How Framer started with community from day one

An interview with Addison Schultz, Product Specialist at Framer

Welcome community enthusiasts! 👋 I’ve had a great chat with Addison Schultz lately, Product Specialist at Framer and one of the key figures in the community efforts at Framer.

Addison shares a lot about the experimentation and evolution of where they host their community, the pros and cons of those platforms, how members are involved in the product development process, and we touch upon the topic of product-led vs interest-based communities. 🔥

Enjoy, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇

About Framer and Addison

Framer is an all-in-one tool that helps teams design every part of the product experience. Most design and prototyping tools today are just systems to paint your ideas on a canvas. Framer is built on Web technologies and puts interaction and actual building at the forefront. Or how Addison put it in the interview below: “Pictures are great for postcards, but buttons were meant to be clicked."

Addison works as a Product Specialist at Framer. He has a design and development background but started out in Sales at Framer. He transitioned into Customer Success and, amongst others, got to run the community part. As a real community enthusiast and someone with a lot of different skills, it was a unique fit and opportunity. More on that below, let’s dive in!

How did you get involved with the Framer community?

I currently work as a Product Specialist at Framer. I was hired right before we launched Framer X, one of our previous products, and have been here for about two and a half years. I started on the sales team doing SDR work. But given my experience as a developer and designer and the fact I had already been using Framer, I was one of the only sales team members that understood how to use the product. This led me to transition into a Customer Success role. Back then, we didn't even have a CS team. As we started to build it, we also started to manage the community aspects of it. I was already interested in and a part of various tech communities. So getting to help run one was an exciting experience for me. 

​How is the community run nowadays?

Our Customer Success team manages our community. Right now, there are four of us. Often, Customer Success teams also manage a lot of the community aspects or are involved with it. It makes sense: You need people who are communicating with your customers and product users all the time. A vital point about Framer is that everyone on the CS team is either quite technical or has a good design background. This becomes super helpful when working for a design tool because you can communicate issues and product features that come up in a more personal way. 

​At what stage did Framer start with this community effort?

Framer wasn't always a product. We've always built products, but we started as a JavaScript animation library. And, as it happens with many programming communities, you have a place for people to bounce ideas off each other. As far as I know, the Facebook community was the very first community effort. Since the two founders were ex-Facebook designers, they first set up the community on Facebook. However, as the company and the community started to grow (the Facebook community had reached about 25 thousand members), it became more challenging to manage it as a group effort. They needed a designated team for this particular task. That was about the time I hopped on board, and we began forming the CS team. So all these pieces fell in the right place at the right time. 

​Can you walk us through a bit of that history? What were the phases you went through?

As more users started joining the Facebook group, it became more than a place for people to ask questions. It also got harder to manage expectations and build something for everybody. Eventually, people started building prototypes with Framer Classic, many of whom liked to show the work they had done – which we began to encourage in the community. So it turned into a place where members asked questions but also talked about prototypes and shared projects. Then questions and statements began to pour in from outside of the product. Things like "I'm looking to get into UX design, how can I start?" These weren't directly related to Framer – but still concerned the field we were in. And once you get people outside of that support group, the community starts to take shape and grow.

​There was a period when you were on Spectrum. Was that the next step for you? Did you initiate it to try to solve specific issues that weren't working on Facebook?

When I joined, we were only on Facebook. We also used Slack as a direct line to our enterprise clients simply because it was an easier way to set up a channel for them to ping questions off. Eventually, Slack was open for everyone. Still, we didn't advertise it as much as Facebook, where most of the discussions were held. The main reason why we opened up a Slack – and why people started getting in there – was discoverability. If you're looking for something specific like a product feature or a bug, it's a lot harder to find it on Facebook. And we were looking for new ways to make it easier to find and engage with our users.

We tried out Spectrum for roughly a year and a half. Things became a lot more searchable. It was nice to have a thread-based platform. Yet, we lacked a community aspect. It felt like we had traded the engagement factor from Facebook for the thread-based support discussions. And we wanted something in between.

Meanwhile, my CS colleague Viktor and I were tasked to find a place to host our new community. While it was good that we already had a Slack community, given our size, the cost was an issue. We saw a lot of companies making a move to Discord. Being a community-based tool, it made a lot of sense for us to migrate. And considering our size, it was still affordable.

Being a part of many tech communities, I see that many technologies I like to use are also bringing their community to Discord, so I get a feeling that we made the right choice.

