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Building a community around a product

Building a community around a product is hard. It takes a good amount of effort to create a group of people enthusiastic about what you are building. Being opensource simplifies the process. However, continuing the progress without burnout is a balance. Here are some of the learning from building a community around @chatwootapp.

Etiquette


Ground rules: Every product community should have some ground rules. It keeps the conversation sane. Adopting a code of conduct would help you when some abusive actors are in the group—whether or not to kick the person would be more straightforward.

We adopted Contributor Covenant 4.0 for our contributors/community. You can read more about it here.

Be polite and build a genuine interest in people's problems: When people ask questions, provide feedback, or make changes, it is essential to give feedback as they are making an effort to fit the product in their use cases. They might be using it from a different angle that you have not thought of before. Having an open mind on product usage would help uncover hidden secrets. If you spend time understanding the pain and resonate with the situation, people would appreciate it, bringing positive energy to the group.

Work in threads: If you are using Slack / Discord, try to work on threads. Direct replies are often chaotic. If not, you would spend most of the time finding the needle in the haystack.

Use public channels only: We use Github & Discord at Chatwoot. Github is less intrusive as it doesn't allow you to send a personal message to a person, and it works asynchronously. For Discord, it is not the case. As it is chat-based, people expect to get immediate responses. I would suggest discouraging the people on DMs. Instead, ask them to move to a public channel.

Managing the time and the community

Schedule time to work with the community: Instead of spending all day active in the community, try spending dedicated time with the community. This will give you focused time for community engagement and an uninterrupted time for the rest of your work.

You don't have to be available every hour you are working. If your "zone" happens to be in the morning, you can disable the notifications in the morning and spend 1-2 hours every evening to make sure that you didn't miss anything.

Your goal is not to solve the problem immediately: If you are trying to solve a problem immediately, you might get lost in that, and the work you have been doing before will become pending.

As humans, this situation would put you in a bad spot where you regret the time spent and would tend to overwork. The easiest way to solve this is to make sure that you have captured the problem in a Github[bug tracker] issue and leave the problem for a later time.

If something takes more than 10 minutes of your time, then it is always better to start with an issue, collect your thoughts and record it properly. Send the issue link to the community member to acknowledge that their voice is heard. Even if the problem has a very small fix, I would suggest creating the issues first instead of fixing them, as the cost of a context switch might not be worth it.

Learn to say no: If you are an open-source project, you might see a lot of requests to help in custom work which might not even help the actual project. Sometimes people might push your boundaries. It is essential to understand that you are not obliged to work on it unless you wish to and it is perfectly fine to say no.

Growing the community

Build promoters inside the community: It doesn't have to be you or your team who always reply to a question—building a group of people who is just as passionate as you would help in the long term. Help people to be product experts.

Reward the community members: Build a reward structure for the users' effort into the community. This doesn't need to be monetary or goodies. You can start with assigning specific badges for active users. Gamification can bring exponential outcomes.

A good example for this is the Google Product Experts program encouraging people to answer user questions in the Google Help Communities

Google Experts categorize their community contributors to Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum & Diamond incentivizing the effort from the members.

A community can be a powerful weapon in building and growing your product. Hope these learning help you in building yours.

Checkout our community at Github & Discord. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please comment below or feel free to reach out to me.

Pranav Raj S
Pranav Raj S
Published on Dec 20, 2021