Community-Driven Product Development - Rally Your Early Adopters

  • Mark Tan

    October 22nd, 2021

  • Melanie Ratchford

    October 22nd, 2021

We collaborated on a six part educational series with Mark Tan, Director of Product and Community at Wyze, where we discussed trends and takeaways when it comes to building products in tandem with your community. Mark covers everything he's learned about community-driven product development, so you as a product manager (or other team leader!) can get as close to your end users as possible.

In our sixth and final week, Mark discussed how to rally your early adopters to help spread the word and gather referrals leading up to launch. We've also excerpted questions from our follow-up Slack Q&A. You can find the full series of videos posted to our Community-Driven Product Development YouTube playlist.

You spoke about the power of network driven marketing, and different examples of referral programs. If someone is interested in building a program, what questions should they ask themselves before deciding which type to focus on?

First, ask yourself what value will your program bring to your community members and what transformation would you like to see for them and your business. Would you like them to become knowledgable in using your product? Help you increase adoption? Build content? Make sure that the purpose of the program is aligned with the community values that you want to nurture.

For example, when Dropbox launched their “Space Race”, there was a clear benefit to both Dropbox and its users. They even framed it nicely: “We’ve heard of teachers using Dropbox for submitting homework, groups building amazing feats of engineering through shared folders, and theses being rescued from certain doom at the end of that critical all-nighter…”

Second, look at your resources and see if you have the tools that will make it easy for both your team to execute the plan and community members to share with others. Just like any product/service, it’s important to give it enough attention for it to succeed. Based on these, decide what kind of program you want to launch for your community members.

Referral programs are all about motivating people to bring other people to the community. How do you decide what will be the most impactful motivating factor?

There’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. We can use extrinsic motivation to attract people to join the program, but intrinsic motivation is more powerful in the long term. This reminds me of this gamification framework that I would look at every now and then. This is a really old one but a lot of the principles apply.

You think of ways to define the epic meaning and empowerment that you can provide for your members. Then see if you can create “social wins” rather than rewarding individual members. The rest of these are more extrinsic motivations (discounts, points, etc.) that you can use as well. So to identify which ones will be most impactful, pick the ones that are closest to your business and product objectives.

Once you apply the framework and have a program like this started, how do you keep engagement high? And what can you do if you see engagement start to drop?

Good question. Keeping engagement high is a very challenging thing to do in communities. To keep engagement high, look at your program’s ‘natural frequency’ and set up events and activities that will continue to encourage your members to give back. This goes back to the engagement calendar that we discussed previously. People respond to different formats and channels differently, so try to do outreach in various ways. This reminds me of a workshop that I did recently.

So to keep engagement high, even with your referral programs, cover different ways to reach out to your members. The two photos on the lower right are events that I led recently in Seattle :)

And then to answer your second question: If the engagement drops, I use the three Rs method - reconnect, realign, recognize.

  • Reconnect: I look at who’s active/less active and reach out to them directly. See if they have questions, issues, or if they are just busy. 
  • Realign: I share updates and inform them of new activities, especially if it's a new perk/benefit that wasn’t available previously.
  • Recognize: Acknowledge any contribution that they do or revisit ones that they’ve done in the past.

This applies more broadly to community management, but can also be used within referral programs.

The topic title is about rallying early adopters, but curious to chat about how some of the ideas scale as you grow. At the end of the video, you offer an idea to suggest other communities to your members that may be relevant given what you know of them. Have you found a way to scale that? Or do you recommend it as an early stage project that makes way for different initiatives as the business grows?

With respect to sharing resources, I look at it more as a way to provide resources. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel and in many cases, your members will appreciate it if you just point them to a good site that has the answers. Showing that you know a lot of resources, are part of several communities, and understand the value of “network of networks” can bring a lot of value to you and others. In a way, you are extending yourself through these communities.

What is your experience with community-driven "ambassador" programs to boost engagement?

(Shout out to Uncommon community member George Huang for this question ☺️)

I believe that ambassador programs work if the incentives and purpose are defined clearly. It’s putting a structure on how you work with your community, amplifying their voices, and rewarding them for their contributions.

I’m an ambassador myself for other communities and it’s great to feel that I am actively supporting the organization (plus the free swag!).

And the final question of the series! How do you balance providing value to both new and existing members within these programs?

This is the fun part! Over time, your community members will be at different stages in their journey so you’d want to continue bringing in more value through product updates, content, etc. For new members, provide onboarding content and make sure you incorporate feedback from old members.

For older members, ask them which of the previous updates they want to learn more about and go deeper into those topics.

Finally, facilitate connections between new and old members. I don’t hear this a lot but community leaders are also “matchmakers”. Look at the needs of your new members and see if you can make introductions to old-timers. The value of a community really comes from member-to-member interaction so find ways to increase that.

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