How InVision is advancing their design leadership community on Slack
An interview with Mindaugas Petrutis, Customer Experience Manager at InVision
Community enthusiasts, we’re back! 🎉 We’ve been able to interview Mindaugas Petrutis, the Customer Experience Manager over at InVision. He’s currently working on the international community and operations for the Design Leadership Forum – a private, invite-only network for design leaders.
Mindaugas talks about the focus on design leaders for this community, the importance of thinking ahead when building your community, specific limitations of Slack as a platform and how they are solving it, and a bunch more!
Enjoy, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇
About InVision and Mindaugas
If you’re somewhat interested in product and design, you’ve probably heard of InVision. They’re a digital product design platform. It covers tools for ideation, design, prototyping, and a manager for facilitating and scaling design systems. Tens of thousands of companies use it. From companies like Slack to Virgin Atlantic, and from Netflix to Philips.
Mindaugas is one of two people at InVision managing the Design Leadership Forum. This community isn’t for hands-on designers but focuses on those leading enterprise teams building digital products. The community counts well over 3000 members and connects online through a Slack community, as well as offline through amazing meet-ups – or rather private dinners. At least, that was before COVID happened… they have now established the virtual equivalent, but more on that below.
When was the design leadership forum started and why?
A few years back there was this realization that a lot of leaders in digital design – which, technically, is still in its infancy as an industry, needed a space and a network of peers to lean on and discuss the challenges they were facing. The role was different from others in the company and the domain fairly nascent. If they were going through challenges, problems, or needed some advice, design leaders didn’t really have anyone or anywhere to go and talk. So InVision created that space of like-minded people.
And the idea was simple, bring those people together in a safe space, and it sort of ballooned from there. A lot of members were eager to discuss shared challenges, it started with a small group but grew fairly quickly to well over 3000 members now.
Why is the community focused on leadership roles only? Do you also run a community for designers?
We have pockets of different communities that support individual contributors, i.e. hands-on designers, these are managed by various people @ InVision outside of the Design Leadership Forum team.
The IC community is a much bigger pool of people. It’s a different sized challenge and something that needs to be tackled differently because of its sheer scale. To add to that, there should be a clear distinction between community and audience. But that’s a whole separate can of worms and conversation :)
It’s equally important they can really relate to similar situations and experiences and connect on a deeper level.
When you bring a group of people together it’s important that they get value from being in that community and have relevant conversations. It’s equally important they can really relate to similar situations and experiences and connect on a deeper level.
For our leadership community, the distinction between designers and leadership roles is important because the day-to-day challenges differ. When you bring a group of people together it’s important that they get value from being in that community and are able to have relevant conversations. It’s important they can really relate to similar situations and experiences.
It’s not that we as a company saw it to be more beneficial to focus on the design leaders. Those leaders just caught on to the idea of having a peer group.
What do you consider to be the pros and cons of running on Slack?
A lot of communities start with a simple event, like a dozen people coming together for drinks or a small meetup. You typically don’t really think about how to scale yet at that point. And you probably shouldn’t think about it too much. But you should consider some fundamentals.
I think for us it had a similar start. We hadn’t thought through the scaling part. As more people join, you want to create a safe space where these people can hang out and connect. I think as with most communities who get started by people not formally in the job of creating and managing communities, you pick a simple solution to facilitate that space.
It was clear we were spending a lot of time on manual tasks that were taking the time away from us focusing on creating value for our members.
For us that has been Slack. When I joined the team, I looked at how we were running as a community and audited all of our processes, tools, the member experience, other teams involved that we needed help from for resources, and so on. I then built out a visual system to illustrate how complicated it had become. It was clear we were spending a lot of time on manual tasks that were taking the time away from us focusing on creating value for our members.
I then launched a research sprint to understand the different pros and cons of switching platforms, if it was actually worth it or whether we should stay on Slack and instead focus on improving some of our workflow around it by connecting/replacing some of our tools, with the goal of essentially creating a Community Operating System.
And not just changing things for the hell of it but ensuring that whatever we iterate on, aligns to our main goals:
Enable us to improve our member experience
Scale the community
Give us back the time from manual/repetitive tasks to focus on improving the member experience and creating more member value.
