Once you have a community team, there are five key initiatives you (and the team) will need to tackle in the first year. Here they are with additional detail on each below.
The most important thing is to identify your absolute goal and drive every aspect of the funnel toward improving your goal. Douglas Atkin, Global Director of Community at Airbnb, wrote an excellent post about this. What we mean by absolute is that goals cannot be percentage changes or rate changes (for example, you should not have a goal like "improve conversion rates by 10%"). The goal needs to be an absolute number. (For example, "achieve 5M first-time community members this year"). Note that this is an absolute milestone the entire community team needs to hit.
An important next step is to break down an absolute goal into sub goals – for example, if Airbnb's goal is 50k community members per year, it would need to achieve sub-goals with an absolute number of bookings from both new users and existing users.
For marketplaces, the companies would have absolute goals (and sub-goals) for both the supply and demand sides, and sometimes companies will have separate teams working on each side. For example, in the case of Airbnb the supply side metrics would include Host Activation, Quality and retention.
At times, teams make the goal too unrealistic or set it in such a way that it is too easy to achieve. The most common advice from community experts is to set a goal that is halfway between "Sandbagging" and "Too hard to achieve". You want to set something that is a stretch, but at the same time motivate the team such that it is realistic to achieve.
100% of the community experts say that the CEO must be aligned when setting and defining the absolute goal. The goal also needs to be communicated with the entire company so all teams are aware what the company plans to accomplish that year. Often CEOs wait too long or don't fully endorse the goal and as a result, aligning teams within the company takes too long. This could severely hinder the growth team's progress in the first year.
Once an absolute goal and sub goals have been defined, the next step is for the team to identify channels for their first few experiments. The most common framework growth experts use to identify channels is based on existing user behavior. The two key questions to ask are the following:
The below behaviors were highlighted by Linkedin's Aatif Awan, and we share some examples of companies that used those channels.
Not every channel is relevant for all companies. Most products find 1-2 relevant channels early on that really work for them. ~70% of experts mentioned that referrals were the top channel within the first year (word-of-mouth you know). Over time (as brand awareness increased) other online advertising channels & online communities were more fruitful.
There are some exceptions to this rule were referrals do not work as well. For example - you can't offer a $20 discount and expect team members to persuade other team members to join the community.
Sometimes, the best brand stories don’t come from brands at all. The best stories sometimes come from a passionate community who support the brand. For Airbnb, nothing could be truer.
In the lodging industry, guests keep your business alive. Airbnb, however, isn’t a hotel or resort chain – they are a digital platform designed to facilitate bookings between guests and lodging hosts. Simply put, Airbnb connects people. Let’s take a closer look at how Airbnb tells their community’s stories to build their brand.
In 2013, Airbnb decided they needed to change their brand story, and so they went soul-searching. After around a year of pondering Airbnb’s mission and listening to customers, CEO Brian Chesky unveiled the brand’s new philosophy. “Airbnb is different from most brands,” Chesky wrote in the company’s magazine. “We’re a community of individuals, and yet there’s a consistency holding us together through the values we share.” These shared values would inspire Airbnb’s new company mantra: belong anywhere.
“For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home,” Chesky continued. “You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere.”
To support this new mantra, Airbnb knew they had to stop telling the story of a tech company, and start telling the story of a hospitality company – a hospitality company that encourages guests to, as the company themselves describe, travel “through the eyes of a local.”
In November 2016, Airbnb’s focus on authenticity, eyes of a local, travel experiences became a full-fledged reality when they launched an “Experiences” feature on their app. Experiences allow hosts to offer tours, hands-on events, and other curated experiences to their guests.
While the addition of Experiences built upon their “belong anywhere” identity, the most important component of Airbnb’s success is and has always been their community. And so it’s the stories of their community that flood Airbnb’s various platforms and channels.
Airbnb has regularly shared the stories of their guests and hosts on their blog, social media, YouTube, and even their very own Airbnb Magazine. “Nothing can express our identity more profoundly than the stories of people who make up this community,” Chesky wrote after unveiling Airbnb’s new look and mission.
One of the many people making up Airbnb’s community is JoJo. Have you ever wanted to travel to the UK? What about learning to make wooden clogs? How about doing both at the same time? If this sounds interesting, then Airbnb has just the experience for you. Or, more accurately, Airbnb host JoJo has just the Experience for you.
There’s many home rental websites but there’s not many communities & the community is important because of the 5million homes, 3.5 million only list on Airbnb & they choose to list only on Airbnb & they don’t seem interested in listing elsewhere ~ Brian Chesky
As your target would be people of every generation, leverage various digital marketing tools that help you in building a reputable online presence and a bigger community.
Airbnb is more than a Procure-to-Pay accommodation provider. With the aim of building a larger community, Airbnb leveraged various integrated marketing strategies to build trust. Creating a community has also simplified the booking process. Users must create their profile when they first sign up but after that it’s as simple as entering their payment details. It is also the authenticity of the experience that makes Airbnb such a successful community.
Now, let’s have a look at the digital marketing strategies adopted by Airbnb:
1. Website Development: As Airbnb relied mostly on their website for booking and sales, it was important for them to provide their customers with a clearer look with easy-to-use navigation. By leveraging the best website development services, they added a host of personalisation features which turned out to be a complete game changer for the brand. They were able to make the booking processes easier than ever. They added high-quality images of their properties, essential information related to booking, additional product information, availability, reviews, supplier information (Host, Neighborhood), Policies/T&Cs and other such related products to enhance the customer experience.
