A new year has begun! For Product Engagement Community Managers like myself, this means our timetables are busy with round-the-clock plans looking to implement new, engaging community formats and programming. For Elementor, whenever we bring new programming initiatives to the forefront such as events, monthly meetups, or member competitions, there is often a push in product adoption and activation. Yet, within all the current community buzz and activity, the questions are often raised “how do you successfully implement new programming into your community”, and “how can you make those initiatives ‘stick’”.
Elementor is the leading website builder in the WordPress ecosystem with 10M+ active websites. For reference, that’s over 7% of the entire internet! Our community connects hundreds of thousands of Web-Creators; Designers, Developers, and Marketers who take part in the web creation business. They gain valuable knowledge, learn industry best practices, offer support on using our product, and become partners on our shared journey.
My role as Experts Network Community Lead, is to help build the Elementor Experts Network product- a marketplace for experts to trade their services with clients who reach out with projects. I recently implemented an interactive format to engage our community with the Elementor Experts Network, and called it the Experts Challenge: a monthly contest that calls web creators to submit a website in a specific category.
This article is a case study! I will share some methodologies, strategies, and tactics I found invaluable when implementing ‘The Experts Challenge’ format. I will demonstrate how I grew product usability with this format by 250% over the duration of each successive challenge.
Before going deeper into how I implemented this new format, it is important to note the following:
- These tips are intended for a community that already has a set strategy plan, with set goals, clear KPIs, and objectives. It is important to have this strategy defined before attempting to implement any kind of programming in order to tie the results back to your organization’s goals. It will also help you retrospectively analyze what you did and determine its level of success.
- When creating a new community program, locating the target audience, and defining the format, think about which other departments in your organization could benefit. Making it a cross-departmental project will bring the program to life, and give you more internal stakeholders. For example, the Experts Challenge is an ideal contest to collect “pure inspiration” content for our content and social team, which is a great opportunity to connect to our growth team. This format was also relevant to the Experts Network product manager who was able to draw interesting data. I ended up with a team of 7 key stakeholders that were invested in the program’s success. Nevertheless, it added a lot of value and quality in the execution process.
So, let’s dive deep. Here are six tips that will help you implement new sustainable programming in your community successfully:
Every community is full of different opportunities, activities, and discussions, and it can be challenging to get members to notice new programming amidst all the buzz. It’s important to develop a brand language for your new program to catch member’s attention. Since it is new, it needs to have a consistent brand language, so every reminder (post, email, banner, reminder, etc.) will subconsciously have a marketing impact. The brand language should not only be the wrapping paper that makes a new activity pop, it should also communicate the main values of the activity and the messaging that needs to be brought across.
In my case, the initial reason for creating the Experts Challenge format was to engage the community through the Elementor Experts Network product. My friends from the Elementor Brand Studio created a very smart brand language for the Experts Challenge format. The design language included elements from the product that I wanted the community to utilize. As you can see in the below announcement post image, on the top right, there are sticker elements in the shape of the product’s ‘tagging’ system:
Since my goal was to engage the users with the product in a fun way, I wanted to add the service tags because it created this direct flow between the contest and the product. Following this, every asset I produced (for example, the blog article on the contest or winner post on Facebook) ‘corresponded’ with the format, helping me implement the new contest.
Posting the format for the first time? Don’t just post about it — announce it! Make a splash! An opportunity to join something new moves community members to take part in it. Give your members an opportunity to see themselves as pioneers that can genuinely impact the product, the program, or the entire community! Frame the idea behind the new activity in an exciting way. Emphasize this is a new activity to participate in. And if you do frame the format as new and exciting, make sure to create the participants a “space” to give their feedback afterward.
#3 The Incentive
Recognizing the incentives that make members want to participate is essential for planning activities. It’s important to know what these incentives might be before implementing new programming too. Not all great incentives are extrinsic (tangible rewards like swag, prizes, etc.), they can also be intrinsic (public recognition, exclusivity, knowledge sharing, or contributions to the community, etc.).
Rewarding the early-adopters is a great way to boost engagement with the program. Actively invest in the participants of your activity’s first rounds/cohort. When done right, the first group of participants will be advocates for the program. Invest in awesome swag, prizes, special badges, featured blog articles, or public recognition posts thanking them for getting involved.
In the Experts Challenge, the emphasis was on getting the participant recognition and exposure through their business profile on the Elementor Experts Network itself. We awarded them special badges in the Experts Network and mystery swag boxes and free subscriptions. However, what I believe made our participants proud to take part in the Experts Challenge was the community vote stage where we announced the top 7 participants. We linked the post to their Experts Network Profile and asked for the community to vote for their favorite. The voting was highly popular and so were our candidates. We then posted the winner on our social media, on our blog, and in our community.
Over time we realized the winners not only won prizes and gained recognition, they developed leads to grow their business via the Elementor Experts Network! Everything we posted during and after the contest was linked to their profiles, so their profiles received exposure and leads. This created a more substantial ‘package’ of incentives for the next challenge’s participants including recognition and leads.
