💪 Building an online community from scratch with Sofia, Director of Community at Venafi

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak with Sofia Rodrigues, Director of Community at Venafi. Watch the video and get to know more about how to build your community from scratch. For more such content on community building, head over to CommunityHub by Threado: https://threado.com/blog
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Pramod Rao
August 14, 2021

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak with Sofia Rodrigues, Director of Community at Venafi. Watch the video and get to know more about how to build your community from scratch.

Here's the transcript to the interview :

Sofia: When you're starting a community, don't expect everything to be automated. I think at the start, it really is about building deep and meaningful connections.

Be patient be purposeful and be people oriented.

Don't start a program or a community without talking to your people first, make sure that you are speaking to your future community members.

Look for things that your community members are doing and build off your rituals off of that.

Shalini: Hi Sophia. Thank you so much for your time today. Welcome to this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight by Threado.

To give you some context, we are curating these interviews as resources for young community builders out there, who're just learning how to launch, build, engage, and scale communities. Would love to understand more about Venafi, your warrior community and a little bit about what you do at Venafi.

Sofia: Absolutely and thank you so much for inviting me. I am a Director of Community at Venafi. They are a market leader in the cybersecurity space and they created something called the machine identity management category. Our community is called the warrior community, and we see anyone who considers themselves as a machine identity management professional, or an enthusiast as someone who could join the community. So it could be at PKI admin, security architect, or even a CSO. That's welcome to join.

Shalini: All right. What made you realize that there's a need for this community and getting all of these people together in one space?

Sofia: That's a great question. And I think that's something that stood out to me when I was considering joining the position and that this specific audience is an audience that it tends to be a bit of an unsung hero.

There are people who are discovering vulnerabilities, they're protecting us as people behind the scenes and you don't really tend to interact with them unless something goes wrong, unless there's some type of emergency. And so this persona being an unsung hero really stood out to me because I saw the community as something that we could build and create for that, to have a place where they could connect network, share best practices and really feel like they had a place that.

Both celebrated and was helpful to them.

Shalini: Makes sense. Of course, it's great that, you went all out there and got these people together and build a wonderful community, that warrior community is right now. How many members do you have right now? What platform do you use to get these people together?

Sofia: Sure. So right now we are in the really beginning of stages of launching our online community. One of the big things that we were doing, and even before I joined the company was focusing on audience building. So at the time we were using slack to get some customers to start connecting with each other, really forming a tight close knit group.

And we will be moving to a new online platform called Insided. So we expect that we're going to have a faced approach right now. We might have somewhere around 3000 people in there, but as we start bringing in new audiences, we see this jumping to even like 10,000 or more.

Shalini: Let's hope it gets more than just 10,000. Yes. Okay. Any reason why like you said, you started with Slack and then you plan to move forward with Insided. So why that switch? And why did you think about starting with Slack?

Sofia: Definitely. That's a great question. I'm sure a lot of people are considering that when they're looking for a new tool. For us personally, we knew that we wanted a platform that could have different features like product feedback, groups, events, forums, and more. And Slack for those who are familiar with it, does not have those capabilities. It's really a communication tool. And because at the start, we were really focused around audience building, we wanted something that was easy for our customers to download maybe something they were already familiar with. Slack was the best approach for us. But when we looked at Insided and we looked at several platforms, we did want a platform that would provide us with analytics and product feedback and forums, and just all of those different features that community platform has.

Shalini: Okay. So you did mention, when you venture out into audience building, there's a lot of effort that goes into building your first hundred customer base. And I think it's a very important aspect, even for the young community builders to understand what goes into audience building. And you know like, how did you get your first bunch of users?

Sofia: Yes. So one of the first things that we did and actually shout out to Holly Firestone, who is our head of community. This was done before I joined the team was that she reached out to a customer facing team. So she thought if teams at the company who were already interacting with our customers, who would have their go-to people to be able to reach out to. She got, let's say about a handful of those names, maybe five or six. And then what she did was very high touch because when you're starting a community, don't expect everything to be automated. I think at the start, it really is about building deep and meaningful connections. So what she did was that she would actually jump into one hour long calls with these customers, get to know them, get to know what their challenges were, what they were struggling with, what they wanted to see more of where they got their news for professional development, really try to build a picture of who our community member could be.

