Real GTM Advice Recap: Community Building

In this recap of our Real GTM Advice series, we discussed what community means in the SaaS space, zeroing in on PLG, and how to start and build your own high-value community.

Sandy Mangat
August 23, 2022
Real GTM Advice Recap: Community Building

In the Real GTM Advice series, hosted by Pocus CEO and Founder Alexa Grabell, we gather a panel of diverse leaders in the go-to-market (GTM) space to discuss the latest topics. 

Want to get your 🔥 burning 🔥 questions answered by our next Real GTM Advice panel, or participate in our weekly AMAs with Product-Led Sales (PLS) experts? Both of these series and more are available to members of Pocus’ Product-Led Sales community.

This community is full of experts from top PLG companies like Slack, Calendly, Airtable, Asana, and more, sharing advice on their best practices and frameworks for PLS. Request an invite here to join the growing community. 

Now, let’s hear what our GTM experts have to share. 

Meet the Panelists 👋

In this recap of our Real GTM Advice series, we discussed what community means in the SaaS space, zeroing in on PLG, and how to start and build your own high-value community. 

Our panel for this session includes:

Anna Filippova, Director of Community & Data at dbt Labs, who tends to the dbt Community of over 25,000 people. Prior to dbt Labs, Anna built the first Analytics Engineering team at GitHub. Today, she writes about the intersection of modern data tools and open source in the Analytics Engineering Roundup.

Nisha Baxi is the Head of Community at Gong and former Head of Marketing as well as founding team member at data observation company Monte Carlo. She has had the pleasure of growing a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurship community to 15,000 members and building programs and frameworks at Microsoft, Salesforce, and Facebook that are still used to drive adoption and foster loyalty today. 

Lena Vu Sawyer is Head of Community at Replit, where her goal is to empower all people to make their mark on our digital world. Outside of work, she is an artist, cyclist, and science fiction enthusiast.

Keep reading for a summary of all the hot topics we discussed, including: 

  • What community means, and how that definition differs from person to person
  • Key tools for community building 
  • Different frameworks on which to build communities 
  • Community growth tactics 
  • How to quantify community success

What Originally Drew You to Community Building? 🧱

We love a good origin story, so this GTM Advice session kicked off with a quick round of story time as each of our panelists explained what it was that originally inspired them to become community builders. 

For Anna, growing up in the self-described “middle of nowhere” in Southeast Asia, she always sought out community as a way to broaden her horizons and connections — and today she loves to build spaces where others can do the same.

​Nisha didn’t even know she was *that* into the community concept before she started heading up a community Meetup group almost 15 years ago. While doing that, someone from Microsoft approached her and offered her a full-time gig building and hosting a community for them! The rest, as she says, is history. 

Formerly in education and events programming in the arts, our third panelist Lena has a background using interpersonal experiences as opportunities for learning. This was a skill she was able to readily translate into community building once she transitioned into the tech world.

What Does Community Mean to You? 

All of the communities our panelists belong to are so vastly different, it almost makes it harder to wrap one’s head around exactly what community means

So we wanted to get the low down straight from our experts — what is community to you? 

Anna says that when she thinks about community, she thinks about shared identity

Because dbt Labs as a tool is all about enabling data folks to work together, often in new ways, it’s critical that the community helps those folks feel they can identify with each other. Just knowing they use some of the same tools and are working on some of the same problems really furthers collaboration and success in the dbt Community. 

Similarly, Nisha believes community is all about bringing together people who share a similar interest

She sees two different approaches to this:

  • Top-of-funnel communities: Created to help businesses understand the market, determine product-market fit, and develop resources that help create the category

  • Bottom-of-funnel communities: These customer-centric spaces connect users who are already really active and excited about the product to help them learn from and share with each other 

For Nisha, the latter is what her community-building efforts at Gong focus on. 

In Lena’s case, communities are networks for authentic connections. She’s found that hosting these connections via a community is actually a powerful tool for growing the value of your product and/or business. 

Exploring Community Frameworks 

Anna describes for us the three buckets she most often sees communities fall into: 

  • Community of Contribution: These communities are usually built around an open source project, where different folks directly contribute code, documentation, etc. to achieve a singular goal 
  • Community of Brand: In these communities folks align around their excitement not just for a product, but for what the brand represents 
  • Community of Practice: In a community of practice, members with a shared sense of identity are there to help each other develop in their careers, work through issues, etc. (This is where dbt Labs’ community falls.)

Nisha adds the framework that she lives by when thinking about how her community creates business value — SPACES. 

  • Support: Crowd-sourcing answers to save customer support’s time 
  • Product: Improving the product by sharing user feedback 
  • Acquisition: Creating ambassadors who drive leads, then converting those leads 
  • Contribution: Building a resource library through user-generated-content
  • Engagement: Attracting and retaining loyal users
  • Success: Sharing user successes spurs further adoption 

(This guide helped us learn even more about the SPACES model.) 

Where Does Community Sit in the Org Chart? 

All of our panelists agree that community is quite a cross-functional concept. 

So, not surprisingly, they’ve been slotted into just about every department under the sun at one time or another! 

