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9 min read

Apr 17th, 2023

How to 10x your community without losing sight of your North Star

What’s most important as your community scales from one to one million? Atlassian’s Stephanie Grice dug into that question at the 2022 CMX Summit.

As the Head of Global Community & Customer Advocacy at Atlassian, Stephanie is responsible for the success of all things Atlassian Community, including the company’s online community, the Atlassian Community Events program, and the Atlassian Community Leader program.

Stephanie is a passionate supporter of the community-led growth movement, and has played an instrumental role in establishing community as a central part of Atlassian’s business and customer experience. Now over four million members strong, Atlassian’s community has become a best-in-class example of a B2B community at scale.

In her conversation with Bevy’s Marsha Drucker, Stephanie shares the Atlassian approach behind how to 10x your community, from finding your first members to setting a North Star, measuring success, and learning from failure.

Interested in chatting community strategy with 1500+ industry leaders like Stephanie? Join Uncommon—a Slack community for community & DevRel professionals.

Find your community

In many cases, your community is already out there, sharing their experiences with your products and getting tips from peers. You just need to find them!

In Atlassian’s case, the community launched itself. A group of users had started a meetup in Virginia to chat about Jira, so the Atlassian team got closer to those community members to figure out how best to support them and others in organizing similar events.

Sixteen years later, the Atlassian community has grown to over four million members across events in 200 cities, an online forum, and countless other digital and physical meeting places.

Be mission-driven and follow your North Star

Atlassian's mission has always been to unleash the potential of teams. According to Stephanie, “community lit the fire around our brand” because there has always been a natural alignment between the Atlassian community and Atlassian values.

Cultivating affinity around shared values is key to growing your community. Similarly, you should define a North Star for your community program and use it to guide everything you do. The Atlassian community team's North Star is supporting its brand champions or anyone meaningfully engaged with Atlassian—anywhere. The team strives to make champions’ lives easier and more successful in any endeavor, whether in or outside the community.

With this overarching goal, they can develop specific programs for different types of champions within the community and track success via various community metrics.

A great example of how Atlassian engages members with its North Star in mind is Jimmy talks Jira. Atlassian amplifies this YouTube content because it helps to promote Jimmy, a community member, and all the great work he does, which in turn helps other members learn about Jira and how to use the tool more effectively.

If Atlassian can help their champions succeed, they are confident that their champions will tie that success back to being a community member and continue to give back to their peers in the Atlassian community.

Bottom line—for Atlassian, engaging their community means learning where and when to jump in and help. Community members and brand fanatics will meet with or without you (maybe even on YouTube with Jimmy); the job of a community leader is to find those champions and enable and promote their success. In turn, they will do the same for you.

And a word of caution from Stephanie: as you're considering a North Star, don’t get stuck in the community MAU trap (monthly active users). While MAUs are an important metric to track the health of a forum, it’s not a North Star to guide your program or deliver value for members. Pick a North Star and community metrics that align with your desired outcomes.

Measuring the success of your program

Community leaders need a way to track the overall health of their community to drive meaningful growth. Usually, this starts with community health metrics and then grows into business impact metrics as you scale.

The Atlassian community team keeps their primary focus on serving members and their North Star of growing brand champions, with the understanding that the community positively impacts downstream business metrics like CSAT scores, case deflection, and revenue: “That stuff will come as a benefit of building more champions of our brand and understanding who these people are and really giving them a ton of nurturing, programs, support, and enablement.”

Stephanie is fortunate that she’s no longer in a position where she has to prove direct ROI from the Atlassian community, but she still has to demonstrate value consistently, which is why she engaged with Common Room.

“We've been using Common Room for a year and a half. That was a huge tipping point, because we had been talking about brand champions and “little c” community for a long time, and it is really hard to get people on board when you can't show them what the value looks like tangibly. That 1.9 million people posted XYZ on Twitter about this, or there's 6,000 people who are engaging on StackOverflow and attending our community events. When you can put some numbers around it and pull up some faces, it is really helpful.”

Common Room allows Stephanie and team to track community health metrics and business impact metrics and also get a more complete sense of each community member as an individual.