And once she did that initial relationship building, she actually also did a invitation when they're about to launch the Slack platform, to let them all know that this was coming, really bring them in. And from that point on the community has just expanded on slack. But I would say at the start, it's really focused. So focus on people that either you've know can give you great feedback about your product or your community. People who have been outspoken and really bring them i.

Shalini: So once she got in touch with these five or six members, and let's say, like they were the first 10, 20 people who joined the Slack community, what were the first steps that you guys thought of? Was it about, like what kind of content should go in or what kind of engagement rituals should you plan? What was the timeline of the entire community building that you had in mind?

Sofia: Yes. Great question. So at the start, we were really focused around encouraging our community members to engage with each other. We weren't taking the approach of having something. The company created content like blogs or webinars, and we just used the community to push it out, to market out these resources. So at the start, it was just really encouraging one-on-one connections, asking more personal questions. Like what's a Wayne that you had at your work today. What's something that you are celebrating. What type of resources do you all look for when you're trying to skill up in your career? And little by little that actually got other people to start asking questions. And that's really what we were trying to encourage.

And once people were speaking with each other, we would do positive reinforcement. So if someone answered a question, we would send them a message directly and say, thank you so much for answering the question. That's amazing. And whether it was just a simple, thank you, more of an intrinsic reward or an extrinsic reward 'Hey, we're going to send you a t-shirt for being so helpful'. One of those tactics were working.

Shalini: I'm just going to note down that thing because yeah, I think what community managers, essentially miss out, a lot of times, you're not responding to every messages that there are like either the members respond to those messages or the community managers should adjust those messages. And I think you did a great job at getting that initial engagement going.

Sofia: Yep. Thank you. And you're right. It's such a critical time where you do want to at least acknowledge that what they're doing and something that's good and that should be kept going. And it's also with the moderating, right? Like you want to model good behavior to your community members.

Shalini:  Absolutely. Very strong point out there. Moving on to understand a little bit about the engagement to choose, or once you got the members to like, network with each other and engage with each other over the content that you have been pushing, are there any other rituals that you thought of, you should be doing for the community? It could be a webinar, or it could be AMAs or could be any other virtual event that you thought of?

Sofia: Yes. So as far as rituals, because we are a very early stage in our journey, we're actually looking for these types of rituals from our community members. One of my older roles used to be working in university orientation programs, and we would actually pass down rituals to students or community members.

And there were a lot of really silly rituals. We had one where one of the facilitators would have to get up and then skip around this huge auditorium. And he was skipping or they were skipping. Everyone would have to clap and sing a song. And I remember the first time I went through that, I thought it was so weird.

I didn't understand what was happening. It's a type of ritual that you have to pass down, you teach other people. And with our, with the wider community right now, what we're really looking for is to do the opposite. Where if we see something that a community member is interested in or something that they do or something they say.

We form a ritual around that. And with Slack, just being a current tool, a really easy way or a way for us to do that has been just creating custom emojis. We had someone who loves Walt Disney world, someone who mentioned a video game, for example, and we created custom emojis for them. And so now it's a thing where you can use those like special little emojis to react, but it is something where I would recommend to anyone who's listening.

Look for things that your community members are doing and build off your rituals off of that.

Shalini: I think, it's really great that you know, you are getting to the details and to seeing what people are really looking for. It's such a tiny thing to build out a custom emoji, but I think it makes a lot of difference when it comes to engagement, because it takes you to the next level of engagement.

Sofia: Definitely. And I think we will have way bigger forms of engagement that will be a part of our content strategy. We'll have weekly posts. We'll have those monthly webinars. We'll have those type of more structured traditions. But right now, I think, like you said, it's great to focus on those small things that can make an impact.

Shalini: Definitely. So when it comes to all of these like you said, content, there's content management, there's content marketing, and then you're also somewhere listing down who are the top contributors, analyzing what kind of content works for your community? So what's your tech stack for building out all of these?

Sofia: Great question. So at the start we used a bit of a mixed tactic with what tech stack our company has. So for example, we have things like Trello or Confluence, which are Atlassian products. And then there were things that we sought after. So Slack for our community to audience build, we were using a tool called Commsor just because there aren't great analytics on Slack.

And moving forward, we'll be using Insided as our community platform on top of using Salesforce, Zendesk, different tools. So right now I think we took the approach of doing something that would be easy for both of our team members and our community members to adopt and to also be able to pull across different data points, across different resources and be able to make sense out of all those different database.

