Why Community? How this journey started
Last April, we launched the first version of the CallRail Community. After being hired to manage social media at the start of 2017, being asked to spearhead work on our customer forum was somewhat of a surprise.
A little background: I came from a small agency where I managed social media for clients in the employee benefits sector. Before that, I was a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline and spent my time traveling the world (but that’s another story).
The inception of the CallRail Community goes back to a personal experience on the part of our CEO, Andy Powell. In 2015, Andy downloaded a free trial of Tableau, a software that allows businesses to visualize their data for easy analysis. With such a powerful and complex software, most people need the help of an onboarding team or success manager to start using it effectively. The problem? It was Christmas Eve and Tableau’s support team was working reduced holiday hours, so there was no one for Andy to reach.
Enter the Tableau community. Andy was able to find implementation tips and source quick answers to his questions from other Tableau customers by posting on their forums. His positive experience in this space is what led him to move from a free trial to become a Tableau customer. We still use their software at CallRail today.
We believe people are more successful when they collaborate, and that we build better things together. It’s a philosophy we adopt in our day-to-day lives at CallRail, and what drove us to embark on this crazy journey of community building in the first place.
Round one: What went wrong the first time
I’m the first to admit I didn’t know much about successfully building a community when we launched V1. When the forum went live, our team envisioned a place where marketers would immediately and happily post best practices, help each other figure out the best ways to implement CallRail to reach their specific goals, and give us insight into what features they’d like to see us build next.
One forum, a few marketing emails to our customers and some social media ads later, we had low membership and low engagement. By all counts, the CallRail Community looked to be a failed experiment that “seemed like a good idea at the time”.
What happened next was nothing short of a redemption story.
In an attempt to create a solid strategy on which we could move forward, I found an active online community of people through CMX Hub and FeverBee who had built forums successfully and who were more than willing to share their expertise. I experienced and joined the type of community we were trying to foster, which made me even more excited to dive into user research.
This brings me to our first step of course-directing action: Forming a community advisory council.
Community Advisory Council: Getting buy-in from the people who matter
It became clear pretty rapidly that a healthy community is not something a company can launch and then market at customers. It needs to be built out of a partnership between the brand and the people using their product. To tackle this problem, I worked with our customer success team to identify a group of CallRail power users –– people who were actively using CallRail in unique ways, understood the product, and were excited about how it was helping them achieve real business results.
From there, I scheduled short, 15-minute phone calls with each of these customers to ask if they’d be willing to partner with us as stakeholders in building our Community. We asked them to provide feedback on the type of content they’d like to see us share on the Community, the UX of the forum, and ultimately, feedback on the redesigned interface, which we just launched last month. We created a private Slack channel with an integration that pulled new posts from the Community into the channel, seamlessly keeping group members abreast of the latest questions and topics they may be able to answer with their relevant expertise. All participation was completely voluntary, and with the group of 20 people who said yes to joining, our Community Advisory Council was born.
Executive sponsorship: You have to ask to receive
In a fast-paced startup environment, there’s a lot going on at all times. While our executive team knew they wanted a community forum, it was a challenge to get cross-team buy in from people outside of marketing whose support was needed to make this project successful.
Going out of your way to set meetings with people at the VP and C-Suite level can be intimidating, and that was certainly the case for me at first. But when I realized that standing up at company meetings and giving updates on how I hoped the Community would grow to serve our customers wasn’t going to garner any real support, I knew what I had to do.
Craig, our VP of Customer Experience, came from a background where he already understood the value of a customer community. He was a great sounding board for my revised strategy, following the formation of the Community Advisory Council, and he encouraged me to share my goals, metrics and timeline for improvements with Andy.
Given that it was Andy’s personal experience with the Tableau community that drove us in this direction in the first place, it wasn’t hard to have a conversation about the potential value of a thriving community forum. However, it was vital that he help drive forward the UI redesign and speak on my behalf to leadership in Customer Experience and Product to get help from their employees in moderating the forum and providing timely, accurate answers to customers who were asking for help.
I made a very direct request for these things, and he was able to push them forward. Our redesign was greenlighted, I got designated time from a very talented designer and a very talented developer, and I got moderation support from members of both our success and product teams. This phase of the community-building process forced me to step out of my comfort zone and learn that sometimes in order to receive what you need, you just have to do the research and make the ask.
The end result: A functional and beautiful V2
Throughout the past year, I developed a passion for the power of community. This came in part because I experienced it myself as I sought out community experts and peppered them with questions. An amazing group of people from across industries were willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me, so that I could do my job better. They gained nothing from it but the joy of helping someone else.
My love for our Community came through my talks with our Community Advisory Council members who were excited to see a place where people could become better marketers. It came when I saw Google invite us to join their developer partner program to build a beta integration with Google Data Studio, because our customers collectively asked for it on our forum. It came when I saw people take the time to fill out my first community health survey, because even though some of their feedback was definitely constructive criticism, it showed me that people care about this space and the value it could bring to anyone using CallRail in helping them reach their business goals.
I’m excited for the rebirth the launch of V2 represents. I know from experience that people become better at what they do and how they think by engaging with one another, and the more we grow, the more diverse perspectives and ideas we’ll be able to empower one another with. You have a story. You have a question that someone else has the answer to. You have the expertise. You have the knowledge to share.
Join me in building our Community today.