#TipTuesday: Don’t sleep on the Q&A in Vanilla’s thought leadership webinars

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Hey Vanilla community -

I want to draw your attention to a valuable part of our monthly thought leadership webinars that you might be overlooking: the Q&A. Every month, we host thought leaders who dive into various community management topics. These discussions go beyond our product and provide real insights you can apply in your own work.

The Q&A portions are often the highlight for me because they address questions that you might have, too.

Here are some standout Q&A moments from our recent webinars covering topics like how to:

  • Encourage users to take initiative.
  • Evolve beyond a content-based community.
  • Measure the performance a new community versus a mature community.
  • Incentivize active participation from users.
  • Get internal teams to drive customers to the community.

P.S. You can catch all the on-demand recordings on our site’s Events page and check for upcoming webinars on the community’s Events page.

P.P.S. Join us on July 2 for our next webinar with Joe Pishgar, community executive consultant, to explore community metrics and data storytelling. Register now.

Note: Q&A content has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The “Rule of Yes” with Derek Weeks, founder of Unfair Mindshare

Q: In your book, you share that one of the key successes is to build trust and support meaningful exchanges in the community. What are some of the best ways to do this?

Derek: […] One of my favorite rules from the book is the "yes" rule. For example, if someone like Emily joins the community and has an idea, such as conducting a salary survey to boost her career, we would encourage her to lead that effort. We would support her and promote her work, and suggest she involve others from the community to help. This approach not only empowers members but also distributes the workload.

When we started our community, we had only 1.5 staff members dedicated to it, but we had about 50 community members actively contributing. This was possible because of the "yes" rule. By encouraging members to take ownership of their ideas and initiatives, we built a collaborative environment where the community felt less about us and more about them. This, in turn, attracted even more people.

Sometimes these initiatives thrived and became ongoing efforts, while other times they didn’t resonate, and that was okay too. The key was fostering a sense of collaboration and trust, making the community a dynamic and inclusive space for everyone.

Watch the recording.

Evolving beyond a content-based community with Rachel Happe, founder of Engaged Organizations

Q: How do you move from a content-based community to a more member-centric model?

Rachel: You know you’re in a content-based community if engagement spikes only when content is pushed. You see these spikes in engagement, but between them, it’s dead. That’s a red flag. It means people are only engaging when you push content, not on their own.

Now, let's talk about a gaming community we worked with. Initially, the community was all about complaints—games not working, lost tokens, you name it. The team was being measured on call center metrics, counting how many times community managers posted. But that’s not the goal. The goal should be how many answers are happening in the community, not how many answers you, as the community manager, provide. Your job is to encourage others to answer questions, not to do it all yourself. You can’t scale that way.

We had a breakthrough moment when we asked them, "Why are you accepting a community that’s just full of negativity? Why not develop structures for valuable conversations instead of just responding to complaints?" This was a lightbulb moment. They realized they could create engagement around positive topics, not just problem-solving.

For example, before a new game launch, why not engage the community two months in advance? Ask them what they hope to see, run feedback sessions, competitions, or Q&As with the product team after the launch. Suddenly, their eyes lit up—“That would be fun!” They started to see the potential for building excitement and meaningful engagement.

Another great example comes from one of our clients who started an "I Love Acronyms" program. Their industry was full of weird acronyms. So, every week or month, they’d post an acronym and ask the community what it means. You’d get jokers making up funny meanings, which made everyone laugh. It was a way to extend engagement beyond just Q&A, making the community more interactive and welcoming, especially for newcomers.

The key is to imagine what engagement nirvana looks like for your community. Don’t just respond to what happens—shape it. Think about what kind of engagement will add value for everyone involved. Use community programming like prompts, questions, Q&A sessions, AMAs, and themed discussions to drive interaction.

Shift your focus from just pushing content to fostering ongoing, meaningful exchanges. Encourage members to take the lead on projects and discussions. That’s how you build a community that’s vibrant, sustainable, and truly member-centric.

Watch the recording.

Measuring the performance of a new community vs. a mature community with Brian Oblinger, strategic community consultant

Q: How do you measure the performance of a new community versus a more mature community?

Brian: It’s quite different, and it definitely evolves over time. In new communities, operational metrics are really all you’ve got. You have to focus on these because you just don’t have enough data to go deeper. This is a big challenge, honestly. People are always like, “The community’s been live for three months, what’s the ROI?” But think back to the slide I showed you about support—it took us a year to make an impact, even with a serious team and serious investment. These were people who knew what they were doing; it wasn’t their first rodeo.

