Cloudflare TV

How to Run Online Communities - Lessons Learned from GoDaddy Pro and Cloudflare

Presented by Val Vesa, Adam W. Warner , Andy Mcilwain
Originally aired on 

An open fireside chat about the shift from offline events and community engagement, to a predominant Zoom and digital space conversations. Learn how communities shifted to adapt to an ongoing crisis mode.


Transcript (Beta)

Hello everyone, my name is Val Vesa. I'm the community manager here at Cloudflare and I'm joined today by Andy and Adam which I'm going to let them introduce themselves.

If you guys are watching this live there is an email address you can send in questions, if you have any comments, if you have any experiences that look similar to what we're going to discuss today about managing online communities.

The email address is livestudio at and if you see this as a recording and you still have a question, we're happy to welcome it.

So please send it away and we're going to respond to everyone.

If you have specific questions for either Andy or Adam, I'm going to forward it to them so they can answer to you as well.

And with that I'm going to just let whoever wants to go first here and introduce yourselves.

Not it. Okay, well hey everybody, my name is Adam Warner.

My official title is global field marketing senior manager for GoDaddy.

What that really means is that I am out in the community at events when they were physical and managing our event presence and our WordPress global sponsorship.

And I'm Andy McElwain. I'm the senior community manager for GoDaddy Pro.

What that means in a nutshell is that I try my best to represent the customer community to our team and then represent our team to the customer community with varying levels of success.

I like the part where you say I try my best. Disclaimer, I try my best.

It's good to have it in there just to make sure everyone understands. So I mean I think the first thing that I would ask is what's a regular day look like for you regularly but then again we live in special times so maybe you can compare like you know what was it before and what is now?

You mind if I go first? So okay, so previous to February a typical month or week for me would be traveling between Thursday and Sunday or Friday and Monday to a WordCamp conference event or to a WordPress related event and then take a day off maybe when I get back, follow up on everything and get ready for the next one.

So I was basically on the road quite often.

Obviously with the state of the world as it is since February everything that I do event-wise has pivoted from physical to virtual.

So it's been a big change, big change in how we approach events, how we try to engage with the people that are attending these events and the virtual nature of things has presented a whole new set of hurdles and challenges that I'm happy to report we have had some fun with and have started to navigate through since that time.

Awesome. Yeah and on my end not a lot has changed which I think is just like a blessing in disguise for me.

I was very lucky that most of what I've been doing has been online only the longest time and so going into this year.

You're like home now. Yeah like it wasn't it, I've been remote, fully remote for almost five years and pretty much everything I do is just from home sitting where I am sitting right now.

Going into this year as Adam was saying there was a lot of plans around doing things in person and it would have been a very different year for me.

I was already making plans for doing a bunch of travel so that was all scrapped in February.

Obviously. And so the things that we were thinking about doing for in-person customer experiences kind of went by the wayside and then it put much more emphasis on what are we doing online for this group.

Go ahead Adam.

I was just going to say the pivot from physical to completely online. We're not the only ones right.

Every company, every individual who has something to share who was creating some kind of community or wanting to engage with some kind of community has made the same pivot to online and where we found the hurdle initially was how do we, first of all everyone wanted to figure out the proper platform right.

What was going to work best for whatever. Where is the audience?

Where are they listening? Well where are they listening? How long will they listen?

Does everybody want to sit at their desk even longer after a full day of work?

And then of course throw in the challenge of parenting and people who have kids at home and you know the whole swirling chaotic mix of how the world has changed.

And then to figure out how we can still meet the goals of the business in this virtual world in a way that is still pure to the end user and the community member right.

Because I should preface this with our approach in the field at events.

It's not about ROI. It's not about a traditional trade show and in the WordPress world it's open source software.

So there's a philosophy there and a code of conduct.

It's not a traditional trade show where we're collecting names and then making hard sales pitches to people.

It's not about that. But how do you kind of reconcile just the brand recognition and the relationship building when you have to do it through a video call.

Instead of during an event we have a sponsor booth that there's more of an organic engagement factor there.

