Planning Live Events for Your Startup Community

Planning Live Events for Your Startup Community

Community Blog

Planning Live Events for Your Startup Community

As online communities grow they tend to move towards running live events – people still want to meet face-to-face and have real life experiences together. 

Luckily, we have the technology today that allows community managers from any location to put together a live event for their community. 

As the community manager for a VC in California, I managed over a dozen live monthly events all over the United States. While a dozen might not seem like a lot, and there are definitely companies doing a lot more (like Duolingo who does over 200 a month), I think this will help anyone who is starting to plan live events from a remote location.

Organizing Live Community Events 

To start with, you’ll want to be very organized. We had checklists for every event and a calendar with tasks for each day/week.

For example, on a given Monday I would contact the hosts for the next week’s events and ask that they verify with their guests that the event is just over a week away. The guests were then asked to send in any presentation files they would be using for the event, and our hosts were asked to add the presentation template slides to the beginning and end of the documents.

This is just an example of how intricate the planning was and needs to be for your events. We will discuss the checklist further below.

Other aspects we kept in mind included:

• Volunteer hosts – We had people from the area volunteer to be our host, for a year at a time. I found these people by placing a call to action in our monthly email newsletters, posting on social media, and carefully explaining the benefits of working with our VC.

Namely, the VC would make introductions for them that would support the host’s own business initiatives. The host represented the VC company and would continuously meet people in C-level positions by representing us.

It’s important to note that the hosts were held to high standards, and it was made clear the position did involve a certain level of work – hosting the events and finding guests for the events. All hosts had access to our host playbook which explained our expectations and guided them through what each event should look like and how to go about finding guests.

Event space – we had to find companies in each area that had space to hold our events. This meant building relationships with large companies in each city that had the space and interest in hosting events.

For many of these companies, the benefit to hosting came in the way of recruiting. HR teams were often at the events (with free tickets) and were networking with attendees to discuss potentially working together in the future. 

Some of the companies offered a snack/refreshments during the event and even had tables set up for their recruiting discussions. Since many of the attendees were product/software developers they were constantly in demand at the host companies.

Please keep in mind that not all companies will easily see the benefit in working with you, you might have to pay for the space, so it’s a good idea to use your negotiating skills and share all of the ways they can benefit from hosting your events.

• Tickets – We used Eventbrite to sell tickets for around $25 and had people RSVP, this helped with small costs we had such as snacks and a videographer and also helped with attendance because people were more likely to come if they paid for a ticket. 

We did use email marketing to get the word out about each event, specifically to people in the area, and to people who had gone to previous events. We offered early bird prices, and gave free tickets to partners, host companies, and guests who were speaking. 

Videographer – We had to find contract videographers who could come and get decent sound and video for each event, our budget was around $300. This isn’t a lot of money, but we often found students who were willing to do it and we could offer regular work. We required them to get the video/audio to us digitally within 24 hours so we could upload it to our Vimeo channel, we had one channel for each city.

Email Marketing – We used a lot of email marketing to the members who were subscribed, we asked them to bring guests, gave them opportunities to be guests to be on a monthly panel, offered discounts for early bird tickets, and sent NPS surveys immediately after each event. 

The NPS surveys were sent a half hour before the end of each event, we used Survey Monkey for this and had to manually schedule the emails to go out through Eventbrite. There is probably a better process for this, but sending the email so immediately increased the amount of responses we received.

Panel Guests – The host usually found people who would agree to be guests, but when they couldn’t we would help them find someone. The format of the event often varied from networking dinners, to panels, to a presentation about product creation.

Schedule – We adhered to a very strict schedule for when hosts needed to have someone selected for the event and that person needed to have their presentation ready if they were going to present one. Our schedule included a checklist of things to do leading up to each event such as checking with the host company to assure they could host that month, we had a snack, the guest was locked in, the guest had their welcome email and knew when they had to be there, etc. 

Meetings & Support – We regularly (monthly) met with hosts, the host company, and anyone else contributing to the events, virtually. We would host several people at once and help them with questions they had, ideas for getting more people to attend, dealing with guest presenters, and sticking to the checklist. It was important to be very involved with the hosts and we started an online message board to further support them.


