“Our product wouldn’t exist without a community,” Bram Kanstein, a community manager at Product Hunt, told me recently in an interview.
Many would say the same thing about their startup, but what exactly is a ‘community’? In the last couple of years, the term has evolved into an industry buzzword that many companies of all shapes and sizes use to refer to anything from their users or customers to a social network or online forum.
Although the responsibilities of a community manager are constantly changing and often depends heavily on the startup itself, the role typically consists of a mixture of managing social media channels, supporting customers, creating content, encouraging engagement among members of the community as well as gathering/tracking feedback to improve the product and grow. For many founders just starting out, it can be difficult to gauge whether to create a community around your product/service yourself or hire a professional to own that area of business.
To learn more about this realm, we caught up with Europe-based community managers from Product Hunt, EyeEm and FishBrain to gain some insight on how to build an engaged community, which tools they can’t live without and why the offline aspect is such an important part of the strategy.
Bram Kanstein, Community Manager at Product Hunt
Having been an early user of Product Hunt, Kanstein recently left his previous job to join the San Francisco-headquartered startup, which offers an online portal for users to discover and share new products.
At one point, an analysis was done of all Product Hunters and Kanstein came out as the 'Number 2' influencer, he told me. Working remotely out of Amsterdam, Kanstein said his experience as an early adopter has made it easier for him to do his job because he got to know the community early on and learned how best to interact with them.
Tech.eu: What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
Bram Kanstein: I think, in tech, the word ‘community’ stands for working together, sharing ideas and generally helping each other out and connecting people. If you're on Product Hunt, then the audience you’re reaching are like your peers – they can give you feedback, connect you with other people and help you further along.
Through which channels or tools do you typically engage with the Product Hunt community?
We mostly use Twitter. Everyone is signed in with their Twitter account, which is how you create an account. We’re using Facebook a little bit, but for all the support and questions, we ask people to email us. We’re working on seeing whether we can integrate Intercom now in order to connect all the data from Product Hunt. So if someone emails us, then we’ll see their account, how active they are and get a richer profile. On Twitter, we’re using Respond.ly. It’s a general inbox, so we’re all connected with our account and there’s a team inbox where we have filters mentioning the domain and tweets directed at Product Hunt. We filter through that and can assign tweets to other people and respond within the web platform
Product Hunt also hosts meet-ups all over the world – how does the company try to achieve a balance between online and offline engagement with the community?
I was a really early user of Product Hunt from Amsterdam and at one point I was just like, ‘I’m going to do a meet-up’. I think there were other meet-ups before, but I just had the idea of doing a meet-up because the Product Hunt community is made up of makers, marketing people, designers, business people, investors and I thought it’d be cool to get all of these people together in one room. That was my motivation, but for all the other people doing this around the world, I think it’s generally the same idea.
When you take it offline, you can connect with all these people in real life and I think that’s a true benefit that everyone is seeing. We just launched a website call phglobal.co and people can join our Slack channel. We also have different channels for each city so people can join a channel and organise meet-ups together. Last week, we had around 40 meet-ups and we’re trying to reach 100 meet-ups... Meeting people in real life is the most valuable thing you can do. We encourage it and send people stickers and T-shirts to help them promote the meet-up. It’s been a fun way to get the word out get more people enthusiastic about Product Hunt.
How do you typically start your mornings? Do you have a set schedule?
I’m working from my friend’s office now. Sometimes I work from home, but mostly from this office. I typically start my day by trying to ignore my emails [laughs]. That doesn’t really work. I'm working remote and most of the team is in San Francisco – they work when I sleep.
The first thing I usually do is read up on Slack, go through all the channels I’m a member of and read up on what they talked about and decided on. Then I look at some tweets and after that most things I have to do are part of my email. Then I’m prioritising the emails and looking at the site from 9 AM my time, where there’s already new stuff coming in, and it’s basically moderation and getting the makers in.
What do you think are some of biggest advantages of building up an engaged community for a startup?
If you’re building a product, you’re trying to put in as many hooks, you could say, as possible so people can come back to the site. For instance, we have a daily email and tweets, but if you can truly connect with people, they will be your hooks and they will point other people to Product Hunt. Our product wouldn’t exist without a community.
Maddie Sheesley, Community & Events Manager at EyeEm
Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Sheesley has been working as a community manager at Berlin-based photo-sharing startup EyeEm for almost two years now.
She says much of what she's learned about community management came through hands-on experience and talking to people in the community. Here, she tells us about how events play a key role in building a community and the daily challenges of a community manager.
Tech.eu: What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
Maddie Sheesley: I think a community is a group of people who use and love your product. A lot of companies use the word community for people who use their product, but the difference is having people who love your product and tell other people about it, which could be through Likes, comments and shares. Bringing it offline is also a large component of community. Not only do we have our own meet-ups that we host, we also see people, who have met through EyeEm, meeting outside of EyeEm.
