with the tools that they need, and build the skills that they need to get started? This could be joining a forum and asking a question. How do they tangibly engage? What are you asking them to do to get started? And then where do they go and solve their problems? How do they find help? Where do they go when they get stuck, because a lot of people will.

When they achieve that first bit of value, when they hit that star, you validate them. Remember that psychological journey that I talked through earlier on, is that what we're doing is we're recognizing people at different phases of this process. And then that gives us an opportunity to create a really natural, thoughtful way of working. So think through what that onboarding should be, this doesn't have to be an incredibly complicated funnel, it just needs to be put in your brain, I call it incognito mode like in Chrome. People will load up chrome to either test websites as a user or look at salty information on the internet, put your brain into incognito mode and try and find how to make it as easy as possible.

Now, what happens next is that they then go through three phases. And this is really, really important. This is the intentionality of the community. So when anybody, they've achieved that first bit of value in the community, they start out as casual members. They don't know anyone, they got a lot of imposter syndrome. They're not sure whether this is worth their time, there's a billion other things that they're thinking about that they should be going and doing right now, instead of looking at your community. What we want to do is we want to get them to be regulars.

Now, regulars are people who spend most weeks coming to your community, they kind of got to know people that made some friendships, they getting a lot of value out of it, they just find that this is just a good thing in their world. And then a smaller number of those people will become core members. These are your superfans, super positive, excitable, passionate people who don't just want a great community experience for themselves but they want a great community experience for other people too.

Psychologically, it takes about two months to build a habit. So beginning of this year, I'm sure many of you are like, I need to stop drinking as much, I need to exercise more, I need to focus more on these other goals that I've got in my life. If you want to do anything new, with some exceptions, it takes about two months to build a habit. And at the beginning of that two months, it's really difficult. But if you keep yourself on that routine eventually it doesn't feel like work anymore, it feels a lot less like work, and then it becomes a habit.

So given the fact that it takes about two months to build a habit, we need to apply that. What can you do for two months for your new community that will keep people coming back? That's the goal that we've got. And then once they become regulars, at that point, we can then start having a conversation with them about being content creators. So remember earlier on when I talked about how you can create events and create blog content and answer questions and all this kind of stuff. If you go to people right at the beginning of their community experience and say, "Hey, would you like to go and write a blog post for us," you're going to get crickets.

But if they've already been nurtured, they've had a lot of value out of the community when they get to being regulars. If you then have that conversation about creating content, they're going to be much more receptive to it. And again, this isn't anything particularly unique. It's exactly the same way that if you're doing sales online, if you try to sell to a cold audience, no one will buy it. But if you try to sell to a warm or a hot audience, your sales figures are going to go much higher.

So you're probably thinking, "OK, that sounds fine Bacon, how do we do that?" Well, we do that through incentives. So by thinking about these three phases, casual, regulars and core, it means that we can introduce the right kinds of incentives to move people along these different phases of the journey. So when people are casual members, they don't really know anyone, they haven't got any relationships there. They don't know if it's worth their time, they're not sure if it's valuable.

If we put the right kind of incentives to build relationships, to provide mentoring, to give amazing content, where they're always getting something out of it, they're much more likely to stick around for those two months, and therefore build the habit that they need to proceed on to being regulars. Now, just before I go on, these three phases that you can see here, are sized appropriately, you'll have mainly casual people, a smaller number of regulars and a very small smattering of core members.

That's perfectly normal, but what we want to do is we want the people on the right to mentor the people on the left, so your core members will mentor your regular members, your regular members will mentor your casual members. That is how we build scale. So to get people moving from the casual to the regular to the core, so just to recap, we identify our audiences, what pain points they've got onboard them to get that first piece of value really quickly and easily that solves their pain points. Build a habit for two months in the casual phase, move them onto regular and then core, we use incentives to move them forward.

Incentive Comparisons: Stated and Submarine

So let's talk about incentives. Incentives are super powerful. And we see them everywhere, right? Do you remember when we used to get on airplanes, I primarily flew United somewhat begrudgingly, because nobody really wants to fly United but I'd collect mileage plus points. Because if I get a certain number of points, I get free economy upgrades, or I get very occasionally bumped up to business class, for example. But we collect the point so we can get perks from it. Go to a coffee shop. When you get your 10th coffee card stamp, you get a free coffee.

