Community-led growth, with Joel Primack

March 16, 2022


Joel Primack, Advisor of Charla, Co-Founder of Revenue Era, and Host of the Community-Led Growth Show shares his perspective on how businesses can use communities to fuel growth. We talk about:

  • examples of different communities
  • managing communities
  • the impending “community correction”
  • measuring the impact of community

Connect with Joel on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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John Tyreman:  Hi, gang. Welcome to Episode 43 of The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches with marketing leaders and practitioners to help you learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyreman. And I am joined today by Joel Primack, advisor to Charla, Co-Founder of Revenue Era and host of the Community-Led Growth Show podcast. And we are here to talk about how communities can be a valuable marketing asset. Joel, first, I have to say you’re a good follow on Twitter. I like your consistency with the Good Morning Marketing tweets. Do you do those daily? Can you share a little background on that?

Joel Primack:  Yeah, I mean, I think that now, it’s dropped off a little bit from daily. I’d probably say it’s three to five days out of the week that I actually hit it. I think that part of it’s just like giving yourself a little bit of grace with it. Like you can do something consistently, but it’s okay, if you like, forget about it on a day or like, you don’t have something important to say or like that’s worth saying, so you don’t say something. Don’t put out something that’s not like an ad is kind of my like, general rule of thumb. If I don’t think it’s helpful, or like something impactful to someone, I just am not gonna post that day.

John Tyreman:  Is Twitter your go to platform? Or is there another social platform that you use the most? 

Joel Primack:  Ooh, I probably say it’s a toss up between Twitter and LinkedIn. So I think that they’re just different and like, great for different things. Like LinkedIn has helped me so much in my career. And then Twitter’s just so much fun. Like I get to connect with people in different ways. We have interesting conversations just about a wide variety of topics where I feel like LinkedIn, if you’re posting on there, you typically stay within like three to five consistent topics that you talk about, and kind of own per se. Where on Twitter, I feel like I can share a little bit more of like, all of my… like I have friends who are in SaaS. We can talk about SaaS, but equally, we’re both into stocks, too. So we can talk about stocks and like investments and things like that. And like, that’s just awesome. Things I don’t really get on LinkedIn. But there’s a huge purpose and value to LinkedIn that I love as well. So those two are where I mostly live. 

John Tyreman:  That’s where I mostly live, too, is on Twitter and LinkedIn. I made a conscious effort, probably like three or four years ago now, to cut out Facebook. I call it intellectual junk. And I liked the professional nature of LinkedIn, and then finding that community of marketers on Twitter has been really, really beneficial to me at least. So let’s talk community. Um, you host the Community-Led Growth Show podcast. Can you share for our listeners what you mean by community-led growth? What sort of topics do you talk about on your show?

Joel Primack:  Yeah. So I generally talk about community led growth, as using community as kind of the leading catalyst for growth for an organization. If you’re a SaaS company, for example, you’re listening to your members of your community regarding like product, in terms of new features, how to improve it, new integrations, things of that nature. If then, if you’re in sales and customer success/account management, you’re using and listening to community to help you achieve your goals. Whether it’s retention – is your community, a place that needs to be on that onboarding list, when you sign a new customer? Because that’s where they get 10x the value of just being a user of your product. For marketing, I mean, I think that one’s typically more around like content, what’s top of mind for your audience, and whether it’s built for your general ICP, ideal customer profile, or specifically for your customers. I mean, there’s just so many ways to have community. And that’s just kind of those kind of two use cases. I’m not even really getting into developer communities, and other more niche ones. But yeah, so that’s an example I think of how a typical B2B SaaS company would get value and use community as a lever for growth across their organization. Some examples and topics that we talk about are communities that are owned by companies, communities that are actual communities that other companies then sponsor, we talk about developer communities, and then we also talk about companies who build community through sponsoring a third party community, such as Pavilion, formerly Revenue Collective, Red Genius, Women in Sales Club, Sales Assembly, etc. The list goes on and on and on. 