Community Live Events Checklist

For every event and task we had a checklist. Here’s a deeper look at the checklist:

Host Event Checklist

  • July 1-31st Find guest for September event
  • Email introduction to Community Manager and Guest once guest has agreed to event. Include ‘Guest Activities’ list in email so that the guest knows what is expected of them. Email should be sent no later than August 1st.
  • August 8th – Send remind email to guest one month before event.
  • August 12th – Ask guest to verify topic for their presentation by August 20th.
  • August 20th – Ask guest to send topic to Community Manager.
  • August 27th – Ask guest to send presentation by the 1st of September.
  • September 1st – Get presentation to Community Manager, add the template slides at the beginning and end of the presentation. Community Manager will forward presentation to the host site contact.

Event Marketing Checklist

Event – September 8th

  • End of month newsletter in June – include August/September events list for all cities at the end of the newsletter.
  • 1st Wednesday in August – Email announcing new event/guest to area attendees. Include early bird sale for 24 hours. Ticket sales to end the evening of the event.
  • 3rd Wednesday in August – Email topic to area attendees. Share that the tickets are limited based on how many tickets have already sold. 
  • 1 week before event – Email those registered and remind them about event.
  • 3 days before event – Email area attendees (email list) and remind them about upcoming event, increase tickets by $5.

Please keep in mind these checklists only represent the actual lists used and are meant to show how intricate planning for community events can be.

There is now software you can use to help you manage several live community events, it looks very promising, it’s called Planning Pod.

I hope this post helps you consider how you’ll plan events. With the growth of online communities, you will undoubtedly run into the opportunity to host live events soon and you’ll want to make sure everything is covered. If I can help at all, please contact me here

Run An Active Startup Community on Slack

Run An Active Startup Community on Slack

Community Blog

Run An Active Startup Community on Slack

You can’t beat the real-time conversation of running a community on Slack. There are so many benefits to using Slack, but there are many disadvantages as well. In this post, I’ll share steps to safeguard your community so that you don’t fall into any of the common pitfalls by using Slack as a platform for your group.

For starters let’s talk about the disadvantages of using Slack.

Cost – It’s expensive, so you’ll be paying $7-$10 per person per month if you want to have searchable content for more than 10,000 messages and yes these 10,000 go pretty fast.

Linking to specific conversations or comments can be glitchy especially in the app which is probably where members will use Slack most often.

Too many notifications – members get annoyed quickly and turn off notifications or notification emails go to their spam folder.

Once they log out they are gone – Once members log out of their account they are gone. It’s hard to get them to come back and participate because they have to reinstall the app or at least their account on the app.

No SEO – you won’t benefit from having all of your conversations on a website for Google to send traffic to (any closed community will have this problem).

Standard profiles don’t allow a lot of imagination and are much harder to export to a CRM especially as the community grows.

No user statistics/metrics – not a lot of meaningful data you can use for reaching out to inactive members.

But, I know what you are thinking – you will use it anyway. It’s easy to love. 

Successfully Using Slack For Your Startup Community

It isn’t all bad though, using Slack is beneficial for many reasons, the first being that many startup people are already using it, the second being that it’s free (if you don’t want the search history). 

And whether it’s the perfect place to start a community or not, people are doing it every day, and you might be strongly considering it for your own community. I completely understand the lure of using Slack or Facebook for your community, so I want to help you do it right. 

To start, I recommend building your Slack community around a regularly updated website. The reason is you want people to know where to go to access resources that we will discuss in the following steps. This is a great place to store your newsletter as a blog post each week or to write content that you’ll share in the community. 

Resources – Since you probably won’t be paying for Slack, you want a place to save the best content. This should be linked to your website. You can add an addon to your Slack community so that you can easily star a message (as you monitor and moderate content) and the message will be saved to your tool of choice. You’ll want to keep this up so that your members have a place to access the best content from your community. (You’ll also want to remind them to do this, regularly.

Organize your conversation backups– this might sound time-consuming and it is, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the future. Make sure you choose a tool that allows you to tag your saved conversations that way you can find links, great advice, and topics that are consistently discussed.

Here are a couple tools to choose from Backupery, and Evernote.

Guidelines – An additional resource for your website should include guidelines for being successful members. Tell the members what they should post and discuss, what they shouldn’t, how they should treat people, what your policy is for self-promotion. 

