How to Set Up, Hire and Scale a Community Team

How to Set Up, Hire and Scale a Community Team

Startups that have seen amazing growth have developed teams and processes that are intentional, exceedingly metrics-driven, and thrive on experimentation.

You’ve outlined your community purpose, plan, and metrics. Does that mean you’re ready to go? Not yet. Unfortunately, many communities have a short lifespan because they fail to get the support that they need.

Before building out your community, it’s time to get team alignment.  Not only will the community be more successful with internal & external advocates,  but they will become cheerleaders to drive success as you evolve the community to new and different teams.

Startups that have seen amazing growth have developed teams and processes that are intentional, exceedingly metrics-driven, and thrive on experimentation.

They have a network of highly engaged followers across Reddit, GitHub — just about any platform with a social component. To foster a scientific approach to community, we've recently seen many companies break away from a strictly functional organizational design (with product, engineering, marketing, etc.) to create a cross-functional community team. Notion is, by all accounts, the pioneer of the virtual communities.

https://twitter.com/benln/status/1538894288683159553

Take a look at their numbers:

  • 197K subscribers to r/Notion
  • 175K Instagram followers
  • 256K Twitter followers
  • 157K YouTube subscribers

Its first community team was formed years ago with 3-4 people whose impact was immediately evident.

Here are a couple of key members from the Notion team who have been actively driving the community efforts! 👇

So, we spent time researching more about community experts, who have worked at companies (including Notion, Airbnb, Product Hunt, Nextdoor, OnDeck, and Atlassian), to identify best practices for establishing a community team.

Here are the topics covered in this guide:

Know When to Expand Your Team

Know-How to Expand Your Team

Know-How to Expand Your Team

Know-How to Find New Team Members

  • What exactly are startups looking for when hiring candidates?
  • The Ideal Community Manager Candidate
  • The Ideal Content strategist Candidate
  • The Ideal Data Scientist Candidate
  • The foundational activities of Community Marketing
  • Hiring for your community team

Know-How to Gain Executive Trust

Don’t Build for the Sake of Building

WRAPPING UP: ALWAYS PUSH FOR GREAT

Imagine you decided to move into sales and on your first day, someone handed you a list of the organization’s top customers and responsibility for the entire CRM system.

No training, no support, no roadmap.

This is pretty close to what happens in community management today. Most people are suddenly handed responsibility for building a community from an organization’s top customers on an advanced technology platform.

Often they have limited training, support, or a detailed roadmap.

At best, this leads to communities failing to reach their potential, getting bogged down in common problems, or being unable to show their value.

At worst, it leads to empty ghost towns or pointless casinos (communities with lots of meaningless engagement).

The level of training given to community teams today is abysmal. It’s the root cause of most of the problems you and your team are facing.

It’s important to make the continual progress of your community team a priority. Your team, your members, and your organizations deserve better the best. In this post, we’re going to highlight how to benchmark yourself and your current team.

Know When to Expand Your Team

As the sole community manager, you may use qualitative measures to determine whether or not assistance is required. Perhaps you tell your boss, "I need help," after a long day of interacting with a number of frustrated members.

While qualitative feedback is beneficial, it is advisable to have quantitative assessments based on key performance indicators (KPI) related to your community's goals. You can present metrics to management if metrics show that you are unable to provide the same level of service (to the community) as in the past.

Know-How to Expand Your Team

The panel agreed that bringing on new members on a part-time basis is a good idea. According to David Spinks, it is critical to first determine whether there is enough work for the new team member. Once it's determined that there's enough work to go around and that new hires are a good fit for the role, you can promote them to full-time positions.

As the team grows, an effective approach to distributing responsibilities among team members becomes increasingly important. For the community team at Notion, Camille noted that each area of responsibility has a primary and secondary point person. Aside from that, the team is cross-trained in all areas, allowing them to assist as needed. Camille devised this approach based on an early lesson she learned: once when she was away from the job, the people covering for her had to scramble to figure out how to get things done.

Know-How to Find New Team Members

We recommend that the founding team be involved in building your community from the ground up, despite the fact that best industry practices may differ significantly.

Knowing the benefits and drawbacks of recruiting new team members from the following groups:

  • People outside the organizations
  • Employees within the organization
  • Members of the community

Your organization's size frequently determines whether you need to look inside or outside. A 10-person startup must look for candidates outside the company, but try to find candidates within your initial community ( Camille Ricketts found it easy to recruit new members from within the community, or "right in your own backyard."), whereas a 1,000-person company can look within.

When Camille joined Notion, it was immediately clear that community was going to be the most successful early lever for growth.

“In the early days, we saw people on Twitter and Reddit sharing tips and providing support to other users,” said Camille. “With a small marketing team, it was clear that this would be a way for us to amplify Notion.”

