July 7th, 2021
"If we do a good job on the community side, we send something out to the community and they talk back to us." This is how Joshua Zerkel, Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana, described what it means to build a program for people outside of one's company—and how a conversation leads to something deeper and more enduring than a reply.
Building the Uncommon community means building richer and more real-time ways for community-driven people to connect with Uncommon and the team at Common Room and, most importantly, to connect with each other. We've seen how healthy communities can inspire new ideas, spur product innovation, answer each other's questions, connect one another to opportunities and resources, and offer a place for old-fashioned camaraderie.
So when we officially announced the Uncommon community two weeks ago, powered by Common Room, we had our Twitter DMs open and we planned to launch Slack as our next channel to bring community builders together. Today, we delivered invitations to those community builders who joined Uncommon early—they're community management experts and enthusiasts who have engaged with Uncommon and Common Room since we announced in March, and we're excited to introduce them to each other through Slack. We'll be steadily growing the Uncommon Slack workspace as the community finds its groove, and we can't wait to welcome you.
We believe that better products and experiences are built when companies are closer to their communities. In this spirit, we knew that we'd open a new platform—but we had some decisions to make.
At a high-level, we decided our next community engagement platform should have three key pieces of functionality:
So, we wanted to give our community members and customers more ways to interact. We could have chosen an inbound ticketing queue, a different chat platform, or a forum. It was easy to eliminate the ticketing queue as a choice because we wanted our community to be able to build connections with each other, not just with us.
We opted out of a forum (at least for right now), because we wanted to facilitate conversations and to give members a more casual, ephemeral way to connect on the daily. Across our own Common Room customers, we see forums serve as truly helpful places for troubleshooting and support, but they certainly receive lower rates of engagement—our customers' chat platforms receive 2x - 6x more engagement than their forums.
All that was left was to choose between Slack and Discord (at least for right now). Again, we turned to our customers. We found that while their Discord servers have more engagement, the quality of those engagements is much lower—there are more bot messages, more spam, and more noise to sift through—exactly the kind of thing that anonymity allows. We wanted to facilitate quality engagement and quality connections. So Slack was the right place to start for our community.
Choosing to open Slack next was not a decision we took lightly, because building for your community means more than pushing a button—it merits deep thinking about how your community prefers to interact, the visibility you need to have into what's happening across your community, how your team(s) will support conversations, the expectations and processes you'll set around your code of conduct and channel usage, and a realistic understanding of what your organization expects to achieve from more interaction with its community members and customers.
At Uncommon, here's how we thought about each of those points:
Looking across our customers and their own communities, Slack is prevalent. Like we noted above, after LinkedIn, Slack is the leading platform people use to connect with their communities—49% of more than 1,500 community-focused survey respondents told us so.
It makes sense: People already use Slack for work, and they feel comfortable navigating channels and threads within it. Slack enables quick and simple communication in a lightweight way—lightweight enough that posts don't need to be tediously overthought since they won't live forever (and are thankfully editable). It's also asynchronous enough to not feel dreadfully imposing but synchronous enough to receive a reply in a natural-feeling timeframe, and it lends a transparency that helps build rapport, trust, healthy discussion, and a way for newcomers to understand context around conversations. It also has excellent emoji reactions <looks at party parrot>.
Visibility is paramount.
Understanding who the people in your community are is imperative to supporting them, collaborating with them, and building better products and experiences alongside them. If you can't get visibility into who's using your product, you can't build a relationship with them that endures beyond transactions, and they can't build relationships with each other. We don't believe that anonymity contributes to creating vibrant long-term communities or vibrant long-term products. To build best for people, you need to know who's using your products and how they're engaging with your brand through all kinds of social channels, networks, and platforms—and you need to be able to engage with them back.
This is a key reason we chose to open Slack first—because it's quite public. Participants post their names, avatars, workplaces, and statuses in a way that enables everyone to get a sense of who they're engaging with and, on the best days, maybe even some things they share in common. This publicness allows community managers and other internal teams to have the visibility they need to better connect with and support their own community members—Slack offers details that are leaps and bounds beyond the often-anonymous user names and piecemeal data managers can glean from a platform like Discord.
This facet of Slack is super important to us at Uncommon, because as Common Room's community, we want to dogfood our product in the way that as closely resembles our customers' experiences as possible, all the way down to the information we can understand about our community members from the platforms we engage on. Slack is a key communication channel for them, and it's one of the multiple sources we support in Common Room. It's a win-win-win.
Conversational support played a significant role in our decision to open Slack. Similar to the idea that you wouldn't invite a new friend to a party and then leave them to guess at conversation topics without any introduction, we wouldn't open an engagment platform intended to gather community-driven leaders together without considering the types of conversations our community has told us they want to have.
So while it's our hope to see conversations flowing and growing without our team's instigation, we also know it's our job as hosts to facilitate topics we know are interesting to the parties we've invited, well, to the party. Slack makes it simple—we scoped a welcome note, specific channels for directed conversations, polls, ice breakers, and topics to cover like reporting and metrics, hiring best practices, and swag goals. We'll share more about these in an upcoming post and if you like what you see, you'll be able to take it as inspiration and use it to spark dialogue in your own communities.
Online communities offer an incredible wealth of knowledge and genuine connection—Jeff Barr, Chief Evangelist at AWS, calls this "priceless knowledge given freely"—but we've all seen that they can become a negative space. The Uncommon Slack is an inclusive space, and we won't tolerate dehumanizing behavior—we make that clear through our Uncommon Community Code of Conduct. Many organizations do this well—we specifically love codes of conduct like the Contributor Covenant, the Django Code of Conduct, and how Discourse sets expectations, and we're grateful for the inspiration.
A Code of Conduct doesn't guarantee perfect behavior, but it does enable the Uncommon team to set expectations around what we believe is important for community health and vibrancy, and around when, how, and why we may take action with a certain community member. We also set up escalation processes and an email alias specifically devoted to supporting community members in having the experience of a safe, welcoming, and genuinely well-intentioned space.
All of us at Common Room believe in the collective power of community, so opening up more channels for direct dialogue with our community—for community and about community—only makes sense. But that's a bit of a cop-out in terms of concrete expectations.
So we'll offer a few examples of why other key teams and role types at Common Room are excited to see the community in Slack:
Some of our customers directly add their partnership, growth, account, and marketing teams into their Common Room—they recognize and believe that the ability to understand the people engaging with their products offers something valuable for everyone.
All the above said, we know there are a lot of channels out there and a lot of ways your community can interact with your brand—Slack, Discord, Discourse, GitHub, Intercom, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Khoros, and plenty of bespoke solutions that organizations build on their own—we'll be comparing the advantages and challenges of those approaches in an upcoming post.
For now, we'd love two things: Join Uncommon to get updates about what's happening across the community space, including open job roles, interviews with experts, and a breezy monthly newsletter, and at-mention us on Twitter if you'd like to start a multi-logue about any of the ideas above.