Published: Thursday 23rd of April 2015

AlexDaoHeadShotAlex Dao is one of those born community builders, always looking for ways to bring people together. Hailing from Canada (first Guelph, Ontario and then Montreal), she spent time building community professionally for Canada’s largest health and wellness store and then at Wajam and Hopstop.com. But she didn’t stop there. She also organized the Montreal Girl Geeks meetup and numerous usability events around the city. Everyone agrees: Alex was a fixture in the Montreal startup community, always going the extra mile to help wherever she could.

She now brings that attitude into her work at Vimeo in New York, a company that puts community front and center in their work.

In her free time, she has also co-created WeSupport NYC in order to connect community builders in New York’s startup scene.

When she first started, Vimeo had just about 50 employees and the community team had grown to 10 (According to Alex, “community has always been the second largest team at Vimeo. There wasn’t even a marketing department when I started.”). Over the last three years, Alex has worked her way into the Senior Manager of Community Development role while the community has expanded to include new apprentices, community managers, and offsite community contractors.

“Community has always been a big part of Vimeo from day one.” says Alex, but they’ve had to evolve their approach to how that team works. Over time, their processes for coordinating product feedback and community support have had to change — for the better. “Now that we’re a company of 175 people, we’ve had to implement more process behind how we document our feedback.”

At CMX Summit, Alex will walk us through the way Vimeo evolved their product-community connection as the business scaled over time.

Today, we’ll give you a glimpse at some of her key takeaways as her team has worked to scale the product feedback cycle.

1. Start small.

At fast-growing startups, product feedback can quickly get out of hand. But it’s important that you start somewhere.

“In the early days of Vimeo, people were sitting next to each other and user feedback organically made its way to the product team. Our head of product was participating in our feature request forums hearing from users firsthand,” says Alex. While it may not be scalable, the early days are the best time to start with everyone in the trenches and build out from there. Is someone on your team woefully out of the loop on how your customers feel? Bring them in.

In these early days, this informal process worked well: everyone felt involved in the process and everyone felt that they had a grasp on what their users wanted.

But that can only work for so long. As the company grew, so did the separation between the people making decisions about the product and people using it. Things were getting lost in the shuffle. The community team stepped up to fill in this gap.

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2. Specialize, specialize, specialize.

The first thing that the Vimeo team did to get more organized around product feedback was move people into specialized areas, so they could really own their own sections of the product.

“People have moved into specializations, so we know who the go-to is for each feedback area. Before, it was distributed and whoever received the feedback was responsible for updating the feature requests documents we use to keep track of product feedback.” This got incredibly messy and no one knew who was responsible for what. In these situations, the product suffers. You have to take a step back and let people own their own domains.

So how did they split things up?

“We let people choose their top two or three choices and then we considered the support volume and tried to balance that against any other projects they were working on.” From there on out, the community team members grew into experts on certain areas of the product and became indispensable to the product team.

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3. Give your community team authority to own product feedback.

Of course, just giving specializations does nothing without also giving authority to communicate what changes need to be made to the product team.

“Having people own documents and become the authority on that product changed everything,” Alex says.

“Part of what’s been helpful for us in specializing our team is that we can now say, if you have a question about a certain specialty, there’s someone on our team who you can talk to. That way, when product has a question about what people want we have all the information organized along with a list of users who have requested a specific feature. If we want to do a deep dive or get early feedback on a new feature, we can follow up with them.

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4. Create a two-way relationship between product and community

The communication between product and community should flow both ways.

At Vimeo, communication between product and community begins when new features are in development: “During the discovery part of a new feature, they’ll loop us in early on so we can share our feedback and act as a gut check.”

Once a product is launched, community’s job is to make sure the top pain points and feature requests are clearly understood and reiterated regularly.

“We have a report that we send out monthly to make sure that our product department is aware of the feedback we’re getting.”

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5. Talk to people outside your organization.

Even though it’s outward facing, co-managing We Support NYC is actually a part of Alex’s job at Vimeo.

“It’s run by myself, Tracey Churray at Foursquare, Roxanne Schwartz at Behance, and Nathan Gould at BAM, and we started it to keep learning from others outside our companies and share best practices.”

As with most things, learning new skills and tools is best done in community. It’s important to step outside of your own bubble of experience when you begin to scale processes — ask others what they are doing. You’ll likely come up with some out-of-the-box solutions.

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6. Look to other managers for support.

Again, mentorship and support is absolutely crucial when facing the challenge of scaling. Ask for help.

“Moving into a management role is an adjustment, but our team is structured such that there are multiple managers who each have a few people who report to them, so there’s always someone I can talk to.”

Whether you need to look within your organization or outside of it, find someone in your peer group to ask for advice if this is your first time managing a process or employees. CMX’s Facebook group is a great place to start.

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7. Give people time to just enjoy the community.

Don’t lost sight of why you’re doing the work you do. As you scale, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle of the everyday work. Give people permission to go back to their roots in the community.

“We structure our team so 80% of their time is spent on support and 20% is community engagement. That 20% time is flexible. Some days you might just watch videos and some days you might write a Weekend Challenge to encourage Vimeo members to create videos.”

“We’ve found that giving people time for community engagement and special projects helps with burnout. We hire directly from our Community and we look for people who are already engaging with the community, commenting on videos, and curating their own channels. That’s the expertise that they bring coming into the role so we want to encourage them to keep engaging with the site, which helps to keep our team close to the community and the product.”

This helps Vimeo with hiring too. Over 60% of their community team started out as active Vimeo members.

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8. Always offer examples.

“Any time you’re asking your team members to start documenting something new, having example docs is helpful. It takes the guesswork out of it and ensures that as a team we’re tracking things consistently.”

Especially if you’re in a management role, creating processes and templates is key to delegating tasks. To create these examples, you may need to set aside some time in your day. But the work will pay off immensely if you’re able to provide a working model for others to follow.

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9. Ask the product team what they want.

This may seem obvious, but “if you’re not sure where to start, ask your product team what kind of information they want to receive, and how often,” suggests Alex.

Usually they’ll want a combination of quantitative information (eg., how many people requested this) and qualitative insight (eg., choice quotes from users that help elucidate the use case).

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10. Keep your team members on the same page.

Even though the specialties are distributed across the team, every member of your support and community team should understand and remain up-to-date on the issues across the platform.

Vimeo uses weekly meetings, group chat, and team email threads to keep everyone up to date on major bugs and product updates. They also have each specialist present to the whole team once or twice a year to make sure everyone is aware of the latest trends in community feedback.

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Don’t miss Alex’s full talk at CMX Summit, where she’ll walk you through exactly how Vimeo scaled their community-product relationship in order to strengthen the company. Get your ticket to CMX Summit today!

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.