We switched to Discord last March, just when the pandemic started. It's been going well. Being a part of many tech communities, I see that many technologies I like to use are also bringing their community to Discord, so I get a feeling that we made the right choice. We have also evolved quite a bit in terms of organizing it. For us, the biggest thing about Discord was a direct line of communication to our users and the opportunity to have built-in video streaming.

At present, we host many Framer Live Sessions, where we do live Q&As and chat with people. I think this is better than having to set up a recurring event – we can just hop in the channel and start talking to people right away.

​Can you point out any particular pros and cons you've discovered so far?

I wouldn't say Discord is the perfect tool. But we're probably going to stay here for the foreseeable future. We've just passed 5 thousand users last month. A big pro for us is that it's effortless to join. Engaging members via videos, direct communication, and channels is also straightforward. Plus, a lot of people are on here already – and it's cheaper than Slack. 

The biggest con would be organizing the content that is on there. Since it is very channel-based, you can't start a thread out of someone's question to address the issue. So you end up having to parse through different conversations to find what you need.

That said, another upside, and part of the reason we migrated, is that it is very searchable. If you search, you will probably find an answer – or a conversation that leads to an answer. Still, following that conversation becomes a bit tedious, which seems to be one of the biggest complaints from users.

​That seems to be the trade-off we've seen a lot. It is easier to find what you need in thread-based platforms, but it is harder to stimulate serendipitous conversations in such environments, right?

Exactly. The trade-off is engagement versus usefulness. But so far we're happy with it. And I believe that if you organize your community by channels, it becomes easier to search through it. We have also been tapping into various features which facilitate the managing of users and working with moderators. Our product team is in our Discord quite often, and our whole CS team is in there all the time. We have a great cadence and workflow. Every member of our CS team is on at least one of our different product teams, so we have complete visibility over everything that is going on. Therefore, it becomes easier to give more access to moderators and other active community members to help out others.

Speaking of moderators. Would you say that there are different levels or types of users regarding how involved they are? How do you reward these people for their efforts?

All of our community moderators were already acting as such even before we rendered them the title. They are people who, through their Framer journey, the CS team came to know well beyond their online presence, back when we were organizing a lot of meet-ups. Besides supporting their work as moderators, we give them early access to features and swag. Viktor, part of the CS team, works closely with the moderators. He does monthly syncs to make sure they are up to date. He uses our moderator channel to address any questions they may have.

It's pretty easy to tell when someone moves from being a lurker to a helper: the latter helps out a lot on Discord. When that is the case, we might ask them to become a moderator. Some people have been building a lot of stuff with Framer and want to be involved but may not have enough time to be a moderator. For those, we have a channel in our internal Framer Slack (not the public Slack) called Framer Creators.

​Are the discussions in this Slack channel more related to product development?

Yes. These people are using Framer all the time. Many of them are also educators, people who, for instance, make Framer tutorials in their own time. While they're promoting Framer, they might need an extra direct line to us in case something comes up – which is another reason we started the Slack channel. It is also a means for them to try out beta features. After all, these types of people make the perfect use case. They know what to expect from beta software, and they have used Framer enough to understand how to navigate it if something is off. They also know how to apply features in creative ways that we may not think about ourselves.

​Can you talk a bit about how you involve these folks in the product development process?

This has gotten much better after we launched Framer Web last May. At present, if we want to test anything, we make a pull request to Framer and it will generate a "Deploy Preview Link" for that specific change. We can then send out a link and say "This is what will go live if everything is good. Can you play around and see how it works?" It doesn't require any overhead. We send them a link and they log in as normal – everything is tied up. That's how we get our feedback. Since a lot of the moderators and Framer Creators are active members of our community whom we know well, it's natural to get them to lend us a hand testing things out. In most cases, they are willing to help. And that allows us to identify bugs early on.

​It's great that everyone in the company is engaged in the community effort. I suppose this commitment throughout the company and the growth is a consequence of having started with a community mindset from the start? 

That's a really good point. We've seen it since day one – and I think a lot of other companies do as well – that someone who is a proponent, who loves your company and helps your product, is going to play a significant role in the growth and overall success of the company. We realize this and try to make it easier for people to help others use Framer. For that, we have written a lot of team-based materials, such as the Framer Team Handbook or the Train Your Team materials. These resources walk you through how to become a champion and how to get a particular tool you enjoy into the rest of your company. After all, depending on your level and seniority in the company, making big changes to the workflow and the tool stack becomes hard unless you have a solid case behind it as to why the change should be made. Therefore, providing these materials, as well as working with the community, having them involved, and giving them the answers, is something we invest in a lot.

Are you making any proactive efforts to grow the community itself? Or does that lean more on the growth of the product itself and the community being part of the user's adoption journey?

