January 27, 2021
Ep. #9, Falco with Dan “Pop” Papandrea of Sysdig
In episode 9 of The Kubelist Podcast, Marc Campbell speaks with Dan “Pop” Papandrea of Sysdig. They discuss Pop’s experience as a CNCF...
Interested in learning more about building developer communities that can power billion dollar businesses? You can now rewatch the rest of the DevGuild: Software-Defined Movements talks here.
I'm Patrick, CEO and Co-Founder of Orbit. On the left, you see members of the Orbit team. I just love this photo because we're all donning weird space gear. You can imagine with a company named Orbit, we really lean heavily into space metaphors, space jokes, space emojis, you name it. But this is us.
We're the creators of a framework called the
Model. The Orbit Model is a community-centric
alternative to the
sales and marketing funnel.
It was created from the ground up to help you
organize, engage, and connect with your
community and to measure
the impact and the outcomes of that over
time. You can read more about the Orbit
Model on GitHub.
There's a deep dive there if you just Google
it, or you can see a high level
overview at orbitmodel.com.
We're also makers of the Orbit Platform. Orbit's mission control for your community, provides you and your team with a single view of what's happening across all your community platforms, no matter where your community meets. It let's you get insights, generate reports, and provide your team with tools for taking action on your data.
And so, as we think about diving into this question of, "should I build a community?" wanted to briefly level set with a couple of key concepts that we've seen over the past couple of years of doing this. First is asking yourself, what kind of community are you building? And this may sound like an obvious point, but the reality is community, as a term, as a vocabulary word, can mean so much and so little at the same time.
What I mean by that is you think about Kubernetes is a community, but so is my local fencing club. They both use the term community to describe them. And yet they couldn't be more different.
Now of course, fundamentally, community is
really just a group of people coming
together around a common purpose, but the
community itself can really feel too high-level
to be meaningful.
So what we've done at Orbit and the way we talk
about this stuff with our own
community and our customers, is thinking about
a three-part taxonomy.
I think if you can think about these three
types of communities, you can reason more
specifically about what we mean when we say
the word community. So three types of
First type is communities of product.
So the members of these communities, they're interested in getting
better at a
specific tool or technology or platform, and
primarily want to share ideas and get feedback
talk about that specific tool.
So some great examples are CircleCI's
community, which is
massive and folks talking about how to better
use that tool.
And also the Roam Research community.
Roam is a note-taking too
and their community self-identifies as the
And these people have a huge Reddit presence,
they have a
huge Slack group and they talk about things
like how to hack the
program, how to hack the system and tweak the
and build better workflows inside the tool
So product-centric communities are all about,
as you can guess, the
product. But there's also things we call
communities of practice.
And folks in these communities, they're all
about leveling up their craft and connecting
with other practitioners independent of any
specific tool or platform. So Demuxed is a great example of this.
The folks in that community are interested in
video technology, generally, and
they want to share best practices, ideas, tools
for leveling up their
The On Deck community is another great example. On Deck is a cohort-based learning platform where folks get together for multiple weeks to talk about podcasting or to talk about angel investing or to talk about becoming a better founder. Communities of practice are increasingly popular these days.
And then finally, communities of play are kind
everything else. So fun, hobbies, you name it.
My fencing club would fall into this category.
Top Shot is a great example of this.
It's a community where people buy and sell NFTs
awesome NBA plays.
And the SoleSavy community as well.
It's a community about sneakers and people who
So if you think about these three types of
communities, you can
start to specifically talk about the type of
community, either you want to build,
or you have today. And I think this is
interesting because you can
actually assess your own community, really
taxonomy and figure out what the actual
Because most communities don't have to be all
of one or all of the
So a gaming club, of course, that's a
community of play
for sure. But a writers group, it might be half
practice, half play because you have people
wanting to get better at writing, but
they also want to read some cool stuff that's
been written. A support forum
would be all product.
On Deck, as we mentioned, would be all
And then the Orbit community, our community is a little bit of product and practice. I would say it's probably 60 to 70% product-centric. People come to talk about best practices and workflows on top of Orbit, how to use our API, how to build into our web hooks. But increasingly as more and more folks join the community, I think we've got 500 or so people in our Discord server today, we're seeing more and more organic conversation that I would consider conversations of practice. So, people talking about how to build a community programs, how to build better developer relations programs.