By doing so, we’re now creating a flywheel of sorts. More insights + time = more member value + better experience.
After that research sprint, my recommendation was that we stay on Slack because leaving the platform would be too big of a risk. And I could not find another platform that ticked all the boxes for what we identified as mission-critical for the next stage of our community.
On top of that, there was a significant risk we would lose highly valuable members when transitioning which would also mean losing all the value and relationships that we and the members spent a lot of time creating. At the same time, it would be another platform people needed to sign up for and come back to regularly, while Slack is embedded in their daily workflow.
We are currently working on a number of improvements like the nomination process, member detail updates, blog feature, website redesign and rebuild, being more inclusive to those that are not able to access Slack and those that are rejected from becoming a member. There is a lot involved so to kick us off, I have identified that we first need a way to understand our existing members and improve new member onboarding. Essentially create a strong operating system from which we can start improving everything else.
So, some of the issues with Slack we’re now addressing:
1. Onboarding new community members
One of the things we got from member interviews and something that stuck with me was that; when you enter a new community, it can often feel like the first day at a new school when you walk into the cafeteria and everyone has a seat and a group, and you’re just kind of like… what do I do? Where do I go?
That’s when we decided to experiment with our onboarding process and give new members enough information to know that if they want to engage, it’s much easier to know where to do it. If they just want to observe and don’t want to actively engage, we have a way for you to find the resources you might be looking for.
We ran a manual experiment which caused a significant uptick in engagement so to do that at scale, we’re now automating some of the messaging while still inserting a way for us to personally welcome new members. To do this, I’m using a platform called Ahoyteam.com which allows me to build sequences to help scale personalized onboarding:
2. Analytics & segmentation
Something else we’re looking into is how to deeper understand our community. Slack offers some basics but isn’t really sufficient for our needs. We’d like to understand our most active and also inactive members, giving us a good sense of how engaged and healthy our community is. Having spoken to many others running communities at scale, I know how hard this is. I recently started using commsor.com for this and it is really starting to unlock some of those insights.
I think being able to identify highly engaged people, somewhat engaged people, and observers, is really valuable. You have a feel for this off the top of your head when you’re small, but when growing bigger, that becomes impossible. And you default to just reaching out to the members you know already which is not very inclusive.
It’s crucial to understand your community at scale so you can program for that and in turn, create more value for your members. It gives you the ability to change up strategies, test with small groups of your members and track if that helps improve the health of your community. And then truly understand, over time, the value you’re all creating for each other.
Slack also lacks rich member profiles. We used to do in-person dinners in specific locations. Having a way to see highly engaged members that are from NYC, and using that to invite them to such an in-person dinner, is a great example of how rich member profiles and segmentation could help us improve how we deliver more value to our members and also create certain serendipity moments of the right people being in the right space at the right time.
How do people find out about the community? How do you make sure it keeps growing?
Most of our growth is organic, by word of mouth. There’s not much to it. We’re currently using a nomination process. So on our website, design leaders can nominate themselves or others they know.
The other part you could call pro-active is that we internally give InVision employees a place to list nominees for the community. This could be anyone from the CEO to support, customer success, or sales nominating someone to be invited to the community. They are all having conversations with the community on a daily basis and can recommend a space for them to join if it makes sense. We do keep reminding everyone about this option, so quite a lot of nominations come from that as well.
Do you keep the community open or invite-based? If the latter, how do you qualify people that want to join?
We are an invite-only community. The curation of members is really important. As I mentioned, our current way of qualifying is framed more so as a nomination process and we review every application manually.
We want new members to at least be the head of design at the company, or above. So think design director, VP of Design, those types of job titles. It’s important that someone is in charge of a team and building digital products.
We also ask for some extra context on who they are and why they think they should be joining the community just to ensure we are bringing new members who will create value for others and those who are eager to learn. This space is not only for seasoned leaders, quite the opposite, everyone is still learning and as mentioned before, it can also be a lonely job no matter how much experience you have.
How do you keep your community lively and positive?
I think the best thing we’ve done in that regard is running actual in-person dinners all over the world. That experience and way of connecting on itself have been great for members. At the same time, those experiences were not accessible to all. So the pandemic, after the initial shock, has actually opened up opportunities for us to connect members from all over the world at our virtual events.
