The power of community is being reinvented for brands that understand the deeper value of building brand relationships with its customers and beyond.
People that drive this vision within a brand are not easily found, and when I came across Eddie May as the Head of Community for an emerging software technology (SnowPlow Analytics) at MeasureCamp Copenhagen 2022, I felt I met a fellow like minded professional.
Fast forward nearly a year, and Eddie was nominated to be the founding head of our Community 4 Brand section. Lucky for us, he gladly accepted and I thought it worth while to ask Eddie a few questions to understand his journey with community management.
Jomar: Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path to this point. What are some of the highlights and main learnings?
Eddie: Well, a lifetime ago I was an academic at university, lecturing on modern history. I then retrained as a Java programmer, spending a decade working in finance, industry & then local government as a contractor. Then in 2008 I started a boutique ecommerce consultancy, building and marketing Magento web shops for SMEs. I kind of acted as a freelance consultant, working on site and remotely as an extra pair of hands. I kind of became a marketing “jack of all trades”, helping companies with SEO, AdWords, Analytics, campaigns, strategy, etc, as well as doing technical Magento stuff like building extensions.
Throughout my time in all these roles, community was really important, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. As an academic, you attend conferences, present papers, network, etc – these are really important to developing an academic career. Subsequently, getting involved in online communities like support forums was a lifeline for a freelancer – you usually had nowhere else to turn for answers and advice. I joined loads of product related communities – Joomla, Alfresco, Magento, WordPress, Drupal – gradually evolving from being a “lurker” to active participant. I ended up attending various meetups and conferences, even giving presentations. My eventual switch to a role as Community Manager came as a result of having participated in one of those communities – the company advertised the role, and being known by a few of the people at the company, certainly helped my application.
One of my main lessons is that no-one can do it all alone. There’s always someone out there who knows more than you do, or has resolved your problem before. A community can be like having a big brother or sister looking out for you, helping you up when you fall, looking after your back, being fun to be with.
Jomar: What made you see that ‘Community’ had a bigger role to play with brands and organisations and when did this happen for you?
Eddie: I think I first recognised the power of community from a brand perspective when I got involved in the Magento community. For me, as a freelancer, the community allowed me to get stuff done. However, I soon recognised the network effect the community had as a marketing and loyalty tool for the Magento brand. Countless agencies and third party tool providers worked together to promote Magento and organised local meetups and national conferences. For Magento this was a win-win – their marketing efforts were magnified n times over, as these agencies and vendors sold Magento to their clients and to Magento service providers. The community also became part of their go to market strategy – even I began to get local companies approaching me because of some answer I’d provided in the forums or a blog post I’d written. Very quickly Magento became the premier open source shopping cart solution, and it was the community that made this happen. The sheer volume and noise created by the Magento community also had the effect of crowding out rival solutions.
I’ve also been involved in community led growth initiatives, where the power of the community was crucial in persuading customers to purchase the product. Checking out the community is now often part of the due diligence that customers perform on potential vendors. If there is an active community to provide support outside of the vendor’s formal customer support, then customers feel reassured that they will not be left high and dry in their use of the product. For the brand, this support deflection enables them to scale their growth beyond their payroll.
Jomar: What makes a ‘best of breed’ community?
Eddie: Firstly, I think brands need to be careful about viewing their community from a, “what can we get out of it” approach. The best communities add value to their members, as well as the brand. I think I recall that for every $9 spent in the Magento ecosystem, only $1 went directly to Magento. What Magento helped create was a community of overlapping ecosystems that fed into and supported the broader Magento brand.
Secondly, the community is ideally a place where individuals can grow and develop their careers. This could be through formal training offered by the brand but it might also be via the opportunities for speaking, organising and contributing to the community. I’ve seen multiple individuals develop from being junior programmers to developer relations professionals through their community involvement. Along the way they’ve done sterling work promoting the brand and as they have moved from company to company, they’ve taken the product and brand with them.
Thirdly, communities should be fun. Few people want to get involved in the boring stuff. Whether your community is online only or hybrid, you need to foster a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for fun. That will encourage people to return and to get involved.
I think the MeasureCamp community exhibits all three of these best of breed features. Members attend because they find it valuable to listen to industry experts speak, it’s a great opportunity for new speakers to try out public speaking, and it’s also fun. Who’d have thought that 150 data nerds giving up their Saturday to come together to talk about analytics and data could be fun! But it is.
Jomar: Eddie, it is great to have you join the Brand Leadership Community leading our section ‘Community 4 Brands’. What was it about this community that appealed to you?
Well, I’ve had the privilege of having been a sponsor of Brand Leadership Community (BLC) events, and from a sponsor’s perspective, those events were great for ROI, as well as from a community building and outreach perspective. BLC is so much more than an events company and has the potential to build with its community to make a really valued contribution to its members and the brands involved. And the people involved in BLC are both experts in their field and good fun to work with. So, when this opportunity arose, I was really pleased to be approached and to accept the opportunity to work with leaders in their field.