Learning how to effectively facilitate community-led initiatives with Nicole Saunders from Zendesk

Learnings from the ninth episode of Threado Community Hour featuring Nicole Saunders, and our very own Sharath Kuruganty.
Priyanshu Anand
March 29, 2024

Learning how to effectively facilitate community-led initiatives with Nicole Saunders from Zendesk

Learnings from the ninth episode of Threado Community Hour featuring Nicole Saunders, and our very own Sharath Kuruganty.
Priyanshu Anand
November 1, 2022

It’s 2022 - the year of Community-led growth is upon us. The best time to build your SaaS community was before you launched your product. The second best time is now. But community building is tough. It takes time, courage, efforts, persistence, failures, second-guesses, leap-of-faiths, sleepless nights, and maybe even a couple of urges to give everything up. But it doesn’t have to be done alone. We’re here to help and give you the resources you need to succeed.

Presenting Threado Community Hour - an hour-long panel discussion with some of the most successful community builders and networking sessions to help you learn the best engagement tactics, grow your network, and get answers to the questions that matter to you.

In this episode we have Nicole Saunders, Director of Community at Zendesk where she oversees the Community Team (part of the Global Digital Experiences team), sets strategy, defines policy and governance, develops and launches new community products, and engages our user community. Previously, she helped to grow Jaunt, a VR startup in Silicon Valley, where she ran all social media channels and event marketing. Before that, she spent 5 years as a social media and branding consultant to many early-stage tech startups helping them to establish their brand voice and grow their social media presence.

Here are the key takeaways from the session👇

How does Nicole and the team manage community at Zendesk?

When they started the community program, they were tasked with being support agents who simply answered the questions that came in. Initially what they wanted was to improve the response time, and keep the community well-managed and moderated along with ensuring that technical questions don’t go unanswered.

Gradually they started focusing on driving more engagement with initiatives like AMAs and events. Community started inclining more towards marketing than product support and they evolved into more of a brand community that engages its members beyond just questions and answers.

Now, they’re a team of 6 that started with just 1. The Zendesk community team now has event programs, user programs, advocacy programs, and a lot more.

Community functions as an integrated team across different areas like marketing, product, and customer. Since Zendesk is a community success platform in itself, how community fit in with customer success?

Community has a lot of touch points in the customer journey which beings customer success and community quite close together. Community at Zendesk does a lot of events that have significant involvement from the customer success teams like conducting office hours that focus on providing value to customers.

Customer success is about educating people and telling them how to better use the product which is essentially also what community is about. And when we bridge customer success with community, it compounds into a much larger reason for conversion or even retention.

What are some of the initiatives that really worked for Zendesk?

One of the biggest things to happen has been the idea of catalyzing the magic of community by allowing the people to take control of the initiatives that we took.

They have a community moderator program where members who were exceptionally good at answering or handling questions were made champions or experts. And it really started taking off when they created a closed Slack group where these champions could discuss ideas and create resources to help the masses.

All you really have to do is help them out and support them with the right resources and Swag to keep them motivated.

Another great initiative that’s happening is the user group program which is launching soon. It includes 17 chapters including local as well as global groups. Again, these meetups will be community-led and Zendesk’s community team will take a step back to be there only as support pillars.

The team will not be present at meetups unless asked to be always supportive from a tech standpoint. Providing experts with the right pieces of training and even hosting quarterly townhalls to get insights about the user groups and how can they be improved.

How do you get to the point where customers essentially help other convert? What is that tipping point?

Again, it’s about letting it happen naturally. You can’t force people to convert to customers and most of all, you can force customers to force others into becoming customers. The process of becoming community-led is to let things happen at their own pace.

Ofcourse, this doesn’t mean that you turn a blind side, that won’t work either. Your goal should be to facilitate everything that can eventually lead to natural growth but never to force it.

One of the key factors is to set the tone right from the beginning. Let people know that you’re not going to be in their way but rather just be there to support them and guide them.

Another example of how this happens is when they started the community moderator program, some of the people came forward to say that they wanted to make their careers in Zendesk and it’ll be really helpful if they could offer discounts on their certifications. Zendesk was more than happy to give them what they wanted. This is what eventually compounds into customers becoming members and then advocates.

How do you get your first superuser on a low budget

It’s important to figure out what’s of value to your community. Sometimes, what you can offer doesn’t need to have a monetary benefit to it. And depending on what type of community you have, you can offer things like giving them recommendation letters or helping them out with some of their work.

Nicole talks in detail about running a reward program on a budget. Do have a look 👇

How do you manage and promote your community to the world?

Community should always be at the forefront of your business. This basically means that it should be easy for people you find and be a part of your community. But then again, just because you have a community doesn’t mean that people will be a part of it. That leads us to the question of promoting it.

When you’re putting your community out there, you need to focus on clearly defining a few things -

  • What is the value proposition of your community?
  • Who is this community for?
  • What will they get out of joining it?

Once you have the messaging clear, you need to focus on putting it out there as much as possible so people understand what your community is for and what can they get out of it. How you position your community is almost as important as how you run it.

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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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