Don’t ship your community without C.A.R.G.O.


Adrian Speyer speaking at DevRelCon London 2019

In this talk from DevRelCon London 2019, Vanilla Forums’ Adrian Speyer sets out a framework for success for anyone looking to create a community.


Adrian: So let me just tell you a little bit about C.A.R.G.O before I get going. Basically what happened, I was thinking, is there a way we could put something together, and get it all together in an easy framework, that we could think about my experience doing community, and of course I work at Vanilla Forums which, to talk about that briefly, is the fact that we have many communities that we deal with. I feel so blessed by the fact that if you think about it, you guys have one or maybe two, or several communities. We’ve got over 500 communities, and more.

We’ve distilled all kinds of ideas, and looked at different things, and that’s how C.A.R.G.O was born, because it was an idea of, what were the communities that were most successful doing, and what were the things that they were forgetting to do, or causing problems that were leading to failure? What I wanted to share with you is the framework that we came up with that all our customers use, and we’re gonna share it with you guys for free out there, because I really believe it’s something that everyone could use, and hopefully, it’s something that you find helpful as well. So, the agenda for today, I’m gonna talk about failure and success. I’m gonna talk about community reflection. I’m gonna talk about the MVP principle. And then finally, we’re gonna talk about the C.A.R.G.O framework.

First off, let’s talk about failure and success. Unfortunately, we’re gonna start with failure. Anyone recognize anything here on that list that’s happened to you, ever? Yeah, so I mean, obviously, as you know, working at a forum platform company that works with a lot of communities, these are all kinds of reasons that we run into. It’s unfortunate, it does happen, but I’m hoping today I’m gonna give you a way that can help that can help you avoid those kinds of problems.

To start off in a basic way, I wanted to think about the three things that require you to be successful, the trinity of success. So first off I think, and I believe, and hopefully you all agree, that planning is really important. To create a community without a plan, is gonna lead you into a little bit of trouble. But the plan is not enough. You can have great plans, but you also need investment, and I think everyone here agrees on that too. When I mean investment, I don’t only mean about software. Certainly, that’s great because when you guys buy software, mine or others, Salesforce or whomever, it’s great for us. But I’m also talking about the people and where we’ve seen success, where people that have been successful, is where companies believe in community and they invest in it. That investment, certainly, is really important to be successful. And finally, and the thing that I think most people realize, but don’t think about or plan, is impact. And what I mean by impact, I mean truly having an impact on your organization in a positive way. We’re gonna get a bit into that, in the way that we approach that. You’ve got planning, you’ve got investing, and certainly you have impact.

Let’s first take a step back, and I’m just curious here, how many of you do surveys of your community? Okay, good number. It’s really important to kind of have an idea about your community, but this is a bit more. This is also about a survey of the landscape to which your community rests in. I think these are some questions that people don’t always think about. Certainly thinking about the challenges and concerns that your target audience have. What are the things that keep them up late at night that they’re concerned about, and hopefully your community can solve? Do you guys have personas? What’s interesting with personas is this. I don’t know if you know this, but most organizations have personas. It’s usually the sales team or marketing team that has them, and I really encourage you to go out and get it from them, and then lay on your community persona on top of it. That’ll help you as well later on where you’re creating your content for your community to make sure that you’re touching all the different personas. Certainly, someone that who’s newer in the community might not need startup stuff, but if you forget them then they won’t feel as welcome, and if all you’re doing is targeting people who are senior buyers, or people that are much more experienced, you’re gonna leave behind other people.

It’s really important to think about those different personas, and they’re there. I guarantee you if you’re working at a company, they’ve got personas because they’ve got a mandate to sell products, and someone, somewhere knows, these are the people that we’re targeting, and you want to overlay how that particular target would be connecting with your community. That way it’s very helpful, and you’re showing value to the company as well. Another thing that’s good is technologies, and obviously this is a dev rel conference, so I define technologies a bit differently here. What I mean by that are the technologies in the sense of are you using a marketing automation software? Are you using an email marketing software? Which software are you using? Who owns that software? The reason I say that is there’s a lot of times that there’s really great tools within your organization that can help you do your job better, and people, believe it or not, are usually very helpful if you reach out and ask, “Hey, I want to connect to the people in the community.”