You get karma on Reddit, you get video game trophies, Fitbit has badges, we see these kinds of incentives absolutely everywhere. And referral campaigns, for example, can be super successful as well. The reason why this works is that psychologically our brain is divided into two pieces. It's called system one and system two thinking. This was coined by Kahneman in a book called Thinking Fast and Slow, which if you're interested in reading, I would recommend that you don't because it is the thickest, most obtuse difficult to read book I've ever read in my entire life. I actually managed to get through it, but it took some slogging.

So you don't necessarily need to read that book if you want to understand behavioral economics, which is the subject, go and read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. That's a much easier book to read. But Kahneman book is amazing. Because system one thinking is essentially, it's our monkey brain. It's the part of the brain that's been around forever in human beings and it's looking for the tiger in the bush, it's looking for fear and risk. If Ted somehow miraculously appeared in my office, which would in itself be weird, and jumped up behind me, the thing that would make me go, "Ugh," like that, is my system one part of my brain trying to protect me.

Now, the system two part of the brain is our conscious thoughts. It's how we analyze the world around us, our brains are fundamentally pattern matching machines, is looking for patterns. But when seeing those patterns, the system one part of the brain is massively whispering in its ear and telling us what to think. And that's the whole study of behavioral economics is that we're actually, we think we're rational creatures, but we're massively irrational but we're irrational in consistent ways.

The reason why I'm saying this is the reason why incentives work, is because we are fundamentally hunter, gatherers. So when we started out as a species, we grouped together into communities. We'd, for example, spend time near rivers and oceans because it's a source of food. So therefore, collating resources is important to us. And that's never left us. So the reason why incentives work is because we're naturally always looking for gathering things. And that's why we like to gather rewards, and points and prizes and things like that.

The way in which you can apply incentives, there's two ways and I call it stated and submarine incentives. A stated incentive is something such as a competition, GitHub has the game office run by a friend of mine called Lee Riley, does a wonderful job. Basically says if you make the best game, then you'll win these prizes. HackerOne applies reputation points and signal and impact to people who participate in that platform. And that kind of encourages people to move up. And that can also unlock certain rewards.

If you've got a Stack Overflow, a Stack Exchange, for example, in the middle of this screenshot, if you get your question favorited by 25 people, you get a favorite question batch, 51,000 have been awarded when I took the screenshot. So you're saying if you do this thing, then you get this thing and that is in itself a powerful way of incentivizing people.However, remember, whatever you incentivize, you will trigger that kind of behavior. We saw this in the early days of communities, when people would say if you post 500 posts to a forum, you'll get a nice little badge on the side. So people would post just junk responses with one word or two words or a smiley face, and game the system.

So stated incentives and stated rewards are powerful if you apply them in the right kind of way. What I think is much more interesting, and much more powerful are submarine incentives. And this is where you say, "I'm going to use a computer to detect things. And when I detect the behavior that I want to see, I will use a human being to recognize and reward that."

So to give you an example, one forum platform that I use with a lot of my clients is a platform called Discourse. It was co created by Jeff Atwood, who was the cocreator of Stack Exchange. And there's something called a trust model built into Discourse where, as you post, write, like, get liked more inside of the community, you go up these trust levels, you kind of rise up these ranks, and it's hidden to the community, they can't really see what the criteria are, they just gradually go up.

Now I like to rebrand those trust levels. So trust level two, I often rebrand as silver. And then what we do is we can detect when someone goes up to that level so they're being a good active member of the community. But then we recognize it with a post in the community such as these two. One is from a company I work with called Zeplin. Another is with Intel, where we just say thank you to George, thank you to Doctor Who for their amazing contributions in the community.

We provide that social recognition, that social proof, that doesn't just make them feel good. It also encourages other people to want to rise up those ranks as well. So this isn't automatically generated by a computer because nobody wants automatically generated content. This is written by human being, but we use a computer to measure when people hit that pattern that we want to see.

Another example is opensource.com, where they send out backpacks for people who write content for their site. Opensource.com gets millions of hits every month. It's primarily driven by community generated content. And they recognize people as they create that content. Mattermost will send out mugs to people who make their first contribution to their GitHub project. And another example is opensource.com again, where at the end of the year, the most active members of their community, will get flown out to Raleigh for a day of meetings and to go to an amazing conference called All Things Open. And then to meet, at the time was the CEO of Red Hat, who is now the president of IBM.