You can you go out to dinner.

You have the after parties where you're where you're really building those relationships which is what event and field marketing is all about.

Navigating that and how that has changed has been one of the most difficult things to kind of figure out.

How many events you were mentioning going out to work camps and I know we've met some of them like throughout the last five six years.

And that's where we actually met.

And then we were like in different companies and then in the same company and then again in different companies.

And I know that there's a very very you know alive community especially around WordPress but also other other platforms like Joomla and Typo3 and so on.

And Drupal. Correct. And then if you go if you physically go and meet someone and people come to your booth there's the attention span I think is very limited.

Like how many minutes you can actually talk to somebody before you know somebody is actually with their face right here starts to interact or so want some attention.

And then looking through an online only event which I'm going to ask you about because I know you guys did some amazing stuff during the you know shows that went exclusively online and events as well.

But I think that's that's more attention that you can give to people like you have I don't know how many people hundreds tens watching a Zoom feed and then people can discuss and conversate.

So at some point maybe there's more time you can give to a specific individual just because you're no longer limited by the you know noise of everyone being at the same booth and sort of trying to get attention.

What do you guys think about that. What did you notice anything like that.

Well I would start by saying that the the events that we we participated in first they events had gone online and they were offering sponsors a virtual booth which basically meant we spun up a Zoom call.

It was presented to conference attendees.

They were able to jump into a Zoom call with any number of the sponsors there.

What we found was people were very apprehensive about logging on to some random Zoom call with no expectation of what they would find there.

Right. Are you going to go into a Zoom call and then be presented with six people who are going to try to sell you something.

Or are you going to have have your expectations be set where this thing is happening at the sponsor booth at this time to to have a little fun or something.

So so how was it. I'm curious now. Tell us more. It's it's been an organic a steady organic growth of better and better experiences.

So people adjusting to this new.

I think people a mix of people adjusting to it but also very relevant is the conference organizers making sure that that sponsor booths or exhibitor booths were known that they were actually there and available for a conference.

Putting those things front and center within a schedule page instead of buried three or four levels deep into a menu.

As we've done more and more events we've communicated with the organizers very closely and saying you know this is our experience.

These are the things that that that make that experience better for sponsors but also for the community because that's the entire goal right.

To connect the feedback went back to the event organizers.

So most likely they could improve the way they set up the next.

And we've seen a steady increase in the number of people who actually visit the sponsor booth.

And then when they're there we try to have activities ready to go.

But also the ability to do breakout rooms and Zoom has been really useful because if you have someone let's say you have 15 people in a call and someone needs specific help with something then you can just jump into a breakout and get that done and without affecting the rest.

And still be like sort of a private face-to -face conversation that would have happened out elsewhere.

Just like in a physical event we would have stepped aside and went and found a table and opened the laptops and helped that person.

And the coffee.

And the coffee for sure. Yeah well for Andy you are always online. What's changed now if anything?

Well I think one of the things I'm certainly feeling and I'm suspecting we're seeing as well as a Zoom fatigue.

When we go from having this nice break between your work environment is Slack and Zoom and then if you're going to an event you're going to a community get together.

Maybe it's a conference or it's just a social get together at a pub.

There is a distinct difference between those things and the community experience is like an event.

It's a moment in time. Now if that community event is another Zoom call or another Slack channel suddenly it's just this is a continuation of the thing that you were already doing.

And then this can go in one of two ways.

It's either great this is another thing that I feel like I'm obligated to do or that I have to do that is no different from what I'm already spending my day doing.

And it just leads to that fatigue or as we're starting to see as Adam was saying like experimenting with different approaches and everything else.

Taking those platforms and trying to do something different with it.

So something that I'm thinking a lot about right now is is there a way when we're looking at like a customer community are we able to be there with them throughout the workday.

It's not something else that we're going to try and bring you out to after your workday is over.

Like fully respecting that you have a life after work.

We're not going to try and bring you into our orbit. Even if you're home you still have a work.

Exactly. There's other things to do than sit in front of your computer.

