We hear the word community a lot. Brands build community. Bloggers build community. Even we podcasters build community. But whether it’s your listeners, your readers, or your customers, there are ways to do this successfully. And when it comes to your product, it’s even more important to create that community and define how your customers become part of it.
In today’s show I have invited my friend and the force behind building community for GoDaddy.com, Mendel Kurland. He has done an amazing job since he was put in place at GoDaddy and I just knew he would have some great insights into this subject.
We chatted about:
- How Mendel defines community
- If what you perceive is not really a community, what steps you should take to build one
- How to handle rants, complaints and trolls in a community
- What pros and cons are there to building your community on Facebook
- Advice for creators of new products
Bob Dunn: Hey, Mendel. Welcome to the show.
Mendel Kurland: Hey, thanks a lot, Bob.
Bob: Now, I know who the heck you are, but there are probably some people who are wondering, "Who is Mendel Kurland?" Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Meet Mendel Kurland
Mendel: Well, that's a broad question, so I live in Austin, Texas. I work for GoDaddy on the community and evangelism team, and I'm a geek by training. I learned how to program on GB-BASIC and C Pascal and then C and C++. (Turbo Pascal, if anybody's wondering where my geek cred lies.) So, yeah, I work for GoDaddy in beautiful Austin, Texas and I work from home.
Bob: Well, knowing you and what you do, I thought this was a perfect topic. I want to start out by defining what community around a product means to you. I know it's more than just a customer list. How do you define community when you're creating one around a product?
How to you define community when it comes to developing one around your product?
Mendel: I think community means different things in different contexts. When you're talking about a corporation being a part of a community, it is half feedback loop and half contribution. So it's giving back to the community, which you want to spend time in, and then also completing a full feedback loop, which is receiving product feedback, getting that to the right people within the organization, making changes based on that feedback (which is the important part), and then telling the community about the changes that you've made. So that's the complete feedback.
I think from the community perspective, building communities is all about inclusion. When people feel included, they feel like contributing, like they're a part of the project and that makes them want to use it more, evangelize it more, talk about it more. So there are two sides to it, I think.
Bob: I think that a lot of people who start selling a product perceive that they already have a community at their fingertips, especially the small individual who’s just starting, maybe even with a small staff. What advice can you give to them when are thinking, "Wow, Mendel does a good job at this." What advice can you give them to help them make a real community happen around their product?
Any advice on making a real community around our products happen?
Mendel: One of the mistakes I see a lot of people make when it comes to community is not thinking that they can measure it: measure their progress, measure their successes, measure their involvement. And something that I focused a lot of time figuring out, one of the ways I do that, is by looking at where we are and where we want to go. In the case of GoDaddy, from an unknown player in the WordPress space to being recommended by people. In the case of my kind of generic maturity model from being unknown to recommended or from being unknown to known is: where do you want to be on that spectrum? Where do you want to go?
I suggest looking at where you've been, where you want to go, and then figuring out how you're going to measure your success. So if it's getting to being known, that would be people talking about you in blogs, on social media, in news articles, things like that. If it's just being recommended, then you might look at impressions on a landing page or leads or something like that. Very rarely do community efforts end in direct sales or directly measurable sales, but I suppose that's a possibility. Then, you start to border on those non-community sort of things that end in sales. That's what I would suggest to the small and to the large organization. Find where you are, where you want to go, and then figure out how you're going to measure your success.
Bob: This makes me think of another question. Is building community—no matter what size of a business you have—really one person at a time, or can you build community in masses?
Is building community one person at a time or can it be done in masses?
Mendel: I think it depends. In order to build a large awareness of your organization or your brand, I think you need to have deep conversations with people one at a time, who then go have deep conversations with other people about your brand. As far as building a community, it depends how big. If you look at the WordPress community, if you think about it, it’s all one-to- one relationships. New WordPress creators are minted in meetups, and meetups are deeply a one-to-one relationships.
Keeping with the WordPress example, people are further helped through their journey at WordCamps. And maybe they go online and they converse with somebody from the support forums, one on one. So it very much is a one-on-one situation with community building in WordPress.
There are other situations where people just get super excited about a particular brand or a particular cause, and I would say that that's not actually a community until those people interact one on one, or many to one, or something like that, where there's actual exchange happening. Because you can be loyal to a brand and excited about a brand and not actually be part of a community that cares about it.
Bob: On the flip side of the coin, you're building this community. You have a product and everybody has this challenge. There are rants, complaints, trolls, the little buggers that you just wish would go away, but they come with the territory. I don't care what you're selling, it's going to happen. You probably have a long laundry list of things of ways to handle these kind of issues. From your experience, how you handle the people who are constantly throwing complaints and rants and even the trolls that are lingering underneath the bridges and saying, "You suck. You suck.”
How do you handle trolls and customers who only want to rant?
Mendel: Yeah, it's a hard thing, and it's a hard thing to ignore. The way I respond to it is pretty simple. I look at each comment, and I say to myself, "Can this person be helped? Does this person want to be helped?" So when somebody says, "I have a problem with product XYZ. It doesn't do this or that. It really sucks,” that person can probably be helped. It's an emotional response to something that's probably causing their business pain, and therefore, causing them to lose money, therefore, causing them to worry about how they're going to feed their kid. There's a long line of things that leads to this emotional response.
