Digital-first, omnichannel platform built for enterprises
Melissa has never met a donut she didn't like. She also has never held a role at Datto (Autotask) she didn't learn from. During her adventures in Support, Implementation, Experience, and Training, she has helped hundreds of customers successfully deploy Autotask PSA and led hundreds of training programs.
In her current role, she oversees Datto’s Community. As the leading global provider of security and cloud-based software solutions purpose-built for Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Datto believes there is no limit to what small and medium businesses (SMBs) can achieve with the right technology. Melissa knows there is no limit to what peers and product experts can accomplish with the shared knowledge of the Community. This knowledge helps our partner’s succeed. And the success of our partners is Melissa’s passion!
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch my niece’s cheerleading championship. The first thing you notice at an event like that is how frightening it is to watch when someone you love is ‘in the game.’ The tosses, flips, and catches keep you at the edge of your seat with ‘91’ punched into your cell phone.
Second, you realize very quickly the power of having someone on your side, shouting out your name, and proudly sporting your colors. It made me think about how cheerleaders have been critical in the success of every effort in my career.
One of the best examples of how cheerleaders have helped me came when I was launching a private unified B2B customer community in late 2020. I have over four years of experience with communities (not to mention 28 years in business), and that experience has taught me that almost nothing can get done without a good team and good support.
Why is support so important? First and foremost, building a thriving community is difficult. It’s not like building a customer care organization or even a website. Not every business has a community, so it isn’t seen as an absolute necessity. A lot of people in the organization might see the community simply as a nice-to-have. That means we had to convince our stakeholders that it was a good investment of time and resources.
Before you can build a community, you need to make sure key internal stakeholders are on board. Otherwise, your community has very little chance of long-term success. A community has many stakeholders — the c-suite, IT, marketing, customer care, and more — and each needs to have an understanding of their role in building it. These people need to put in the time and resources necessary to build and maintain a healthy community.
So, what’s the best way to generate buy-in? I grew my squad using the ABC approach.
Here’s how it worked for us.
My organization, Datto, has approximately 2,000 people — just enough for some of my colleagues to have absolutely no idea that we have an online community. Of course, that creates a bit of a challenge: how can you generate buy-in for a project that people don’t know about?
My remedy to this challenge was to create an internal PR tour and a video to educate my colleagues about the project. For the tour, I included anyone who would listen: sales, success, product management, even business development. I gave a presentation to each on the value of community — anywhere from two to 20 minutes to talk about why this project was so important for our company.
I started the presentation with the “why you should care” message. It was important to hit the proof points that make communities so successful. Even though communities can help businesses reduce inquiry volume and boost customer retention, the concern was that stakeholders might not think there was enough proof that our community would work.
The good news is that there are so many proven examples of how communities have already benefited businesses. Talking with managers of other successful communities in similar industries confirmed the need to bring cheerleaders on board. When looking to launch a new effort, it is always good to look at other communities and ask: What do they do well? How could they improve?
Once I had a good idea of what the presentation should look like, the biggest challenge was cutting it down to two minutes. (As Mark Twain once wrote, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”) I had to make sure it was quick, powerful, and adaptable to the situation. But I finally boiled it down to the essential points, and that helped me get the point across really effectively to my soon-to-be-cheerleaders.
Finally, I used this format to create a video to spread the message even when I couldn’t be present. I even made multiple versions to provide each key role an answer to the question, “how do I benefit from promoting the community?”
That brings me to the B in the ABC formula.
If you want cheerleaders to shout their loudest when it counts, they need something worth shouting about. This is why it was so important to us to clearly define the benefits to our internal stakeholders. Of course, the particular reason to shout will depend on both the community and the stakeholder. The Datto community, for example, positions the employee as an individual our customers can reach out to for great resources. With this expectation set in the mind of our partner, it is important for all employees to be versed in all great resources. Employees are aware of our great Partner Program and wonderful Datto Academy. We wanted to ensure the community was top of mind as well.
We talked about different benefits with different teams:
What do sales people care about? Showing the customers proof that we’re by their side for the long haul. There’s really no better way to do that than building a thriving community for customers to ask questions and share knowledge with one another. In short, the community shows that we’re committed to continuing the conversation even after the sale occurs. The sales team loved that benefit.
This benefit goes hand-in-hand with the one above: our customer success team really cares about making customers feel their voices are heard. And once again, a community might just be the best way to do that. The Datto community gives customers a place to actively influence the product — to suggest new innovations and refinements that can improve their experience.
Shouting Community shows our customers that they are engaged to listen to their suggested improvements.
Shouting Community shows we are not just about the occasional in person connection. We want them connecting and learning long after the drinks have stopped flowing.
Of course, the benefits of your community won’t be exactly the same as ours. The important point here is that you must identify these benefits individually to each of your stakeholders and shout them yourself before others will shout along with you. Give your cheerleaders the reason and the chant, and they will make it shake the community rafters.
Our final component is continuous connection. (I suppose that really makes the formula ABC2, but ABC sounds better. But I digress.)
It’s important for us community leaders to remember that getting cheerleaders on our side is not a one-time thing; it’s an ongoing process. That’s why continuous connection is so important: staying in touch with your cheerleaders will keep them updated on the benefits of the community. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in a day, a month, or even a year. It happens all the time.
That’s why I make sure to meet regularly with my cheerleaders either one-on-one or in small groups, to update them on our progress. I message them to inquire how they’re feeling about the community and how we can leverage it to serve them. I’m also always on the lookout for new stakeholders who might benefit from — and in turn benefit — our community.
This year, we are creating a Community Planning Committee to formalize a portion of the cheerleading squad.
The ABC method has created cheerleaders that help me brainstorm our “Ask the Expert'' events, create consistently great product release posts, and approach me when they need help reaching customers. But even when we applied the ABC method, we still had to deal with some skeptics — and if you’re launching a new community at your company, you will too.
The good news here is that communities are more prevalent now, so skepticism seems to be on the decline. At Datto, the ABCs have helped us deal with a lot of skepticism. People see the benefits that the community brings to their part of the organization, and they report those benefits back to their teammates. Word-of-mouth can be a really powerful piece of your toolkit.
But you’re probably never going to fully eliminate skepticism, and that can be challenging. The key for us was knowing our audience and making it clear that we were committed to working together to meet their specific needs. As with the A in the ABC approach, it’s vital to communicate differently to different parts of the organization. Marketers care about how a community can grow their audience, broadcast announcements, create user-generated content, generate positive sentiment, and so on. Engineers care more about how the community will help them receive feedback from customers, drive innovation, generate bug reports, and more.
Getting through to a skeptical executive is often the most challenging. Not only do they often have final say on budget, but they also don’t always have time to delve into the nuances of the product. It’s not always worth it to describe to the c-suite specifically how a community will improve engagement. Instead, it’s better to focus on proven ROI.
Communities have a lot to offer companies in every industry, so convincing skeptics will almost always be worth it — because when they’re on your side, that’s when the real magic of community happens.
A huge thanks to Melissa Hockenberry for contributing her experience and expertise to the Khoros blog. If you’re looking to learn more about building a winning brand community, check out our ebook, 4 brands who drive real value with their online communities.