Lena describes how she’s reported to Biz Ops, Growth, Product, and Customer Success all at  Replit. At Gong, ​Nisha fits into Customer Success. At dbt Labs, Anna enjoys a seat at the leadership table thanks to the company’s recognition that community is a “very, very, very cross-functional initiative” in her words. 

“It’s really important when you are building a community that you have a seat at the table in a leadership capacity. If you're doing it right, you’re impacting marketing, sales, customer success, development, product, everything. The more opportunity you have to sit on a leadership team the more you can drive that cross-functional agenda.” — Nisha Baxi, Head of Community, Gong

Tactics for Growing Your Community 🚀

For those who are looking at communities with hundreds and even thousands of members and wondering how to get there, our panelists have a few great tactics to share. 

1. Focus on High-Impact Users

Lena says that, at Replit, teachers have a huge impact on adoption. Usually when they join, they bring entire classes and sometimes even entire school districts onto the platform. She recommends, if you're still getting off the ground, to zero in on and engage these pivotal user types. 

2. Add to the Natural Conversation 

We love this guerilla marketing advice from Lena: Type in the name of your company or product on various social media channels and see where you can add to the conversation. Ask questions, send swag, invite power users to your exclusive community, ask them to provide feedback on projects in beta, etc. Don’t see a lot of convos happening yet? You and your team can get the ball rolling yourselves by posting comments and questions, then see what ensues. 

3. Start Small to Find Community-Market Fit

Nisha drives home the importance of finding community-market fit (just like product-market fit) by starting with small groups of people who stand to get the most value out of your community. At Monte Carlo, this looked like gathering a handful of people who were passionate about data observability and hosting small events where they could talk about it. When they realized there was a need for this kind of community, they grew out their membership, systems, tools, and so on.

4. Create Value 

Anna adds that successful community growth comes from identifying the people who are most important to your community, figuring out what they need from you, then creating and delivering value for them over and over again. A community should naturally start to form around that exchange. 

“Don't focus on building a community. Focus on creating value for folks who are important to you. The rest will come.” — Anna Filippova, Director of Community & Data, dbt labs

Metrics for Quantifying Community Success 🧮

Speaking of creating value — how can the value of a community truly be quantified and measured? And does thinking about community value in this way actually work against the organic spaces we’re all trying to create with our communities? 

We turned to our panelists for their thoughts on this conundrum that we’ve run into so many times ourselves when thinking about our own PLS community. 

Community Engagement 

While Anna certainly values qualitative feedback when it comes to how the dbt Labs Community is performing, when she needs quantifiable metrics she looks at the engagement of community members. 

She measures whether or not the community is creating the right kind of value for members by watching how they transition from new members to highly-engaged members during their lifetime in the community. 

In-Product Engagement

Since there’s a social element of Replit, Lena is able to see how users write and read comments on published projects. She’s found a direct correlation between a high level of this kind of in-product activity and retention. As a result, a success metric for her is the number of campaigns she’s able to create that inspire in-product engagement through incentives, promotions, etc. 

On-Page Engagement 

For communities that create lots of content like Nisha’s, using something like Google Analytics to track a person from engaging with a piece of community content ➡️ becoming a community member ➡️ becoming a paying user is a powerful success indicator. 

Community Activity 

In the Gong Community, Nisha measures how healthy her community is to ensure that it continues to have a positive impact across the business. 

She measures that health by looking at activity like number of daily discussions, one-on-one connections between active members, how many members have logged in within a certain time frame, how many members have taken action within a certain time frame, etc. 

Any KPIs That Tie Back to Your Framework 

Since Nisha works within the SPACES framework that we described earlier, she has some very specific goals against which she can compare activity in her community. For example, in the support category, Nisha counts the number of complaints her community team is able to deflect from the customer support department. 

For businesses that find it important to attach quantitative metrics to the value and success of their community, putting a defined framework in place makes a lot of sense. 

Tools for Community Building 🏗️

When it comes to tools for community hosting and success measurement, here’s what our panelists are using at the moment: 

  • Purpose-built software: inSided for customer success, Common Room for cross-platform community management, Amplitude for analytics, etc. 
  • Social channels where their community members hang: Reddit, Facebook Groups, etc.  
  • Owned platforms: dbt Labs and Replit’s websites both feature community spaces
“In terms of tools, I find it's best not to be too prescriptive. If people are already finding what they need on Discord or Reddit, then that's where your community can be. You can still leverage and grow communities in those spaces.” — Lena Vu Sawyer, Head of Community, Replit

Rapid Fire: One Last Piece of Advice on Community Building

Anna: “Community isn't just something that you do for a quarter or two, it's something that you make a commitment to over the long-term. So if you think you don't have time for it right now, then maybe it's not the right time for you.”

Nisha: “Results follow intention. So have a very clear and very specific intention about what your community is and what it will achieve.”

Lena: “Be ready to listen and learn. Your community is defined and powered by community members, so pay close attention to what they're doing and what they're asking for.” 

Want to Join Our Next Real GTM Advice Session? 💬

Get your own questions answered by a panel of GTM experts just like Anna, Nisha, and Lena when you join Pocus’ PLS community.

We hope to see you, and your toughest questions, at our next Real GTM Advice panel! 

Sandy Mangat
Head of Marketing at Pocus
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