So thinking about what is a complimentary way a good way for us to fit into that flow that you're already in throughout the day.

Like if we are a community that is also a resource for you to help you do the work that you're doing.

Being there if you're already a bunch of slack teams being there as another slack team that you can jump into and ask questions.

That makes sense to me versus being like another destination that is separate from that.

And then for the zoom calls instead of it being here's a thing that you do after work.

Maybe it's something that happens during the day. Maybe it's a shorter 20-30 minute thing that you jump into every week where we're fitting into the flow.

So I'm thinking a lot about that and then also looking at what other platforms are out there experiences are out there that aren't as obvious.

So can we do something that isn't let's all jump onto a zoom call or a google hangout or whatever else.

I was about to ask the same thing about zoom.

Like what's the percentage of your day now compared to before that is zoom only.

Let's just assume I asked this question and you guys respond.

I don't know if it's the best question ever but I think the percentage will scare us in a way.

Yeah Andy go ahead but I'm just formulating the numbers.

So I think an interesting thing for Adam and I is that we're both remote.

Like most of our colleagues are based at one of our main office locations.

Were. Were based yeah. So for us zoom was just a standard part of the day.

We were spending a lot of time in zoom anyway. Now that even more stuff is moving over to zoom my gut is like oh we've seen a 30 to 40 increase in the amount of time they're spending in zoom because of all these additional zoom events.

And if it's not zoom then it's another video conferencing platform. And so for us it's it's more of the same but it's it adds up.

Yeah I would just add to that.

So a typical day for me is you have your regular cadence of meetings right. Which are zoom calls.

So maybe two or three of those a week or more. And then you have the meetings that people call for specific tasks.

And then because my team has been doing a regular social community meetup for GoDaddy Pro every Wednesday at noon.

I've got that. And then that's also via zoom right. That is via zoom. Yeah it's on pro.

Yeah And then I also have my team that we have grown to like to co-work with each other.

And that comes in the form of a zoom call. So I'm basically on zoom most of the day every day.

And then you add an event on there which happens typically on a Friday evening or Saturday or Sunday.

And boy yeah.

Or a clover tv segment which happens your morning my afternoon because it's like almost 8 p.m here in Romania.

Yeah and one of the one of the I just want to add that one of the things I the point I was trying to make before was that at events and in these zoom calls we're trying to differentiate right.

So we're trying to do and trying to be as creative as we can to make things fun for people who decide to join us.

But not only fun but valuable right. So one example is this.

So we I've been just experimenting with some video backgrounds. I was about to say there's somebody behind you Adam.

Watch out. And so little things like that that we could that we could extrapolate on and make it a more fun and a more valuable experience.

No whatever that is. That was a fun video thing. But we can do backgrounds.

You see I have the background. We have several of those. But I love your background by the way.

Yeah thanks. Kudos to the design team for helping.

Of course. We love designers. They are the best. They make us they make our lives so easy.

Yes sir. I agree. Yeah so it's it's been a lot of zoom to sum up. Where do you go to learn?

I mean I know that managing communities especially online communities it takes like we already talked zoom right.

But there's a lot of other tools and maybe news and blogs and you know places where we learn not only about the community or how to manage a community but also how the platforms work.

I mean look at Facebook. They change stuff every other week. And then you need to inform design.

We just talked about designers like oh my god we had to change you know 50 pixels of the height of the width or whatever the situation.

How do you manage that? Do you have people helping you? Do you go yourself?

You know are you subscribed to some newsletters? What do you get your information as as community managers?

Go ahead.

Go ahead. There's two sources that I rely on more than anything else. There's a CMX and I'm actually wearing the CMX shirt right now.

So I think of CMX hub dot com very active slack team as well.

Tons of great community leaders on there and it is my number one source.

The second one is a newsletter and also a slack team called the comm chat.

And I can throw the link to you afterwards to put into the show notes or whatever we're doing for this.

But it's similar. It's a little bit of a smaller group but it's also a really nice community to be part of.

Very meta because it's a community of community leaders.

And so there's a lot of conversation in there about tools and tech and strategy and what do you do if a member does this code to conduct everything.

