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A product manager's take on community building—and why you should expand your circle
The role of a product manager is expanding—some are building communities to connect with customers and peers. Should you do the same? Learn Hotjar's take here.
Last updated30 Aug 2022
The internet evolved from being a ‘read, watch, and listen to me’ medium to an ‘engage with me’ platform. It's now a giant community where people of all backgrounds from across the globe can find like-minded people to commune with.
Online communities have grown up out of virtually every social group, business industry, topic of discussion, or personal interest you can think of. Some people use communities to hone a skill, while others do it to join a cause.
As product managers (PMs), we have access to tools that empower us to create interactive groups where we can engage with other PMs or even our customers.
But is community building essential for product managers today? Let's explore.
The importance of communities for product managers
Product management is a relatively new discipline with limited formal education—so many product managers learn their craft from product-related communities. For instance, I gained a lot of knowledge from joining events, reading information, and joining conversations in such communities. Some of my favorites include:
Do I think product managers need to build communities to be successful in their roles? Not at all. However, being active in a few of them can be beneficial for sharing ideas and best practices, getting peer feedback, and learning from others. I am really grateful for the product managers who have built these communities that so many of us benefit from.
Where product managers create communities today
Most communities you find today are on third-party platforms such as Facebook, Discord, Slack, and Meetup.
That's because they make it easy to get started, and they have all the tools you need to grow and engage a large audience. Plus, most people are already familiar with these platforms, so leveraging these larger networks makes sense.
This is an ideal approach if building a community isn't a core part of your role or is just something you do on the side as a personal project to give back.
Things to consider before building a community
Most of the communities I'm a part of and engage with are great. But it takes a lot of time and effort to make these communities grow and succeed. If you want to build your own community, it’s important to ask yourself some questions before you get started.
Why am I doing this?
If you want to build a community, understand why you're doing it. Are you looking to educate fellow product managers? Offer transparency by building in public? Or do you want to create a community of customers to provide support and create a feedback loop? Knowing your purpose will give you the motivation needed to push forward and see the project through.
How much time can I dedicate?
Once you know your purpose, establish how much time you're willing to put into building your community. Dedicate time each day or week to engage with members and to do outreach to grow your community larger. Be realistic about how much time you can invest—the key to building a successful community is staying involved.
What does success look like?
Define what success means to you. Is your goal to get only 100 members, or are you ambitious and want to reach thousands—or more? Set a realistic time frame for achieving your mission and put actionable steps in place to make it happen.
How will I promote it?
Treat your community like any other product—have a marketing plan and a roadmap for improving it over time.
I firmly believe in using the power of communities to create a sense of belonging and facilitate sharing. So I think it's important to keep that at the core of starting a community. People who feel like they belong are also more likely to spread the word and get others involved in your cause.
For instance, I used to volunteer as an Organizer and Global Facilitator for Techstars, where I'd host or facilitate Startup Weekends around the world. It was attending my first Startup Weekend years ago that first got me interested in startups and tech. So I embarked on this volunteering path to give back and get others excited about this new world I had discovered.
Since I was in it for the right reasons, I could focus on creating impactful events for attendees. Even to this day, some of my favorite memories and a lot of lifelong connections have come out of that global Startup Weekend community.
Brands that do community building well
Although I haven't seen many brands building specifically product manager–led communities, I have noticed some doing a great job of engaging with their audiences in various ways.
The term community is a broad term today and can take many forms. For example, I consider forums, blogs, and podcasts as online communities. They engage people, drive conversations, inspire action, and facilitate sharing—much like traditional in-person communities do too.
Here are some brands that have built great communities, each catered to their own audience’s needs and personality:
Buffer: offers a blog with insightful content that educates and inspires
Basecamp: offers a blog and a podcast talking about project management and working better
Intercom: offers a blog, podcast, webinars, and courses with information about customer engagement, support, and products
Zappos: offers a blog with posts on topics about company culture and community
These companies produce tons of high-quality content to be consumed online and in person at live events. Plus, they're transparent about how they operate and share lessons learned from starting or scaling their businesses and teams.
Advice for product managers who want to try community building
My ultimate advice for building a community in 2022 is this: have clarity. Without it, you'll get lost in the motions and may lose momentum quickly. With clarity of purpose—a North Star—you'll be able to stay the course and weed out unnecessary goals or tasks.
Maybe you want to build a community around specific product topics to share learnings and insights with a group of peers. Or perhaps you prefer to create engaging content that builds brand awareness for your product. You can even use community building to increase company exposure as an employer to attract talent.
There's no right or wrong reason to build a community, so identify your mission and test different methods to see what works. Remember, building a community is no easy feat—so know why you’re doing it to keep you going when things get tough. If you are up for the challenge, you just might build something great.
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