So this is why incentives are so important is that for that two-month period, you weave them in to keep people moving forward. It's no different to Disney delivering an amazing experience to a great restaurant delivering amazing experience, et cetera, et cetera. So, that's kind of the model that I try to take.

Growth vs Engagement: Mentoring, Collaboration and Wisdom

And then just to kind of fill in some final pieces that people usually ask at this point in the presentation is, well, how do you build growth? How do you get people in there? Well, this is why we focus on content. So content, social media, email, webinars, events, that's how you pull people in. But don't just create content that is of interest to your target audience. What your community does, inside of your community can be content, someone creates a great new module for your product, go and celebrate that.

If somebody is answering people's questions, or runs a training session, or creates an eBook, go and celebrate that. This is what's so beautiful about communities is that they can generate a huge amount of content that you can put out there as well. And if you're interested in content, I've actually got a training course that I've built on how to do content well. Just drop me a note and I'm happy to discuss that with you.

Now, in terms of engagement, how people spend time in your community, just to kind of wrap up the mess, then definitely focus on getting them into their first contribution, dropping the right kind of incentives. In the casual phase, focus on mentoring, helping them to be successful, getting as much value out of the community as possible. As I mentioned earlier on with regulars, focus on collaboration, trying to get them to create content, work with other people, come up with new ideas, even breaking them into teams can be an effective way to make them feel engaged in that sense of ownership in the community.

Then with your core members, this is all about wisdom. How do you get your core members to share what they know, what they see to be a part of your team to build the very best community out there? Because here's the thing, if you want to an a build amazing company, an amazing community, amazing anything, nobody wants that dictated to them. You need to make sure that your community members feel part of shaping the environment that they're in, in the same way that nobody wants to go and sit at a cube at a company where they're not allowed to put a picture of their family up and there's regulations around what they can put on their desk. Everybody wants to make their office space their own, and people want to make the community their own as well.

So just to wrap up, as I mentioned earlier on, a lot of this is covered in my book People Powered. I'm pretty proud of this, it won a Business Book Award last year, it's bestseller on Amazon and Goodreads. I think you'll get a lot of value out of it. But also, if you go to jonobacon.com/pack, you can pop in your email address, and I'll send you two free chapters from People Powered to the audiobook chapters that I lead. I read with my velvety English baritone, as well as templates, cheat sheets, I send a lot of content and best practices out via email as well, I provide access to free training, I do sweepstakes with mentoring. So we can do some one-on-one time, like consulting for free. So go and check that out and that might be useful to you as well.


Defining "Community"

So a community at its core is a group of people with a shared interest, I think. And that can be a book club, it can be a knitting circle, it can be a breast cancer support group. It can be five people sat in a pub. I mean, one of the first communities that I started was a Linux user group in the town I lived in in the UK, and two people other than me showed up to the first meeting. And from there, it kind of blossomed. Or it can be a massive global movement, like Mozilla with the open web movement around Firefox back in the early days of the web.

The key thing I think is where it differentiates. The Twitter community isn't a community, Twitter's a stream of consciousness. I think a lot of companies will refer to their community, what they're really referring to is their customer base or their user base. So to me, what a community is where you bring these folks together into a shared space, where you can enable them to benefit from each other's experience.

So if you've got a whole bunch of users in your field product, and they're not really grouped together in a place but they're using a product, I wouldn't really call that a community, you might be an addressable audience. But when you bring them together, and they can learn and benefit from each other, that's where you get the most value.

Managing Communities within an Org Structure

This varies quite, quite a lot, depending on different companies, like for some companies community is part of one person's time, I work with a client on the other end of things, for example, who's based in Asia and they will work in across 11 different geographies and they have community managers in each different geography. So it's as long as a piece of string. As a general rule, you need someone to own the community, you need someone who's responsible for the overall success of it. What I kind of walk through today in terms of the model, the onboarding, the audience definition, the incentives, you ideally need somebody who's going to be responsible for doing that well.

Evangelism is one piece of that, as I mentioned earlier on, but you really need somebody who's passionate about building human systems. And putting together this experience that I was talking about, and not everybody's got that level of expertise. And not everybody who's good at that is a good evangelist either. So sometimes, that's where it'll separate out into different roles. So I'd start with somebody who knows how to build a great community experience and is great to engage with people.

