Building a Complete Customer Community [ 🎥 recording ]


Whether you're in sales, marketing, customer success, or a community leader yourself, this session is your gateway to understanding how a well-crafted community can significantly impact every department in your organization, driving measurable business value with ease. 

We're thrilled to have Debora Seys and Diane Yuen, the community maestros at Alation, with us. They will share the innovative programs she’s implemented to transform their customer community into a vibrant, cross-functional asset. Get ready for actionable insights and real-life examples of community strategy success! 

What you'll learn:

✔ Key strategies to build a community that aligns with business goals 

âś” How to engage every department through your community efforts

âś” Real-world examples of successful community initiatives from Alation

Bookmark this post so you don't miss out, and feel free to add any follow up questions!


  • EmilyN
    EmilyN HLV Staff

    Strategies for increasing community engagement: metrics, budgeting, privacy, and internal team involvement

    In you missed the webinar, don't worry – we've got you covered with a quick Q&A rundown from Deb and Diane's session.

    They dive into common questions and topics like:

    - Figuring out the best ways to track and measure how your community is doing

    - Getting the budget you need for your community initiatives

    - Determining whether to make parts of your community public

    - Rallying your internal teams to get more customers involved in the community

    What’s the size of your community team, and is it responsible for technical support?

    Diane: Our community team is just me. I'm a community team of one, so I manage everything and that does include the technical piece of it. I mentioned the community ops part of it. I meet regularly with Higher Logic, and we also meet with them for strategic services. Anything technical that comes up, for example, if we have to open a support case with Higher Logic, I'm the one that does it. So, I cover the whole gambit, if you will, of the community currently.

    Deb: This webinar is a lot about driving adoption internally as much as you drive adoption of your member population. Your internal organization should be as invested in the success of the community as whatever team you have driving it, because it is a shared responsibility to customers.

    With the organization of customer success departments these days, there is a business approach that says customers should be everybody's responsibility. If your main population on your community is your customers, then partnering with your internal teams and making the success of the company top of mind for them, both in terms of how they can use it and whether it's a success, increases your “team,” but you really have to work at it. Diane works at it. Like she said, she keeps it top of mind at the all-hands. She's all over our Slacks. It it's not a one and done. It is an ongoing community activity.

    When aligning community metrics with the broader organizational goals, how did you determine which metrics to use and how did you gain support from the organization, particularly when facing any resistance?

    Diane: I report monthly and quarterly directly to our chief marketing officer on the metrics. He views it more as a KPI of how our community is doing versus a measurement of how well I'm doing my job.  

    When looking at how it ties into our grander business objectives and strategic company goals, it's not as direct, but there is this understood value.

    Whenever you're reporting, part of it is showing community health, but also the things that leadership cares about. That's how I chose, for example, our active customer companies as one of our metrics because they care more about how this is driving value for our customers and thereby directly influencing the retention, expansion, and renewals.

    When we can establish a clear connection between our customer base's involvement in the community and their renewal and expansion rates, it further drives the value of community. Focusing on those kinds of metrics help push that narrative, especially if you're talking to executive-level staff because that's what they care about.

    Anyone who's worked in community knows that it’s hard to prove the ROI community. We are still very much a work in progress to prove the ROI of our community even four plus years in. It takes time and iteration and really just exploring what data you have access to and how you can better tell the narrative of what your community is accomplishing and how it's driving value for your customers.

    Deb: The metrics or the data that you track will change over time as your focus changes. If you're in your first year, you're tracking activity. We used to track content growth, the number of new discussions we had every month, and the number of new members. That activity and usage and just sheer numbers of growth were of great interest to us in the early days. Now four years in, we're more interested in things like engagement and survey feedback and more qualitative, behavioral engagement metrics.

    How did you secure budget for community initiatives, and how long did it take to get after you launched the community?

    Deb: We built up our budget overtime. The budget at first was, for example, focused on the consultant that worked with us and Higher Logic to get the site designed and off the ground. Then we had the budget just for the platform itself, and of course for me and Kathy at the time.

    We kept requesting more. I don't know how else to say it. But the trick was to make the justification to make the argument. There is a bottom line to things like gamification and community sweatshirts and engagement. Diane mentioned the metrics that we track during the presentation. [This included metrics like engagement rate, active customer companies, Ask Alation Experts disposition rate, and Alation Briefs attendee counts.]

    Other ways we prove value in the community is through gamification, which gets people to engage more. For example, one of our anniversary programs is to get people to do a treasure hunt. If they do that, they win swag or a badge. I'm always surprised at how engaged people are and how proud they are that they did something.

    We have some similar badges that we use in university, and so that kind of achievement increases engagement and excitement. It gets people to think of the community as not just a nice-to-have, but as a part of their experience in their own job. We tie that to engagement.

    We contribute community engagement metrics to an overall customer health dashboard. Our solutions and customer success folks will often look at the dashboard or the information that we have about engagement. For example, the number of users at a particular company who have taken training or the number of members who have done an Alation Brief or are attending the product showcase.

