What every marketer should know about community management

Zero Paid Media as the new marketing modelI recently finished the book Z.E.R.O.: Zero Paid Media as the New Marketing Model by Joseph Jaffe and Maarten Albarda (Amazon) and wanted to share a few thoughts. In my role as an online marketing specialist and project manager, I had some key take-aways that I found very useful.

Thoughts on Z.E.R.O marketing and open source

I was pleasantly surprised to find at least one reference to open source in Chapter 8, “Is It time to Blow Up the Whole Model?” While talking about the illusion of control as a false security blanket for corporations, the authors give an example from Coca-Cola:

“What better way to turn this [lack of innovation] on its head than to open source the entire ‘secret sauce’ or proprietary methodology of a brand proposition?”

To me, this highlights the fact that organizations need to understand what they are best at, execute what they can do, then open source as much around this specialty in order to build community.

The authors then go on to talk about how the Twitter ecosystem is supported by the development community. Think about all the different Twitter, and other social media apps, you use. Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Sprout Social. All of these applications are possible because of open APIs (Application Program Interfaces).

A look at Z.E.R.O. applied to Opensource.com

In a recent post on Opensource.com, I outlined four lessons I’ve learned from community management over the last four years. While reading Z.E.R.O., I was constantly thinking about my role as a community manager and how zealots, entrepreneurship, retention, and owned assets could apply to our community around Opensource.com. Let’s take a look at each of these components before diving into The Marketing Bowtie™ (their trademark, not mine).

  • Zealots – In my Opensource.com post mentioned above, I talk about our community moderator program. We launched this program in January 2013 with four volunteer moderators and have grown it to ten amazing individuals. We’ve modified and tweaked the program as needed, but these folks are our ambassadors as well as our eyes and ears in the open source community. Nicole, Phil, Luis, Robin, Aseem, Marcus, Remy, Scott, Joshua, and David have superpowers and I value their participation and passion for our community.
  • Entrepreneurship – While reading about this component my mind was already thinking Lean Start-Up before the authors mentioned it. I’m a big fan and other marketers need to get on the rapid prototyping and learn-feedback loop train before they spend another dollar. We definitely use these practices whenever we can. For example, before we build out a new feature for the site, we’ll build a static page of something to test it out. Then see how our audience and community reacts (learn and measure) before investing too much time, money, and resources on coding, testing, and deploying new features. And no matter what we do, we think about what success will look like and how to test it so we can evaluate any new ideas that we put in place.
  • Retention – We are keenly aware of how we work with the writers and interviewees in our community and want them to have an excellent experience. They supply the lifeblood for the Opensource.com publication—fresh, original content. While we provide a great platform to help amplify their stories, my team also provides editorial support. We can take ideas and turn them into well-written articles. My team also does all the legwork to prepare articles for publication: entering content into our Drupal content management system, selecting an appropriate image from our library or requesting a new one from our design team, and adding the all important elements for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Then there is distribution. While my team spends about half our time preparing content, we spend the other half distributing content through social media, our weekly newsletter, and other syndication efforts. Besides making sure our contributors have a good experience, we also want to make sure our community of readers will keep coming back for more.
  • Owned assets – Red Hat, who supports the community, owns the Opensource.com platform. When I was thinking about all of the “rented space” associated with the site, it primarily boils down to social media. And for us, these are table stakes. A necessary component of our content distributions system. And while these types of assets are “free,” it does take time, resources, and strategy to make them a successful part of marketing efforts.

The Marketing Bowtie is a model describing acquisition and retention funnels. For this post, I’m going to focus on the retention part of the bowtie. The funnel of the retention side includes four parts: acknowledgment, dialogue, incentivization, and activation. Here’s what I think this looks like for the Opensource.com community:

  • Acknowledgment – Our web analytics tell us that about half of our readership comes from search and the other half from a combination of referrals, social media, and direct access. Because we’re a publication, we get a lot of visitors who arrive for just a single post or resource page. Our bounce rate is in the 70% range for articles, but our resources are much more promising. There is opportunity here for us, as with most organizations (since this is at the top of the funnel) and we are always thinking about ways to bring in new audiences, but more importantly, how to engage with them. And once they arrive, we’d like them to explore more.
  • Dialogue – I think we have a great dialogue happening within our community (on the site) and about the content we publish (through social media). Take a look at the Twitter stream about Opensource.com content. It’s full of activity from our community and beyond. On the site, we consistently have 100+ comments per month and our social media shares are healthy. Many of the polls we post on the site bring in 500-1,000+ votes.  But how do we take the next step?
  • Incentivization – In January 2011 we launched a points and badge system on the site. Our goal was to increase participation on the site and to help us identify the active community members. Because all of our content is free, there isn’t much incentive to log-in to the site. Those that do log-in regularly and participate have a great chance of being recognized for their efforts. And lucky for us, the open source world is all about reputation building, which is a natural fit for our community. Beyond that, we run a contest about once a quarter. Part of this effort is to attract new audiences (acquisition) but the other part is to maintain engagement for our community members who are already participating.
  • Activation – If there is one action we want our community members to take it’s to read our content. Obviously we want them to comment, share, and continue the conversation, but this action isn’t really measurable beyond page views and unique site visits. What I think the real activation is when a visitor registers with the site. Once they take that action, they get a welcome email from me and an invitation to join our community mailing list. I welcome almost 300 registered community members a month, some of them are spam accounts, but many of them are real people. The personal invite makes a huge difference and I really enjoy engaging with the community members who respond.

Another way to think about activation is to consider the steps a visitor would take that would  ultimately get them to register for a user account. First, someone would come to the site as a reader. Then they might comment on the site or share an article on social media. The next natural step for someone to get more involved would be for them to register. But what’s better than that is to get someone to contribute an article. We get a lot of one-time contributors, and its our job to identify those community members who might contribute on more a regular basis. We would like to create a place for our contributors to be groomed to become community moderators—our ultimate ambassadors.


The key to any successful product or project is a thriving community. While there are many ways you can build a successful community, the first steps involve understanding how you can activate your community and what you can do to support that effort.

At the center of our community is our community moderators followed by regular contributors, one-time contributors, commenters, and readers. Going back to my lessons learned article, find your stars and let them shine. These people are highly engaged and deserve more attention, more of your time, and most importantly, unique opportunities.

Questions or thoughts? Hit me up in the comments below.

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