And then later on, you might want to bring in a dedicated evangelist to kind of get out there and banging the drum and make a lot of noise about it, and kind of increase the amount of flow that you get in. From a reporting perspective, most generally community center reporting to one of three teams, it's either engineering for tech companies, marketing, or product. Now product is much rarer and that tends to be where community is going to be something that's going to be baked into the product itself, is often the case. So for example, with Fitbit, it's baked into the product itself, I don't even know where the community team reports.

But more commonly, it's between marketing and engineering. If you've got a highly technical product, such as an infrastructure or a developer tool, then you might want to have your community lead reporting to the engineering management team. When I was at Canonical I initially reported into our CEO because he always had new functions kind of come in and report to him. So I report to Mark Shuttleworth initially and then I went and reported into the CTO, who was also the head of engineering. And the good thing about that is that I was constantly up to speed with what was going on, on the product side.

So I'd recommend there but I think to start out with, focus on building a great strategy, bring someone in to make sure that you can put that blueprint in place, and then just start small and then gradually build from there. Don't try to solve all of your problems at once because you won't get there.

When Community becomes Its Own Executive Function

I've seen very, very few companies have a community lead on the executive team. And usually the reason why is because a lot of executives will have a head of marketing, you'll have a head of customer success, and community's often seen as some blend of the two of those potentially with some product in there. So I think on one hand, a lot of CEOs, just they have too many direct reports reporting into them. And therefore, it's seen at a slightly lower level, it reports into somebody else.

But this presents a risk because especially with marketing, there are some community professionals who are very reluctant to report into marketing folks, because they've had bad experiences reporting them to kind of like traditional marketing dinosaurs, who only ever want to ship newsletters and they're all about lead gen, which is totally fine. But community is different and if you don't have somebody who understands it, then they're not going to be successful in managing that particular role.

But I also wouldn't use a broad brush to dismiss all marketing people, because I've worked with literally hundreds of heads of marketing, who really understand community and do an amazing job in managing their teams, but CCO, very, very rare. But I do think we're going to see that happening more and more, especially in startups.

Business Based Communities vs Cause-Based Communities

I'm presuming here, I reckon and let us know if this isn't what you're asking is kind of a community wrapped around a business or a product versus maybe a town or activist campaign, or there are many, many communities around a cause, like I mentioned breast cancer earlier on. If I recall correctly, I was talking to the CEO of meetup.com and one of the most common types of meetups that they've got is breast cancer awareness and support.

The good news here is that fundamentally they're not that different. Because psychologically, we still want that sense of belonging, we still need to get people access, we still need to facilitate that social capital, like I mentioned, at the beginning of the session, the difference is in I think, the value proposition that you're offering, and that people want. So if you're running an activist campaign, for example, the value proposition has changed is that you're playing a role in change. Whether it's gay rights or whether it's Black Lives Matter, or whatever it might be, is that you're playing a role in a brighter future.

Whereas with businesses, usually it's a little bit more, frankly, selfish in nature, people just want to improve their life and what they're doing, it's much more just individualistic in nature. So the benefit of the business communities is that you can often offer value that people can consume much more quickly. Whereas the challenge with civic and activist related communities, is there's a lot of belief, and you've got to maintain that belief.

For example, if you've got a activist community that's about landing on Mars, then when there's large periods of time when you're not landing on Mars, people can often lose their faith a little bit. So you've got to be constantly keeping people activated and engaged in doing so. And that's where the two primary change, but activist and civic communities vary tremendously, so to go back to my breast cancer awareness example, just providing a place where people can talk openly about the struggle that they're having with cancer is in itself very valuable. But that's very different to the landing on Mars activism kind of community. So it's similar psychological principles, different approaches is how I would describe it.

Building a Community with Early Alpha Products

What I would recommend you do here is that you first of all, if you're an alpha, let's say you're a stealth company, is on your kind of like placeholder website is you first of all, capture someone's email address. So email is a really, really powerful way of actually building a community. A lot of people don't talk about this, because they think of forums and Slack channels as the primary way to build communities.