I think it's the latter— a lot of the growth is organic. But as our product grows and people get deeper into it, it becomes evident that we have a community. So while we're not marketing it, we mention it often and use it as our official "meeting place."

You can still write on our support hub - that goes into Intercom. But when an issue is more discussion-based, we link it to Discord. For instance, we have an examples page where you can find different examples in Framer. Instead of linking people to our Intercom – and thus increasing the probability that they will get the same questions repeatedly – they can ask about it in our Discord community. This allows other people to help and let us identify if something needs to be fixed. 

​Are there certain things you try to do to spark conversations or help people engage?

That's something we're looking into at the moment. It is also another reason we switched to Discord: it comes with many built-in metrics for engagement and response rate, which give us an idea of how people work in the community from the second they become a member. Consequently, this helps us figure out ways to get them more engaged.

Both the Framer team and our moderators play an essential role in engagement. People become more engaged when there are fruitful discussions around their questions that lead to an answer. We can't answer everything all the time. But we do our best – across the CS team, Framer, and our moderators – to get everything sorted out.

Small things, common to Discord communities, also help. For instance, adding a welcome window so a newcomer is greeted with the rules and a breakdown of what they can in this server, making it clear what the next steps are. Or else a channel for people to say hi and chat. We currently have our channels organized by topics: prototyping help, smart components, TV prototyping, etc., and we can easily add, delete, or move them around.

That said, we still want to improve our Discord community, and a lot of the engagement initiatives we have planned revolve around building out bots. When you hit send after typing a question, we would like a bot to read your question and suggest articles or conversations. I think that would help to keep people engaged, get more visibility on what they are looking for. Another thing we're experimenting with at the moment is how to use Discord rolls to our advantage, namely letting people assign the roles that they want so they can be notified on features and releases they are interested in. It would be a way of building your Framer profile around what you're interested in and what you want to see.

​The Framer community itself seems really product-oriented. Have you thought about expanding it, making it a broader interest-based community around product design, for example?

We thought about this before, and we have some plans for the future. I think that when we were starting, we wanted to make sure the transition from Facebook over to Discord went smoothly. But we do want to expand. In that case, we would first focus on the development side, though. We have a production animation library, Framer Motion, and I think we'd start to get more development talks in there.

That's one of the best things about running and working with a community: you get the chance to experiment a lot to see what works and what doesn't.

We have thought about getting engagement from the UX side of things as well; building it out in more than just a Framer community. We haven't moved forward with that just yet. I think it's going to be a slow transition, experimenting with a few things and seeing how it goes. That's one of the best things about running and working with a community: you get the chance to experiment a lot to see what works and what doesn't. After all, one thing might work for one sort of community – but it may not work for yours. 

​What's one piece of advice you'd give to anyone who's building out an early community around a software start-up?

Find where your users are. What I mean by this, is that it will be a lot easier to create something for them based on where they are instead of trying to get them to switch to a new place. I think this was one of the downfalls with Spectrum: there weren't many people there. And that was another reason why we chose Facebook when we first started Framer. Seven years ago, everybody was on Facebook all the time, so it was easy to keep the engagement. We also had a built-in distribution in there, so when we posted something new at Framer, people would get a notification on Facebook, which would bring them right back. That helped a lot.

​Have you got a favorite tool to help you run your community?

I think it is just Discord. I like how you can assign roles, focus on the organization of the channel, work with the users on your server. That makes it easy to manage.

​Was there a particular article, book, or podcast that helped you in the journey of building a community?

I can't think of any off the top of my head. I find that the best way of running a community is just in them. I'm currently a part of 16 different Discord communities on various topics, from music to tech and design. Learning from the experience I'm getting as a user in other communities – what I like, what makes sense – has helped me a lot.

What else should people keep an eye out for at Framer?

We released some new features a month ago called Smart Components. They completely changed the game when it comes to designing interactive experiences. At Framer, we believe that design should be interactive by default. One of our mottos is "Pictures are great for postcards, but buttons are meant to be clicked." In many ways, that philosophy will inform the direction of our product in 2021.

The way people are building things is about to change, and that's where we're placing a lot of our bets. Other tools on the market give you the ability to create something – not build it. You can design the way something should look – not the way it should behave. This is related to Framer's "background mission" of teaching every designer to code. With the new Smart Components, we're shifting the way you design components and variants, which differs from Figma or Sketch. It's about teaching designers how to think in the way that something gets built – not just the way it should look. We're making Framer a tool for people to build products.

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Steven, Lennart, Gino, Frank