How to mobilise your community during a pandemic

February 28, 2021

Author Matthew Revell

Founder of Hoopy, the developer relations consultancy. Need help with your developer relations? Get in touch.

How can you leverage your community to help when a global crisis hits and everything is thrown upside down?

COVID-19 has had a strong impact around the world and different communities are mobilising and volunteering to help as much as they can – whether through 3D printing of face shields, fundraising money to buy hospital resources, or offering to go grocery shopping for the elderly.

Andreia shares how the OutSystems team worked with their developer community to create apps that would help in the response to COVID-19.

Transcript

Hi everyone, thank you for having me. I’m Andreia Tulcidas, I’m a community engagement manager at OutSystems. And today, I’m going to talk you through how to mobilize your community during a pandemic. Just a little bit of context, OutSystems is a software company that provides and allows the creation of enterprise apps, both mobile and web.

And, also, before we deep dive, just a huge shout out to our design team that created this fantastic branding of our mascot Neo fighting the pandemic. Okay, so, a quick intro on what we’re going to talk about today. When COVID hit globally, three things happened at OutSystems that we took into consideration when we decided to create a response program.

So, customers and partners were reaching out to us to understand what they could do to help, how they could offer their services, their resources, their time to create a better impact to the community and to the society, given the difficult times that we were passing. Our developers, our developer community was also reaching out to the community team, to the advocacy team, just volunteering their time, making sure that they were being able to manage the time that they were doing work, but also volunteering some of their time to help develop apps that could have a positive benefit for these difficult times.

And, also, we had OutSystems employees that were reaching out to colleagues and to managers to figure out what was the best way where we could get together and create a positive force, to what was happening.

So, in two days, our executive leadership team met and we decided to create, what we call, the OutSystems COVID-19 Community Response Program. So, in 2 days, basically night and day, multiple teams got together to create this program, this global program, which the focus was basically to support up to 20 projects.

So, basically we were receiving ideas from the entire ecosystem. Our developer community was reaching out with different and innovative ideas of what could be done to help. And what we were offering, as a company, to support them was free access to our software so these apps could be built, and a dedicated full-time support from our developer advocates that would allow them to access our internal experts.

But, also, provide them the right tools and the right resources so they could be as effective and efficient as possible. So, intro is done, but how exactly do we mobilize the community? There are four main things that we did and that we’re going to go through this presentation, and then we’re going to deep dive on all of them.

So, the first one was we communicated the value. And this cannot be stressed enough. We want to make sure that the value proposition of what we are communicating to the community is very clear and people see the impact and what it means to be a part of that initiative. And, not only is it important to communicate this externally to the community, the people that are actually asking for help, but it’s also essential that internally you get that alignment and communication with all the different teams that are being part of that project.

Additionally, you need to offer the right incentives. So, as a community manager, I’ve seen that, for you to build a bilateral relationship, you need to give in order to receive. So, of course, we’re talking about volunteers and we know that people are doing the best they can with what they have, but offering the right incentives to reward them and recognize them for all their hard work is essential.

Additionally, continuously engage with your community. I normally talk a lot, I’m talking a lot right now, but I feel like it’s not stressed enough that you should always be there, support them, check in on them, and make sure that they know that you’re there for them and supporting them when they really need them.

And, finally, promote, promote, and promote a little more. I’m a huge supporter of the domino effect, and I think that one thing, if it tips over, it can cause so many different things. And I think that word of mouth is real. A powerful tool. So, the more you promote, the more people you’re going to be able to inspire, and the more people you’re going to be able to mobilize to be part of, what we now call, this global movement that is this program.

Okay, so let’s deep dive on all of these four things. In terms of communication, this is not new but this is something that is not stressed enough. Please make sure that you’re aligning with all the different teams in terms of communication. So, we did this program in 2 days. We kicked this off on a Saturday morning, and on a Monday, at 9 00 a.m., it was going live. And there’s nothing you can do on your own that will create a huge impact.

So, what we did was we created this master communications plan where we had representatives from marketing, from customer success, from our channel team, from our community team all working together to make sure that, at the end, when we were going to communicate this, it was going to be a blast and it would create this major impact because everyone was being communicated and reached by the right channels, by the right people, in the right way.

So, in terms of internal communications, just a couple of examples of what we did. We had our CEO send an email to the entire company, so where more than 1,000 people right now, stating the positioning that we were having towards the COVID-19 and what we wanted to do, what were the guidelines for people that wanted to participate and wanted to help. And, basically, to give that extra motivation of, “We can do this as a team and that we can leverage our technology for better.”

Additionally, we had a dedicated communication channel, so, in our case, it was a Slack channel, where we posted multiple daily updates on what we were doing, what the community was doing, and how our internal teams could help participate and collaborate on top of what we were doing. In terms of external communications, probably the most important because this is where you actually get the community’s attention, we also had an email going out from our CEO to all our developer communities.

And, basically, this stated what we were asking, their help. We knew that we could do more. We knew that we could leverage our community. We knew that we had the technology to do it, we just had to have one plus one basically. Additionally, we also had multiple directors and VPs sending out emails to customers and partners to make sure that they were volunteering and they knew exactly what they could do.

Additionally, we were doing daily posts to the community. In this case, we were using the forums to actually communicate with our developers. We would communicate all the different projects that we were selecting, all the different statuses that the projects were going through, so, basically, making sure that they were a part of this program as well.

