Productology: Community Activation

Activating a community is a common challenge for companies that build products which require active engagement to achieve their full value. It's a classic catch-22: how can you activate users if there aren't enough users to activate? Imagine being the only person in your company on Slack – there's no point in sending messages if no one is there to read them.

We asked some of the product experts in our network, and these are some of the strategies they suggested we can use to ignite community activation:

Leverage the power of competition and collaboration in real-world relationships

Josh Hart, Co-founder CPO/CTO at Yulife, believes enterprise products have a huge advantage: they can leverage their customers’ existing in-person communities to unlock the full potential of their product. “You don't need to build initial relationships through the digital platform since they already exist.”

By tapping into the power of existing relationships, companies can create a mix of features that ignite competition and collaboration among users, driving activation and engagement among different cohorts.

“For example, in YuLife we use leaderboards to drive engagement. Within leaderboards, we allow users to inspect other users’ profiles and compare them to each other. They can also create “duels” to encourage users to compete with their colleagues.”

To foster collaboration, he recommends referral features that create a positive network effect: “The best way to do this is through win-win mechanisms where both the person sending the referral as well as the receiver of that referral get rewarded.“

Some platforms can build features that leverage both mechanics, like Google Workspace notifications that someone has done something that requires the user’s input or attention.

But the real magic, he says, is when you build a platform that has both an intrinsic value for a lone user as well as with a community. “Yulife is a great experience alone, and then elevated with others.”

Look for compelling interactions that people want to see, then get them to the payoff quickly.

Vincent Jong, VP Product at DealFront, says great products drive activation with simple, compelling features that make users want to share and receivers engage. “For community activation to work well at scale, there is typically a piece of content or an interaction being shared by a person the user trusts – a Slack message, a Zoom call, a Figma design.”

But he’s quick to point out that compelling features alone aren’t enough: the product needs to move users to the payoff as quickly as possible. “For this to work well you need to have super smooth onboarding. If the new user doesn’t get to value within 1 or 2 steps, they will likely leave. As always, onboarding is key.”

“Just look at how Figma does this for example. When you share your design with a team member, a user is automatically created and added to the next bill. The admin then still has the opportunity to remove people before paying, so no unexpected surprises. This might result in some users having had free access for a period of time, but more importantly, it removes all the friction from new account creation making it one of the drivers behind Figma’s amazing growth.”

Break your community into supply and demand cohorts, then activate with precision.

Dave Thomson, VP Product at Stuart, knows the unique challenges of building marketplace communities. “Think of it as one big supply and demand management problem. If the first users are on the supply side, it can be challenging to keep them engaged with anything on the demand side.”

He recommends creating clear supply and demand community cohorts so you can approach activation with precision. During his tenure in the early days of Wise, “We had to acquire the right parts of the community at the right time. If you have GBP to EUR flows, you need also to acquire a European community that wants to send EUR back to GBP. Your ability to offer a market-leading price can only be achieved when you match the supply and demand.”

Once you understand the supply and demand dynamics, you can strategically manage temporary imbalances while the community builds. “When Wise was young, we had only a few currencies trading, and this led to imbalances. If you had huge flows of GBP to EUR one week but not the right amount of flow back, you are left needing currency in certain accounts. The solution to this was quite literally to go buy the currencies and amounts needed so the community could keep experiencing the magic of peer-to-peer community transfers even in highly unbalanced weeks. Over time more volume would solve this problem, but this was an early solution that kept the business growing.”

Join the conversation

Have you faced a community activation challenge? Share your strategies, wins, and learnings here with the Productology community.

Is there a challenge you’re currently facing with your product? Let us know and we will discuss it with our community of product experts.

What is Productology?

Productology is a series of short articles aimed at providing insights on product-related topics. It is brought to you by Melissa Haij and Itxaso del Palacio. Melissa is a product advisor to Notion's portfolio with over 20 years of experience leading product and design at startups, agencies, Meta, and Apple. Itxaso is a General Partner at Notion and has led investments in product-led businesses such as Yulife and ForestAdmin.

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