Shalini: Yeah. I think you have your hands full with a lot of tools that you just mentioned about there. Would love to understand a little more about, like how did you bring this community together? Do you find that the community now has picked up momentum, is super engaging itself? Maybe because, there were instances that, probably is some kind of networking, even that you did that brought the community together?

Sofia: Yes. There was definitely a big event that was actually a bit of a realization for the company. We have a annual summit and back in 2019, it was hosted in person. And what they experienced at the summit was that. Our customers, our community members, instead of going to the next session, they just wanted to speak to each other. They were having lunch and they would try to find each other and just have these casual conversations. And that, I would say, that's an example of our community meeting in person.

So since then, that really sparked the online community. And we have been seeing the engagement between our community members increasing, but I think it really does come back to that in-person customer summit that sparked those initial connections and we've just been nurturing the online connections.

In the future, we are going to launch a user group program as well as top contributors program. So then you'll start seeing more of a combination of in-person and online events.

Shalini: Okay, great. I believe that you not probably because of COVID, this in-person meeting was on a hold for quite a bit, but do you plan to go back and have these in-person meetings again, or some kind of a larger summit for your community?

Sofia: Yes. We were actually lucky that because the community had not been launched right, because the community was not active before the pandemic, we didn't have to deal with the in-person to virtual transition. The only event that we had that really was impacted by that was our customer summit.

But now that we do have a strong audience and we're going to be launching our online community pretty soon actually around August or September, we will be focusing more on a hybrid approach of having in-person and online events so they can continue to network.

Shalini: Moving on, would love to understand, was there any instance or something that triggered in the community that made you realize that, hey, this is the reason exactly why I build this community. Probably some kind of personal or professional story that you want to share with our listeners?

Sofia: Sure. I think there are a couple. I think for the company, like I mentioned, our in-person customer summit was the first spark that really made them see the value that community could bring.

I also think that it was something that. Could always have the potential to happen. The first time I spoke to our CEO, he actually shared with me that he used to be a user group leader in Silicon valley. So I think as our CEO, he was always community focused. He always saw it as something that he could see for the company.

And for me personally, because I am more in the. Online community. I'm speaking with our members. It's the small moments it's seeing them speak to one each other. When someone posted questions on one of our slack channels and three people jump in to help out, or when someone shares something exciting that happened to them, not even in their professional life, but actually getting more to the personal life.

Those moments are really heartwarming and it makes me see that we are helping to build not just engagement for the sake of engagement, but we're actually helping to build meaningful connections between our community members.

Shalini: Absolutely. These moments just make you realize that you are nurturing just the right thing, yeah? Doing the right thing out there by building this community and giving them a space to talk to each other.

Sofia: Definitely. Yeah.  

Shalini: Any tips that you want to share with that community builders?

Sofia: Yes. I would say, be patient be purposeful and be people oriented. What I mean by that with the be patient is starting a community is not an overnight project. It's not something that happens right away. It's going to take time and resources to get it going. And that also means that you need to be patient.

To yourself, because it can't be a very exhausting process. So you have to take care of yourself with the purposeful, I would say don't fall prey to cheap wins. It's not all about the number of likes, the number of shares or the number of views. It's about creating those meaningful and purposeful connections for your community members and with your community members.

And with people, I would say this is really important because as community builders, that is in the heart of what we do, you're tasked with creating inclusive and meaningful experiences. And I really see this as having an ethical responsibility to your fellow people. And of course, don't start a program or a community without talking to your  people first, make sure that you are speaking to your future community members.

I would say. Be patient have purpose and keep people at the center of it.

Shalini: Thank you, Sofia. Those are such warm and great tips for community builders to just start off on those three points that you just mentioned. For anyone who's viewing or listening, do go ahead and just tell them where could they find this community and how could they join this.

Sofia: Absolutely. So you could go to Venafi.com forward slash community. That landing page is going to tell you more about the warrior community as well as how to join. Like I mentioned though, at the start, we are going to be close to customers, but we'll be open to machine identity management, enthusiasts soon.

Shalini: Okay. Thanks so much Sofia. I think we've got a lot of insights, which folks out there can use your experience of building such a great community. Thank you once again for taking the time and being here with us today.

Sofia: Thank you.

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