Building a successful company requires much more than just a great product; it demands a loyal, active community. Communities are movements of people: users, customers, builders and more, who are empowered to share feedback and play their part in a broader mission. An engaged user community is a powerful flywheel, helping companies create a more connected, inclusive ecosystem of users. 

Customer Communities Take Work

Like many things worth doing, building a community — particularly a highly engaged one — is hard. It requires a mindset shift. I’ve been building communities my whole career.

Now, I run community programs at Slack. I lead the team that facilitates customer connections: whether that’s through our Slack workspace, volunteer-led community chapters around the world, or our community forum. It’s my job to advocate for our community and figure out how we can use their feedback to make our product work better for them — and others.

We first launched Slack Community in 2019, and quickly expanded in 2020, broadening our focus to include other groups — marketers, administrators, power users, and more.

Today, Slack Community has tens of thousands of active users, with local chapters led by dedicated volunteers hosting meetups all over the world. As we’ve scaled, our team has learned a few key lessons — what works, what doesn’t, and with what we still need to experiment.

Related Article: How Customer Communities Improve Customer Experience

Invest in Your Community

Many companies dream of building communities with tens of thousands of passionate contributors, but without the right foundation, it’s impossible to reach that stage. It’s important to realize that the first 10 or 20 members of your community are the seeds of future success.

At the outset of your community building journey, do things that don’t scale. Spend the time talking to individual customers to get to the heart of what your community needs to offer to be valuable. Send one-to-one outreach messages to recruit new members. Your job is to abandon your assumptions and listen. Once you start to gain traction, invest in ways to operationalize these processes, replicating the same patterns that drove early success.

Constantly take the pulse of your community. Growth brings new members with different perspectives and priorities, and it’s easy to lose sight of the needs of your community as membership evolves. As a community leader, it’s crucial you’re constantly asking questions, actively listening to members and applying what you learn to steer the community in the right direction.

Lean Into Community Journey Mapping

Try thinking about your community members' journeys the same way a product team thinks of a user journey. How does someone discover your community, and how do they take their first steps toward joining it?

Visually map out every touchpoint. Look for bottlenecks where engagement drops off and tweak your approach. Commit to learning about new members, optimizing their experience and making them feel valued. Don’t stop experimenting either: commit to constantly improving the experience for new members.

Related Article: The Communal Side of Customer Experience

From Reader to Contributor: Identify Triggers

Many communities have readers — people who don’t yet actively contribute to the community. Often new members fall into this category, at least initially. They may read posts but not comment. Or show up to local events but not really contribute.

Learning Opportunities

Successful, thriving communities need contributors. Focus on making it easy for people to make that leap from reader to contributor. Everyone has different intrinsic motivations, but at scale, and with sufficient experimentation, it's possible to identify triggers that encourage people to contribute and build an incentive structure that supports them.

Elevate Community Members and Their Contributions

Give generously to your community. As a business, you get a lot of value from your community. Increased retention, new product ideas, an arena to solicit unvarnished feedback — it’s all great for business. Pay it back. Reward top contributors.

For some, a reward might be official recognition like a seat on a product advisory board. Others might just want some cool company swag. Learn what your community wants, and give it to them — it’s an investment that compounds exponentially.

As you shape the member experience for your community, remember to keep things simple. Most of the time, people are contributing in their spare time, and the experience should be enjoyable and frictionless. Remove barriers to participation and make sure you have open communication channels where community members can give clear feedback.

Related Article: We Listen to Our Customers. Really?

Build a Village to Help Get the Job Done

Building a highly engaged user community isn't just the job of a sole community manager — it’s part of everyone's job. Build relationships with different teams across your company and be very clear about what they stand to gain by participating in community building efforts.

When we launched the Slack Community Forum in 2021, we worked closely with our customer marketing team to create a series of videos showcasing our community leaders. Our marketing team got a bunch of video footage of users talking about how much they loved Slack, that they could then use in a variety of ways. From a community perspective, we got to showcase the value of the Community Leader program, sharing the ways people are getting involved and ultimately driving more new members to our community.

Building these relationships across your company — with sales, product, design, marketing and more — makes your community feel their voice is being heard. At Slack, we get a lot of community feedback through workflows built on Workflow Builder. The next evolution of the platform is a direct result of that feedback.  

Community building is an ongoing process, and it’s never over. Continue to invest in your community, and never stop experimenting with new ways to drive engagement, retention and user growth. As you do so, the value you unlock — for both community members and your business, will continue to grow.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.