But email done well, I'm not talking about crappy marketing junk that we all get in our promotions folder, but really valuable, useful content performs really, really well. So I'd get their email address, and then start engaging with them in that early alpha phase, show them how to get started, how to play with it, the value that they're going to get out of it, respond to the emails. Anyone who signs up for my email, like I mentioned that People Powered pack that I mentioned earlier on, those emails come from me, if you hit reply, it comes from me.

So start engaging and sharing content material that's useful to them. But then what I would do is I'd run something called an early adopter initiative. And I mentioned this in my book People Powered, is essentially what you do is you reach out to 10-20 people who have expressed an interest and then you essentially get them on a Zoom call, you introduce your technology, you walk through it and why it's useful, maybe bring them into a forum to get them started.

And then just it's only those people, provide an opportunity for them to use it to provide feedback and to share with you what they want to see out of a community. So you make them feel a great level of ownership over what you're doing, run that for a couple of weeks, make some changes based upon what you're seeing and then you bring in another cohort of people. And then gradually, when you're ready to go live, now you've got a community that's preceded, you've got people in there, they feel a sense of ownership, they're getting a lot of value out of it. And then you can keep the doors open and launch more broadly.

Product/Brand-Based Communities vs Technology-Based Communities

I think those kinds of communities are actually increasing in prominence and are very powerful. So to give you an example, I can't mention who this company is, because I'm under NDA, but I'm working with a fairly large tech firm right now, who really want to kind of build a better relationship with people who work in DevOps. And they're aware that their brand is well known, but it's not necessarily particularly popular with the audience that they want to attract.

So what we're doing, and this is somewhat inspired by opensource.com is we're building a community where it's got its own brand. And it's just a regular stream of content, there's a forum where people go and spend time, it's going to be events, there's going to be incentives and swag and all kinds of good stuff. But people go there, because it's a hotbed of value of content of value of events. It's not necessarily because of that company. And what it will say in the corner is that this community is powered by that brand. OK, in the same way that if you go to opensource.com, it says powered by Red Hat, but it's not the Red Hat community.

Now, it's higher risk because the value here is brand association. And you need a lot of content, a lot of material to make that kind of community work. But it's a great way of building an objective brand that isn't fundamentally limited by any preconceived biases that, well this is just going to be played. This is just the first tip of a very long sales funnel that I'm going to get shoved into without my consent. So if you want to build a community that's around a product or service, specifically like Fitbit, as an example, do it around your brand.

But if you want to really target an audience, a specific audience, and you want to kind of have standing within that audience, then using the product, or the brand agnostic way of doing it, it makes a lot of sense, the thing you need to know is it will take longer but there's more opportunity, you've got a much larger potential audience. But you've also made sure your company is comfortable with competitors playing a role in that. And potentially even talking about competitors products within that. If you want to go the independent route, you have to be comfortable with that independence. And some companies say they're comfortable with it, but they're not actually comfortable with it. And it takes a little bit of mental maneuvering to get comfortable and to position that in a way that they're going to be comfortable with.

Open Source Community Operations

It's a model of community that's been stupidly successful. I mean, it's worked in so many different areas. And it provides a very crisp, collaborative model around engineering. But the problem with Open Source is that it's really complicated to kind of operate. Years ago, you put a piece of Open Source software, and it would run on your machine, it would run on some machines in the data center. But now we've got massive public clouds that are playing a role in this.

So there's been a lot of bickering recently about Amazon, for example, repackaging Open Source projects and getting revenue and all the rest of it. So Open Source, I think, it's a popular model that's worked well. There is a lifecycle to it like I think part of this question is what is the lifecycle of an Open Source project, and to me, what's critical is, earlier on, I talked about collaborative communities, and there's inner and outer. With an inner collaborative community, what's fundamental is that the collaboration norms of the community are defined by the community themselves. So you have open governance, you have open code review, and an engagement.

And what you do is your commercial stakeholders that are feeding into that shape those norms, but then they're active participants in it. So to give you an example, if you look at the CNCF community, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which is Kubernetes, and a whole bunch of other things. No single company even Google who initially created Kubernetes and contributed it has prominence in that community. The community come together to agree on the set of conventions that need to happen to make sure that people can engage in co-op petition effectively. So that's great and when it's done, well, you get amazing results. It's just complicated. And there aren't that many people in the world who are used to doing this. So I think Open Source is very powerful. But there are some caveats that are associated with doing it well.