#4 The Top-Down for Bottom-Up Concept
When you are deep into planning, you can be so sure of yourself that this event/contest/post/activity is going to work. “This is going to be amazing for my users, who wouldn’t want to join this great program?!” you say to yourself. Then the post or activity goes live. There may be a few comments or sign-ups, but mostly…silence. This happened to me once or twice — okay, maybe more — but it did lead to me developing the concept: Top-Down for Bottom-Up. We all want our program to be accepted by the community, to grow bottom-up, we all want it to become “the next best thing”. But we must understand that we need to take an active role in the second stage of the activity execution process. We can’t rely on the program “doing the work”.
Let’s take an example from the Experts Challenge: To ensure we would have the right exposure and the contest would get to the right people, I invested an hour in sending personal messages to users I knew would be interested. The first challenge was to create a well-designed and converting pop-up. I reached a few designers and marketers in the community whom I sensed would love to be featured and have their names out there. I gathered this from their comments on similar activities we ran. I also knew some of them from ongoing user interviews I conducted. I reached out and sent a message or email along the lines of: “Hey Jack, how’s it going? In two days we will post an awesome contest in the community and the challenge will be to design a cool and converting pop-up. I thought this might be a relevant opportunity for you, as you can really nail it. I recommend looking for it — the contest will be up this Monday at 4pm EST time.”
Overall, I invested in personally connecting with 5-6 community members before the contest. Additionally, my fellow community team members tagged 15 other users on the announcement post. Every community member we reached out to, thanked us for thinking about them and actually considered participating. Moreover, the third place in the first contest was taken by one of the community members we reached out to.
Now, some might say this offer to target some community members are artificial acts, but I beg to differ. The top-down for bottom-up concept means you are taking an active part and moving things forward, creating a notion in your community — top-down, so the format becomes grassroots, bottom-up.
This is far from artificial since many community members aren’t exposed to every different format created by the community management team. By reaching out, we let a small group of people know we see them. We sincerely believe the activity suits them, or shares in the experience and efforts of building the community together with them.
In the first Experts Challenge, I went ahead and recommended the contest to 4 experts of the community as I truly believed they could nail it. Some submitted their work and some did not, but the ones that did absolutely inspired others to join in and submit their work which got the contest more attention.
#5 Persistence and Consistency
If there’s one thing you take away from this piece, I hope it’s “persistence and consistency” as these are the keys to implementing any new community program. After endless preparations for the first Experts Challenge, branding, announcements, and endless hype I created, I closed the submission deadline with only a few entries. I remember feeling defeated, especially because the initial feedback from the community was so positive.
After a feedback loop and some user interviews, I concluded the main insights, learned my “what to dos” and “what not to dos”, and moved on to the next month’s challenge. I moved forward because I understood that with a new program, one needs to post about it again, and again, AND again so that it sticks and enters into the community’s collective consciousness.
It takes time for a new program to prove its worthiness to the community. The first winners were posted in the community which helped build the contest prestige. Others saw the prizes the winners received in comparison to the level of investment they had to put into the contest. For many, it took seeing this validation from the first month’s challenge, to want to submit their work for the second.
This understanding aligns with all that we as community builders do — we build relationships. It’s a process that takes time to see the needle moving. The same goes for any new program. It’s not a pure marketing campaign. We won’t see the ultimate result immediately. We may only see it after we’ve created an audience for the program in the community and after the audience has fallen in love with it.
The amazing thing about the Experts Challenge is that it taught me patience and to trust my gut when it comes to my community and its amazing members. I knew the community would show up. I thought it was only a matter of time. So I continued forward. With the third challenge I tripled the number of entries. I increased the exposure on the challenge’s main assets by 109% and I reached my initial KPI.
A program goes into the community’s consciousness when it’s repeated as more members start noticing it and seeing its real value. Make sure to constantly improve it, be persistent, and give it the time it deserves.
#6 Data, Feedback, and more Data
As a product engagement community manager, I have the tremendous privilege to get access to feedback sessions. This is a strength of ours as community managers — we know the users in and out. Other departments can benefit from this extra depth we bring to every product discussion. Amazing programs can be created with time because we have the ability to drill down, and get feedback at any stage we desire. Use your data as a compass. Progress will happen with time, and your data will ‘speak’ these changes.
When creating a program to drive product engagement, the product’s data is significant. You can see correlating lines between the activity and the product’s traffic. With the Experts Network as the product, and the Experts Challenge as the program, it was all so very clear; every significant milestone during the contest was followed by a significant traffic spike in our product analytics. It reassured me that I’m actually moving the needle and as I kept tracking what happened the trend didn’t change much but the levels of engagements grew and magically the leads in the product increased.
Using the data to tell the story of your program can help you draw in more community members. Moreover, it creates credibility and trust in the community team among other departments, and can help lead to more internal buy-in.
Final thought: New programming should serve your community to reach your community goals.
When planning a new activity, recurring post, or any other new program for your community, you might be blindsided by the excitement of planning. This could result in “you working for the program” and not having the “program working for you” to reach your community goals. There are endless aspects in planning a new activity launch in the community, but when articulated well we should save wasted efforts and drive better results.
You too can plan community activities by keeping your awareness in line with your audience and product. Every new program is an opportunity for growth, for you as a community manager and for your community as a whole. I invite you to use the above strategy and to embrace this new opportunity, make it count, and enjoy the journey!