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Scaling community efforts at Webflow
An interview with Brittni Cocchiara, Senior Community Marketing Manager at Webflow
Welcome community enthusiasts! 👋 Today we have a very special interview for you with Brittni Cocchiara, Sr. Community Marketing Manager at one of my favorite tools and businesses out there: Webflow.
Brittni explains how she got into the field, how Webflow’s community started and what it entails today, how they’re working with their community ambassadors and how they’re rewarding them, how they moderate such a huge community, and a lot more! 🔥
Enjoy, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇
About Webflow and Brittni
Webflow empowers designers to build professional, custom websites in a completely visual canvas with no code. Webflow was founded in 2013 and recently raised a 140M round to expand on their mission. With their community of roughly 75,000 people, it’s an interesting case to see how they’ve approached community building so far, and how they’re approaching it today.
Brittni took on the role of Senior Community Manager at Webflow last year. Obviously, this is somewhat different from a lot of other stories we’ve done on the Build With Users Interview series. Webflow isn’t in its earliest days anymore and the community has grown fast to a jaw-dropping scale. Let’s kick off with how she actually ended up on this career path.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you start your career in community management?
I started my tech career working for small start-ups as a customer success/support manager. When I chatted with customers, it didn't feel like I was at a help desk to me. I had everyday, casual conversations to help people out. I was good at it, and I thought that was what I would do for the rest of my life.
Then Miro invited me to help build out their customer success team. However, they didn't have a definite plan for me; I was assisting the product team with customer research and doing all sorts of other things. I began feeling like I was floating around and wasn't growing in any of it, which frustrated me. At the same time, while conducting interviews, I noticed that customers were tired of being talked at by the company, they wanted to talk to other customers about their experiences with the product. In a way, I also wanted them to talk to each other. I've always known that the word of mouth type of marketing is the best. So I started wondering how to work with this.
I ended up going to the CMO and the CEO, saying that I needed to leave. I told them that I wanted to focus my career more on community building. Against all my expectations, they offered me to do that for Miro instead. When I got to dive into community building, I quickly realized I knew nothing, and that starting a community wasn't just about starting a Slack group. But with time, I figured it out.
Nowadays, I thank Miro for helping me to find that passion, for giving me a chance to explore. Talking to other community managers, I understand it's a tough job. But it's also really rewarding when you get it right.
Stumbling upon a community role through a different experience seems to be a common thread. What makes you feel you want to keep doing this? Is it the fact that you connect people?
Yes, that's what I love and enjoy. I can help facilitate relationships, bring people together who wouldn't necessarily meet. They share one common theme – they use this product, or they believe in the vision. And I can help them connect. Plus, I get to meet cool people every day. I feel like people trust me because I'm not trying to sell anything. They feel like I'm more genuine because I'm just here to make connections.
For instance, looking back at Miro, I recall a group of people that met at an in-person virtual event we did and ended up starting a company together.
At Webflow, people are often teaming up to build a website or even create agencies. Hearing how a piece of software is changing someone's life or enabling them to quit their job and start their own thing is fantastic. Eventually, I help Webflow do more in terms of community, so more people achieve such outcomes. The fact that I can do more of this and I get to hear those stories every single day makes it so fulfilling.
When you joined Webflow, was there already a community set up?
I joined in September last year, and there was already a well-established community. I think they brought me in because the community was growing so quickly and they needed help scaling and driving deeper engagement across multiple platforms. It has exploded over the past year.
There are now global meetups, newsletters, Slack workspaces, Clubhouses, a Facebook group, a forum, as well as several event series and budding ecosystem communities, like Webflow Experts. There's so much love in the Webflow community that we wanted to grow with it. So I came in to help scale these programs and initiatives.
Did Webflow have this community-led perspective when they started? Was it something deliberate, or did the community part surge naturally because people were fond of the technology?
Some of it came organically. There was always something happening on Facebook, and people were already meeting.
We set up our forum up deliberately. When Webflow started, they didn't have a customer support team, and they were trying to find a way to connect with their customers affordably. They figured this was an easy way to do it as a small enterprise.
Can you give an overview of what the Webflow community entails? How do you bring value to the community and let people connect?
We let people connect via the forum. The forum is pretty much support-oriented. The Facebook group and now Clubhouses are more focused on engagement. There is a little bit of support, but it's primarily an opportunity for members to show off what they have done.
Furthermore, we have the Webflow Showcase as part of the product, where people can display their templates and sites and comment on each other's work; that's a big part of our community.
In our events community, we have been doing many virtual events and were doing in-person meetings before the pandemic.
