Community management… what’s the point?

Sport, history and geography geek helping the tech geeks of Mews be seen and heard around the world.

Achieving technical excellence is the vision of our tech team. I truly believe that what we do here and how we go about it brings us one step closer to this goal every day. But how can we measure it? Not an easy task, but one thing that can help is external feedback. We as a team can all tap ourselves on the shoulders, but where would it take us? Our CTO Honza says that whenever he finishes a pull request, he feels it’s the best code he’s ever written – until it hits the code reviews. Community management, to use an appropriate metaphor, is GitHub in this sense. We’re the tool that allows others to comment and reflect on your work, ultimately making you and everyone else involved a better version of yourself. This is the story of how we see the role of community management. It’s important to note that whenever I speak about our community management team, I’m referring to one and a quarter of a person – myself being the one, and the amazing Gabriela being the quarter since the bigger part of her is being an amazing mom. 

The beginning of the story 

I like it when one item has more than just one purpose. A fitting example is a pair of my pants that can be used as sweatpants as well as pants for the theatre. Although, if you ask my wife, she may not agree, but I’m the one wearing them… So, when I think of the blog post you’re about to read, there are three main purposes it could have: 

  1. To tell you the story of how and why we do community management at Mews. 
  1. To hopefully provide valuable information and tips for anyone else working in the tech field. 
  1. This is a selfish one, but I’m hoping that after finishing this piece, I’ll finally have a clear idea of what my team and I are doing and an answer for my family and friends when they ask about what I do. 
This is the Mews’ Community team. 🥇 We don’t have the neon with the new logo, yet.

Back in April 2019, the Mews engineering team was growing rapidly, as it always is in the tech world. We were struggling with hiring engineers, as all tech companies do, and we were trying to come up with an edge. The purpose was simple: Raise awareness of our company and specifically the engineering team. We’re a B2B company developing something that has historically been known as Property Management System (PMS). And although we do things differently, beautifully, and with a customer-centric approach, it just, unsurprisingly, didn’t sound very appealing. To add to that, we were virtually unknown as an employer internationally, let alone in the Czech Republic. 

So how do you raise awareness for your company, team, and the technology you’re creating? You produce buzz around it through organizing meetups, writing blog posts, attending conferences, social media, and the like. 

Sounds simple and like something most companies are trying to do to some extent, right? Yes, but it’s usually done on a company-wide level as you usually also want people to know or buy your product. And most of the time the team would be under the Marketing or People team. In 2019, both these teams were in their nascent stages, and with a different target audience. We also knew very well that to be successful, it had to be carried out directly within the tech team since the content was to be done by engineers for engineers. Community management is needed for dramaturgy, production, and vision, but the rest comes from the team itself. And as mentioned earlier, it’s useful when one thing has multiple purposes – the same goes for our role. 

The “trifecta” visualized below is something I came up with a couple of years ago when I was preparing for an internal presentation on this topic. One circle can’t exist without the other, and you can start at any point you’d like. Like any company, we need to hire new developers. Once they’re hired, it’s our responsibility (in cooperation with the engineering leadership) to ensure everyone has all the tools and support they need for both personal and professional growth. Part of this is the often-neglected effort for everyone to feel good and happy being part of the team and company. Once this is in place and the new colleague feels confident in their role, we give them the platform and support to publish their ideas and work. Let it be via writing a blog post, speaking at a meetup, or mentoring others. This all serves as a powerful tool for hiring efforts, as our original content can really demonstrate what kind of people and organization we are. We can then go on and on in this direction, it’s seemingly never-ending (good for us!). So, let’s look more closely at each of these stages, starting with “perfecting talent”. 

Your people first 

From an outside perspective, it can appear to be about social media presence, blog posts, and talks at meetups. Which, of course, are the ultimate channels through which you can tell your story and attract an audience and their attention. But (here comes the first of many clichés) it’s really all about the people. If you as a CTO or CEO decide to have community management but don’t have anyone to contribute, you’d quickly fail. That’s why most of my time is spent with people, talking to, listening to, and encouraging them. For example, listening to a team meeting where members share what they’re up to in their work, then following up with them on what could be a good blog post or talk. The same goes for informal talks where you get to know people and their passions. I feast on that! 

