Community Series | Navigating Community Carefully
Where do you draw the line between using your community to influence your roadmap and letting them own the roadmap?
Our 5 part series on community comes to a close with an examination on how several product leaders are approaching feedback from their communities. It can be easy to assume that your users know best about what they need, but can we dig deeper and read between the lines to gain a better understanding?
In this episode, we share some insights into how to navigate your community when it comes to feedback, managing users, and understanding how those users interact with each other. We’ll also hear how to effectively manage your community as your product scales.
Listen in to hear part five of our series on community.
Past Episodes Mentioned:
- Scaling a Product While Building a Community with Sara Mauskopf
- Creating a Better Product Starts by Solving a Real Problem
Resources Mentioned:Listen Now
Anna Eaglin: All right Christian, this is it for our series on community, the final episode. Can you believe we made it?
Christian Beck: Well, I mean I can, I can. But it's been quite the ride and I'm excited for today's conversation because I really think it ties things together. Are we recording?
Anna Eaglin: Oh my god. Better product the only show that takes a behind the scenes look into how digital products are created.
Christian Beck: The business is built around them and how you too can innovate better product. I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: I'm Anna.
Christian Beck: Welcome to today's show.
Anna Eaglin: Over the past four episodes we've heard from a variety of product leaders discussing multiple aspects of community and how it can impact a product journey. Today we're talking about how to manage your community and the feedback they give you. Honestly, it can be a tough line to walk sometimes. So Christian, I'm interested in your thoughts as we wrap up this series. Specifically, how do you draw the line between not letting the community own the roadmap but using them to influence the roadmap?
Christian Beck: Yeah. I think what we've learned is in the beginning you're interacting with the community a lot more and drawing off of it more and I think taking that and prioritizing features or what you want to do based off of what you hear and putting it through that filter. But then once you start to scale and you have a product the nature of I think your interactions with the community starts to change and now you're starting to have them guide you but you're almost starting to shift and guide your community with what you're doing with the product.
Anna Eaglin: Do you think that there needs to be, you mentioned when you scale, is there a healthy balance or a healthy distance you have to start to strike with the community at this point?
Christian Beck: Well, if you look at Sketch I mean Peter Omvlee talks about how much he was working with the community early on but now as they've scaled they have a team of people that are interacting with the community. And I know Peter is still very much in tune with it just like you think Clark Valberg the founder of InVision isn't as involved as he used to be but he has a team. So he scaled it through a team of people that really oversee the community. So I think when you scale even if you start with the community and you as a founder or head of product are involved in the community as you scale you may not be able to do that as much so you need to add people to your team and maybe even people that maybe even are dedicated fully to overseeing the community that are constantly in message boards, or in Slack channels, or through email, whatever it is that are constantly there interacting with people to learn how they're using the product or learn how they're doing their jobs differently than when they started.
Anna Eaglin: So, the idea of there being communities around products I think is a pretty new idea and a pretty new lead gen strategy but online communities have existed since the internet came about, it's why the internet exists. So, a lot of online communities have are almost self moderated and self-contained. Reddit is a good one. Do you think that there is a space for self moderation inside a product oriented community, or does there need to be a full time employee who works for the product watching that community, or what do you think that balance is?
Christian Beck: I feel like the right answer seems like it should be that product should be able to have self regulated communities but if I'm being honest in who we've talked to I think because you are a for profit business, you think Reddit channels and message boards these are just communities that exist for themselves. But I do think there's something different at play when you are selling a product and you are trying to figure out what it is you're delivering with a product, where you want the product ahead it is a business. I mean I think that's a point that can't be overlooked. That I think it's important to have people that are in charge of overseeing the community.
Christian Beck: Now it can be self-regulating. I mean I could definitely see strong communities regulating themselves but this isn't just like broader communities that we'd see, political communities or local communities. These are communities that are really around product that I do think need people to help steer the conversation in the right direction because ultimately the community has to be a reflection of what the product's trying to do. And so, if someone on the product team isn't overseeing community then it could start to get away from what the true value is of of the product itself. So, because of that I think it's important that as you scale you do have some community managers and we actually see that. We see more marketing or product marketing teams starting to add community managers to their teams.
Anna Eaglin: I think this idea is going to shift too as this idea gets more mature and these communities get more mature and I would almost argue that once people become power users or extreme users of a product that they'll drop out of a community.
Christian Beck: Yeah, that would be interesting to see even what happens, what does design better look like in five years? Does it grow? Is there going to be more communities? Do they ...
Anna Eaglin: Do the extreme users break off and make their own community? How can you sustain new users and people who know exactly how everything works?
Christian Beck: Well with that let's dive into our final episode of the series. What do you do with the flood of information that flows from a growing community and how do you keep focused on your vision while keeping in mind your real life users?