Encourage new members on Slack – it’s a good idea to consider an onboarding series of emails to your newest members. You want to help them post, join conversations, and share their expertise. If you won’t be using a series, consider connecting with every new member to get to know them a little bit. When members feel welcome they will give the community more time to see if it’s a true fit.

Handle Slack invites – For a new community it might be best to manual approve all members, this will give you an idea of how many members are joining and you can reach out to them after they are invited to say hello. However, as your community grows you may want to automate the process – here’s a tool that will allow you to do that. Community Inviter

Guide New Members Through Notifications – I find it best to explain notifications and have members set up their preferences right from the beginning. I never want a member to get annoyed and turn off all notifications because they are frustrated. So it’s best to take care of this in the beginning and explain how to get the notifications they want.

Keep the Slack URL short & easy to remember – Slack has started getting ‘creative’ with how they name new installations by adding several characters to the end of the name you’ve chosen. That makes it harder for members to remember and login from their phones without any friction (requesting emails and going through the forgotten process). Pay attention when you register your new group and make sure to remove extra characters.

Keeping Slack Members Engaged

It’s no secret that people usually turn off notifications in Slack and email notifications from Slack – no one has the time to get inundated with notifications. So you have to be careful to manage your members’ attention or they’ll cut you out. That means logging out of their account and often never returning. With that in mind, here are some ways you can beef up the engagement of your members and keep them active in the long-term.

Keep @channel notifications to a minimum – as the admin you can make sure others aren’t allowed to @channel an entire group, this is good practice to keep notifications from annoying members.

Send weekly newsletters – Round up the greatest content, discussions, and resources from the week and manually put together an interesting newsletter that will peak member curiosity. This newsletter is going to be very important to engagement, so you’ll want to put in the effort it deserves.

Schedule a Content Calendar – One way to keep people interested in participating in your community is to constantly have new/helpful content and discussions. From the admin side, that means planning out some ideas for topics. You can do this with Trello or a spreadsheet. The most important idea here is consistency in adding content to the community.

Depending on what your startup business is, you most likely have a lot of niche topics you can discuss. Combined with industry news you should be able to find something to encourage discussion at least a few times a week, if not more.

Set up and seed group channels – Every group or channel you start needs as much care and content as the main community. You do not want a bunch of dead channels that scare away new members. Be sure to add content and get members interested in the discussions within each channel before adding more. Based on your startup you might be able to add a job channel, news, self-promotion, etc. 

Share good conversation on social media when it’s happening – One thing I did while working for HubSpot’s Inbound.org was use the Twitter and Facebook social media accounts to share developing conversations. This brought people into the discussions immediately (which is good for Slack chats) and gave us another outlet for marketing.

Talk to as many members as possible – One of the most common pieces of advice I give community managers is to talk to as many members as often as possible. Every day you should be getting feedback from members, learning what they like, and helping them achieve their goals. For startup communities, it’s important to understand how they like your product and how the product/services can improve over time. 

Conclusion

As with any community, once you start on Slack will need a lot of thought and ongoing work to keep it active and healthy. If I can help at all, please contact me and I’ll offer some help. Also, if you have questions, send them along and I’ll turn them into a blog post.

Why Community SubGroups Aren’t Always A Great Idea

Why Community SubGroups Aren’t Always A Great Idea

Community Blog

Why Community SubGroups Aren’t Always A Great Idea

It sounds like a lot of fun to start a community and add several groups (or subgroups). You think it’ll make it easier for people to find topics they want to discuss, they’ll be able to find the people they want to connect with more easily, etc.

In reality, creating several groups from the get-go is a big mistake and it’s something you should rethink for the future of your community. In this post, I’ll share why adding additional groups to your community, especially in the beginning, isn’t such a great idea, and then how to add them when it’s time.

 

The Reality of Adding Groups To Your Community

When you start a community the first and only goal is to get people into the community and posting/sharing. That, and creating content for them to consume is most of the work you’ll be doing. 

Groups are communities within communities. If you’ve already started a community and worked on getting it populated you know how hard that is. When you add groups to your community you have to start that work all over for a new topic (whatever the purpose of your group is).

Every group you start needs the same amount of work as a new community. 