Awesome. Yeah and I would just add to that that it's also about the difference between building a community on a platform that someone else controls or creating your own community in your own space environment.

So you mentioned if Facebook changes something with with groups or something then everything needs to be changed.

You're kind of beholden to that.

So I would advocate for creating your own community and I think that Andy would agree.

100% yes. Yeah and he is the community manager. So I would guess that there's some importance in doing that.

Yeah one point I really want to make for anybody who's thinking about spinning up a customer community or a user community is think very carefully about the different points of presence that you're going to have for that community.

Something like Facebook is great for discovery and maybe you start a Facebook group as a way to bring people in and to get found.

But as your community grows and you start to pick up some momentum the benefit and upside of owning your community platform, owning your presence, just like a website is that you have more control.

So if Facebook decides that they're going to change something around the algorithm or the community platform or whatever you're just kind of at their whim.

Whatever they decide you have to roll with it. So going and spinning up a community platform and there are lots of good open source ones to choose from as well as hosted ones.

It's much better for the long run and it's an investment.

It's an investment. It's a platform. It's a tech stack like anything else but it's much better for the organization for the long haul.

Suddenly you guys are doing a great job.

Yeah go ahead Adam. I was just going to add a little perspective to building your own community as it relates to events and field marketing.

One thing I've learned is that we can't be everywhere. If someone decided to spin up a GoDaddy Pro Facebook group that wasn't us or that was us you have to have a dedicated full-time person managing that.

Same thing with any other platform but in terms of events we've always done some kind of what we call a social activation.

So at a physical event we would have some kind of a giveaway or contest where someone would share something on social.

Twitter primarily for our event purposes and for the WordPress crowd.

There's a lot of people on Twitter. That social activation translated, you would think, easily to the online stuff because someone's already in a Zoom meeting.

Why couldn't they just tweet something out?

But what we discovered is that is a valid thought but it's the thing that you're asking people to do.

We used to ask people to take a selfie at the event, hashtag the event, tag our handle and post it.

You ask someone to take a screenshot of a Zoom call as a selfie and then post it.

Well they're already focused on this thing.

Things get complicated really fast. Now they have to do this thing.

Those are the kinds of things we've pivoted on and we've been experimenting with gamification and doing some social and some online gaming during this as part of our contests and giveaway stuff.

It's really about iterating and trying to find that thing that can still make that connection with the attendees.

I know that I'm watching everything that Sprout Social puts out on webinars, educational content and so on about social media, about managing communities.

One of the things that I remember from the last summit they had, I think last month, was to participate in a contest you would get, I don't remember the prize, but you would have to literally get out from your desk and do a dance and film yourself or somebody else would film you and post that on Twitter as an entry.

So that would be considered one entry.

When I heard that I'm like, nobody's going to do that. But I think in like 10 minutes they had about 50 entries.

So maybe in a way there's also limits to how much you can do specifically online and how much you can do offline with online.

But like you said, experimenting most likely is the best way to go.

There's a lot of dynamics and for social specifically, my team also looks after our GoDaddy Pro social handle.

And one of the things that I'm always mindful of is what are we asking for and then what are people getting in return?

And if there's a lot of friction between what the potential benefit is for somebody to take an action versus what that action is.

How many steps they have to do. Yeah, like that's going to have a big effect on what the update is.

Click, follow, share, and then.

Yeah. And so these are all little variables in figuring out, well, what's the best way to do this?

And so there's a lot of testing and integration on that to see what works.

The other point I wanted to just clarify when we were talking about community and as a community manager, this is like a sticky point for me is that community often gets conflated with like, oh, it's the place or it's the platform.

This is community.

Community is the people. Community is people. It's like soil and green.

It's made of people. And so the platform, wherever people are gathering, like that just happens to be a venue or a place, a platform where that community is coming together.

And that community can come together online. It can come together offline.

It can come together around many different places. When we talk about the platform and like this one spot, I think of it as like a clubhouse.

Like this is where everybody knows, like this is the HQ of the community.

