When building or iterating on a product, one question should guide Product Managers and Product teams at all times: how will this feature benefit our customers? The best way to know the answer is to ask your best customers.
And where better to look for your best customers than your community?
Community members can help you understand their needs and pain points, how to prioritize your roadmap for their needs, and how to create a good user experience at every step of their journey.
“Although Product teams have a good understanding of the market we operate in, it takes conversations with customers to get closer to solving actual user problems,” says Nick Dijkstra, VP of New Product Development at Commsor.
Becoming Community-Led and putting your community first is about having an evolved customer-centric strategy. Rather than building what you think your customers or community needs, you build with them.
“One of the biggest benefits of being a Community-Led company is the tight product feedback loop you have with customers,” says Bradley Tramer, GM at Meetsy by Commsor. “Because you have a community, not an audience, there is room for spontaneous back-and-forth between your company and your community members.”
Involving your community in the process leads to a stellar product that solves the community’s needs, makes members feel valued, and has the potential to turn customers into ambassadors. That’s a win-win!
Community Managers (CMs) know which members are the most involved, and who can help Product teams as they think about building new features and improving existing ones.
“Members who help others not only have a deep understanding of your product and features, but are also willing to talk about this,” says Nick. “In addition, many of these people are familiar with the issues and use cases that other community members face. That means that when you're talking to these super users, they likely represent many others.”
Product Managers (PMs) can conduct 1-1 calls or focus groups to get feedback and build relationships, as well as product advisory boards, surveys, or a dedicated forum where the community can leave feedback.
In a synchronous community, conversations in your community platform — like Slack or Discord — might raise feature ideas or flag issues. CMs can pass these on to the Product team, and Product team members can be active participants in the community or track conversations to stay updated. You can also give your members and Product team an async platform like a forum, where there’s an ongoing feedback loop, to discuss feature ideas or issues.
Communicate transparently with members — both about what you’re working on and what’s not on your roadmap — to build trust. “Product teams traditionally communicate through change logs or release notes,” says Nick. “But I've seen examples of organizations that are in active conversation with their users on what they're developing, and more importantly, what they should be working on.”
Depending on where your community lives, Product teams can start conversations in private channels on your members-only platform, on a forum, or on a public platform like Twitter to go beyond the active community and reach the wider customer base.
Here's how to effectively measure the impact the community has on the Product team.
Your product roadmap should include feature improvements and new ideas raised both internally and from the community. Keep track of how many community ideas you move forward with compared to how many internal ideas. If you’re skewing heavily towards building internal ideas, it's time to ask yourself if your product is serving your community in the way they need it to.
Whether you’re conducting 1-1 interviews or sending out a survey, the number of users you’re getting feedback from will help you understand whether you’re getting feedback from a substantial representation of your community. It’s also worthwhile to map how many user interviews you conduct at each stage of the feature, from ideation to testing and development, to ensure your community has a voice in feature ideas and how the feature will work in practice.
“The big key is getting the product teams on board and heavily engaged directly in those conversations with users,” says Nicole Saunders, Zendesk's Director of Communities.
“Our Product Managers subscribe to those forums and read every post and comment that comes through. They take all of that user feedback into quarterly roadmap planning for consideration.”
It’s not just by reading community posts that Product Managers get user feedback — Zendesk has a proactive approach to Community-Led product development. “When a PM is exploring an idea, they’ll often do a proactive post where they tell users what they’re thinking about and ask some specific questions that they need user feedback on,” says Nicole. “These discussions are extremely helpful in vetting and understanding all of the aspects of an idea.
“We’ve also created guidelines on how to write an effective feedback post and provide a template, to make it really easy for users to know what information our PMs need and to make adding an idea really easy and straightforward.”
The team also seeks out community feedback through live discussions and beta testing, known as Early Access Programs (EAPs). The forums, live discussions, and EAPs are the key channels through which the Product team receives feedback.
“They’re all helpful in their own way,” says Nicole, “but I suspect those opportunities where users can really get their hands on something, play with it, and provide feedback on that experience is the most impactful. [Live feedback and EAPs] tend to be really productive, especially because of the timelines — they give users the opportunity to provide feedback on something that is being worked on right now, that they’re likely to see rolled out in the near-term future.”
Product decisions at Zendesk are a combination of feedback, market direction, and the company’s longer-term plans for the product, but user feedback plays a part in most of the features the company develops.
“Our Community Managers will reach out to a PM if they see a conversation that is particularly ripe for engagement from the PM,” says Nicole. “But for the most part they’re embedded in the community directly. PMs are all expected to spend time in the community reading user posts, asking follow-up questions, and sharing their thoughts and insights every week.
"It’s a really close relationship, and our PMs tell us that they find these conversations incredibly valuable and informative.”
The CLG model unpacks how making community a core part of your business can impact the bottom line.
Unsure if your business is Community-Led? Our assessment will analyze your organization and offer guidance and resources to help you unlock the full power of community.
Our Community-Led report is jam-packed with invaluable insights, fascinating trends, and a few key areas for growth within the community industry.