    All those metrics prove value to the company. When you go and you ask for a few thousand dollars for t-shirts to give out as part of gamification, it's not just fun; we're actually contributing to the company’s strategic initiatives for retention, renewal, expansion, and so forth.

    Is your community open all customers, or only specific users?

    Deb: If you go back to my comments about how we launched, we were trying to figure out who the SCAPOS [sponsors, champions, admins, and product owners] were. During that launch, we wanted to know who to invite. But we did not limit who could join. Through the help center registrations, we match folks from their business email to whether they're an active customer account in Salesforce. Any user from that account can join the community. The more the merrier; there is no limit.

    Is any part of your community accessible to the public? You emphasized creating a safe space for customers to engage, and we're curious about your perspective on making certain community discussions publicly viewable as part of a guest experience.

    Diane: Currently, our customer community is closed. It is customers only, and you must have a login to view the content. We have a public-facing landing page to summarize the value of community and why our customers should join and participate. But we currently don't expose any of the content publicly anywhere.

    We have explored that possibility. I mentioned we do an annual survey. We have asked our customers through that survey if they would be OK with us exposing some content publicly. I believe the results were yes, but they still want to keep it mostly closed.

    When you're exploring that possibility, it's super important to get direct feedback from your community members to see how they feel about it. Because in the end, this is not necessarily for you; it's for them. Exposing any of your community content publicly can affect how your customers continue to show up and engage in the community.

    My advice is to directly seek the feedback from them. Make sure you're very careful about that.

    Someone mentioned that only 25% of their community consists of current customers. What strategies do you suggest for gaining support from internal teams to encourage more customers to join the community?

    Deb: The answer to that is twofold. During the pre-sales effort, we had prepared materials that the product and sales teams can use with prospects. We have a sales phase called “active trial,” in which a customer is becoming a late-stage prospect—where they're going to convert to a customer—and we allow access to certain resources. For example, Alation University is a big driver for that.

    If someone is in an active trial, they can also access the community. There's a continuum, and that can be a great advantage with your sales teams because the prospect that's just getting ready to sign can see what awaits them when they become a customer.

    Then there’s driving adoption internally. For sales, it’s always about: what's in it for me? That's what salespeople are thinking because their entire goal in life is to make a sale. If you can persuade them that working with you will help them make a sale and retain and renew that customer, then that proves the value of community. You prove the value of community so you can get more money to hand out t-shirts. You do it to just simply embed the community into the value and strategic initiatives of the company.

    Supporting an enterprise software company like ours means prioritizing strategic initiatives like renewal, retention, and expansion within the company. Community needs to prove its value that way, and then sales and product marketing and all that will fall in behind.

    When you think about “what's in it for me,” one of the early things that happened across all of the customer-facing teams is that we made their lives easier. They would often keep their own library of how-tos, such as how to do a custom field on a catalog page or how to bulk upload. That's why use cases became important for us in the community on both sides, customers and internally. That was that one-to-many advantage. Getting the knowledge into the community freed salespeople to talk at a higher level rather than the brute force, repetitive and easy answers they had repeat. They could just point the user to the community to get their own answers.

    Many customers, having been one myself, prefer to find their own answer quickly rather than having to wait for their weekly call with their with their account exec. It works both ways. It benefits the AEs by lifting their conversation to higher value and then speeds up the customer's time to getting their question answered.

    Where is the community situated in your company org chart?

    Deb: It's been an interesting journey. When we joined to launch the community, it was a marketing initiative. But at some point—and we're all living in a world where reorgs are common—the community traveled from marketing to customer success to an org that we called “information,” then back to customer success, and then back to marketing now.

    Some of that has to do with what organizations were in existence at the time and whether the chief customer officer was coming or going. It's likely that we may have more changes in the future, I'm not sure.

    But with our objectives—and this is what I tell my team—we know what needs to be done. We know what our customers need. We know how to interact with our stakeholders. We know what content and what things are valuable to do in the pursuit of our objectives. I've always tried to manage upwards, whether we were reporting up through marketing or the information department or customer success, to some extent, it was the same.

    What types of customer recognition and award programs are implemented in the community? Additionally, are there internal reward systems for employees?

    Diane: Yes, we have both an internal and external recognition program. I mentioned we have the gamification program. We call it the “Alation Knowledge Levels.” We have a detailed page within our Alation community site that details all the different levels that you can achieve. We have badges that we work with our design team to create that they can earn as they level up through those knowledge levels.

    Some of the knowledge levels come with swag, so we have shipped out swag specifically to customers. We have an Alation community sweatshirt. We have some really good swag that we send out to customers once they engage in the community and earn those engagement points and level up.

    We have, at least at the higher levels, a certificate of merit where we recognize their contributions. This is usually signed by our C-level staff. We also offer, at the top levels, a free consultation with a member of our internal team, like our product team, for example.

    As far as internal recognition, we have an incentive contest. We call our Alation employees “Alationauts.” We have an Alationaut community incentive contest that we run monthly. This is open to all full-time employees. The highest earning engagement—it’s based on engagement points—earns what we call a “snappy gift credit.” We also have a separate recognition for the top blog post for the month as well. This is also announced at our all-hands meeting every month.