We also have our community leaders/ambassador program. They are the ones who help moderate our forum and who create events to start 'chapters' (local communities) all over the world.
Lately, I've been working on building an ambassadors-only community. This is essentially a sub-community of all the community leaders and ambassadors to connect. Because before I came in, they were almost siloed away from each other. If all of them are doing the same thing, it makes sense that we enable them to talk and help each other. This 'sub-community' is essential for properly maintaining and growing our community of end-users and Webflow enthusiasts.
Are there any specific resources that you are developing with ambassadors to bring value to the community?
I'm focused a lot on content creation, working with ambassadors to create templates, slides, articles, posts, etc. Many of these ambassadors aren't just doing it for the love of Webflow; they're also trying to build a personal brand.
By working with these ambassadors, we are getting a constant stream of relevant content from our actual users. That helps us as Webflow for marketing purposes while we raise the names of the creators
By working with these ambassadors, we are getting a constant stream of relevant content from our actual users. That helps us as Webflow for marketing purposes while we raise the names of the creators. That's what brings a lot of value to the community: sharing and gaining knowledge, empowering people to focus on what they are passionate about, and helping them build their personal brand.
You mentioned using Clubhouse, Facebook, and you run the forum on Discourse. What are the pros and cons of these tools/platforms?
There are good things and bad things for all of them. When you have a Facebook community, there's not much wiggle room - you have to work within the structure of Facebook. At present, I'm the only official community manager in a 75-thousand plus community, and though I try to be in all places at once, Facebook doesn't make that easy for me. Then again, most people check their Facebook every day. So it's easy to get the word out, and people can connect throughout the day.
Discourse is great. But if you're not super tech-savvy, it can be hard to navigate the platform as a community manager. There's a lack of metrics, in my opinion, in particular engagement metrics.
People and companies outside of the community often want to know how many people are on the platform – what we refer to as "vanity metrics." But what does that tell you?! Discourse gives you monthly and daily active users from which you can gauge "stickiness," but I want to go deeper. I want to know who those "sticky users" are. I want to know how often they are creating sites on Webflow. If I were to get that kind of information, I would have to do more developer-type work, and we don't have the resources to do that currently. These platforms offer many options, but if you don't have the resources, you're stuck. And that's unfortunate.
The other part is that even if there's a better alternative out there for us, we have 37 thousand people already on it. So it would be quite the challenge to move them over.
Have you figured out a way to get that overview of your members and how engaged they are?
Not yet. I know how to do it but it involves others in the company as we’d need to go through our data warehouse. That’s a different story and quite the challenge. I know of new platforms and tools to help the community, but it's always a tricky conversation to have. Because even though the concept of community is not brand new, it still is relative to other business pillars. It’s always a matter of showing the impact and getting the resources you need.
Often people think that creating community is as simple as starting a Facebook group or opening a Slack channel. So explaining the ins-and-outs, making the motifs come across, can be challenging.
Often people think that creating community is as simple as starting a Facebook group or opening a Slack channel. So explaining the ins-and-outs, making the motifs come across, can be challenging. But now, with the pandemic, I see a surge in community. People are starting to listen.
How do people find out about the community? How do you make sure it keeps growing?
A lot of our growth is word of mouth. I've asked people how they found us, and most say someone mentioned it, and once they Google it, usually our forum pops up. With Facebook, it's the same thing: A tells B they are in this group, having this conversation, and B wants to check what's happening.
For events, we moved from Meetup.com to Bevy. We're struggling a bit because Bevy doesn't have things like name recognition or SEO. So our chapter leaders are having to put more effort into promoting their events, and we help them out via our social media accounts.
We also have a monthly newsletter in which we outline what's going on in the community, share templates, discussions from Facebook, and the forum - trying to keep everything together. That has about 11 thousand subscribers. We also promote our community landing page on all of our YouTube videos. Our university videos get a lot of views, and even that little plug below the videos causes an uptick. Soon, we will be getting exclusive community swag to encourage people to wear stuff, which will probably help people to talk about the Webflow community.
Moderating at such a scale is probably quite challenging. How do you keep the community lively and upbeat?
Because I'm the only one, it isn't straightforward. But if I make sure the community leaders – the ones that are moderating, leading things in the community – are happy, content, and feel like I'm on their side, they'll carry that over. For example, if we notice something in the forums that is not pleasant, I don't go in and tell them to stop it. Especially since sometimes it's a valid concern. But I make sure the community leaders know that I'm listening, that there are people at Webflow who are listening. In the end, if we're championing them, they're championing us – and that's how we keep it positive.
I think that should be every community manager's long-term goal: to empower the community to run itself.