Pieter Omvlee: Our users are very vocal in letting us know what they like and what they don't like about the product and of course we take all of that into account. Last week we were at the Layers Conference with the booth and we spent a whole whole week talking to [inaudible 00:05:32] to individual designers to do sketch to companies that do sketch. So we do want to know very much what these people would like us to do but ultimately there's always a goal that we are going to make like this does not belong in the sketch or [inaudible 00:05:52] They want to do it that way but we think we can do it better in this [inaudible 00:05:57] So we get lots of data but I think it's the designer's job to decide what to do with that in a well informed way.
Christian Beck: That's Peter Omvlee CEO of Sketch, a platform for digital design. We've heard from him a few times so far in this series but this quote is particularly important at this point in our journey. Because for everything we have discussed so far as it relates to community we haven't really spoken about the hard decisions you might face. As Peter shares users are vocal and they will let you know what they think and when they do you are left with a choice. You can take that feedback and use it to help bend your product towards your user desires or you can hear it, acknowledge it, consider it, and continue moving forward. And not because you don't care what your community thinks but because understanding user feedback within existing roadmaps is tricky and there are no easy answers.
Christian Beck: If logic tells you that serving your users and meeting their needs is a solid model for success you are not inherently wrong but consider that especially early on in the life of a product your users may not always know exactly what it is that they need. When we spoke with Scott Belsky, chief product officer and executive vice president of Creative Cloud at Adobe he told us about an experience he had when creating Behance that I think illuminates this concept.
Scott Belsky: It's interesting. The one and only focus group we ever held for Behance was in the early days like 2007 and we got a group propose together in our small office in New York and with a bottle of wine and some cheese and we were asking the participants about some of the ideas that we had. And the one thing that came out of that was people said, "We have no need for another social network, it's the last thing we need. We've gotten MySpace, we have DeviantArt, we have all these other options out there, please don't give me another social network in my life." And then we said, "Okay, well what is your problem?" And then they're like, "Well, the portfolio's always out of date. I never get credit for the work that I do." And they went through this whole list and that was, it was one of those moments where the customer doesn't know what they need and because we realized, "Oh actually we do need to build a network to solve those problems."
Christian Beck: So there you have it. Users don't always know what they need thus we don't need to listen. Okay obviously that's not what Scott is saying here but in fact by listening closely Scott recognized the real pain his users were having, something that wasn't spoken but could be discovered by reading between the lines and truly seeking to understand who his users were. This is something that exists for every product leader. I want to go back to Peter with Sketch because he touches on this concept in an interesting way. Specifically as your product grows and you make iterations how do you honor your experienced users without alienating new ones? How do you listen and act well when your community grows and diversifies?
Pieter Omvlee: It's hard to maintain that balance and that's the main challenge that we have for the designers. How do you keep it easy to use for basic, for new users and yet how do you keep it powerful enough for the professional user and that is always, always with every feature that's always the challenge. I don't know simple answers there because every feature is different and if it was easy then we would all be out of a job I guess.
Christian Beck: At Sketch listening becomes even more important as the company scales alongside its community. Just as the team at Sketch grows and changes the community of users looks different as well requiring an intentionality when it comes to making big decisions about their product.
Scott Belsky: I guess that's how you could summarize it in a way and so and as I said in the beginning that was mostly getting out of the way and not all those tools that users didn't need shouldn't get in the way of just putting designs on screens. But yeah, going back to that making better products like Sketch gets adopted in companies you need to find ways for designers to work more effectively together as I said like symbols and [inaudible 00:09:59] earlier. And then you can't design it in a vacuum. I mean that is [inaudible 00:10:04] you need input from stakeholders and you need to communicate with developers. And if you don't do all of those things and people have to jump between tools that just causes a lot of friction and frustration. And so, ultimately again going back to helping people make better products like it happens in larger and larger organizations and we want to help there as well. And just because we think, just because we have the app itself we think we can do a really good job there because we can integrate it really deeply in to the app.
Christian Beck: Ultimately for Peter and his team their internal unifying vision of what Sketch is remains their guiding light and is the lens through which they view everything about their community. Yes, it is a challenge but it keeps the focus on the right things.
Scott Belsky: Because if you lose the unifying vision of what's Sketch is and you start throwing in the [inaudible 00:11:01] then yeah one day it will be exactly the same as it was with Photoshop 10 years ago where one UI designer would tell someone new on the team. "Well, just use shapes and styles and ignore all the other things," and that's what we want to avoid. But yeah, it is challenge
Christian Beck: Sometimes when it comes to navigating community it is about more than just listening to feedback from your users. It can actually mean policing your users and maintaining a healthy environment. That's the challenge faced by Kyle Pendergast co founder and CEO of Indy Gaming League. We heard from him earlier in this series about how vital community is when it comes to the success of his product but because of the sometimes toxic nature of gaming culture Kyle and his team have to put an emphasis on the culture of the community itself. How do they do this? First they locate what he calls their good actors.