The early engagement on these platforms convinced Camille that Notion needed to bring in a new hire to run the community right away. Ben Lang was a deliberate pick– he’d been running a fan site for Notion and getting an amazing amount of traffic. Camille described him as “the most formidable figure on social media when it came to the Notion community- he knew everybody.”

When they first began, the community was a top of funnel channel, important for building brand awareness. But they soon realized how useful it was for activation. Today, they also see how much it contributes to upgrade and expansion. The community essentially acts as a complement to Notion’s customer service and success teams all around the world.

Because community managers are continually nurturing relationships with their members, they’ll know who can help on what. In that way, they can approach community members and say, “We could really use you on THIS,” noted Camille. An added benefit is that community members already know your business and your community. This shortens the onboarding process compared to someone you bring in from the outside.

The trend is moving toward investing in building a community team earlier on, with many starting to invest as soon as they have strong product-market fit and retention. Additionally, there is considerable evidence supporting the argument that a formal community team created at the right time accelerates the growth trajectory of a product.

A good community team can also play the role of "defense" really well. The launch of new features and enhancements can often go sideways and impact usage. The community team has the ability to understand the root cause within minutes (not days) and course correct the problem and thereby limiting the negative impact. Notion's community team is considered one of the best at defense and this has consistently helped them differentiate from the competition since the early days.

Your first hires are critical as the initial team members will establish your company's experiment framework and growth culture. 100% of community experts refer to the first few hires as "magnets" for hiring and scaling the team.

While success cannot be attributed to the community team alone, having a community team in place early on helps accelerate the company's overall growth trajectory.

So, what exactly are startups looking for when hiring candidates?

  • Passion

There are two ways to find out if a person is passionate about your company and the industry it relates to especially if you are looking for junior executives. Find out what type of projects they have worked on, on an individual level. Check if they have started a group, community, or even just a blog. It shows they are interested in working in your industry.

  • Drive

Are they growth-driven? The people you hire need to be interested in your project. They should have a desire to help the company grow while growing themselves. The best way to find this out is to provide the recruits with a problem.

Founder of Staff.com says that once they were hiring a data analyst for their company. During the initial interview, the analyst told them that they had a problem with their analysis. He went home and worked on the analysis himself and provided the solution with a detailed report on the very next day. The founder of Staff hired that candidate on the spot.

  • Humility

Does he own his mistakes?

The problem with all startups is that people will make mistakes. Now, there is no problem in making them, it is the part, where the person who made the mistake doesn’t accept it, becomes the problem. Startup recruits need to be humble and should accept if they are wrong because that is the only way the startup culture can thrive and grow.

  • Dedicated

Startups should also check whether the person is actually dedicated towards their organization or only interested in his own learning.

One startup founder quotes the example of a candidate who was so eager to learn about the work that he continued to show up even after his internship had ended, and that no permanent position was available with the firm. But after a few months, the team was so impressed by his dedication and hard work that they were able to create a permanent position for him.

THE IDEAL COMMUNITY MANAGER CANDIDATE

Typically, the first community team hire is your marketing Head. We found some strong trends in marketer, storyteller, social media strategist, community builder, blogger, customer service rep, problem-solver, and genuine advocate for their brand(s) traits highlighted by community experts who built successful community teams.

  1. Data-oriented: The ideal candidate is intensely data-driven and inquisitive. All of the experts we spoke with said this is a must-have. You want someone in this role who will constantly ask "Why?" - even when growth numbers are up. One of the experts we spoke to said, "The scariest day is when numbers are down, the second scariest day is when numbers are up and you don't know why."
  2. Former startup founder (bonus): Interestingly, 60% of growth experts in our interviews were former founders. Why are they great CMs? Because people who've started companies tend to be able to think independently, are comfortable with taking risks and have high levels of perseverance. This is important as many experiments will fail.
  3. Existing CM (bonus): If an existing CM has the above characteristics, then you might have the opportunity to appoint them as the CM. The CM to work with all stakeholders within the company and having someone who has already built up social capital within the company can accelerate the team's progress. This is great, but not a must-have. 40% of the community leads we spoke with were already CMs at the company prior to leading the community team.

The Ideal Content strategist Candidate

  1. Self-starter: Since a big chunk of the work involves running their own blogs, and experiments to determine what really works, they should be proactive about coming up with their own hypotheses and experiments and iterating. Similar to the CM, they should have infinite curiosity and constantly ask “Why?” to uncover hidden insights.
  2. OK doing things that don’t scale: This is someone who should be very comfortable with experimentation, knowing that a large amount of work won’t make it into the final product. Many of the tests will be small and without much impact-- so someone who is fairly new - just 2-4 years of experience - might fit better with this mentality vs. someone with many years of experience that may train toward rigid requirements and roadmaps.
  3. Great storyteller: They should be particularly comfortable conveying the content in a simple yet creative manner via design, copywriting, data, etc. I would say learn to tell stories “The Steve Jobs way”. Telling the story of your brand is an ongoing process. Each day, your business grows, shifts, and adds new chapters to its story. Make business storytelling an essential part of your operations to attract and retain customers. eg; one good way to find designers can be to check their portfolio on dribbble, behance etc

The Ideal Data Analyst Candidate

Lastly, a data analyst is a vital hire for a well-rounded community team.