And, finally, we had an official landing page. So, basically, this was the place that had all the information regarding the program. We wanted to be as clear, as consistent, and as transparent as possible because this was a volunteering ledge program. We just wanted to make sure that everyone, in the community, knew exactly what they could expect from us, and we would know exactly what we were offering to them.

So, when it comes to incentives, again, I cannot stress enough, in a bilateral relationship, you need to give in order to receive. So, we have six incentives that we offered to our developer community. These are just examples, but maybe you’ll get inspired.

One of them was we offered an enterprise-grade OutSystems infrastructure. So, as I was saying, OutSystems is a local platform that basically allows developers to create enterprise-grade web and mobile apps. And, as you can imagine, enterprise infrastructures are not available to a developer just like that.

So, this was extremely valuable to our groups and our teams, and this was definitely a huge incentive for them to participate. Additionally, we had support from our developer advocates. So, our developer advocacy team, in my eyes and in the eyes of a lot of people in the community, are the smartest most expert people that we have in the company. Not only do they know I think anything and everything about the platform and the product but they know everyone internally.

So, they know the stakeholders, they know who the experts are. So, not only were they giving technical support to our teams, they were also making the bridges between the projects and the internal experts. Additionally, visibility in the ecosystem was clearly a big one. We had developers from partners and customers participating in this.

And as a growing company that we are and a leader in low-code, a lot of entities wanted to be a part of this project because of the notoriety that would come out of it. Business synergies is also a big one. So, because we were very tightly aligned with our internal teams, there were lots of meetings where we would look at all the different customers and all of our network that we could basically bridge between the projects that were happening to the context that we have to basically scale the projects even more.

So, if we had something happening in the health industry, we would already have customers in that area where we could help make that bridge and possibly extend the project and enlarge the impact. External collaboration was also a great one and sort of an unexpected one. So, we had multiple technology partners wanting to be a part of this project and basically collaborating with us.

And that added extra value to the projects and, potentially, opened the door to strategic opportunities that our teams weren’t looking at. And, finally, again, I’ve said it a couple of times now, a lot of promotion. So, most of the teams that worked with us had blog posts, social media. Some even appeared on TV, some even appeared on radio.

So, they were around. Regarding engagement. We were always in constant communication with these community members, not only were they taking the time outside of their work, outside of their family time to be with us, we wanted to make sure that we checked in and that we were there to give them the support they needed.

So, we created a workspace, a dedicated communication channel where they could talk, not only to us, but amongst themselves. We did daily syncs, calls with the teams. We had weekly updates on the channels. And we, at a point, decided to do monthly councils, which are the pictures that you’re looking at, where we basically got together community members of all the different regions and just talked about the different projects that they were working on, figuring out how we could help each other and, basically, getting to know each other.

Right? We were all stuck at home, and there’s so much talking you can do to a wall or to your computer that this was a good thing. And, for those that wanted to participate but either didn’t have the time or even didn’t have the resources, our fantastic design and marketing teams created this coloring book. So, what you see is Neo, our mascot, fighting the coronavirus.

And, basically, we were just trying to get the community to rally up together and help as much as they could. And right now we have the coloring book translated into 16 languages. So, feel free to go to the link that I put on the slide and check it out. It’s really cool.

And last but not least, promote, promote, and promote. We did social media posts for every project. We created a dedicated blog post where we covered the story of how everything began. We did press releases for projects and we, additionally, highlighted them at events. In this case, it was an OutSystems user group for developers.

And all of this to tell you that the results were incredible. We had 19 projects selected and, out of those 19, 13 apps are already live. And take into consideration that all of this happened mid-March. So, to have 13 live apps is insane, but also being able to already see the positive impact that it’s having literally around the world is very heartwarming and…

Yeah. So, we have 324 ideas submitted. We have 168 people in total collaborating for these teams. Nine technology partners proactively collaborated with us to contribute with extra value to the projects. And the reach was just insane.

We got 40,000 total page views on everything regarding the OutSystems COVID-19 Community Response Program. So, before I end, there are five big learnings that I wanted to share with you. The first one is basically over communicate. Never forget that showing the real value of what you’re offering and making sure that people understand why they’re associating themselves to, the impact that it’s going to have, and the power, the empowerment that you’re giving these people being a part of this global movement is great.

So, make sure that you’re getting it out there. Set a hard criteria on how you can help and what you’re expecting to get back. So, this second major learning is because we were driving a volunteer-based program. And there’s so much our volunteers could do, at the time, and there’s so much we, as a company, could’ve done at the time.

And, as we’re all still living in very difficult times, we’re all adapting ourselves, but always make sure to keep yourself consistent, transparent, and be as crystal clear as you can. The third one is to be really present. So, as we had so many teams, as we’re all remote, as we’re all trying to figure out a way to be as present as we can, never forget to check in.

Even if it’s just to say hi, even if it’s just to make sure that people know you’re there for them. Fourth, one size does not fit all. So, I’m a big fan of scaling, you can ask anyone that knows me, and that is part of my team. But there are some things that just don’t work if you scale, and especially this strategy and this program were not made for scale.

But it’s okay, and this leads me to my final major learning. It’s okay to fail. Don’t be afraid to fail. Honestly, I’m a big perfectionist and I’m always scared to fail. But if you fail, don’t forget to quickly get up and make sure that you rally back up again. And that’s it.

Thank you so much for your time.