In the early stages, you want to start with whatever anecdotes you can gather from surveys and feedback. This helps fill in the blanks a bit. You might not be able to prove ROI or show exactly how much money you’re saving or generating, but you can tell how customers feel about it and what they’re saying. Mix that with some operational metrics to get a better sense of what's going on.

As soon as you have a meaningful amount of time and data, you don’t want to wait to start figuring out your metrics. Even if you can’t answer the ROI question right away, you should start asking it and working out the formulas. Otherwise, people keep putting it off, saying, “Oh, that’s a next quarter thing,” and then it becomes a “never” thing. And we all know the consequences of never proving the value—you risk losing support and funding.

In a new community, you might measure the number of posts, replies, and active users. But as the community grows, you start looking at the quality of interactions, the depth of engagement, and how these interactions drive business outcomes. Are members finding solutions to their problems? Is the community reducing support costs? Are members more likely to stay with your product or service because of the community?

Over time, your focus shifts from basic operational metrics to strategic business metrics. This evolution is crucial for demonstrating the long-term value of the community. Start early with your measurement framework, adjust as you gather more data, and continuously align your metrics with your business goals. This proactive approach ensures you’re always ready to prove the community’s value when needed.

Watch the recording.

Incentivizing active participation from users with Heather Wendt, community strategist for GGR and Vanilla

Q: What strategies do you recommend to encourage active participation from community members?

Heather: It varies depending on the type of community. For product communities, it's often easier because members have skin in the game—they’re invested in the product and want to discuss it. But for communities of practice, where people are there to connect, network, and learn, I rely heavily on gamification programs. I identify the behaviors I want to see in my community members and build those into the program.

I actively reach out to members and ask them to participate. For instance, in the last month, I started a "Thought Leader Corner" where each week, I feature a different thought leader in customer success. They write a post, I spotlight the author, and we see great engagement. The questions tend to be broader and more strategic, leading to rich conversations. This also helps me identify active members who could host our office hour sessions or write blog posts.

When I worked in an association community with 63,000 members, I couldn’t know everyone, but certain names would pop up frequently. If a post went unanswered and I knew someone who was knowledgeable in that area, I would tag them. This simple act often broke the silence and spurred engagement.

I also had a strategy for posting questions. I’d reach out to community members and ask if they’d be willing to post a question on a specific day or if I could post it on their behalf. It’s amazing how much more engagement you get when a peer asks a question rather than the community manager.

Quick polls, surveys, and regular conversations with members can help ensure the community aligns with their needs. I try to meet with three to four members every month for a 30-minute chat to understand what brought them to the community, what they find valuable, and what might be missing.

Watch the recording.

Encouraging internal teams to drive customers to the community with Deb Seys, senior director of self-service and adoptability at Alation

Q: How can you get buy-in from internal teams to help drive customers to the community?

Deb: First, during the pre-sales effort, we prepared materials that AEs and sales teams could use with prospects. We have a particular phase called "active trial," where a prospect is in the late stages of becoming a customer. During this phase, we provide access to valuable resources, like our "Alation University" and the community, which act as big drivers for engagement.

There’s a continuum here that can be advantageous for sales teams. Prospects on the verge of converting can see firsthand what awaits them in the community once they become customers. This helps set expectations and demonstrate value early on.

For internal buy-in, the key is to align with what's in it for them. Salespeople are always thinking about how something will help them make a sale, retain, and renew a customer. By proving the value of the community, you make a compelling case. By integrating the community into the company’s strategic initiatives—such as renewal, retention, and expansion—you align the community’s success with the overall success of the company.

Another effective strategy is to make the lives of customer-facing teams easier. Often, these teams keep their own libraries of how-tos and solutions for common issues. By moving these use cases into the community, you create a one-to-many knowledge base that saves time. Salespeople can then direct customers to the community for quick answers to repetitive questions, allowing them to focus on higher-level conversations.

Many customers prefer finding their own answers quickly rather than waiting for a scheduled call with their account exec. This speeds up the customer’s time to resolution and lifts the conversation for the AEs to more strategic topics.

Watch the recording.

Want to see more webinar content? Catch all the on-demand recordings on our site’s Events page and check for upcoming webinars on the community’s Events page.

See you at the next webinar!