How did I build the Vsnap community? Well the idea is brilliant and when we launched EVERYONE was stoked about it.
:: drops the mic ::
Well, that may have been awesome, but that’s not exactly how it went down. Here’s the real deal, and I hope you startuppers find it helpful!
How it started…
I joined Vsnap, pre-product, in May of 2011. If you want to read the whole back story, you can check that out here. I freelanced for about a week before being hired as the community manager and joining Vsnap Co-Founder & CEO Dave McLaughlin as the first employee. When we first started out, Vsnap was supposed to be a social video app for the web. Mom sent college kid Johnny a vsnap, a 60 second inherently private (had to have an account to watch) video, and attached something like a gift certificate to the grocery store. We even filed a patent on video-gifting. Now think back to 2011. The wave of selfies outside of MySpace had yet to hit the internet, and most people did not have good cameras on their phones. Nevermind front-facing cameras. 12seconds, the pre-cursor to Vine, and the video portion of Seesmic had both just closed their doors. People really weren’t catching on to short, one-to-one videos. And they weren’t creating as much content as people do now. Although that didn’t phase us, because the thought was that these vsnaps were providing value, were less self indulgent, and didn’t feature cats. I actually had a no cat video clause in the first version of my job description.
And off we go…
So without an app to show off or a website to point people to, I went straight to attending events in Boston (where Vsnap calls home). The more people we talked to, the more we saw how impactful short videos would be in business. Dave started referring to us as the modern version of the handwritten note. This wasn’t video as marketing or content, but a way for businesses to reach out to their customers and clients in a way that felt more human. No long emails, no emoticons, no jargon. And by the time our beta launched in November 2011, we already had businesses jumping onboard to try it out.
Alright, so get to the community building part…
I went to 3-5 events a week. From tech to startup to events that were out of my comfort zone, but I knew I’d fall into great conversations. Building a great home audience is not the end all, ￼be all of community, but having your hometown back you up is priceless. It was also our quickest way to connect with our future customers and as I mentioned, that played a huge part in our company early on.
Ask how you can help
Don’t have business-card-hand. I know you’re super excited about your idea, but make sure you take time to ask people how you can help them. Community is two way street. You may think you don’t have much to give, but I’m sure you can make a reference for a hire, a partner, or even recommend the place where you got your business cards printed.
Say thank you and follow up
You’d think this was a common sense thing, but I’ve chatted with a lot of people that have never followed up after asking me for feedback on their product. I don’t expect to hear “Without Trish, my startup would not exist” in any acceptance speech, but I want to know where you ended up. We have folks in our community that don’t actually use the product often, but because we’ve kept them in the loop and remain in their eyesight (Tweetsight? Emailsight?), they’ve been some of our greatest evangelists.
This is where video has really come in handy. It almost feels like I’m cheating with my online community. While some of my counterparts were carefully crafting emails with generic text toeing the line just in case their tone was misconstrued, I was recording vsnaps for customer service to make sure people knew that they weren’t going to get an auto-reply. That I’m a real, live human being. Also, like a human being, I found ways to interact with Vsnappers by celebrating their important moments: birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, or even trying to make them smile when they’re having a bad day. BTW, I didn’t use any fancy tools, mainly just Twitter search.
Go above and beyond
Our very first premium customer was a Vsnapper that had actually had a bad experience with the site, but I responded to him early morning one Sunday. He was blown away by the quick reply and customer service, and months later when we launched our premium features, he was the absolute first person in line to upgrade. Early on is the time to wow.
Share your values
People want to do business with other people that add to their personal and professional brand. And values are the basis of every great community. Let others know what your company stands for, what are your deal-breakers, and what can people expect from using your product/service.
Get in on Twitter chats
￼This has been one of my favorite community building tools. We don’t host one for Vsnap, but I show up in chats where our audience may be, like #custserv (Customer Service), #cmgrchat (Community Manager Chat), #cmgrhangout (Community Manager Hangout), #MediaChat (social and online media), just to name a few. It’s been an awesome way to get to know what other tools our audience uses, as well as establish myself as a resource in the space. It’s also been a great way to make some headway in a different town when I go and visit.
Get on the phone or video chat or even… meet up in person
There are so many tidbits that you learn about people outside of the interwebs when you chat with them that you don’t always get from email. They may drop in what their workload is like, what other departments they work with, and even some personal stuff that will give you something to bond with them.
There’s probably a 2.0 version of this blog post somewhere that includes building beta tester lists, tracking referrals, hosting offline events, etc. But if you’ve got some tips on starting out a community, share it below or email/vsnap me at email@example.com or send a tweet to @trishofthetrade.