And so for you, you can assess yourself. Where are you today? What's the community that you have and where do you want to go in terms of these three community types?
And the second key concept is one that I want
to point out and dwell on for a moment. It's
this idea that
the most successful community programs are
focused on value
creation and not entirely on capturing value.
So value capture versus value creation.
When we say value creation, we mean things like
a give-first mentality
that focuses on connecting and educating and
equipping and inspiring your
Practically, this means things like creating content and events and tutorials and guides and places where people can connect. Value capture of course, is essential to the success of a business, but should be viewed as really like a second order impact of an effective value creation machine.
Finally, a couple of common failure cases that
we've seen over the past couple of years of talking to
hundreds of community builders.
One rationale that doesn't always work over the
long-term is this idea that,
"hey, our competitors have communities, we
have one too." That may be the case, but it may
not be the
most holistic motivation for building a
community for your company.
Another thing we see often is hiring a junior community manager, maybe someone who's just out of college and just crossing your fingers and hoping they figure it out. That's usually coupled with failing to define success. And then finally, maybe the most common is quitting too soon because reality is, community stuff takes a long time. So you got to have perseverance. We'll work through some of these potential failure cases, and de-risk some of your approaches to build the communities.
In the rest of this talk, we're going to talk
through, what I would consider some fundamental
questions and tactics to answer those
Really, there's a lot of frameworks out there
for community building.
Bacon's got a great one.
Spinks has a great one.
There's lots of high-level frameworks to reason
but really since we're talking today about
early approaches and the
spirit of today's theme, I thought, we should
start from the very beginning.
You'll notice as we go through these points, we're not going to really dig into the tools and platforms as much as I love tools and things like that. Because the reality is debating whether you should use Slack or Discord or Discourse or something else, really should come later after the fundamentals are in place.
So the stuff we're about to talk about will
sound pretty manual and at the beginning they
We've had conversations with
hundreds of community builders and the folks on
the Orbit team have built some
pretty impressive communities themselves.
So you can be confident that everything that
we're going to talk about today
is actually distilled from this collective
wisdom, with the hope of
setting you off on the right path of either
launching a new community or
potentially resetting the community you have
So first things first,
section number one, or tactic number one is
people. So this is basic customer discovery,
or as we call them in the community world,
It starts by being genuinely interested in the
potential members of your community.
Because the reality is if you don't actually
care about the people, for example, if you
only view the individuals as potential sources
leads, the long-term approach to community
probably won't work for you.
Some ways to do this tactically are things
like signing up for community
members activities like subscribe to their
into their Twitch stream and be the
first ones to do that. The screenshot on the
left is a tweet
about our community lead Rosie Sherry.
She's got this mantra of, be the first person
to DM a
new person in the community, be their first
follower, be the first comment on their
tweet or their blog. Really take the time to
learn and to dig in with them in the early
And finally, hang out where they hang. So that means joining communities that already exist. This will help you better understand the conversations that are happening there and a little bit more about the potential for a new community in your space.
Secondly, you want to build relationships, try to build real relationships. So we have this idea of, instead of calls to action to buy, we actually try to offer CTTs, a call to talk. It may sound silly, but facilitating conversations is such a huge part of early-stage community building. On the left, we have Rosie again, interacting with one of her new friends on Twitter. Rosie publishes a newsletter called The Observatory and what's happening in this tweet is that, this person Hillary is asking a question about it or making an observation. And Rosie said, "hey, do you want to talk about it? Let's have a conversation."
And that actually led to a nine minute mini podcast on the tool Racket. Rosie and Hillary just jumped into a room together and had this conversation. So it's a pretty interesting way to have a call to talk. In service of building this relationship, to learn more about these potential community members, some other tactical ways to do this, or find excuses to do stuff together. In the case of Rosie, she hosted a Racket. And importantly, don't expect anything in return at this stage of the process.
Another successful tactic for early
stage community building is, curating content.
Curating content, lets you do two things at
On one hand, it lets you learn about what your
people are interested in,
to see what they're talking about and what
they're struggling with.
But it also gives you the chance to make sure
you're fully ramped on the subject matter
Two of my favorite examples of communities
with content and curation are, on one hand,
newsletter. He's got 63,000 subscribers and his
Slack community has, I think 4-5,000 members.