Additionally, we have always taken notes at those dinners. We abide by the Chatham House Rule, which means we can use all information discussed at those dinners, but without attributing the actual person or company it came from or using quotes and insights that are very specific.
Post-event we synthesize these notes in a digestible format and we share this with all of the attendees. This is something everyone finds hugely valuable as there are often so many golden pieces of advice and unique insights that you can take back to your team or start implementing.
It even elevated to something bigger now. Due to COVID we now run a virtual equivalent of these dinners 2-3 times a month. We’ve taken a similar approach in terms of note-taking and sharing it back to the attendees.
Additionally, we now also combine and synthesise these event notes from a specific month, and create what we call an ‘insights report’ that we share out with the community.
One of the tougher challenges is that for many, myself included, it can often feel intimidating joining a new community. You feel like you might ask a stupid question, for example. So minimizing that anxiety is one of the additional onboarding challenges I am thinking about a lot – a pretty tough one to be honest. It’s something I’m still working on.
Do you give titles based on engagement or make specific groups of certain types of community members?
We haven’t done this yet, but have been talking about it. We definitely have a group of highly engaged members who are starting to ask for more responsibility now. Which is fantastic.
We have a few groups and channels that are now requesting some more resources from us to spin up their own events and initiatives. So we’re starting to stimulate that and empower our members. There aren’t any formal levels or titles for certain community members though.
Probably the most crucial thing that needs to happen when building a community, whether early or a later stage, is involving the members. Otherwise, you’re building and making decisions that affect your community, in a silo. And you are doing so based solely on your own perspective. Even if you’re the one who started the community, you’re likely no longer the target audience.
This is important to highlight here: probably the most crucial thing that needs to happen when building a community, whether early or a later stage, is involving your members. You don’t want to create silos if the community grows bigger. I see it as a cool evolution we’re going through and we’re improving the actual sense of belonging for our members.
One piece of advice you would give to anyone that is building out an early community around a software startup:
I think, even when you’re early in the process, stop and take a short pause to think about what happens if and when this community scales to numbers that are hard to manage manually. All communities start small but they might eventually catch on and can grow quickly as well.
Don’t over-optimize if you’re early, but do take a moment to envision that and maybe talk to others before haphazardly jumping into platforms for example. Once you pick a space or platform, it can be very hard to move people over.
Involve your early fans, the few people that showed up first. It gives you some people to lean on and build things out in a way it serves the members best.
The other part is: don’t do it on your own. Common advice, I guess, but very important. Involve your early fans, the few people that showed up first. It gives you some people to lean on and build things out in a way it serves your community best.
Your favorite tool that helps you better run your community, if any?
Right now, it’s a combination of Commsor and ahoyteam.com. I’ve been able to create a data and insights loop using these, which allows me to understand the community at scale and also start some experiments for onboarding, programming and so on. All of that is combined with constantly asking myself the question on what, if any, value this work is creating back to the members.
To touch upon that: when I did the research sprint for everything that had to do with our community’s processes and tools, I found a lot of platforms and tools out there were really strict in the way they work. There were very little customization options and a forced way of doing things. Or put it another way, extremely simple or overly complicated with no way to re-arrange it to what you need.
I actually think a community consists of all sorts of building blocks that should be put together differently for your needs. Every community is unique, and I think that should be reflected way more in the platform options and tooling.
Your favorite article or book as a community enthusiast?
I recently read this great article about the Head of Community over at Duolingo on scaling a community. Definitely a good read and worth checking out.
Also, this podcast episode with Erik Torenberg of OnDeck & Jacob Peters of Commsor is exactly how I think about the current and future state of community building, it’s power and value.
Anything specific you want to promote or plug?
If anyone is working on a platform that’s more flexible, like sort of a no-code solution with building blocks for your community or an OS that easily integrates with other community tools, I’d love to chat. If any design leader happens to read this, you can head over to the Design Leadership Forum website and apply. You can find me personally on Twitter @MindaugasLT.
Have you heard about our Build With Users Jam yet? This is a cozy, weekly online meetup where we chat about product & community building with anyone interested.
Thanks for reading this issue 🙏
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