I’ve been thinking about building online and offline communities for the past few years. Community is at the center of what I do, from planning in-person events (rap cyphers, book clubs, happy hours) to creating online and scalable communities (rapt.fm, Product Hunt).
As Product Hunt’s first hire, I work with our founder Ryan Hoover on community, marketing, business development, and all the other random things that people at early-stage startups do.
Product Hunt’s core is its community. It’s our lifeblood. We rely on our core users to submit, curate, and comment on great products. The users who submit products, in turn, get value out of other users who give constructive product feedback. This feedback comes from investors, journalists, and early adopters, so founders have the chance to hear how the whole tech scene perceives their product.
Without an intelligent, involved group of core product enthusiasts, we would just be an empty forum.
Building in Public
We’ve been able to bring on these enthusiasts by doing what we call Building in Public.
Ryan Hoover wrote about the #BuildInPublic philosophy a few months back, highlighting the three benefits of building alongside your community.
We’ve really taken the #BuildInPublic philosophy seriously in order to strengthen our own product. From design mockups to community principles to spreading the word, we’ve involved our community in the building of our product every step of the way. A few actions users have taken for us include:
- Critiquing our design and functionality
- Curating who else should be in the community
- Hosting live events
- Writing blog posts that include Product Hunt, and many many more.
So how do we get our community to participate: to give back and to help us build a better product together?
Here are some of the tools we use at Product Hunt to involve our community as we #BuildInPublic.
The Product Hunt Community Toolbox
Free for 1 project, then pricing starts at $15/month
We put up initial designs using Invision, and we ask the community to give their feedback. The first time we tried this, we received almost 250 pieces of feedback. Not only does this make our overall design better, it also makes our community more invested in us and our product, and more likely to remain loyal users.
Free trial, then $15/month and up
We get hundreds of daily emails and we respond to all of them. Olark is a chat service that allows users to message you live or, in our case, send us emails to let us know about messages. These emails range anywhere from:
- Product recommendations
- Complaints and technical issues
- Fans showing support
We take every opportunity to transform a lost user into a loyal fan. They appreciate when we respond right away and we work to build a relationship from there. We might shout them out on Twitter or invite them to our next Happy Hour. These people want to be answered, so we answer them.
We’re basically on Tweetdeck all day long, responding to Twitter conversations, favoriting Product Hunt mentions, and sharing content and posts about us. If you look at Ryan Hoover’s Twitter feed, you would swear there are three people managing it. Point blank: business gets done on Twitter (especially for us, since we integrated with Twitter). It’s important that we respond quickly.
Free 30-day trial, then $49/month and up
We use Intercom for a few purposes.
- Welcoming influential users. Anytime we have interesting users that we want to engage more with the platform, we welcome them into the community.
- Seeing where concentrations of power users are and hosting happy hours in their area.
- Reaching out to the top 10 product builders every day, congratulating them on their feature and asking them to share stats. They are often so grateful for the exposure that they are eager to befriend us and help in anyway they can.
We host in-person brunches of about 20-25 guests, organized using Splash. When people pay upfront and know that it’s an “invite-only” event, they’re more likely to commit and come ready to meet awesome people.
This is such an amazing format of meeting people that it deserves its own category. (Note: I’m hosting two brunches this weekend.) Curated brunches of 20-25 interesting people — especially when they don’t know each other — takes two hours of your weekend, but gives you 20 new friends.
More so than a party or any other event, a brunch allows you to get to know lots of people quickly. You could spend five minutes talking to someone, but somehow you’ll feel like you’ve known that person for a long time. Also, a brunch enables you to meet people you’ve always wanted to meet, especially those who are too busy to meet one-on-one but can’t pass up the opportunity to befriend 20 new people.
We send hundreds of emails a day, and we couldn’t do it without Streak’s shortcuts. Many of the questions we receive have automated answers, or many of the requests we send out (to be invited to brunch, for instance!) have the same copy, but instead of copying and pasting, Shortcuts allows you to recreate the whole e-mail by just clicking one button (these are called “Snippets”).
Two Important Concluding Notes on Community Tools
You can have all the tools in the world, but building a community takes time, care, and authentic and consistent communication. We talk a lot internally about delighting users – giving them a great experience that keeps them coming back, sharing content, and overall relating to us on a personal level. That’s what we are: people. We’re not some media conglomerate. We’re just a few people running a community.
We’re not only looking to build fans; we’re looking to build friends. When talking to our users, we give them support, thoughtful feedback, and we tell them we’d like to hang out when we’re in their city. We treat them as friends we’re going to have for a long time. That way, their success is our success, and our success is theirs.