On Thursday March 26, our CMX Series host Tristan Pollock gathered Bay Area community builders around one of today’s hottest topics: How to scale a company through community.

The rise of the sharing economy has required community builders all over the world to gather their members in buyer and seller marketplaces. Tristan brought together three of the best and brightest to share their insights on building markets beyond the early days.

This event honed in on one particular side of building marketplaces, which these experts argue is the most important: The supply side (typically, a seller community). For marketplace companies, the seller community holds the key to the castle. They are not only users of your platform, but they are also important partners and stakeholders in your business’s success. Creating a collaborative community for them is absolutely essential to the success of the brand.

Our three dynamic speakers – Eliza Davidson of Udemy, David Rust of Lyft, and Rebecca Saylor of SF Etsy – walked us through their insights to scale their own supply-focused marketplace community and shared what worked for them — and what didn’t. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Collect Data

How do you scale a community? The first step is getting buy-in from your entire company. As a community professional, we’re constantly faced with the question of how to prove the business value of the work we do.

Eliza emphasized that tracking engagement is equally as important as promoting community engagement. Don’t just assume that members in the community are talking to each other. Instead, find ways to measure their engagement.

This can include simply counting the number of posts each month in your group or developing a script you can run for your Facebook group that tells you exactly how people are engaging. Whatever it is, keep a close eye on it at all times and watch for changes over time.

Once you have this data, identify your “killer metric to success.” For Udemy, Eliza found that users who engaged with the community group at least one time were four times more likely to publish a course on the site. This was enough to show her team the value of engaging these high-value members and giving them a space to inspire one another.

In addition to data, review anecdotal information. What are the biggest issues being discussed in your community? For Udemy instructors, their biggest obstacle to getting a course published were audio/ visual problems while creating videos for their courses. Eliza and the team went to work building tools to help the community get over this hurdle.

2. Foster Collaboration

Rebecca Saylor, a co-captain of SF Etsy (a local team of makers in San Francisco that operates independently from Etsy) shared that collaboration in her community is what has led to previously unimaginable engagement.

Etsy noticed early on that collaborating with local groups on the ground, like SF Etsy, would be key to their success. They would band together and “utilize our own social graphs to drive people back to Etsy,” explained Rebecca.

“Makers like to talk, they make business cards… and this was a natural cycle of building and developing a team.”

SF Etsy fosters collaboration in a few concrete ways. Here’s what she suggests.

Ways to Foster More Collaboration in Your Community

  • Weekly tweet chats on a specified night
  • Facebook group disucussions
  • Contests on Instagram
  • Interviews with members and the community

At Lyft, collaboration took the form of sharing “micro-responsibilities” with drivers. Drivers came out of the woodwork when Lyft asked for help. Top drivers would meet with new drivers, train them, and inspect cars. Without an office, they could get more drivers on the road.

At Udemy, the staff was small and they couldn’t scale out internal community operations fast enough to help instructors get their courses set up quickly. This is why collaboration was so important. Getting instructors over the first crucial setback (audio/visual problems) was key. So they invested in collaborating with their members.

“If we wanted people to invest in Udemy, we had to invest in them,” Eliza said. This goes for any community.

To hack that crucial first interaction, Eliza started tagging the new users in welcome posts- an easy way to engage them and draw their attention to the Facebook page. Udemy also added a test video feature where users could upload short videos and get feedback and troubleshooting advice. They found that users who participated in test videos were 10 times more likely to publish a course.

Eliza adds, “When you have an active community, you can test out different assumptions and use that to feed it back into your business.” Even if one form of collaboration is not successful, keep trying new ways to see what works.

3. Empower the Community

Small companies often do not have the resources to keep up with growth – and that is where a marketplace community can help. You have to let go of control and empower the community to step up.

As David from Lyft explains, “While you might be scared to give a community responsibility, it can actually be a rewarding experience for both parties if the process is in place to support this.”

In the beginning, Lyft would meet every new driver in person and hand out those famous giant pink mustaches. While this was fun, it wasn’t scalable to other cities without staff to support this system. So Lyft started a mentor program – New drivers now met with the top Lyft drivers, who were more knowledgeable about driver’s questions, and Lyft was able to get more drivers on the road in more markets. Today, 100% of the drivers go through this process.

On April 24th last year, Lyft sent existing drivers to 24 new cities to help launch the platform in 24 hours. They called it Lyftapalooza, and it would not have been possible without the community of drivers engaged with the product.


4. Promote Your Community Offline through Events

Rebecca noted that SF Etsy’s biggest achievement so far was when they partnered with Etsy to create one of the best attended craft shows in San Francisco: SF Etsy Indie Holiday Emporium.

The event showcased over 180 Etsy sellers and had over 50,000 shoppers in only two days on Pier 35. SF Etsy plans to replicate this event in the future on a smaller scale. The secret to the success of the event was partnering with the Etsy brand and giving sellers an open, central place to gather just in time for the holidays.

Udemy is approaching their community in a similar way as they grow even larger. When Udemy saw that their instructors were meeting offline, they decided to launch Udemy local meetups, which are hosted by local instructors and supported by Udemy.

5. Communication is Key

Finally, one theme that kept coming up throughout the night is partnership. You have to think of the seller side of your marketplace as a partner in the business – especially when it comes to changes in policy or products. When companies are transparent and collect feedback before and after implementation of new features, the community feels more influential and empowered.

This can even be a formal process. In response to negative feedback from some changes to the site, Udemy created an Instructor Council to solicit input before future changes were implemented. In that way, Udemy benefited from instructor feedback and instructors got to feel that they had a large influence on Udemy’s policies.

“We wanted change to happen with them, not to them,” says Eliza.

Udemy’s Instructor Community: Engagement with a Purpose

Lyft’s Community Helped It Scale…And So Can Yours

Katie Kalafus

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