A lot of what we do internally is typically done by the People Operations team. I’m referring to the engineering team-specific onboarding, offboarding, and organization of internal events. This may have been designated to community management due to the lack of the aforementioned teams back in the day, but now they’re invaluable to running the community meaningfully. Every new starter goes through companywide onboarding and the People team provides all the necessary paperwork, but once a starter passes this, they’re “ours” 

The fact that we’re part of every Mewser’s first steps in the company helps us tremendously when it comes to knowing them not only professionally, but even more importantly, personally. And they know us, which creates mutual trust. Something I can’t stress enough is that with any role in community management, you need to know your people and what they do. Sounds too broad? Well, it’s exactly that. It’s hard to define and scale, but it’s exactly what you need to do. I mentioned in another article that our role is to tell people how good they actually are because imposter syndrome is a real thing. To do that, you need to know your people well. 

And to get to know everyone well enough you need to have a process. During the first couple of months, we use a timetable so that managers and new starters know exactly what’s needed from them at the different stages of onboarding. One thing that’s very important in the first two weeks is to use the experience of new starters to show us what we can do better when it comes to interviews, onboarding and teamwork – and whenever there’s an idea we could implement, to act upon it quickly. Thanks to these discussions and suggestions, we now have a buddy system, improved onboarding presentations and much more. 

Now how do you motivate people to participate in the community? That’s the classic struggle of every community manager. But it doesn’t have to be when the foundations are laid out by managers and senior colleagues as well as when the weight of the contributions are clearly communicated. We try to tell people that by, for example, writing a blog post or mentoring for Czechitas, they first and foremost do it for themselves. You need to research and prepare the topic, which allows you to improve your abilities, and you’ll very likely leave your comfort zone. And, if you ever leave us, as much as we don’t want that, you’ll have something that every employer appreciates. Classic CVs will soon be a thing of the past. And don’t forget to make it fun. We love competition so we gamified the process and implemented an Engagement game which also helps to nudge people to take part in the way comfortable for them.

We strengthen our relationships within the internal community by organizing events that also serve as a way to blow off some steam. However, more importantly, we design and organize training sessions and manuals to help everyone feel comfortable contributing to the community. Writing a blog post, let alone speaking in front of a lot of people, can be very stressful, even if you decide that it’s something you’d like to do. We’re here to help and to make sure that everyone has all the tools they need to shine. One example is the speaker’s training by Lukas Hrdlicka, who’s already trained many of our colleagues. 

You might be thinking that everything I wrote is too soft without the data to back it up. We also love data (in a reasonable fashion) and that’s why a tool like Officevibe is indispensable. Every once in a while, each team member is asked a couple of questions on Slack, and based on their answers, you can work out the vibe around the office. 💡 There are many ways to look at the data, but for us as community managers, there are three crucial metrics: The wellness and happiness of the internal community, and ambassadorship of the external.  

Going public 

Now comes the visible part, the fruit of your labor – the external presence. There will still be parts that touch the internal community but if you remember the trifecta, it’s all interconnected and the external presence can’t exist without the work you do internally. 

“Done is better than perfect.”  A famous quote by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, fits perfectly with the role of community manager. If you and your team have something to contribute to the community and you understand the benefits and needs, just start and give your people the opportunity to fulfil themselves. 

We rather soon realized that when measuring value versus effort, blog posts were the winners when it came to our attention. Over the 2.5 years since starting, we’ve published over 90 blog posts by more than 30 colleagues. This is something I’m really proud of. Of course, you’ll have a couple of people who have a lot to say and enjoy such extracurricular activities, but the breadth of our contributors is really something special. In our case, it’s people like Pepa, Kirill, or Honza. What’s also special is that we give space to all levels of seniority, and we give quite a bit of freedom when it comes to the types of topics published. 

But the number of blog posts isn’t the only objective. It’s also the improvements we continuously make. Peer review was introduced for better quality blog posts, a fully dedicated freelance copywriter to ensure English proficiency, Asana board for better publishing planning, and a style guide to assure unity across blog posts.  

Even though I mentioned the broadness of our content, you should always pick a couple of topics that you’re really good at and that resonate with you and your team. In our case, those would definitely be functional programming, Flutter or engineering management. 