  1. Knowledge of experimental design and interpretation: Since the community is about running a lot of experiments -- more so than other data science roles -- it is important to test for this during the interview process. You can pose questions like, "Under a particular scenario, roughly how large of a sample size would you need?" and "How would you correct for multiple comparisons in this case?" You can also pull together a sample data set and run through the analysis live in a pair coding interview.
  2. Coding Ability: More so than other data science roles, the community requires more work to get & prepare data. This is simply because the community is often dealing with new data sets and new data logging. Some suggested testing for this in an interview by doing live coding on cleaning up a data set together in Python or R or checking projects on open source software eg; github
  3. Great Communication Skills: The two most important elements of communication are (a) Communicating the results of experiments -- especially what can and what cannot be validly deduced from an experiment and (b) articulating the persuasive case for investing in certain community initiatives. Someone with a strong business background and a strong familiarity with causal inference (econometric and experimental backgrounds are ideal).

The foundational activities of Community Marketing

Here are the activities that your team should ideally focus on.

1. 0ptimizing the website for conversion

When someone lands on the website, they need to not only understand what the product has to offer but be able to sign up as easily as possible. In short, the website needs to convert.

By addressing low-hanging fruit– clarifying pages, re-writing, and designing calls to action– the team will be able to improve conversion rates substantially.

“Even though we have a lot of traffic and volume, we hadn’t spent much time optimizing the website. We recently did a website refresh where we updated pages, simplified messaging, clarified our value props, and highlighted calls to action that resulted in a 5% increase to ARR - a huge number at Notion’s scale.”
2. Accelerating product value

CLG works when it is easy for users to get started with a product and see immediate value. To improve community-led growth, users should be given guidance within the product to increase their engagement and ensure they reach an “ah-ha moment.” Few ways to tackle this in a variety of ways:

  • Triggered emails are sent when people take a certain action that educates them about the feature and helps them use it more deeply.
  • In-product prompts also educate features at just the right moment. We know it doesn’t work well to send people a lot of general educational emails about your product. Instead, aim at specific actions within the product to trigger certain messages because in these moments you know someone is highly motivated. Focus on nailing the trifecta of sending the right message to the right person at the right time.
3. Layering performance channels for a word-of-mouth driven product

When you have a great amount of organic traffic, it can be challenging to then run paid campaigns with a positive ROI. You risk cannibalizing your organic reach by targeting the same people who would have found you anyway. You need to make sure you have a system set up to capture real-time, high-quality data.

The key to using paid channels profitably is to have a lot of data flowing between your internal product and marketing systems and the ad platforms, which require building customer-triggered events and often custom pipelines.

If a company is going to invest in paid channels, then they need to invest as heavily in data and engineering as they do in performance marketing budgets and creativity.

Early on the team should ideally be focused on opening up paid marketing channels, a complex workstream that involves work on targeting, attribution, modeling, and creative and tooling improvements.

The panel noted that many companies hire a large team of performance marketers to run and optimize paid campaigns, whereas it’s rather better to have a cross-functional team of engineers and data scientists and a small group of performance marketers working together to target users who actually convert.

Building Your Community Team

In the early days at a company, pretty much everyone is responsible for community growth as they are solidifying product-market fit, and some companies treat this as a shared responsibility even past product-market fit. The reason a company forms a dedicated community team is to pour gasoline into product-market fit by launching structured experiments to drive a desired behavior/action. If you have proven sustainable retention in your community, you can focus on building a dedicated team to improve retention even further while acquiring and activating and retaining incremental new users.

Here's the most common makeup of an initial, Year 1 Community Team:

Year 1 Community Team = 1 Community-focused Marketer + 2-3 content strategist/designers + 1-2 community Data Scientists

Hiring for your community team

We don’t see traditional marketers as the most important hires for a community team. Instead, it’s best to look for analytically-minded people from a variety of backgrounds. We also believe that without ironclad data community marketers can’t be successful.

Who you should hire for your community team

It might be tempting to first hire people who call themselves “community marketers” on LinkedIn, but what we recommend is strategically hiring your growth team in order of priority.

