How to build products along with your community

Run experiments, see how your community responds to initiatives, talk to them, learn from them, listen to them, and don’t worry about scaling just yet.
Priyanshu Anand
October 9, 2023

How to build products along with your community

Run experiments, see how your community responds to initiatives, talk to them, learn from them, listen to them, and don’t worry about scaling just yet.
Priyanshu Anand
June 27, 2023

In today's digitally interconnected world, building an online community has become a crucial element for businesses seeking to thrive and engage with their customers. Beyond simply offering a product or service, organizations now realize the immense benefits of fostering a vibrant online community. Seeing community-led success stories like Notion and Figma, companies have realized that communities can be a product’s north star in a way that members and users dictate how the product roadmap shapes over time.

By focusing on the community along with the product, you’ll understand customer needs better, be able to identify your target audience faster, make your product more appropriate for the real world, create brand advocates, nail your GTM strategy, and eventually improve product adoption along with revenue.

Let’s look at a few reasons why building a community along with the product can help you attain escape velocity.

Encourage active participation

One of the primary reasons to build an online community is the sense of belonging it creates among customers. By establishing a platform where users can connect, share experiences, and support one another, businesses can cultivate a loyal customer base. Being part of a like-minded community creates a positive emotional attachment to the brand, enhancing customer satisfaction and retention.

But you have to establish early on that this is a product community first, which enables connections and encourages discussions around problem statements and how those problems can be addressed with the product. Encourage members to talk openly about their problems or the problems that face with the product so that more people can discuss their insights and the solution can be a critical factor for the project roadmap. This initiates a dialogue and serves as a conscious reminder of what your space truly is about. When members become comfortable, they don’t hesitate to ask questions or talk about the product.

Community Empowerment through Knowledge Sharing

An online community empowers customers by providing them with a platform to share knowledge and expertise related to the product or service. Users can exchange insights, ask questions, and guide fellow community members. This collaborative environment enhances the overall customer experience and helps users become more proficient in utilizing the product effectively. As a result, customers feel more confident and derive greater value from their purchase, leading to increased loyalty.

Being vocal about the product could mean a lot of things -

  • Start by posting regular product updates about new features, upcoming roadmap, and what problems these features help solve.

  • Share resources that are relevant to the product, how-to guides, video guides, documentation - anything that can help people make the most of the product.

  • Provide more value through events that are practical showcases of actual solutions to problems. For example - we host Community Demo Days where we give the platform to a community builder to showcase how they use Threado as a product and how has it helped them.

If you make the most of your community about your product, it’s bound to impact people in a way that constantly makes them aware of everything that has to do with the product. The events you organize, the programs you structure, the things you talk about - everything revolves around your product one way or another.

In our Community Decoded podcast, Joshua Zerkel, who heads Community at Asana, talks about how he and his team started the three-pronged community program that catapulted product adoption and growth in users who were also a part of the community. The Ambassadors program especially has helped exponentially increase the total number of active accounts using Asana.

“When we created this program, we made sure that we were not just designing it so that people would have fun. We want them to have fun because that's why they come back, but the types of things that we were creating for them, the resources that they would get, and the networking that they could do, were all centered around how to use the product.” - Joshua Zerkel, Head of Global Engagement Marketing (Community)

Make your community a part of the roadmap

For Sessions, community was never an afterthought. The concept of a community was part of the initial business plan developed for the platform. Therefore, the platform had a head start only to develop an MVP. Soon after the MVP was tested both in a closed and an open beta environment, they launched their MVC (Minimal Viable Community) as a closed community on Slack.

Everybody on the team valued and understood the importance of having a tight-knit group of people around the product which ultimately helped them understand -

  • The real needs and use cases of their core members.
  • The value their product brings compared with other similar products.
  • Their most valued features and our unique selling points.
  • The difference between what they thought was important vs. what really, truly matters for their users.

Community powers growth at Sessions and is unequivocally the most important element that pushes them in motion toward progress. With a community in place, they had a direct communication channel where people could connect with everyone from the team, including the founders.

Indulging and interacting with the community was a priority at Sessions. They took time to have 1-on-1s with members, understand their problems, and suggest efficient ways to go about it. In fact, they would even enter live events to support their community and make sure everything runs smoothly.

In a way, Sessions’ community co-created the platform and that’s because they wanted them to.

"For us, the community is as powerful as the cane is for a blind person. It shows us the way. I think of Sessions community as a flywheel of people-product-feedback-development-product-people. The only way forward, in SaaS business, is to combine community-led and product-led growth to empower enduring solutions.” - Savian Boroancă

Continuous Feedback and Improvement

Building an online community offers businesses a valuable channel for collecting feedback and understanding customer needs. Customers can provide suggestions, report issues, and share their perspectives directly with the company and other community members. This feedback loop enables businesses to iteratively improve their products or services, addressing pain points and introducing new features that align with customer preferences. Such responsiveness demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction, fostering a strong brand reputation and attracting new customers.

But to be able to provide better support, you have to be faster, more efficient, and of course, resourceful. When you have a sea of other things to take care of, it becomes difficult to manually handle everything. There is where a tool like Threado that lets you filter through messages faster and use AI-based identifiers to narrow down on important messages you might’ve missed otherwise. And the best part? You can directly respond to these messages from the dashboard itself.

In the below example, we’re filtering out all messages that are questions so you are only able to see messages that are questions and nothing else.

You can also identify a message based on the type of post it is (eg: query, bug, information, promotion, etc.), the sentiment of the message, and the keywords used in the message.

Amplifying Brand Advocacy

An engaged online community can act as a catalyst for brand advocacy. When customers have positive experiences and feel a sense of belonging, they become more likely to share their enthusiasm with others. Word-of-mouth recommendations within the community and beyond help to attract new customers who trust the opinions of their peers. Moreover, community members often become brand ambassadors, actively promoting the product and defending it against criticism. This organic promotion not only saves marketing costs but also builds a strong foundation of trust and credibility for the brand.

As an extension of your advocacy programs, you can have referral programs that hold an incentive for both your existing community members and new members who are referred. In fact, Threado makes it extremely easy for you to identify these users who can be brilliant advocates and therefore appropriate for the referral program. Threado has something called “Activity Score” as a metric for each member which is a numeric representation of their activities in the community i.e. posting messages, replying to messages, and reacting to messages.

You can customize this Activity score for your community to define the score for each activity -

This Activity Score is reflected on pre-built reports and the primary Members’ dashboard that shows detailed member data.

Community 🤝 Product = Growth

All that being said, you don’t have to build a community if you don’t feel a need for it. The decision to build an online community should be intrinsic, the reason not being “because everyone else is doing it”. It shouldn’t feel like a burden later on, especially because you’re parallelly also building your product. It can be tricky to do both at the same time but doing it right can prove to be an indispensable strategy for businesses aiming to thrive in the digital era.

Community in a way is your trial and error. It’s like taking sample data and seeing how it responds to your approaches. In business, oftentimes, knowing what not to do can be more beneficial than knowing what to do. And community can be a lifesaver for you when you haven’t figured out go-to-market yet or even your target audience. Run experiments, see how your community responds to initiatives, talk to them, learn from them, listen to them, and don’t worry about scaling just yet. If you can get things right in the early stages, the best will be yet to come.

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