The Atlassian Community is one of the best-known SaaS communities in the world.

It’s been named a top community by CMX, FeverBee and more. It’s also an invaluable resource for Atlassian’s users, and a robust source of conversation, insights and product support. In fact, the online Atlassian Community gets more organic traffic per month than any other Atlassian property. 

At CMX’s 2020 Community Industry Awards, the Atlassian Community took home the prize for Community of the Year. Now that the dust has (finally) settled on 2020, we sat down with Stephanie Grice, head of the Atlassian global community, to look back at Atlassian’s key successes and takeaways from 2020.

The Atlassian Community is made up of an online community built on Khoros, a community events program hosted on Bevy, and a social care team. In 2019, Atlassian merged its events program and online community into one cohesive community — leading to its current tagline, “Connect globally, meet locally.”

What makes the Atlassian Community great?

The Atlassian Community is a great example of a cohesive community where online forums and community events work together strategically. Both programs are scaled and effective, but they also add up to a powerful overall community.

Stephanie also credits the Atlassian Community’s success to the company’s investment. The Atlassian Community team includes a product team of eight and ten support engineers, in addition to fifteen community team members. “If you don’t invest in things. you can’t expect them to do well,” she says. “The reason that we’re successful now is because we put our money where our mouth is, and there’s actually an investment being made by the company.”

Below, we’ll dig into how the Atlassian Community structures its goals and how they adapted during COVID. But first, Stephanie shared her top tips for other communities:

  • Focus on the business impact. “Your CMO probably won’t know how to make sense of a number like contributor rate; but if you show how community traffic compares to other properties, particularly properties with higher investment, it’s a much more compelling story,” says Stephanie. Frame your data around the right KPIs to the right people is key to bringing community into more conversations within the company — conversations that community leads should push to be part of.
  • Hire an analyst. A community analyst is key to calculating community’s impact on company objectives, which is needed to make the case for more resources and scope. But “it’s not just a wasted one-time effort to create a cool clickbait stat to get you more resources,” Stephanie says. “A strong analyst will encourage you to track and measure the right things, and will inform your roadmap decisions with helpful data.”
  • Work with what you have. “If you have people in their free time answering other customer’s questions for you, you have a brand community,” Stephanie says. For companies looking to build a community or take a fledgling community to the next level, start with the people already there and ask what they want to see next. Don’t feel as though you have to recruit new advocates externally.

Key Takeaways from the Atlassian Community in 2020

Atlassian’s biggest challenges in 2020 probably resonate with other community managers. The community had to adapt its events strategy to COVID-19 and find new ways to reward its Community Leaders, all while staying on top of the programs and priorities that matter to the company and seeking to expand its impact.

A virtual Atlassian Community Event in Tokyo

Read on for three highlights of the year from the Atlassian Community team!

Mapping core pillars to current company priorities

The Atlassian Community’s three-year vision is built around three core pillars: Customer success, open collaboration, and brand champions.

Let’s break each of those down.

The customer success pillar goes beyond technical support to actively create a better, more delightful learning experience for customers, leading to more satisfied customers and more product uptake. For example, new Atlassian product users are onboarded through the community — meaning, they’re introduced to the community early and directed towards forums for beginners. New Atlassian product users who visit the community in their first two weeks are two to three times less likely to churn. 

The open company pillar works to open a line of communication between users and product teams. With hundred of product managers across 15+ product offerings, Atlassian faces unique challenges collecting and responding to product feedback at scale. The Atlassian Community not only offers meaningful insights about common user pain points, but also provides a scalable way for product teams to interact directly with their users in a one-to-many model. As one example, they now run early access feedback programs through community groups for all new features and product innovations.

“It’s not as easy or efficient for PMs to just browse discussions, because there’s so much content,” says Stephanie. Developing feedback programs helps product managers get faster, cheaper and more authentic feedback. It’s also a unique value add for members: “You can join a LinkedIn group for JIRA admins, but it doesn’t have PMs there virtually answering your questions, hearing your feedback, and responding to it.”

The brand champions pillar focuses on identifying Atlassian’s Community Leaders and boosting their sense of meaning in the Atlassian world. In addition to Community Leaders, the company also recognizes Rising Stars, or pre-leaders who are ready to get more involved.

“Each year we look at the company’s goals and map them to those three pillars of our three-year strategy. This is working really well in making sure that we stay balanced and not over-oriented towards serving the company’s needs, or over-oriented to just serving customer needs without caring about the optics or internal awareness.”

Case study: The Atlassian Cloud

As announced last October, Atlassian is making a push into the cloud. The company ended the sale and support of the Server versions of its products and began to migrate customers over to the cloud versions of its products.

