• Online Communities

Building a winning community: Guest blog by Dameon Welch-Abernathy

by Dameon Welch-Abernathy, Cyber Security Evangelist at Check Point | Nov 16, 2021

Atlas, the Khoros community, has tons of great stories from members who have overcome challenges in the world of customer experience. We’ve recently begun to share some of these in our Titans of Customer Engagement podcast. This guest blog by one of our guests on the podcast tells just part of one of those stories. Check out the podcast to listen to the rest.

Dameon Welch-Abernathy is a Cyber Security Evangelist at Check Point, as well as an Epic Titan. He has an amazing amount of experience with launching, growing, and leading user communities. In Atlas, our own community, he goes by @phoneboy.




Anyone who’s ever conceived, built, or maintained a brand community, whether in-person or virtual, knows that it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type of project. In 5 years of helping run the community here at Check Point, not to mention communities I’ve built outside of corporate environments, I’ve learned that it takes involvement from both users and leaders within the company. It’s a lot of work, but the results can be magical: a space that inspires users to learn, share, and inspire — together.

At Check Point, we think we’ve put together a community like that. And with more than 2,000 posts a month and a small community team, running the community is no easy feat. Some of the day-to-day work falls to me. I have more than 25 years of experience with launching, growing, and leading user communities — both in purely business contexts and in others. In this short blog, I’ll give you a head start on the information you need to build your community into a place where users want to go to learn from one another.

Check Point
CheckMates is Check Point's official cyber security community where we encourage freewheeling discussions around our products and services between our customers, partners, and employees.

Guiding a community program

There are many pieces of advice that community managers should keep in mind when guiding their communities to new heights — here are a few of the ones that have been most helpful to me in my time with online communities.

1. Let your community be itself

The first thing to remember, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been running a community for years, is that there isn’t just one reason for communities to exist. More customer interaction is awesome and so are call deflection, SEO benefits, and a whole lot more; but limiting yourself to just one can be overly restrictive. At their core, communities are about relationships — and there are just so many ways to foster relationships. This is especially true for B2B communities, but either way, your approach has to be multipronged.

Remember that your community is a living thing, and although it’s definitely important to give it some guidance, you need to be open to different possibilities. That will make for a stronger community, and it will also help your team stay agile when it matters most.

With that being said, another important consideration for guiding your community in the right direction is that you can’t just set it up and hope people will use it. You actually have to put content into it to prompt users to engage as well as engage with those who engage. This is especially important in the early phases.

CheckMates
Sometimes, the community team at Check Point strategically posts content to increase engagement. We're always careful to post content that has the potential to help our users.

2. Bridge internal and external groups

It often starts with the people you meet face-to-face in sales, but there are also so many people that you touch who aren't necessarily responsible for the user relationship. That’s a big part of what I do. When there are problems in your community, people are going to inevitably use that and ask questions.

Of course, sometimes that brings up issues, and you have to make sure those issues are getting dealt with by the right people. Sometimes it's raising awareness internally to the right part of the organization. Other times, it’s bringing something back to the field to say, “hey, I don't know if you know whether this is going on or not, but can I get some context?”

CloudMates Product
CloudMates is our cloud-focused community in CheckMates which covers Check Point's cloud products. The space has a moderately different look and feel from our other spaces and highlights video content.

3. Have a “first call, final resolution” mindset

When I was at Nokia, before I worked for Check Point, our motto when customers called us was “first call, final resolution.” Basically, this meant that every call got an answer. Even if it took a while, even if we had to do some digging to find the right information, our goal was to answer every single customer inquiry.

Of course, a community doesn’t have clearly defined SLAs the same way, say, a support center does. But the same principle still holds: when people come to our community, I want them to see that people care and that people want to try and help them, even if they may not know the exact answer to each question. In some ways, it’s harder to maintain this standard on a community than it is in a support center. Communities have more spaces to monitor, which means more of a chance an inquiry will get missed. But communities are also peer-to-peer spaces, which means a lot of inquiries will get responses without community managers having to do much at all. In this case, “first call, final resolution” might just take a nudge in the right direction from a community manager.

Uncomfortable moments

Have the hard conversations

Listen, it’s awesome when things go great on an online community. When things are really flowing and that magic happens, managing a community can feel like the best job in the world. But when you get a lot of people together in one space, whether it’s in person or digital, things won’t always go perfectly. That’s why community managers have to prepare to handle the tougher, more uncomfortable moments on the community as well as the good ones.

What is an uncomfortable moment, you might ask? It can be anything from people disagreeing over the best approach to take to solve a problem to personality conflicts among members, speaking negatively about the company, or even disparaging remarks about other members.

One of the biggest mistakes I see from community managers is a knee-jerk reaction to simply avoid the bad stuff, to disengage. That might mean one of a few things. Maybe we simply ignore it; maybe we even have the impulse to delete it altogether. In some situations, of course, that is the appropriate response. We certainly don’t want things like hate speech on our communities, (and Khoros offers powerful tools to mitigate hate speech).

However, I want to urge you community managers out there to avoid that impulse in a lot of situations. Every situation is a little different, but many of these uncomfortable moments happen because of an underlying issue — and if that’s the case, you need to address it, even if it’s just a minor one. This happens in every community, to every brand. Silencing the issue will not make it go away. In some rare cases, the issue might be minor enough to deal with right in the open. But for most issues, it’s usually best to comment in the public post that you will follow up in a direct message, and then promptly do so. Here at Check Point, we’ve done this a few times, sometimes even coordinating with multiple people to understand what's going on. In these cases, we weren’t afraid of the confrontation and it helped us offer a better community experience.

Get leadership on board with the difficult topics

Okay, you might say, sure it’s great to have those tough conversations in theory, but what if leadership isn’t on board? What if they don’t want negative feedback out there on the community for anyone to see? The answer here boils down to providing a better customer experience — something leadership should be well attuned to. It’s simple: a brand that provides customers a truly open space to discuss issues will have a better CX than one that doesn’t. Tell your leadership that your community management team will lead by example, not just giving users the freedom to call out the brand but owning mistakes when they occur.

I've been wrong on many occasions. It comes with the territory. But if I can go back and say, “yeah, I screwed up; here's what I did,” it’s better for the customer, and that’s what really matters. The best way to convince leadership of this principle is to show them that it works — and believe me, it does. When they see the results, they can't really argue with them.

CheckMates Everywhere
One of the ways we tried to replicate the in-person user group experience during the pandemic.

Remember the basics

I've worked in customer engagement, customer experience, and even customer support for a long time. Communities are some of my favorites because of their unique ability to create real, genuine interactions. Remember what I said earlier: communities are about relationships. There will always be challenges in running a community, but if you remember the basics — guiding your program in the right way and embracing those uncomfortable moments — you’ll have an excellent start at overcoming those challenges.



Thanks so much to Dameon Welch-Abernathy (@phoneboy) for sharing his story with us! There are so many more nuggets of wisdom in the podcast, so if you haven’t already, go and give it a listen. (You can also listen on Apple or Spotify.)

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