“When you show leadership a tool that allows you to actually put some numbers around the size of these people and fill out the story of, ‘this is somebody who posted in our online forum, but more importantly, they tweet every week about the recent blog we published.’ Don’t think of them as an ‘online community user’; this is a human being who is engaging in a lot of different community channels. Common Room helped us bring it to life and helped put some shape to the stuff we had been saying for a few years, so that's helped too with keeping leadership bought into this idea because they can now they can really touch it and feel it.”

With the support of Common Room, Stephanie has found that being able to effectively advocate for and articulate value around one North Star—while still showing community impact on other key organizational metrics—allows for a more holistic and durable way community can contribute to the business.

To learn more about how Common Room can help your team better engage and articulate the value of your community. Try the platform for free or book a demo.

Serving up snackable bites to your C-suite to show value

Advocating for your community relies on how well you, the community leader, showcase the community's value across the organization.

For Stephanie, keeping her C-suite engaged beyond an ROI means letting "the community speak for itself" and showcasing valuable community conversations to stakeholders.

The community team at Atlassian does this by consistently sharing snackable bites with their C-suite. In fact, they have instituted "Wow Fridays," where Stephanie sends around a digest of things like StackOverflow conversations or pictures from real-life community events to keep the community top of mind for stakeholders.

Then, if or when Stephanie needs stakeholder support or buy-in for a community initiative, it's easier to ask for it. Stephanie explained that because she consistently amplifies member conversations or community happenings, stakeholders are excited to get on board when she advocates because they have the context to understand the impact.

Bottom line—creating a system where your community team continuously amplifies community activity for stakeholders makes advocating for community initiatives easier.

Learn important lessons from failures

Executing well as a community leader means staying on top of major community activities even as you scale. According to Stephanie, it also means you are prepared to learn the hard lessons when you mess up or make a mistake—it’s going to happen!

Through her time leading the Atlassian community team, Stephanie has learned that the best thing to do is remain authentic. It’s important to actively stay engaged with community interests and activities and create an honest relationship with members.

Here are two important lessons she shares in her talk.

Lesson #1: Don’t Assume

In 2017, the Atlassian community moved from a Q&A forum into an online community. As a community leader, Stephanie feared that if the company invited community partners to join the community, "they would come in and try to sell stuff," which would ultimately drive away other members. The Atlassian community is a strict no-sales zone, so the community management team made the decision to leave partners out of the new community space.

Unfortunately, the team had overlooked the partners’ value to the community. Partners were in forums answering questions, sharing and promoting content, and supporting the Atlassian brand even if they weren't using a product.

By restricting partner access because of a fear of selling, Stephanie’s team aggravated this important subset of users and ultimately decreased the value members get from the community.

Some of the lessons Stephanie and the team took from this experience—so that they can execute better in the future—are:

  • Ask members directly what they want (this led them to form the Atlassian community advisory board).
  • Don’t "bucket" members or be cohort-rigid.
  • Appreciate everyone’s value. Atlassian discovered that there are people already in the community who don't care about their product but love their brand and what they stand for—and they need to think of them too!

Lesson #2: Trust is paramount

Another lesson Stephanie shared was related to a small Atlassian outage. As the outage only affected a few people, Atlassian decided not to broadcast information about it to the wider community.

Members had a significant reaction to this move because they felt that the community leaders had broken their trust. For Stephanie, she learned that she should've advocated for the community and pushed for more transparency about the outage, no matter how minor.

Bottom line—execution is more than staying on top of what your community is doing at scale; it's also about learning the hard lessons along the way so that you can continue to grow and thrive.

In conclusion

Stephanie's insights on how to grow your community without losing sight of the North Star metric can be incredibly valuable for community leaders looking to scale.

Atlassian's community has become a best-in-class example of a B2B community at scale, and Stephanie's experience and tips can help other organizations grow their communities in a similar way. From finding your first members to measuring success and learning from failures, there are many important steps in building and maintaining a successful community, and Stephanie's advice can help community leaders navigate them all.

For more insights on community strategy, check out a conversation with another community leader in How Webflow implements its community strategy and delivers member value.