John Tyreman:  What I like about this is it’s essentially maintaining a focus group, if you will, of people who fit within your ideal customer profile, or who are customers, and really listening to that community. And so I guess, Joel, let me ask you… what goes into managing a community? What are some of the examples of day to day activities?

Joel Primack:  Yeah, I think it depends where you are in your community. I call it a journey or a life cycle, really, because you obviously start, but even before you start, there’s planning and preparation. So I would say it depends where you are. But some ones I would say, across the entire lifecycle, are always planning. You’re always going to be planning, whether it’s a roadmap, whether it’s a launch, whether it’s new partners, whether you’re rolling out a new feature to the community, you’re always planning, you’re always kind of launching. So it’s very exciting. And then beyond that, I mean, you’re typically talking about different ways for engagement. Really, that’s the heart of the community – is engagement across your members, whether it’s through events, it’s through a newsletter, it’s through Slack group, a Discord channel, the list goes on and on again. But those are at least two things. And then I guess the last thing is really alignment on goals across your organization. No matter what type of community or if you own the community and other people are sponsoring, it is always going to need to be an alignment around goals, to ensure that it actually connects to the higher business outcomes that you’re trying to achieve. That’s what really ties community to being a huge lever for growth when they’re directly connected to those outcomes.

John Tyreman:  So what are some common business goals that a company would say, hey, community relates to this business goal? Can you elaborate on that?

Joel Primack:  Yeah, I mean, I think that the three kind of most typical ones that I often see are:  connecting community members to product usage and/or feature usage, especially when a new feature is launched. For example, I know of one company that actually tracks their feature requests, ties it into customer data around what segment are they in, and potential upsell, cross sell possibilities as well. So then they can see what segment of their business is requesting this feature. Is this something that they feel is mandatory, for them to now be successful on your platform, versus something that could be rolled out as a beta, but eventually turned into an upsell opportunity? So that’s one way of product usage. For example, the other two most common ones I see are either new logos… so ARR, or NRR, net revenue retention. Those two things are both very important in terms of just helping your customers find a place and find more or less their people per se, who already use your product. And they want to learn all the different ways that people use the product, how they’ve overcome some challenges, potentially best practices for rolling it out across their company, how to align internally and internal enablement, things of that nature. And then the last one, I would say, is just really, essentially tying it back to like, support/satisfaction. I know that there are a handful of companies that have built their community to really support ticket deflection from support into their community forum. Some are so active that actually, people from the company don’t actually respond. Other members of their community will respond. So that’s a wonderful thing to see. And then if they are needing to do responses, they oftentimes have a max amount of time before someone will hop in and reply, because they want every question or topic to have an answer, or at least a reply to start that engaging conversation, whether it’s with the company and or with other members as well.

John Tyreman:  I like how community could have an impact on increasing revenue, possible upsell, cross sell, the feedback loop between product and new features. They could also help by increasing your market share by helping new customers find their people and then eventually finding your product and then impacting profitability where you can extend customer lifetime value through a community by deflecting the ticket support to these community forums. I’m reminded of Trailblazer in Salesforce where Qualtrics community, I spent some time working in market research. So those are some really good examples, Joel, thank you.

Joel Primack:  Sorry, I’m adding on to something. So I know one company, at least, where they actually acquired a community/media company. And part of actually what they’ve done now with it, is they actually use it as the lever to expand their total addressable market or TAM. Because they know when they talk about this hypothetical type of person, or persona, that on their journey, they’re eventually going to need to talk about technology to support them, as they become that person and as their company evolves to be more of a modern company in no matter what space they’re in. So that’s another great use. I think of community – when you talk about community-led growth, they’re literally expanding their TAM. That is, to me, I mean, one of the biggest things I’ve ever seen. Not every company, of course, is going to be able to actually do that with their community. But in terms of a kind of outlier. I think it’s very impactful though, for business.