It takes a great deal of work to get people to post in your group, especially if you are in the early stages of building your community. It’s not a good idea to add groups at the beginning and expect to be able to fill that with content as well, for each group you add, you are multiplying your work.

For every group you have, you have to replicate getting people to join, getting them to post, adding content yourself, sending notifications for people to participate again, reaching out to people to build relationships, asking influencers to share your group, etc.

 

When & How to Add Groups to Your Community

Once your community is healthy and self-propelling and has reached a point where at least 50% of content and participation is done organically AND it appears that you need to add a group because a lot of people are asking for them or you want to separate out some of the content into a group (not a category which is completely different). 

You’ll want to make sure a lot of people are contributing to the topic you are turning into a group. Then, look for a person who will voluntarily lead the group. You’ll need someone who is already participating in a similar capacity (they are posting content and connecting with people who are ideal for the group). 

You’ll reach out to them, you may need to reach out to a few people. I would recommend putting them in a special group in your community or in Slack so you can easily chat with them. They’ll need your help building the group, ideas for content, for reaching out to people, for adding content to the group, etc. 

You should only work on a group or two at a time, to make sure the community has your focus and the groups have enough effort to make them successful. 
 

What About Slack Groups?

The one exception to this rule is when it comes to platforms like Slack. You don’t want a general discussion group that is overwhelmed with too much conversation and people can’t keep up. So, on Slack, you’ll want to start with a discussion channel, an off-topic channel, and potentially a jobs channel for business groups. Based on how many conversations you are getting between people you will want to add additional channels as needed. 

In my next post I’ll be discussing how to set up Slack so that you can use it for a community without losing great content, and keeping it organized, and active without losing members as Slack tends to have a high turn over rate. 

Conclusion

Groups are a great way to further deepen content and relationships in your community but only after your community has grown to a significant point and you can take the time to develop each group singularly. You have to overlook your excitement to add all the groups you can think of and push for the healthiest community before adding groups. When it’s time, you’ll need help and the very community that you’ve built will have members who will help. 

If I can help answer any other questions, please let me know here.

58 Questions To Ask Before Starting A Community

58 Questions To Ask Before Starting A Community

Community Blog

58 Questions To Ask Before Starting A Community

There’s a lot to consider before starting a community. It may seem as simple as inviting people to a Facebook group but when you plan it out more intricately, it’ll be a lot easier on you, your team, and your audience. 

To help you think ahead, the following are some of the most important questions to explore before you move forward with a new community. 

For the Community Audience

  1. Who is this community for?
  2. Why do they need it?
  3. Where are they getting this need fulfilled today?
  4. How are they consuming content today?
  5. What topics will your community cover?
  6. How will your community better help your audience?
  7. What policies, spam guidelines, or codes of conduct will you follow?

Community for Your Company

  1. What does community mean to you? (h/t to David Spinks on Twitter)
  2. Why do you want to build a community?
  3. What do you expect to get out of this community?
  4. What resources do you have to contribute towards building this community?
  5. Who and how can your team contribute to the community?
  6. Have you shared your expectations for their participation?
  7. What existing owned assets can you use in promotion of the new community?
  8. What does your community need to do differently to differentiate from competitors?
  9. Why should people choose your community over someone else’s?
  10. How will you get people to participate or join?
  11. Who do you need to work with internally to make this community a reality?
  12. Do you have any stakeholders’ support for building this community?
  13. How much of an investment can you make before seeing a return?

 Community Platform Questions

  1. Where will your community live?
  2. What tools do you need to make this work?
  3. What features do you need in a platform?
  4. Do you want a forum platform or a networking platform?
  5. How can you utilize other features your platform offer?

Content For Your Community

  1. What types of content can you provide – videos, podcasts, downloads, etc?
  2. What content topics will be shared in the community?
  3. Who will create or curate the content?
  4. What content can you provide further down the road?
  5. Do you have at least a month’s worth of content planned out?

Partnerships & Business Development

  1. What partnerships can help this community?
  2. How will you work to build these partnerships?
  3. How can these partners participate in the community?
  4. What can you give them for their participation?
  5. What partners would the community enjoy?

Retention for Your Community

  1. How will you stay in touch with your members?
  2. How often do you want members to visit?
  3. How will you craft an experience that will keeping them coming back?
  4. How do you plan on getting members to participate in the first place?