That applies not only to blog posts but also to your public appearances. We try to find a healthy balance between the organization of our own meetups and teaming up with other companies and speakers from our network. Alone, you’ll never be able to attract the same number of people as when teaming up with others. Put aside fighting for talent and get the most out of friendly relationships within the community. 

In the world of talks, find your persona and what works and iteratively improve on that. Our example would be the TechUncovered series of panel discussions on bigger technological topics. Two years ago, we said we’d like to have one event every quarter. It’s easy to say, harder to do, but we managed. With time we improved our productions using professional recordings, and in 2022 we’re planning to bring in even more interactive promo material and a bigger one-day conference under the wings of TechUncovered.

Unintentional setup of one of the TechUncovered editions that may remind you of something… 🌿🌿

When it comes to social media, present your people and memes that circulate around the office (those that can be published), celebrate every success whenever possible and don’t shy away from sharing the work of other people and companies. It’s nothing to be ashamed of to recognize the inspirational work of someone else. It’s sometimes hard to accept that you can’t come up with every unique idea, but you can use it as inspiration and a means to elevate it. 

The Engagement game was inspired by Ladislav Vašek, a dedicated website for tech resources by Nike, and our content and community by Netflix or Stripe. Don’t be afraid to get inspired even outside the tech world. I love the creativity of Ikea, LEGO or even Lidl when it comes to working with their brand. Though the place I go to the most for inspiration is the world of sports. When you have a creative player who likes to take chances, you have to accept that they may make a mistake here and there. You want those players and need to be one yourself. But you still need peers who actively challenge your ideas and throw their own at you for you to either execute or refute. 

And lastly, never forget where you came from and what you can do to help and do good. Pick the areas you feel the strongest connection to and allow people to participate in making the world a better place. Here’s an article where I talk about this topic in more depth. 

Hiring talent 

Don’t forget to align your activities with the talent acquisition team and ultimately the whole company. As mentioned previously, community work is to a large extent the prolonged hand of hiring efforts. We like to say that “talent attracts talent”. So, keep a close relationship with the recruitment team, open your projects to them, invite them to your standups and vice versa. This is something I’m preaching now, but that we only started doing properly not too long ago. Better late than never, right? And when it comes to our company goals, it can be a bit of a stretch, but in the case of Mews, this is already happening. We’re currently in talks with the biggest hotel chains that have their CTOs, security engineers, and others who are interested in who their vendors could be. So, the fact that we openly publish how we do things along with open-source libraries is a huge add-on in sales too. It’s also a huge add-on for us as we can better align what we do with not only the needs of the engineering team but the company as a whole, something we’ve been missing a bit in the past. 

There are many ways where you can feel that what you do has meaning and impact. One of the most gratifying is when a person at an interview says that they read our blog post and that was their reason for applying. Or even when we’re told that something we said at a meetup is being discussed in other communities or companies. It’s also pretty cool when someone tells us they saw a person with a Mews t-shirt at a gym. These are successes that may not be possible to measure but they warm the heart of everyone managing the community. 

One of the older versions of our merch was very visible… but go ahead, scan it, it still works! 👀

Vision and purpose 

You can see that we wear many hats which can often be confusing for insiders and outsiders alike. But with time and a better definition of our role we managed to create a new field within Mews that’s proving to be valuable for individual colleagues, the tech team, and ultimately the company. 

We were once those seeking advice when starting the company and were grateful for any inspiration we could get. Not that we’ve stopped looking for that, but it’s a great feeling knowing that we’re now (hopefully) providing the community with advice and inspiration. Because you always need to give the community more than you take away. Or at least try to. 

As mentioned at the beginning, we operate in the same way as any other team in the tech department (read more on this in our CTO Honza’s article). And although it can sound a bit corporate, every team needs to have a vision and purpose, to help everyone involved understand what we’re trying to achieve and how it can help the company. So, at the very end, I’d like to share the vision and purpose of Mews’ community management team, and I encourage everyone reading to think about their own vision and purpose. 

Vision: To champion a positive impact on the community. 

Purpose: We’re here to nurture a culture of innovation that inspires, attracts, and grows the best talent. After all, talent attracts talent. 

Sport, history and geography geek helping the tech geeks of Mews be seen and heard around the world.
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