It's definitely a community of practice where people talk about product
management and growth and share just all sorts
amazing wisdom about these topics.
But it all started with the newsletter.
It started with curating content.
The second example here is a community called Frontend Mentor. The Frontend Mentor community has around 50,000 members in their Slack group, which is just enormous. But it all started with a content site and the founder actually created a resource site for people wanting to learn about front-end development. And so, really, it's a great way to get to know your people through the types of things they're writing about and consuming.
So after you tried some of these steps, we say take some time to reflect. Decide what's working and what's not before moving on to the next question. So once you've start to explore your audience and build these relationships, you want to understand that momentum. If you've gotten to know your people, you know there's a need, here's some ways to think about identifying and leaning into that momentum.
So first, to understand momentum, you'll want
what kinds of conversations are resonating
across which platforms.
So if you're like most communities today, your
community will be distributed
across Twitter and maybe a forum, maybe a
newsletter, maybe internal tools.
There's lots of conversations having across
lots of platforms. So initially it's
great just to set a baseline.
How many community members are active on each of our platforms? What does that look like on a given day or a week? And then you can start asking questions like, does tweeting more, drive more engagement in the forum or in other parts of the community? Or do meetups? Do events actually increase forum participation or vice versa? And really start to lay the groundwork for measuring these things over time so you can assess the impact.
One lightweight way to do this is to start testing these ideas and this measurement using the free Orbit Model Airtable templates. And you can grab those at template.orbit.love. You'll recall that the Orbit Model is a framework for measuring the health and growth of communities over time. We actually turn those concepts into a spreadsheet that you can actually plug some data into. Play with that and see what's working and what's not.
So once you start to set a baseline, I think the next step is to start creating value where it's needed most. You can start segmenting communities based on engagement, or as we call it in the Orbit Model, we call it Love. On the left is actually the chart of the growth in Orbit levels vis-a-vis growth, the growth in Love for the Orbit community. And the idea is that once you know who's the community and where they are based on their engagement, you can start to ask more specific questions about how to build programs for each one of them.
So how can you further
encourage and platform your champions?
Or alternatively, what are some ways you can
build relationships with the folks who are
further away from your center of gravity?
One of my favorite examples of this is from one
customers named Emma at Rasa.
They were using Orbit to understand a segment
of the community and they
realized that they lacked contributors at what
they call the hero
So according to our plan here, they first segmented the community to identify the gaps and said, "we need to figure out how to get more heroes." So they figured out, what would a hero like to do? And then they created an engagement initiative for contributors based around that to drive more momentum.
Finally, we like this idea of experimenting
community flywheels. So as you're testing your
this phase, we say take an experimental mindset
to community building and community tactics.
Instead of focusing on a big bang, we've really seen that building on
small loops really compounds over time and
helps you build momentum
for your community.
So what do we mean by flywheels? These
are a couple of just small tactical examples here, but in
your forum or on your chat, you might ask new
introduce themselves in the introductions
And then you have a second step when they do
that, you would want to comment
on their intro, maybe ask a follow-up question
comment on something they mentioned.
And then the third step is add lots and lots of
to their replies and the conversations that
This may sound really silly, but emojis are
really the stuff of hardcore community
building. What we found is that this
type of interaction,
de-risks that initial touchpoint with someone
as they're onboarding
to the community. When they see other people
having conversations and lots of emojis
and comments flying around, it says to me as
any member of the community,
this is a safe space.
So I might as well dip my toe in the water or
dive right in.
Here's actually one example from our Discord
server. So Phil joined our server and shared a
lot of context about who he is and what he's
And you can actually see all the emojis
this message and below the fold here, there's
just tons of
conversation happening around this initial
post in the introduction channel.
You'll even notice this little call out to
reminding him to post.
actually a big part of community building.
Because, as we mentioned, the stuff doesn't
So in the case of our intros channel, it's a
pretty active channel,
but that's partially because we actually do the
manual work of encouraging it to
happen by reminding people to say hello.
Another great thing to test out is writing
about community members.
So maybe someone in your Slack community had
really cool observation or shared some amazing
So you decide to write a tweet thread about
what you learned from
you write the tweet thread, you probably will tag them into that thread
maybe share it back into the Slack group for
further conversation and tag them there.