John Tyreman:  Joel, you mentioned to me the other day, this concept of community correction, that will likely happen throughout 2022. Can you explain that for our listeners?

Joel Primack:  Yeah. So it’s something that has actually come up twice now, in two recent episodes on my podcast, one with Zoe Hartsfield from Spekit. The other is Joe Huber over at Sprout Social, both phenomenal people. And they both say that as a community trend, they think that companies are going to realize that they either launched too fast, they didn’t identify the right things to roll out for their community, and things of that nature, or they just really didn’t even listen to their audience, no matter what type of community that they’re trying to build. And so I kind of dubbed this phrase community correction. Because I look at it similar to a market correction. Stocks go up when there is something going on in the market, and the valuations soar, it’s a little bit crazy, they pop and then they come back down to earth. I think that some companies, community strategies, or I would probably argue, honestly, lack of strategy, which has led them to this kind of quick start, without actually doing the proper, I feel, research and things of that nature led them to this point, and then they’re going to correct by either closing that community, huddling up internally, discussing their learning, rebooting something, whether it’s 2.0, the same thing, whether it’s addressed pivot, things that nature, I think it’s just inevitable. If communities are becoming so hot, we’re gonna see it. We see it with companies pivoting, when they go from seed to series A, when they’re raising funds. We see it when you’re marketing – you have a new marketing campaign. So I think it’s just inevitable, people are gonna have to pivot. And I think the correct phrase is really around a correction because they’re correcting a wrong, more or less. I don’t know if they would really look at it that way. That’s something that they’ll have to deal with on their own of how they personally feel about it. But I think it really is the correction with hopefully some good learnings for them for the future as well.

John Tyreman:  So and you believe that this is a byproduct of not listening to your community, or maybe perhaps not identifying the right community to build around?

Joel Primack:  Yeah, I mean, I think that one of – how do I say this? The best way to grow a community is when you, like your pulse is… I’ll call it at best, half a step behind what your members actually want. At most, you want to be two steps ahead, I would say, of what they want. That’s how well you know that, if that makes sense. And if you’re not at that kind of like range of you know your members or your ideal members of the community that you’re about to build and launch that well, you have more work to do – is generally how I feel because you have to understand their pains in their professional lives that is driving them to your community, the value that they hope to then gain from it to help them hit their goals, which ultimately, then kind of are your goals as the owner of a community. Because if… more or less a community is a way to help people, not necessarily help your business. You just have to design it the correct way and align on the goals of your members to then help you hit your goals that roll up to your business. So I really do think that a lot of this is people are launching either too fast, or they won’t be launching the right thing, because they didn’t listen, they didn’t speak with their audience, and they just assumed, and we all know what happens when you assume.

John Tyreman:  Yes, we do. And it seems like there’s a lack of, you say listening, empathy really, and understanding not only the job that your ideal community member needs to do, but also the personal drive – what motivates them personally, what emotions drive them to make those decisions. It sounds like the community building, there’s a big element of it that’s really an exercise in psychology, I would say. 

Joel Primack:  I would definitely agree. I mean, I think that the biggest part is those relationships. There’s trust involved, there’s respect, there are guidelines, there are rules. There’s, call it like this, like community etiquette, per se. So with all those things, it really is the psychology of:  how do you create a space that people feel comfortable in. And I think that as part of comfortable, there’s equally an element of being vulnerable, because people are saying what they’re struggling with. And that being vulnerable is on a varying scale for people, of course, some people may be better at expressing that than others. And other times, it’s just people sharing their own voice. Some people are super smart, but they’re just super quiet and maybe a little intimidated about posting publicly, no matter how public, per se, it really is, it’s still public to an extent. Other people are going to be able to read it and say that this came from so and so. So I think that there are many characteristics and traits that really tie into psychology, when you talk about building a community. That’s something I’ve never thought about. I don’t know too many people who have. But I’m sure that along the way many people have thought about trust, respect, empathy, all sorts of like those characteristics, but never really thought about it through a true psychology point of view. I like that a lot. Thank you, John