Kyle Pendergast: The good actors are the people who at the very least they are participating in whatever your product is. So for us it's playing in the league and they're doing it in a positive way. If they're a really, really good actor then than they are tweeting about it on Twitter and posting it on Instagram. And on the really far end of the spectrum of being a good actor there's people who for us they create franchises of teams and then they have 20, 30 teams that are all playing in the circuit. So, they're actively bringing in in some cases hundreds of individuals to our experience and that's amazing.
Christian Beck: Finding the good actors provides a few benefits for Kyle including the ability to define what a good actor actually looks like for Indy Gaming League and how to find and empower more of them. It also gives the added benefit of easily uncovering what Kyle calls the bad eggs, the users who are negatively impacting the community as a whole and holding Indy Gaming League back.
Kyle Pendergast: if you give any sort of bias or give it like let anyone stay in because, "Oh they have a membership," or whatever it just doesn't work. So we completely separated that logic from each other. If you break any of these rules then you're just out and if you want to come back you have to go through a pretty strict process. Usually we make you sit out a circuit and if you still want to come back after that some people will even apologize publicly. They'll just do it because they either, maybe they were messing around with their friends or and maybe in their sphere of their network sphere like what they said was okay or it was less of a big deal but then someone reports it and it's still not appropriate. So we just, we still remove them. But there haven't been many cases where someone who we removed for being a bad actor or just a bad egg has come back.
Christian Beck: While Kyle's situation is unique in many ways the idea of understanding how your community is changing as it grows is not. We've heard from Sara Mauskopf of Winnie several times in this series and I want to bring her back once again. We've heard about how her community helped make the focus of Winnie crystal clear but I found something else about that story particularly interesting. As Winnie and its community grew it began attracting new and different users which created an environment for some pretty amazing conversations to happen. For example, what happens when parents are joined on the Winnie platform by early educators who can share their own unique experiences and insights.
Sara Mauskopf: But one of the interesting things is it started shaping what people even talked about in our community. We started seeing people ask more and more questions around childcare, and around early education, and around preschoolers, or potty training, or things that were necessary, or sometimes prerequisites for childcare. And we also started seeing not just parents engaging on our platform but also early educators. So, daycare and preschool teachers and directors we're actually starting to respond to questions from parents and do now and engage in discussions.
Sara Mauskopf: And it was amazing because one of the things, we always thought our community was kind of like a commodity. There's a lot of places you can find a community of parents. You can join a local Facebook group or your other moms you meet on maternity leave but there wasn't, there isn't really a place that both parents, and early educators, and people that care for children are connected and it was amazing. Parents would start to ask these questions and suddenly you were getting answers that were not just like, "Here's my experience raising my kid," but, "Here's my experience seeing lots of different children and having the perspective of actually seeing a lot of children in this developmental stage go through this."
Christian Beck: A product with a community that can foster those kinds of connections and conversations well that's really the core of what we wanted to explore in this series. That's the power of community. At the end of the day it's real people engaging with your platform and engaging with each other growing together. I want to finish this series where we began with Adam Fry-Pierce of InVision. Adam has already shown himself to be a community guru but I found a portion of our conversation with him particularly fascinating. When talking about designbetter.co Adam shared about how the community is succeeding in its purpose of educating designers but was still convinced that there was room to grow and expand mostly because each of us learns a little bit differently.
Adam Fry-Pierce: It has stuck around because of the positive feedback and participation that have come out as a result. And there's so much stuff that you can find online and it's awesome that Design Better has been one of those places where people can go to to learn about it. But something that we're still working on is how can we get people to talk about it because there's different, people learn in a whole different variety of ways. Some people can pick up a book and read it and they've got everything they need. I fall more in the category of needing to talk through it, talk through stuff with people.
Adam Fry-Pierce: So, that's where the in-person, to challenge Mike a little bit, I need to go out to conferences, and get involved in community, and get some FaceTime with people just to talk about my stuff, and the things that I learned, and talk about the stuff that I didn't maybe thought that I understood but it turned out that I didn't. So designedbetter.co is still in its early days. Right now it's a place where you go to learn about things. I'm hoping that in the future it becomes a little bit more of an interactive component and I challenge the rest of the industry to do the same thing.
Christian Beck: As Adam thinks about the future of community at InVision and designbetter.co he is literally thinking about face to face in person community, old school community, which is important to remember as you work to build your own. The people that use our products are just that people and maybe your product doesn't have a need for physical in person interactions but wherever those interactions take place the need for empathy, patience, and open ears are needed to truly understand your users and what community looks like and means for your product. So, I hope you've enjoyed our journey over the past five episodes. We will have another immersive series for you in the new year but as promised we haven't completely left our old ways behind us. From now through the rest of 2019 we have some amazing guests lined up and we can't wait to share those conversations with you starting next week.
Anna Eaglin: Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Until then visit innovatemap.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always we're curious what does better product mean to you? Hit us up on twitter at Innovatemap or shoot us an email at podcastatinnovatemap.com.
Christian Beck: I'm Christian.
Anna Eaglin: And I'm Anna and you've been listening to Better Product. Drop mic.