One thing we’ve seen very successful is people connect with their marketing automation tools. The reason that’s really great is, if you’re doing your community outreach and email separately, without connecting with your marketing team, you’re gonna be just bombarding people’s inboxes. Whereas if you kind of engage with your marketing team, you kind of have a better flow in the sense of not sending 16 emails all in one day, and basically getting the customer newsletter, or community newsletter in a way that’s fair to everyone and not causing a spam overload. No one wants to do that to anyone, and then, who are the key people within your organization, and when I say key people, I mean the people that will be “Hey, so this community thing, what are you up to? “Does it bring value to our company?”. Identifying those peoples is really important, and some of you have already. For some of you this is easy stuff that you’re already doing, and for some of you this is new, but sometimes the most common sense you have to say because it’s important that it be said, and finally, is why communities should matter to them.

Hopefully, when we’re talking about impact, you’re thinking about, okay, so this is the person that’s important, and this is why this community matters to them. We’re gonna get into that in a moment why that’s so important. It actually brings together something I call the MVP Principle. I know a lot of people in this room will think of MVP and think of Minimal Viable Product, and while great, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m going old school to our favorite term, Most Valuable People. People. And I know you all agree with this. I’m not telling you something that you don’t know. Community is about people, and the thing that I find that happens, and I’m guilty, I’m first to admit it. Sometimes you start talking about users or members, and you have to kinda step away from that. You have to start thinking about – there’s Jane, who might want to be in your community, but she can also be watching Netflix, and gotta get her kids from daycare, and things of this nature, and when you’re building your community, thinking about that as well. Going back to those personas and thinking about that, it’s really important. I think people don’t do it enough and when you start to desensitize yourself from the fact that there are humans that are actually engaging with your community, or rather, when you start thinking about it, it’ll change the way that you go about building it.

The other thing is you want to know the people who need to support it internally and externally. They’re gonna be your most valuable people internally. Those are the people I was telling you about. The key decision-makers, the stakeholders, those are the people that you want to know about, but you also need to know about the people that you want to attract. What are you gonna create in your community, that’s gonna make it so attractive, that people want to come, and join, and be part of it? In truth, I really believe that balance of community management is finding a way to find some common ground. First we’re just gonna talk quickly about your internal MVPs. At the end of day your community success should assist departmental success, and making it impactful. Choosing KPIs that actually, I know it’s difficult, but you know having that conversation.

The number one thing, I can promise you, we will get sometimes as a call, where someone will say, can you help me because my boss has just said, “Why do we have this community, and can you prove value?” And the hope with C.A.R.G.O that I’m gonna get into, is that you’re gonna have that conversation before it happens, because the way I look at it is, would you rather kind of set the terms of how you’re measuring your community, as opposed to having it forced upon you, or rapidly trying to figure it out. As difficult as the conversation is to have, it’s so much easier to have a beforehand, than having it after, and trying to figure things out. And that doesn’t mean that whatever you agree upon can’t change or iterate, but at least you’re having that conversation, and involving them. That’s really the key as well, is that you’re having those conversations on a regular basis. We shouldn’t be as scared of having those conversations and letting people know the great work that we’re doing in community.

It’s funny, ’cause sometimes I find community people are the best people in the world, but they’re so shy about stepping up and telling people about the great work that they’re doing, and the great things that are happening in their community, and the value that they’re bringing to the company. It’s so important, because you don’t want to wait to the point that someone’s saying to you, prove why you’re here and why we’re paying you a salary, as opposed to doing it all year round, and showing them the great stuff that you’ve been building. And then, of course, it wouldn’t matter if you’re keeping your internal people happy, if you have no one coming to your community, and that’s where that balancing act becomes a bit difficult, because the thing is, you need to think about why would people visit the community? Because if all your things are thinking is leads, or subscribers, or API activations, and things of this nature, and you’re not thinking of actually, well what’s in it for them, essentially? Why do they even want to join? You’re gonna have a problem, and that’s the balancing act that I think that one has to do.

I know it’s a little dirty, but it ends up being all about language. So yes, you can be talking about leads, but obviously you’re not gonna tell your community, hey I want you to join so we get more leads, ’cause that’s really just, a really quick way to make sure that no one wants to join your community. But if you’re saying, hey I want you to share your experience, or I want you to have a place where your voice can be heard, or you know what, we know that we need to make a better product, so this is an opportunity for you to have a dialogue with us. Internally, you can sell it however you want, but externally and internally, it’s gonna be the same thing, just presented differently. I think that’s something that’s really important that we don’t always do, but it’s something that’s important to be done.

That brings us to the C.A.R.G.O Framework. I thought about it a lot and we started working with our customers on this. We found really great success, because we kind of took, nothing I’m gonna say to you is gonna blow your mind from that point of view. I think you’re all gonna agree with what these five letters stand for, but at the end of the day, these are the things we need to think about as community builders, and not only does it matter in terms of communities that we’re building, but even the communities we have today, where we can run into things and say, hey, you know what, this might need a tweak or something. So without further ado, this is C.A.R.G.O.