John Tyreman:  

Sure, yeah. I’m happy to help. I come from a market research background. So I’m also in the middle of reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss – great book. But yeah, people need that psychological safety to really feel comfortable speaking about a topic about some… maybe it’s a challenge that they’ve had or a failure that they’ve had recently that, you know, and on the surface level, they may feel ashamed of talking about it. But if you have this community where people are sharing those same challenges, those same failures, sharing how they overcame those failures, I could see that being a successful breeding ground for a larger and larger community. Joel, I want to ask you, you know, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Right? So with executives, you like to look at community management as an investment. How do you measure the performance of a community? 

Joel Primack:  Yeah, I mean, the way that I would honestly do it is tying it back to your goals that we talked about earlier, whether it’s new logos/upsell or cross sell opportunities, product for customer satisfaction/ticket support/deflection. In those cases, I mean, they’re all pretty straightforward in how you measure that. If it’s product usage, you’re likely using something I would imagine like Pendo or Mixpanel, something of that nature, and tying those new features or customer usage generally, towards customer support members of your community who are customers, connecting that to product segment and like market segment revenue that you gained from them, etc., to help kind of identify some of those things. Talk about new logos, versus cross sell/upsell. So, I mean, those are pretty straightforward things within your CRM. As long as you’re able to connect, who’s a member, and who’s a customer. As long as you get that connection right, then you’re pretty much golden on that one. And then the last one, if you’re talking about satisfaction, those will just come through NPS. But then you also may spot a qualitative one of someone posting on Twitter or LinkedIn, as we were talking about at the top of the episode, about how much value they get from being a member of that community, whether it’s incentivized by a leaderboard, and they get rewards for it, or they just did it on a one off thing, because that’s how much it means to them. Both of those are great ways that you can see value. And I think, personally, I’m a big fan of that last one. Because I think what is often talked about, and like kind of missed, is communities are meant to be personal. They’re meant for people to connect with people to connect with people. But if there’s no way to really show that impact, at the high level, I think it’s a little bit of a missed opportunity. Because, while of course, you have to hit business goals, you can also show a few examples. I’m not saying every example, of course, because that would just be wild. But just a few of hey, here’s a screenshot of how challenge… overcame it. And our community was the forum or the space where they did so. Or here are the top five reasons that this user loves our community and they shared on LinkedIn. And here’s the performance of the post. Things of that nature, I think are just really helpful ways to make it human and connect on those levels that are more empathy, and trust and like inspiring, not just on this checks boxes, and this works for our business and we’re hitting goals. Because you need all those things. But you also need to say, are we truly helping our members? And like I said, you’ll see that through strong NPS scores, and do these kind of spotted in the wild moments.

John Tyreman:  Like that, “spotted in the wild moments.” Yeah, the qualitative feedback is always good to hear. And it’s not something that doesn’t necessarily show up on some attribution report. But to your point, there is a need for some sort of analytical setup to help you identify who’s a member who’s not a member. And I love the NPS, the CSAT is two examples of how you can measure that success. I’d imagine customer lifetime value would be another financial metric that you could use. Joel, let me ask you, where do you think the community management space is headed in the next few years? 

