Survival 101 is a new Vietcetera series focused on giving expert and relevant tips on coping with different challenges - in our personal lives, in business and all that's in between.
For years, marketing and sales have been the main growth drivers of technology companies. However, the last decades have seen an explosion of product-led growth, where the product becomes the center of the go-to-market strategy, driving users to find, use, adopt and establish loyalty to it. Slack, HubSpot, Zoom and Dropbox are some of successful examples of product-led companies utilizing Lean and Agile strategies.
Since COVID-19 pandemic struck and changed the way we live, work and consume, the pace of online consumption, both in rural and urban areas, has accelerated at lightning speed. As we have radically shifted our consumption to digital channels that give us access to a wider range of products and services, competition among businesses in general is becoming increasingly challenging than ever before. Therefore, instead of waiting for users to find their products or services, companies are starting to think about building communities to act as a multiplier on top of product-led growth.
Community-led growth, known as the expansion of the product-led model, allows companies to have a stronger pulse on their user pipeline and provide better offerings from working collaboratively with users, while enabling users to get the most out of their products with lower cost base. These users will be empowered to become champions, they help build and accelerate the flywheel of loyal members leading and strengthening the community. Figma, Duolingo, Tiktok, and Stack Overflow are just a few of the many organizations whose products are amplifying growth with a community-led approach. In short, community-led companies will be the new lean startups.
While there is still no playbook or guidelines on how to genuinely formulate and optimize a successful community-led approach, there are four key stages that businesses can apply to create and build communities with thousands of active users.
Stage 1: Explore and find the key leaders
Start exploring and finding “the ones” who will represent and help you build long-term trust with your community. The goal of this stage is to build them to become the thought leaders who are the early adopters to your products; and to know the pain points, frustrations of your customers. Since the contributors may have varying levels of interest or expertise, plan multiple ways to ensure these contributors' commitment and monitor the high quality of the content. Get comfortable knowing you have to explore and learn at this stage.
Back in the early days of Duolingo, a platform for learning foreign languages, the company launched the Incubator feature that allows people to volunteer to share and teach the languages that they specialize in. Since they directly experienced and developed the Incubator, they have identified several pain points or challenges that the community might face while developing scalable user-generated content, and worked to solve each one.
Stage 2: Listen deeply and engage intensely
At this stage, you have proven product market fit and got some early momentum. Therefore, you should immerse yourself in a diverse group of users and intentionally listen to them, nurture and grow them while keeping your contributors engaged by fostering the sense of belonging as you are winning users' hearts. Don't worry if you still have not figured out how to scale your business, since it is time to listen and nurture the community’s growth substantially.
Let’s talk about Figma, the collaborative interface design tool in this stage. As part of Figma’s vision is making design more accessible, they started building their community first by connecting with key important designers as influencers in stage 1. At stage 2, Figma made a shortlist of key designers and gave them the Designer Advocate role. The designer advocates may or may not have a large following but they certainly are super fans, they believed in Figma’s mission and vision, and had a very deep understanding of it. The designer advocates did lots of things in this role. They listened to the voice of Figma’s community, and built relationships according to Figma expectations. They also acted as mentors to the community for the Beta programs, and collaborated with the technical team to answer questions raised by members. In addition, they created best practice content for the community, and brought or provided key feedback from the community to influence what features Figma builds.
Stage 3: Accelerate and amplify
This stage is about identifying and accelerating the voices that reflect the values that the community wants to establish, and then amplifying them. In addition, this stage is also to create spaces for them to deepen mutual connections, interest, experience, and empower them to freely voice out their thoughts and opinions. By rewarding top contributors with more powerful community roles, utilising community contributions to your content, or letting community members test early versions of your product updates, or bringing speakers on to share experiences via Ask me anything (AMAs), conferences, podcasts, webinars… you are delivering a strong message that you really value the community’s contribution.
TikTok, a video-sharing focused social networking platform, is considered as one of the best practices at this stage. Since their community has good experiences with the platform in stages 1 and 2 as people are moving over with huge network effects, TikTok has released the TikTok Live Events feature. The feature allows their community members to watch a musician perform live, hear a Q&A from authors, or meet an actor at the stage door following the show. Those experiences have shaped significantly the way targeted communities are entertained. By amplifying this real-time connection, TikTok gives their community the tools to bring and spread connections to global audiences with the most thoughtful realness and authenticity.
Stage 4: Relentless innovation
At this stage, the community is clearly proven more important than ever. By now we all know that the growth engine behind all of these stages is not savvy product management, or gamification rewarding systems, or branding tactics. The very thing that gets your product off the ground is intrinsically motivating humans who are seeking authentic niche micro communities. As great communities come with great responsibilities, this stage reminds companies of relentlessly innovating, and always bringing customers to the center of the products.