“In my position, I’m thinking constantly about how the Atlassian Community can become a more strategic lever for Atlassian,” says Stephanie. “This huge announcement and change was happening and we were making a very formal stance on something we’d been opaquely building up to for awhile. So that was a really big focus for us this year: What unique value does community offer as a channel for customer engagement during this period of big change?”

For this activation, the Atlassian Community team leaned into the open community pillar. The company’s Server products had diehard advocates within the community, and there was a risk of turning these users off from the product with the announcement.

“How do we make this not be dead-end for these people, but actually create programs that continue a conversation through their unique challenges and emotional journey through this change?” asked Stephanie. “Instead of a one-way announcement, we wanted to create a dialogue, like: We get this is scary. We know you have concerns. Some of them might be accurate. Some might be misconceptions. But come to the community and talk to us.”

By creating this feedback loop with the community and product teams, Atlassian unlocked strategic insight about these users that helped the company better manage its rollout. “From a strategic standpoint for our online community, that was a really big win for the company and was hopefully valuable for our users as well,” says Stephanie. “Now we’re learning a lot about the cohort and people that we actually need to convince to love the cloud, which is a big deal over at Atlassian.”

Adjusting community events and engagement through a pandemic

The Atlassian Community stayed active throughout COVID, but its events program pivoted to virtual. The transition was more successful than initially predicted: Atlassian Community Events set a target of 200 virtual events for H1 — a safe target, considering it hosts 800 in-person events per year — but ended up hosting 356 virtual events over 6 months.

While the Atlassian Community Leaders took the lead in adapting to virtual events, the community team worked behind-the-scenes to adjust programming.

Welcome kit for Community Leaders

ACE roadshows

Atlassian leaned into its ACE (Atlassian Community Events) roadshows, where Atlassian employees present at community events. These events can be a great channel for Atlassian teams to share marketing strategy or product messaging.

“Now that it’s virtual, that’s actually totally removed any barrier for internal teams to engage with these events.” says Stephanie. “So we leaned heavily into that because we know that’s what our leaders really appreciate and love. That’s what motivates them, is when the head of Data Center joins their 30-person virtual event to present the roadmap. That’s a really great moment for the members and the leaders at that event.”

Virtual event-in-a-bag

The Atlassian Community created the equivalent of its “event-in-the-bag” for the virtual world. For organizers who had never hosted a virtual event, sharing easy resources to get started helped spice up a virtual gathering. At Atlassian, this is now an “event-on-a-card” (hello, Trello!)

An in-person “event in a bag”

What goes into an event-on-a-card? Here’s a few ideas to get started:

  • Suggested icebreakers
  • Five different presentations you could give
  • An interactive play you can run with members
  • Survey questions you can ask
  • Tons of great content they can distribute

Scaled-back requirements

For its Community Leader program, Atlassian paused its minimum requirements for the year. Rather than asking Community Leaders for a minimum time commitment, points or events per quarter, Atlassian focused on supporting them with virtual coffee talks and wellness packages.

“The Community Leader program has been the biggest area of focus and change. Let’s make sure these people actually feel our resilient commitment to them, instead of something more exploitative that we’re always trying to avoid because they are volunteering and helping us out. We’re happy to take the hit on engagement for a year if we can actually still have 450 Community Leaders at the end of this.”

Building processes to scale

“It has been a little bit quieter on the Community Leader front,” says Stephanie. “So we’ve actually taken the extra time this year to take advantage of providing less day-to-day support to focus on improving some of the scalability of our processes.” This downtime has freed up time to engage with internal Atlassian stakeholders and work on other community improvements.

Shifting from support to success

At CMX, we often encourage new community teams to pick a business objective and stick with it, rather than trying to overextend themselves. But what happens when you master that objective? The Atlassian Community is a prime example of a community that’s mastered one objective and is expanding its scope to the next.

“We’ve nailed support,” Stephanie says. “80% of questions asked in our community are answered by the community. Our IRT is strong, our answer rate is strong. While we’ll continue to monitor metrics and make iterative improvements here, we’re lucky enough that we can take our foot off the gas a bit. And now we can think about: What are the other lanes we want to be in?”

The Atlassian Community is expanding into proactive customer support through product onboarding, feedback, and analysis to find ways to harness community engagement in strategic ways. The early results are promising: New users who visit the community during their first two weeks are two to three times less likely to churn. This stat has helped open doors internally to more resources and awareness.

“A lot of users don’t have a question yet. They don’t even know what is going on? So we get them to engage by introducing themselves, or telling us about their team right now. That way, when you do have a question next Thursday, you’ve built a relationship with this resource and the people in this space. It’s definitely a shift to more proactive customer success and less reactive support.”

Check out the most recent CMX Community Industry Awards winners here!

Mary Cass

Mary is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at CMX. She's based in New York and loves cats. ...

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