These are the five things that we found when people think about it, and they really consider it, that they will be successful. And every time that we’ve looked at a plan, or anyone that’s kind of not thought about one of these things this is usually where that, something weird will end up happening. We’re gonna go through each one, and talk a bit about it quickly.

Concept. It’s essentially the elevator pitch of your community, and the thing is I look at each C.A.R.G.O plan, is a very short plan. It’s not meant to be a novel. It’s meant to be something simple that fits on one sheet, but I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you have a Developer Community. You shouldn’t use the same C.A.R.G.O plan for your Developer Community as you would for customer support. It doesn’t make sense. They’re two different types of people, but sometimes people make the mistake of thinking the concept, and well just everybody will come into the pool. Well, that’s not gonna work I can tell you, and we’ve had people that have gone too broad, you know what, this is wrong. I’m trying to tackle all those sales people, but then they say you know what, maybe inside sales is who we want to target. So having that concept is really important. My favorite examples is one that’ll stick in your head, hopefully, is I think of Crest. Now, if Crest was to have a community about toothpaste, I don’t know about you, but that’d be the world’s worst community. I don’t know anyone that would want to be talking about toothpaste. However, I think if they were to have a community about dental health, there’d be tons of people. Everyone’s always like, oh my tooth hurts. I don’t know, should I go see a dentist, and if Crest was kind of running that, I’m sure there would be a lot of activity in that.

What we’ve seen sometimes is when we sit down with a customer .and we ask them what their concept is, if they end up writing us a paragraph, they’ve got a problem. It should be so succinct that from the elevator here to the fifth floor, to the ground floor, you should be able to tell me what your community is about, and if you can’t, then maybe you gotta sharpen your concept of your community, and you’ll see a lot more success in having that clarity of thought, at least for that C.A.R.G.O plan. Like I said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have different ones, it’s just you want to have a separate one for each one, so that you have a very clear thought about how you’re going about it.

Next is Acquisition. So this is a fun one. How are you gonna get people to come and find out about your community? It’s funny, you’d be amazed at how many times I’ll go look at a customer site, or someone’s site, and they hide their community. It’s hard to find. It’s almost hidden at the bottom of the footer. They put it under customer support, but it’s not even there, or contact us, and you can’t find it. Well, if no one can find your community, that’s gonna be a really big problem. Sometimes we don’t even think about that, but there are even small little things too.

There was an example of a customer. They were with us a bit, and they’re still with us, but we went through this C.A.R.G.O process, and we realized, unfortunately, they had a real big acquisition problem. So what ended up happening was, they were spending all this money on Facebook and Twitter ads, engaging their audience, and they were clicking and coming to the community, but they weren’t engaging. It’s kind of strange. All these people were coming, so we’re like, okay, what’s going on? So we went to go look through the process. Okay, let’s see what happens when you join. So what happened, you click on one of their ads, go to their community, sign up, create the account, and somewhere, somewhere along the line, someone decided it would be a great idea to send them to a purchase page to buy software, and once you fill into your free trial, what have you, it took you right to the website homepage. You never actually got to the community. So they had wasted all this money on Facebook and Twitter, and they had this leaky bucket, and going through this actually caught it right away, because, how are you acquiring people?

Oh, so you know I recommend that you go through that and take a look at what is the new experience every once a while, spot check every quarter. What is the experience like for someone who’s brand new? Are the welcome email still relevant? Are the workflows that we’re doing, are they getting the proper content? You’d be amazed, things happen. Sometimes departments don’t talk. You thought there was an automated email, it doesn’t go out anymore, or it’s out of date. Maybe you’re wishing someone Happy New Year 2016, and someone forgot to update it. It happens, sadly, and keep testing.

Then the next thing is Retention. Everyone loves retention. Of course, because that’s the hardest thing. People come, but how do you get them to come back. So a lot of our customers what they’ll do is, they’ll think about a content program where they’re creating content that is a reason for somebody to come back. What they’ll do is maybe, I can apply to the Developer Concept, but they’ll do an Artist of the Month, where someone has an opportunity to showcase what they’re working on. So, it’s a great opportunity.