Joel Primack:  Okay, I’m going to steal my three buckets that I usually put my treads that I get from guests. So my probably big ones are, there is not just going to be the rise of a community person. It’s really a rise of community teams. So with that, you’re going to have community specific roles, such as community operations, community content people. Platform, I know one company that has a platform team, for their community, larger team. I mean, there’s going to be learning and development tied to community, whether it’s directly around your specific product, or if it’s a community of practice, meaning a community for people in that space, who just want to learn and get better and it’s open to all, then you’re talking about broader learnings and education for them. So I think that that’s going to be a huge rise. I’ll put a caveat to that of there needs to be an amount of standardization, really, and alignment on what a title actually equates to in responsibilities, and therefore pay. Because that’s something that’s very interesting that we’re seeing right now, and that numerous guests recently have shared with me is something that they’ve kind of… it’s a big struggle right now, overall. I’ll just leave it on that. We’re not going to get too far down that one. Beyond that, I think it’ll be really interesting to see the unique ways that people really form those relationships with their members and be creative with their engagement strategies. And then the last one is always going to be, I mean ROI. We’ve spent so much of this conversation talking about ROI, connecting it to goals, things of that nature, I think it’s only going to improve, once you start being able to connect. I mean, I think that a dream scenario, you’re probably going to be able to connect a community platform or multiple community tools into something like Clarity, for example, where it helps you manage your pipeline for sales, marketing, rev ops/sales ops perspective. Imagine being able to put in your community tools and letting that data add a next level, to that other data that you’re collecting across your entire revenue org. But community can kind of influence many things and add delight to other areas. So I really think that technology is going to be a huge accelerator in the community space, whether it’s for goals, new ways to allow for connections, etc. I just think it’s a huge untapped area really, and I say untapped in a way that’s being respectful of our community tools. We’re just super early in it. And I don’t even think we’re really scratching the surface at this point.

John Tyreman:  Well, it seems like the community management community could benefit from getting together and talking about their pay scales and the need for standardization and solving some of those challenges in a safe space. Right?

Joel Primack:  I mean, I think that that could happen. I think that part of it, though, is also I mean, it just ties back to there are different types of communities. So companies are going to call a community to get a different thing. And then you also have the difference of like, call it a community manager, common title. It may mean something at one company, that means something different. And because of those responsibilities, the salary and equity are going to be different depending on if they’re offered. As well as the years of experience coming into those roles is going to be a factor, of course, things of that nature. But I think that the other piece really that isn’t so talked about, really is that community is just so new for recruiters to be talking about and hiring for that they don’t really even know what it means yet. They don’t know the necessary like characteristics that are core for someone to be successful, let alone when you start talking about these more specialized roles of community operations or platform management, or content for the community, things of that nature. I really think that it’s more of a holistic conversation. I would even throw in another level of complexity to this – could be where community sits in an organization. I know communities owned by some companies in marketing. I know one where it’s owned by product. I know where it’s owned by support/success. So I think that there are just so many factors. And also, I’d throw in as a caveat to all of this is, are you calling evangelism of your product as part of the title, but communities are a responsibility of it, too. So I think that there are just so many nuances and caveats, really, to this whole conversation. That is because it’s just booming so fast, that we haven’t really had time to plan and call it what it really should be. And label things correctly. And therefore connect correct titles to correct responsibilities to correct pay.

John Tyreman:  Well, your point’s well taken, the communities mean different things to different businesses, every single business and the market they serve, are unique. That combination is unique. So each of those communities would potentially be unique. So I  see exactly where you’re coming from. And I can see how that might make it complicated in that industry that’s growing so fast. So, Joel, this has been a very interesting conversation. It’s a topic that I don’t know much about but it’s very interesting to me, especially as a user of Twitter and LinkedIn, and being a part of a few different communities. Well, Joel, I know that we’re coming up on our time now and I just want to give folks a chance to connect with you and learn more. If people listening to this podcast want to connect with you, where can they find you?

Joel Primack:  Yeah, so I’m super active on LinkedIn. It’s just my name: Joel Primack. And then on Twitter, I’m 99.99% sure that my handle is @jprimack25. And there should be a nice little lion emoji next my name. So you can find me on either one of those, I believe on Twitter my DMS are open. So reach out, and always happy to connect and chat with you further.

John Tyreman:  Excellent. Thank you, Joel. 

Joel Primack:  Thank you so much, John.