And so in those cases, I respond kindly and ignore some of the negativity in the conversation. Those people I enjoy helping. The people that I don't help, and that I won't help, are the people that come on that are 100% trolls, and they say, "You suck," and that's it. Or it's kind of unsubstantiated. There’s really nothing behind it. I don't have an interest in engaging them further and saying, "Why do you think I suck?" There's really no point.
I don't know if you remember, Bob. A short time ago, we were all on the elementary school playground, and every once in a while and there was a kid ... I don't know about you, but I was a geek. And so every once in a while, there was a kid that would say something to me, and I wasn't even paying any attention to that person. They would say something negative. And our propensity, when we were kids, was to yell something negative back at them.
And really, it leads to nothing. We know this from looking at kids in the schoolyard. They're just yelling insults at each other and hurting each other's feelings. I don't think there's any use in doing that, so I just don't engage with trolls.
Bob: Yep, and they're baiting us. I've seen it before, and I've had it happen to myself, as well. They're just wanting you to fly off the handle and for this to go out of control, so they're the bully, the internet bully, for sure.
Bob: So, speaking of trolls, Facebook pages. But when you're starting a product, a lot of people start with, "Man, I've got to create a Facebook page, because this is where everybody in the world lives and breathes until they eventually die." But do you feel there's any benefit to starting a Facebook page around your product? And on the other hand, what is the big con to doing it?
When it comes to community, is there any advantage to creating a Facebook page around my product?
Mendel: I would try to figure out where your audience is, where they're likely to be. I know some really successful web developers who have built audiences on Instagram, because their customers are barbers, or they are hair care people, estheticians or something like that. So those people are looking for more visual stuff, and people are interested in the visuals they're creating. So they can create beautiful things, share it on the Instagram, and create community around that.
For Facebook, if you look at your clientele and the people that might be interested in your product, are they on Facebook? I know a lot of plugin developers for WordPress use Facebook as a way to communicate with their plugin community, because they're already on Facebook looking for answers to common questions. So I think all of these are really great tools. I think Pinterest is a great one, but again, for visual stuff. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. They’re all great. It just depends on where your audience actually is. So I'd say, figure out where your audience is, and then create a presence there.
Bob: Now, is there anything I haven't touched on, as far as your experience of having done this for GoDaddy? Anything else for new product owners that you want to offer some words of wisdom to?
Any advice you want to give to new product owners?
Mendel: For new product owners, I would say build a great product and then create a venue for your customers to communicate with each other and with you. Don't make yourself the center of the community. And if there's already a community established, positive or negative, engage there before creating your own community, because that's where people, have gone to create something. So that's the best place for you to start conversing with your audience. Don’t create something new if something already exists. But yeah. I would say focus on building a great product or a great service, and let the community grow naturally and organically.
Bob: Perfect. I wanted to bring up one little last thing as we talk about community, for the people out there listening who are in WordPress. They know about WordCamps and how they're organized and how they run. You've started something new that's kind of unique in building community, I should even say, extending community to another form, especially around the world of geeks.
Can you just take a few minutes and tell us what you have going on? Because I know you already had one event. You have some others that are going to be planned. I'd like to hear a little bit about your other thing you have going on the side.
Your most recent project is strengthening community around the world of ‘geeks.’ Can you tell us about that?
Mendel: For sure. The other thing I've been working on strictly around community is something called Camp Press. The idea is to disconnect to reconnect. So it's your chance to detox from digital life by spending time in nature with fellow geeks. We had a really great event in Oklahoma just a couple weekends ago, and we're gearing up for two more events in 2018. The first is in Austin. It's at a state park, and it's all inclusive, so food and camping supplies and transportation and all of that is included. And that is launching out of Austin, Texas. That's in late February, when it's a nice temperature for sleeping outside.
We're also planning another adventure in Iceland, of all crazy places, in April 2018. We're super excited to be doing more of these events, getting more people engaged, and quite frankly, taking more people off the grid so they can connect in a super personal way. So that URL is camp.press.
Bob: Cool. Yeah, the Iceland one just sounds fascinating to me. I mean, that first one, I’m thinking, "Okay, camping and stuff." But Iceland. That sounds like a dream. Anyway, very cool, and it’s great, your success on that so far.
So besides that website, where is the best place for people to connect with Mendel?
Where can we connect with Mendel on the web?
Mendel: You can hit me up at IfYouWillIt on Twitter. I'm also on Facebook as well, at If You Will It. Instagram, I do some stuff there, and then, if you want to look at what I've been working on at GoDaddy, you can just head over to godaddy.com/pro and check out what's going on, what's new and exciting over there.
Bob: Excellent. Well, always a joy. I appreciate chatting with one of my good friends and I thank you for your time. I know this is your day, kind of, to sit back and do some of this stuff, but I appreciate you joining us on the show today, Mendel.
Mendel: Okay, Bob. I really appreciate it. Always a good time to talk with you.
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