Timeline for Community

  1. When will you finish choosing your platform?
  2. When will you finalize your strategy?
  3. When will you open the community for testing?
  4. When will the community launch? 
  5. When will promotion begin?

Community Staff

  1. Who will moderate and manage your community?
  2. Do you need to hire someone?
  3. What is the budget and job description for hiring?
  4. What’s the deadline for hiring this person?
  5. What experience do you want them to have?
  6. What will the every day tasks be?

Founding Members

  1. Do you already have a founding group of members?
  2. What do your founding members expect to do to help you?
  3. What do founding members expect to get out of helping you?
  4. Where will you engage with your founding members – email, slack, private group?

Community Metrics

  1. What metrics will you track? 
  2. What will be your priority KPI?
  3. What metrics do your stakeholders want to track?
  4. How will you commercialize the community or generate revenue?

Now, you don’t have to have all the answers before starting your community, but these questions will help you foresee some things you do have to consider. 

You can print this list off or share it with your stakeholders or team to give them an idea of what’s coming in your journey for creating a community.

Turn Your Support Community into a Niche Community

Turn Your Support Community into a Niche Community

Community Blog

Turn Your Support Community into a Niche Community

It’s almost a no-brainer to invest in a forum for support. It’s like allowing your most helpful clients to join in to assist those struggling with your software or services. People start to find their own answers for obstacles, and your support team should see a decrease in new tickets allowing more time for accurate documentation.

But as much as a support forum helps the company, there’s still a lot of room for a community to make a difference.

Done effectively, a community under your brand can help with market research, beta testing, design issues, user feedback, support, sales, and marketing initiatives and promotions, website traffic, customer success improvements, and revenue.

To get these benefits you have to jump from a focus on support to a focus on solving niche problems with a community endeavor.

What’s this look like?

Recently, Square was hiring for a Community Lead and I liked what they were trying to do so I created a presentation to show how I would take their current support focused community and turn it into a small business focused community.

See, Square already has many support members who are active, and millions of users they could invite to their new, or extended, community.

So what’s involved with this kind of transition?

Start with a topic that matters to your audience

The first and most important thing is that it must make sense for the members. The topic for your community needs to assist them in success with using your product/service. This must be an investment into them, a customer success initiative.

It was simple for Square to choose a topic, their users are small businesses and there are countless obstacles for small businesses that a community could help them answer.

Get support from within your company

Second, there has to be buy-in from important stakeholders, which means building relationships, understanding what is important to each one, and getting the results and research to prove how successful this endeavor could be.

I initially included the number of small businesses in the United States, and around the world, along with the popularity of small business communities on sites like Quora and Reddit in the presentation above but deleted the slides for brevity.

While there are already many small business communities already on the Internet, having a company like Square build one would not only not over-saturate the market, it would promise a certain level of quality that is synonymous with their name. Members would know it would be done with the utmost excellence to help their users succeed.

Additionally, companies are jumping on the community bandwagon every day as more and more community evangelists and experts prove the ROI for investment to be much more beneficial than sales alone and worth the investment to own their own platform for their audience.

Be prepared with an educational, useful content plan

Third, and possibly the most important for the success of your new expansion in a community is Content. The community will need content that educates, encourages participation, and enables them to make progressive growth in their business.

Square is definitely capable of providing adequate content here. There are so many avenues they could follow to provide this from questions and answers with Square’s own team, or with experts the community recognizes, to weekly article contributions, shares for helpful content from Youtube and other sources, the list could go on and on.

For your own transition, you’ll want to make sure you have thoughtful content planned for the first couple of months. People need to see you taking steps to provide an environment of education that pertains to their interests.

Gather your founding members

Fourth and often overlooked, a community needs at least a base/foundational community to get started. A community manager alone is not enough, more members need to be active.

This often falls on the community manager to get others active and this post has a few of the ways you can do this, but it comes down to at the very least having people on your team who will participate like they are members. That means asking and answering questions, being active regularly, and building relationships themselves.

Connect With Marketing & Plan Promotion of Updated Community

Your next step in this journey is to, again, work with your internal relationships to share the new community initiative with your users/members.

You can start with a small cohort of people to test acceptance of the idea and to build up content with more participants. Or, you can jump into sharing the new community with everyone, it’ll be up to you and your team to make this decision. 