And then the third step would be after you've
done, is to include that content in your
newsletter. So you might take the initial tweet
you wrote, any comments that came out of it and
feature that and feature your
community member in the newsletter.
The idea is that as you do that more, as you share that content that's been created with the world, other members of the community will then be willing to start sharing ideas as well. So by starting and building incrementally, you end up understanding what's working and what's not and hopefully why. And of course, hopefully you're measuring impact along the way.
So the final question for you is, is the
whole company ready? So you've learned some
you've gotten to know the people, you
understand what they're struggling with
and why a community makes sense.
Why now and why you should be the ones who build it and you're tracking
the impact, you're leaning into what's working.
seem like a non-important question but the
reality is that everyone is a community
builder. What we've seen is that
companies that create long-term value
with their communities, they understand that
community is no longer
the job of a single person.
It's not a department or a person sort of out
periphery, but rather it's a discipline that
When the whole company is having conversations, when everybody in your organization is out there doing the work we've discussed in these slides, maybe not as their full-time job, but at least some of it, you increase the surface area for opportunity and that's opportunities to build relationships, to connect to people in the community, to learn something, to feed that information back into the organization. Ultimately to help people and to create value.
So the thinking for us is that, this is sort of central question for you to ask yourself today, is, are you ready to do this?
One is simply asking the team to
participate in discussion
and to attend your events.
Most, if not all of Orbit team members are in
server every single day.
Not all day, not every day, not just posting
but participating and engaging.
Sometimes that's responding to product feedback. Sometimes that's helping out with bugs. Sometimes it's just sharing an interesting news story that's relevant to the conversation. Invite others on the team to curate and create content. Try to expand the ideation for content creation away from just a community manager or a content manager to everyone in the organization.
It's really important to share and socialize that community input and their ideas and their concerns back with the company. And more specifically, we see this in the form of product feedback and make sure that the product team is looped in on what the community is saying about the product, assuming you have a product-based community.
And importantly, close the loop with your community members when either the bug is squashed, or the feedback is implemented. Take the time to go back and say, "hey, we heard you."
"Last week, you said this thing was broken. We fixed it. Here's how we fixed it." We've seen that that community members really appreciate that. And then finally, if you have a recruiting team, connect them with active community members.
This is a common case where people in the community become active in the community, on the platform, and then become team members. This has actually happened for us a couple of times at Orbit. We're very thankful for that. It's a great way to build that pipeline of community members into the community as well, in service of helping the whole company realize that, we're all community builders here.
I love flywheels. I love loops.
So I think it works like this when it comes to
stages of building community, is that, that
initial understanding leads to
programs and ideas for testing your demand.
And then you can assess and measure the impact
of those programs,
measuring the momentum, focusing on what's
working. And those programs that you
build that you've tested, can involve the whole
company and having the whole company involved
means you can
do more to understand your people.
It's a virtuous cycle that begins with a deep
understanding and appreciation of the people
you're wanting to work with,
applying some rigor to building and measuring
programs and then engaging the
whole team around those opportunities.
So after hearing all that, if you still want to
build a community,
I think you have some raw material here to
what that could look like for you and your
As you embark on this journey, I want to leave
you with a couple thoughts.
First, don't give up.
It can take many iterations to get this right.
I know for the Orbit community, it took
us the better part of a year, I would say, to
get the big flywheel spinning
to the point where the community felt like a
It can take some time, a year or more easily.
I would also say that the steps that we've talked about today are accessible and they're kind of bite-sized on their own and try to take them step-by-step. But also collectively, keep in mind that the things we talked about today do represent an investment. So in light of the failure cases we mentioned earlier, just make sure you have the conversation internally about what it's going to take to invest in this process, to build a community and to make it something that's worth doing.
So, in the meantime, I would say, good
luck. The community building journey is
perhaps one of those rewarding things you will
You'll learn a lot and you'll meet some amazing
people along the way. Feel free
to ping me on Twitter if
you'd like to chat more or drop
me a note via email, happy to keep the
going. We talk about this stuff all the time,
and we'd love to hear how
things are going for you.
Interested in learning more about
building developer communities that can power billion dollar
businesses? You can now rewatch the rest of the DevGuild:
Software-Defined Movements talks here.