If you're going to look for anything about the community, this is the mothership.

This is where you're going to find it. And so understanding that. So then when you talk about your community, you're not just talking about, oh, here's a site that we have.

The community is the people that you're bringing together. And people do organize online as well to go to a physical place.

Like just look at all the threads you see on Twitter, looking forward to go to X event.

Well, of course this is pre-COVID and looking forward to go to this event.

And then people would just go like, oh, where are you eating?

Where are you guys meeting? You know, are you going to be sponsoring?

Are you going to just participate? So on. Yeah. The best, and Adam, I love your thoughts on this, but I think the best is when it's both sides.

In the before times, pre -COVID, the in-person experience, right? So the in-person experience was great as a pulse milestone.

Here's a thing that we're all looking forward to.

And WordCamps for the WordPress community are a great example of that.

Here's a thing where we're all going to come together. It'll be an in-person experience.

And then we're going to go away. But then the online component is how we stay in touch with each other between these in-person experiences.

And so when you think about it holistically, it was a really nice balance between the two.

We've lost some of that because of COVID and because of the lockdown.

So trying to work around that while keeping that same spirit alive is really tough.

And that's where I have so much respect for Adam, wherever he is in this feed, because that's what it's all about.

Yeah. I appreciate you saying that, Andy, but that has been the challenge.

And as an example of starting this regular cadence of meetups weekly, the whole idea was not for this to be any kind of presented material or educational material per se, like a conference would have speaking sessions.

The whole idea is just to have a regular spot for people to come and hang out together if they wanted to, if they needed a break during the day to try and preserve that in-person feeling that, like Andy said, you get it geared up for a conference, you go to a location, you've known each other online, you meet in person, that's your time together, those two days, and then you go back to your online stuff.

The idea behind the meetups is to try and recreate that as close as possible.

But with that comes a lot of one-on-one Zoom calls and conversations too, to try and stay connected.

It's difficult to do. And I think there's millions of people around the world that are feeling the same thing and trying to stay connected and becoming Zoom averse or video conferencing averse.

Zoom experts.

Yeah. But yeah, I mean, that's... We have about, sorry to interrupt you, Adam, we have about three minutes left.

We do have some questions. Most likely we're going to have to do this again, so make it a series or something, because there's a lot to talk about.

I just want to read some of the questions if you guys are okay.

From Cammy McMenna, oh, we know Cammy. She's asking, when was the last event you all attended together?

I don't know. Andy, were you in Belgrade, WordCamp Europe?

I was not. I think the last one was, was it WordCamp US last year?

I feel like I might've been. Maybe two years ago. Were you there last year, Val?

No, last year, no, two years ago. Okay, so it was two years ago, probably. Oh, for all of us.

Oh, yeah. All of us, all three of us. All three of us, yeah. Two years ago.

And that would have been just a few weeks after I came on with GoDaddy.

That was my first GoDaddy event with the three of you. Okay. Let's see if we can get two more questions since we got about two minutes.

We're going to get cut out anyway.

So how far is your digital content calendar scheduled already? This is from Mike.

I think he means about, because of COVID, most likely we're not going to do months ahead, but I'm just going to let you guys respond.

I'll let Andy answer that one, but I would say it's probably not as jam-packed as the schedule.

Yeah, certainly not as jam-packed as that. Thank you. I'm a nerd, so I think in quarters.

So I'm fully booked out until the end of September and then already planning for Q4 and thinking into next year.

Yeah, very similar for me with events.

As soon as an event comes online, we've got it in the project list and we're starting to follow up and gather things for us.

Okay. Let's see if we have time for one more.

This is from Julie. I hope I read it nice. Do you respond to every tweet?

And then we all have to respond. I don't know if we have enough time, but let's go.

Do we respond to every tweet? It depends. I would say the same thing.

Yeah, it really does depend. Thank you so much, guys, for joining.

I think we're already out. But anyways, even if somebody's going to watch this later, I'm sure they're going to get a lot of content out of it.

I was honored that you guys accepted and thank you so much again for joining.

This is fun.