“For most companies, it’s very costly to acquire users if those users are not seeing success with the product. They churn, and you’re back to square one. So really focus on making sure that your users are actually sticking around before worrying about hiring for your community marketing team.”
  1. Demand Generation - The demand generation team is focused on building awareness and interest among decision-makers to drive the pipeline for Sales, adding a top-down motion to a very powerful bottom-up machine.
  2. Content - The content team creates educational and enablement resources about the product, the community, and the industry as a whole, as well as supports top-of-funnel campaigns. Their work builds trust and community.
  3. Data - For a team to be successful, they need access to accurate data. Without this, the team won’t understand what parts of your funnel are healthy and what need help. They won’t know which strategies and tactics you should double down on vs. which are poor performers and should be abandoned. You have to actually know what’s happening– you have to be able to track it. Otherwise, you’ll never know what’s working or what’s not. That’s why we recommend hiring data scientists as the first step.
  4. Product Marketing - This team brings new products and features to the market. They inform the product roadmap, position new features, develop messaging, and help with the distribution and education of new products and features upon release.
  5. Engineering - You need web and growth engineers to connect your systems, build and execute your experiments and create better user experiences.
  6. Growth - This team is focused on getting end users signed up and activated with Notion, usually through an initial free account. It includes Performance Marketers, Web Engineering, and Growth and Lifecycle Marketers.

What to look for in a community marketer

Finding a great community marketer is challenging. We look beyond traditional marketing hires to find good fits. One unusual profile we’ve found valuable is previous early-stage founders, whose original business may not have succeeded. Ex-founders often have the independence and drive to go out, build something, and make an impact.

These hires don’t necessarily need to have a background in the community. Instead, you must find people who are action-oriented and perpetually curious. Analytically-oriented individuals like management consultants and investment bankers can be good fits due to the rigor and data-driven mindset they bring.

Some top companies love to hire people who have a technical background but work in marketing– these are gold. If they see an ex-engineer or an ex-data scientist who has moved into marketing, they’re willing to pay double.

When it comes to interviewing, ask candidates:

  • “Walk me through your current business and the most important metrics. Why are those the metrics you focus on? What might be the downside of those metrics? What alternative metrics would you look at if you were to add a few more?”
  • “Can you share your most successful growth test or project? Why did you decide to invest there? What would your next step be to extend that success?”
  • “Walk me through your biggest growth failure. Why did it fail? What would you do differently next time?”

Also consider asking them a light case question. For example, ask candidates how they would try to double the number of Teams created per week. The candidate is not expected to know the correct answer– the point is to see what questions they ask to create a potential approach. Do they understand your product’s funnel? Do they ask about current conversion rates, consider the size of the audience impacted at any stage of the funnel, and dig into what has already been tried? pay close attention to the questions that the candidate asks to understand how they think and to see if they take a structured approach to solving growth challenges.

Know-How to Gain Executive Trust

OK, so you decide that help is needed. Don’t expect the organization to authorize right away. You must persuade them to provide the budget and support. Find someone with a vested interest in community outcomes (e.g. Marketing) and take a pass on executives with nothing to gain.

Camille suggested that you start with small successes and then present actual data and results to management. She found assistance with some of her core community management responsibilities, allowing her to devote more time to gathering product feedback from the community. She then went to management with existing proof points, to convince them to make the larger investment.

Don’t Build for the Sake of Building

Thought of our own on growing community manager teams: “If you build it [the team], they will come” is a false proposition. Just because you’re building your community team, doesn’t mean you’ll achieve your community goals.

Next, you should walk them through the long-term goals of your community, and share with them the short-term proof points that show that your community is on track to achieve those goals.

Great conversations are two-sided. You should be ready to adapt and adjust your strategy to the business goals that your executive sponsor suggests.  Additionally, you should be ready to ask the executive how they want to stay involved. Pro tip: Get commitment upfront.

  • What are your status meetings going to look like? Monthly? Weekly?
  • How frequently will you review metrics? How frequently will you re-evaluate metrics?
  • How can you give her the information she needs to share across teams? • Which other teams will the executive involve in? Who will they include? • How will you track changes or hiccups?
  • How can your executives participate in the community? 10

WRAPPING UP: ALWAYS PUSH FOR GREAT.

Regardless of which type of marketer you’re adding to your org chart, Spivak leaves us with a prescient reminder to check in with yourself. “How do you feel when you leave the interview? Do you leave feeling captivated by the person you just spoke with? That’s what you’re looking for — that golden spark. If you don’t feel that leaving the interview, that should be a pretty telling sign,” she says. “Unfortunately most of the time we ignore that feeling because we’re so desperate to hire. We think, ‘Maybe I wasn’t dazzled, but I really need the help.’ So you settle for good enough. We need to push for great.

PRO TIP

Hopefully, when you're ready to create a scalable community team, this will be helpful. This is the newest frontier in the cross-section of marketing and product, so it's still evolving. When done right, an amazing community team will permeate the entire organization, making an evidence-based mindset part of the company's DNA.

If you have any other Community Team advice to share, please reach out @PensilHQ  on Twitter or mail us at founders@pensil.in

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