At our scale, it's me mostly leading and overseeing and enabling the community leaders to do more operational work. My main goal as a community manager is to scale and automate myself out of work. I think that would be my definition of success in this role. For example, if I can shape things so that the community writes the content for the newsletter we send out, it's one less thing I have to do. I'm not trying to offload everything. But if it's a community newsletter, why don't we have the community write it? If it's their forum, why don't we have them answering the questions and creating content? I shouldn't be the one doing it; I'm not a Webflow user. But I'm here to help facilitate the process, make them feel like they're running it. I think that should be every community manager's long-term goal: to empower the community to run itself.
You mention that members raise valid concerns on the forum. Are such situations primarily product-related?
Yes. Communities just want transparency regarding decisions made by the company they support. For example, when the community puts something on their wish-list, they are not asking to have it shipped right away. But they would still appreciate some insight into why we're making certain decisions and prioritize other things first. However, sometimes the company is so busy that I have to bring them back in and remind them that they need to communicate their plans to the rest of the community.
Speaking of which, how's that connection between users and Webflow? Do you involve the community in improving the product?
We're trying to figure out how to keep improving on that level of transparency, and everyone is partaking in these conversations. After all, it's a customer-first company. We're going to be implementing a community business review to feed the community insights into what all departments are doing. Not just for product and engineering, but for all the teams at Webflow who are working to serve them.
Aside from this, we do have some things in place already to work directly with the community. Today, it's mostly early access programs, monthly syncs with Webflow teammates, a Slack instance for community leaders, and community events, most notably our virtual World Tour we launched in 2020, and our annual flagship event, No Code Conf, in November.
What have you been doing to reward community members such as ambassadors?
There are 90 plus ambassadors right now, and we're hoping to grow that by a hundred percent by the end of the third quarter. That's my task. We're currently revamping our program to try to offer them more. Swag is not enough. We need to highlight what they're doing, both inside and outside of Webflow. If they are writing a book, we want to highlight that and celebrate with them. I'm looking at ways to scale this type of delight system, as it has been a great perk for them.
I lead the community with a lot of empathy. After all, I wouldn't have a job if we didn't have these people. And part of my job is to help Webflow remember that every single day.
Another thing is including them in conversations with others at Webflow. Even if they're able to have a five-minute conversation with the CEO, they are appreciative. I'm also constantly open to chat with members who aren't ambassadors or leaders. I want to hear from them, find out what they want and what they feel, even if there are things at Webflow that aren't working for them. I lead the community with a lot of empathy. After all, I wouldn't have a job if we didn't have these people. And part of my job is to help Webflow remember that every single day. In our Slack channel, I'm always pointing out what members did. Because we can be so into building the product that some of us at Webflow need to keep reminding everyone we're doing it for the community. So I try to share these real human stories to keep fostering that understanding.
One piece of advice that you would give to anyone who is building out the early community around a software startup?
It takes time. Don't be discouraged by the lack of growth that you see. Another thing I wish I had learned at the time is to take care of myself. Community managers are taking care of everything and everybody in a way. But you can't help others if you're not taking care of yourself. You find that for many community managers that work with startup companies, everything is go-go-go, build-build-build. You get in that mindset and forget that sometimes you need to take a break or ask for help. You need to give yourself credit and space.
Have you got any favorite community management books or podcasts?
The first community book that I've ever read was Get Together. I have a book called Boundaries by Henry Cloud. That book isn't about community management, but I'm very into mental health and setting boundaries for myself, which I think is very relevant for any community manager.
Overall, I'm not much of a reader, and my podcasts are not so community-related. Instead, I lean on other community managers. When I started, I went to Linkedin and found community people running communities I admired and asked them for 30 minutes of their time. I just wanted to talk, to learn from them. That has been better for me than any book or podcast. That's where I found my tribe; the people who, whether I'm having a low day or high day, keep cheering me on. Community managers are usually willing to speak to you, and they will connect you to others. So be open, ask.
Have you any favorite tools that help you run your community?
For events, Bevy has been a lifesaver. Meet-Up is excellent, but you get many people who sign up and don't show up. I remember doing this Meet-Up in Amsterdam when I was running all of Miro's events, and no one showed up. That was hard, traveling from Texas to Amsterdam, finding no one showed. So especially when scaling such programs and giving chapter leaders the ability to create their own events, Bevy has been a lifesaver.
Is there anything specific that you'd like to promote that you want us to share?
I think just the Webflow community and website. I'm not the type of person to toot my own horn. I feel like my work at Webflow is an accurate reflection of me. So the Webflow community's success, or even of what's happening at Miro, is me building my brand. I'm super proud of everything that I've touched.
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