People want to be that person that gets that opportunity, and I’m gonna give a hat tip to Richard Millington on something that he talks about, which is emotions. He talks about three emotions, which I think are really important when you’re thinking of retention. So he talks about excitement, he talks about fear, and he talks about frustration, and I think solving for those three is a really great way to make sure that you have retention. So in terms of excitement, that’s about inspiration. So looking at a way that you can inspire people. Train at a place where they can be inspired by great projects, great ideas. The second thing that you can think about, in terms of fear, would be validation. So if you’re working alone, if you’re in a company by yourself, or a small team, having a place where you can work out loud, or share ideas and get feedback from people. That’s a great opportunity to create a place where people want to come and regularly check in, and have a space for that. And finally, frustration. Well, things don’t work out, and you want resolution. So support in that sense, a place where people can ask questions and get resolution to their problems. So those three emotions are just an idea of something that you can think about in the way that you’re building, and consider that.

Finally, not finally but the G is Goals. So quickly, goals are, what is the main point of the fact that your community created? So you know, that’s KPIs, or OKRs, or however that you define it, but what I would tell you, or what I would recommend, is that you think of one per internal MVP. Don’t try to make it complicated that you’ve got hundreds of different things. Think of that one thing per manager. So, for support, it’s take a deflection, or if it’s you know product management has ideas. It’s something clear and simple that you can report on, and if it’s not working, iterate. The beauty is if you start the conversation before it’s imposed on you, or forced, you’ll have the opportunity to make sure that it’s something that you can be successful with your community, and that’s the whole point. It’s not to go and put yourself up for failure. It’s to think of the goals that you can achieve and work together to have impact for the company. And don’t have an endless list. You want to make sure that it’s very simple, and easy to understand, and that you’re not forced into a KPI. I don’t know about you, but that’s the worst case scenario that you get that phone call, and I want you to measure Likes on Facebook. It’s the worst thing ever. It doesn’t mean anything. There’s no value. But if you’re able to go for it, hey, you know what, API activations or whatever your decision is, whatever that matters, that’s anything.

Now, finally we come to Outcomes. So a lot of people sometimes get confused in C.A.R.G.O. They say goals, outcome, seems similar. Okay, I have to apologize, I’m Canadian. I’m gonna give you an analogy. It just works for me and it makes it really simple. So, this is the way I look at it. So let’s say your goal is to make the playoffs in hockey. Every team wants to make the playoffs, but the outcome is to win the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup being the trophy in hockey. And the point is that your outcome is that vision, but a measurable vision of what you want to see for your community, and using that as your guiding light, your North Star, and then, making sure that your goals are on track all the way to achieve that, and that you can make adjustments as needed. I think it’s really great, if you say for example, my organization I want to make sure that 20% of all tickets are deflected, as a year-end goal, and then your goal as an outcome, but your goal every quarter is a percentage towards that, so you’re taking it in small bites, and moving it. I think that, that heads towards success, in a very great way. Hopefully, that helps you in terms of keeping yourself all the way through. So, to bring it all together, ’cause everyone is all about Twitter and Facebook, and all that jazz.

Here’s one slide that has basically the key words, and the key question that you need to be thinking about, so hopefully it makes it easier that you have it, you’re not leaving, having to me the whole time, and you could tweet it out, or share it if you like. So essentially, what’s the Concept? What’s the subject community about? You know, the elevator pitch. The Acquisition, how will you get them to care? Retention, how you gonna get them to come back and continue caring about that. Goals, what are you measuring for impact? I mean, everyone calls it differently. Maybe, Richard Millington calls it the indispensable community. But at the end of the day, we’re all saying the same thing, is that for us to move forward as an industry, we have to think about how we’re having an impact on our organizations. And then, of course, Outcomes. What does the long-term success look like, and how are we gonna make sure that happens?

In summary, start off with gathering your info. Go out there, if you’re not doing the surveys, a lot of you are doing surveys, so that’s great. Hopefully, you continue doing that, but also gain those personas. Talking to those marketing people, find out the people that are important in your company. Learning about all the different tools that you can use, your marketing automation, other other tools to help you be successful, and then balancing those internal and external. I know it’s hard, and I’m here. We have a booth. If you happen to have a challenge, I’m happy to chat with you about it, but it is doable. People do it, and it might be that you’re already doing it anyways, it’s just maybe a matter of wording. You know, your community is there. They’re there for a reason. They can help you support you towards your goals, and then finally, it’s a clear and simple plan. C.A.R.G.O is not meant to be a huge novel. It’s not meant to be pages and pages. It’s something that your executive can look at and be like, okay, this is why we bought this community. This is why this person works here, and then it’s something that you can use this as a guiding for yourself and what you’re planning to do. So with that, thank you very much for your time everyone. I really appreciate it. If you’d like, you can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. I’m pretty easy to find. Thank you all so much for listening to me. I know it’s late in the afternoon, and have a good day everyone.

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