Finally, Listen to Your Members

Now that your new community is open, it’s time to connect with your members. You want to get their opinions on the content being provided, what makes them want to participate more, and the experts and answers in the community.

Every community should be testing to see what keeps members revisiting the community. You’ll work on your metrics, to find the ones that most accurately measure your success, and you’ll stay in touch with members and stakeholders to keep everyone up to date while your community progresses. 

Want help with your community? I’m available to hire, contact me here.

Why You Need A Community Manager

Why You Need A Community Manager

Community Blog

Why You Need A Community Manager

Today’s we have the ability to connect with buyers every day in multiple ways. Via the Internet customers are on social media, in email lists, commenting on your blog posts, review sites, requesting support and chatting in forums.

These fans, your buyers, are your community. They support you, they need and want your products and services and your collaboration with them can lead to invaluable benefits for your company. An experienced community manager will help you identify and realize these advantages in previously inconceivable ways that will pay dividends for years to come.

Community Management – The Many Advantages of Leveraging A Community

A community manager is able to see the potential benefits of conversation beyond simple dialog. They have an innate empath ability that allows them to understand how both sides of an issue feel, and use that knowledge to create win-win solutions for everyone.

They can anticipate the needs of the masses, fully understand wants and desires and direct these energies into efforts that produce a sense of harmony and progress.

In short, a community manager juggles the demands of your audience while leveraging said audience for growth opportunities for your company or cause.

A community manager looks past mere chats, comments, and reviews to see:

Product/service feedback for marketing, production, and sales – The greatest feedback can be used as testimonials on your website, in social media ads or posts, and in email marketing campaigns. Further, the feedback gives your design and production teams input on features to improve on your roadmaps.

Opportunities for improvement in onboarding, product design, marketing campaigns, sales targeting, support and retention – By constantly empathizing and talking with members, the community manager will get a better idea of why members join (to help the sales process), what they like about products/services, and how to improve onboarding.

Interest from influencers and businesses for possible partnerships – Having your own community is the perfect way to find influencers and partners who have an interest in your company and the ability to work together. If they are already active, they are much more likely to be interested in a joint venture.

Complaints that can be turned into evangelist members – A part of community management involves handling complaints and issues for members. A community manager has the ability to work with the member to not only fix the problem but turn them into an active word of mouth evangelist.

Content needs for courses, blog posts, and video assets – A huge part of community management is writing and having the ability to communicate clearly with members, superiors, partners, etc. Additionally, content is a major part of what is delivered to the members, a community manager has to be able to write content, plan courses and podcasts, and bring all of the necessary resources together.

New ideas for products, services, and education that will further support other company initiatives – With all of the people your community manager talks to, along with the resources they are constantly accessing, they will come up news ideas for the members, community, and business regularly. With the proper amount of autonomy, they should be able to work with other departments to bring these ideas to life.

And with all of these possibilities, a community manager has the ability to work among other departments to support them in using the community in more successful projects.

Further, the community manager will initiate programs that support the company with:

  • Market research to see how your proven fans or audience will react to projected changes, improvements, and offerings.
  • Beta testing any new features for finding bugs, analyzing the success of a new design or navigation, or changes to customer support.
  • Campaigns to back marketing and support among the community in efforts to reach their goals.
  • Building relationships among all levels of community that will lead to collaborations for company growth.
  • Website and social media content sourced from or created for the community to use in marketing.
  • NPS and other surveys to better understand the needs of your most active members
  • Evangelist programs for super supporters who drive word of mouth marketing
  • Email newsletters to community members with new and interesting content from the company

Community Management Produces Results

Numerous companies are now utilizing the community approach because of the many benefits. There’s nothing like having immediate access to your most loyal fans. For example, Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Twitch, GoDaddy, Duolingo, Toyota, eBay, and Wikipedia all have community strategies and some have multiple communities.

Marketplaces like Airbnb and eBay communities for buyers and sellers. Software companies have communities for support, networking, freelancing, and learning.

There are numerous ways to utilize the skills of a community manager, no matter what type of business you have. The point is that every company has a community and without a community manager, you are missing out on the benefits that come with having one. 

If you’d like to discuss community possibilities for your company, I’d love to help, message me here.