Through which channels or tools do you typically engage with the EyeEm community?
We use our own app the most and have a team account, which has the most followers on EyeEm and is our main channel. We also use Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and started a Tumblr blog around four or five months ago just to have another venue to highlight the photography on EyeEm.
How about internal tools you use for managing social media and staying organised?
I use TweetDeck to manage incoming tweets, see mentions and respond to people. Facebook has a pretty decent service itself, so I just use it to respond to messages I receive through there. We use SproutSocial for scheduling social media messages and Trello to manage our content, which includes everything that’s going out from newsletters to blog posts. I use Evernote to manage all of my different tasks.
How do you typically start your mornings? What kind of tasks to you complete first?
In the morning when I wake up, I check my email – I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing. When I get into work, I actually respond to the emails. Then, I try to prioritise what I’m going to do for the day, put everything down on paper and then get stuff done in that order.
I don’t know if it’s working in a startup or just working in an open office, but people are constantly interrupting you throughout the day and I find it to be horribly distracting. It’s always important and relevant, but that’s just generally how my day goes.
Is there a place where you feel most productive when working?
Everyone who’s in Berlin works in the office. It’s possible to work remotely for a day or half-a-day if you need to get something done, but generally it’s not something that we do. Recently though, we built small one or two-person cabin-like rooms and if I really need to get something done, I’ll go in there and put my headphones on and just focus.
I’ll be pretty strict about shooing people away if they talk to me. I’ll also log off HipChat, our internal messaging service, and shut my email down. I have to have everything closed down or I’ll keep checking it. It’s hard sometimes, because as a community manager, you’re constantly checking everything to make sure nothing’s blowing up. But if my attention gets suddenly pulled away, it’s hard for me to focus again and I’ll start looking at TweetDeck or Facebook messages on the EyeEm team page. I have to try really hard to keep it down.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give to a startup building a community from scratch?
Be genuine. I think it’s really important that people know you’re not feeding them company lines. Respond quickly – as quickly as possible. It’s irrational to think that you can be online 24/7, but during work hours, you should respond as quickly as possible to people because it really matters to them. When you do respond quickly, people really appreciate it and you feel like, ‘That’s why I sit on Facebook all day!’ I think you also need to speak to people using your product – to know what they want to see and hear, and know what’s relevant to them. You don’t only want to do things that they like, but you definitely want to make sure your content is relevant for the people you're targeting.
Otso Valta, Community and Support Manager at FishBrain
Based in Stockholm, Valta takes care of the community of users on FishBrain, a social networking app targeted at anglers. Following the startup's latest announcement of reaching one million users, we decided to ask Valta more about what it's like to manage and grow the FishBrain community.
Tech.eu: What does the word 'community' mean to FishBrain?
Otso Valta: Community means positivity to us. We developed the app to be a place where it's easy to connect with your friends and meet new fishing buddies locally and globally. The best feedback is when users tell us they found great new fishing locations and friends through the app.
How long have you been working at FishBrain as a community manager? What kind of tasks do you do in this role?
I have been working as FishBrain’s Community Manager for one year and five months. I work on building our Ambassador Program in Tampa Bay, Florida together with our Florida State Ambassador and also acknowledge our most active users, pick up Catch of the Week curated content, handle support, manage our social media and assist with partnerships and sponsored content in the app.
Which channels, media or tools do you use most to engage with the FishBrain community?
FishBrain itself. Users can report catches – such as inappropriate photos, incorrect catch data, bad language in comments or other issues – and I solve issues for them and respond via email. I'm happy when anglers are happy using the app, there's a lot of photos of smiling and cheerful chat comments. Sometimes there is a need to remind the community about positive code of conduct.
Where do you usually work from? Is there a place where you feel you're most productive?
I feel most productive at FishBrain’s office in the heart of Stockholm. Freedom to work remotely at times is also important to me. Gym training during the lunch hour is a must.
What are three pieces of advice you'd give to a startup building a community from scratch?
First, start with encouraging users to invite their friends in the app and structuring local content and communities. Second, give new users a good first impression of the app. For instance, our comment box asks user to ”Say Something Kind” and the report button makes everyone feel secure. Third, when you have a big enough community, build an ambassador program in a selected area and then scale it.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
A word about WeWork by WeWork:
WeWork is excited to grow their community in East London this summer with two new locations - Devonshire Square (9 Devonshire Sq) and Moorgate (1 Fore Street). WeWork provides small businesses, startups, and freelancers with the workspace, community, and services they need to make a life, not just a living. From weekly events, personalised support, flexibility, and access to thousands of other members around the world - WeWork is the perfect place to grow your business in 2015. To learn more about joining the WeWork community, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02036956990.