2. Email Marketing: With the aim of increasing reservations and prompting customers to book their next travel adventure, Airbnb leveraged the power of email marketing services to remind their users that the hospitality brand is a one-stop-shop for organising a memorable holiday, so that users become familiar with not only booking their accommodation via Airbnb, but also activities while they’re in a new city. They made use of itinerary emails, emails which consisted of experiences of other users.
3. Search Engine Optimization (Including optimizing community for SEO): To establish brand presence, drive the traffic organically by leveraging best search engine optimization services. Attract the audience through search engines.
4. Social Media Optimization: Nowadays, social media platforms have become an integral part of the digital marketing strategy. If you want to connect with your audience in real-time, then it is best to establish your brand image across social media platforms. As social media plays a vital role in the lives of the people.
5. Brand Partnerships: Airbnb has shown many times that partnering can cause some serious impact on the audience. Brands get to offer something unique to the customers. Successful partnerships include KLM Royal, Dutch Airlines, UK bookstore chain, Waterstones and even the French government. In partnership, a contest was created where the winners could spend a free night in a luxury ‘Airplane Apartment’. With the French government it was a night in the Paris Catacombs at Halloween, which helped raise the profile of a lesser-appreciated French tourist spot.
6. Influencer Marketing: Airbnb leveraged the power of creative influencer marketing strategies and invited journalists, bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters and Instagram stars to the event.
WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) - overview
Why would successful Superhosts want to take part? A few reasons: they’re compensated; they’ll become minor celebrities within the world of Airbnb; their properties will be even more popular and lucrative; and they’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they’ve given other female millennials a leg up.
What about the hosts? They get access to best practices and troubleshooting; exposure for them and their property; more bookings; and a chance to rise to Superhost status in record time.
The deets: how to find, incent, activate, and monitor Superhost micro influencers
The Value of Community Storytelling Marketing
Flip through the pages of Airbnb Magazine or spend a minute scrolling through their social media feed and you’ll find yourself immersed in the stories of guests, hosts, and people across the world who represent Airbnb’s values. These storytelling efforts have paid off for Airbnb.
The power of community storytelling is clear for brands large and small.
The 4 most important elements you need to kick off a community team are the following:
It is critical for teams to have the right systems and tools in place to run experiments at scale. Especially key in the first year is the experiment dashboard. Experiment dashboards are essentially a single destination to track experiments/results, and allow for easy analysis by lots of people at the company. Dashboards contain:
The dashboard helps the team to run various experiments and test the results before proposing every single idea to be added to the product. As the community team scales, the number of engineers increases and it becomes unwieldy without an experiment dashboard.
The dashboard also becomes an invaluable archive of past experiments that is also immensely helpful when adding new team members or iterating on past experiments.
Here's a screenshot of Airbnb's internal experiment dashboard:
Peer review & Individual Experimentation
Teams often set up an internal experiment review process on a biweekly basis. Team members present their hypothesis and share the results of the experiment they ran to test the hypothesis. Peers ask a lot of questions to decide whether they agree or disagree with the findings. Community teams that run 100+ experiments per year cite that only a third of their experiments turn out to be positive.
Another important element is to make sure you set heuristics for the community team. Community teams are constantly testing hypotheses and running experiments.
Your community members are there more for each other than they are for you. They’re looking for a resource — a safe place where they can connect over passions and interests.
By creating an ethos of helpfulness, you’re creating an open environment. A place where your customers or community members can learn and share. And once they’ve learned from others, they’ll be likely to return the favor.
Action: Add value for your customers by creating a hub for relevant information and research.
“You’re not as smart as your users collectively. Just listen more and trust that the people who are passionate about the subject matter are going to do interesting and unexpected and amazing things with control you give them.” ~ Erik Martin, former GM of Reddit
As the community builder and facilitator, it’s your job to connect your members — get the conversation going, then step away. You can always chime in to answer questions, clear up misunderstandings or share announcements. The point is to allow your customers or members build connections with one another.
It's more difficult with forums, but with brand communities, your community can break off into smaller groups to discuss sub-topics and areas of interest. Or they can direct message each other to build deeper one-to-one relationships. If you’re worried about losing control, don’t be. Your community will be grateful for the relationships you opened up for them, and therefore remain loyal.
Data alone cannot answer all the questions. It is equally important to have user researchers in place to really understand what is happening behind the numbers in your community.
Your first 1000 users will look a lot different from the second 1000 users. Therefore it is important to do the following:
While the above roadmap items will help set the foundation for a strong community program, a lot of the tools, processes, and systems will evolve at scale.
Set A Target To Improve Every 3 To 6 Months
Now you have your benchmarks, you can begin to set reasonable targets of improvement for each member of your team.
A reasonable level of progress is an increase in 1 level (of 1 attribute ) every 2 to 3 months at the first two levels and usually 3 to 6 months at the upper levels.
This gives your team a clear focus and lets you build a roadmap of what you expect over 6 to 12 months. This, in turn, lets you identify what kind of support you need to provide the community team to help them reach each level.
This is a process that never ends. The goal is to set benchmarks, track progress, and push for ongoing, non-stop, improvement from every member of the community team. Set a skills roadmap for every person you work with and compel both of you to review it every 3 months.
If you have any questions about building a setting benchmarks for your community team, feel free to leave a comment below. We’d love to see if we (or fellow readers) can help!
A Community manager's guide to crafting a precise and effective welcome email
Yes, the CFO may have a more stressful March/April and the CEO may feel the heat raising the next round, but day to day, no one tops the feels of a community manager. Community Managers bring their soul to work everyday.