Community can be such a powerful tool for growth when the right amount of time, dedication, and resources are devoted to it. But, it’s important to make sure you’re going into it with the right intentions, and that you understand if it’s even right for your business.
We covered how to tackle this, and more, in our very first episode of the Community-Led Convo podcast with Nisha Baxi, Head of Community at Gong.
For those who prefer reading expert insights rather than listening to them, we’ve packed it all into this handy article for you. But, if you'd still like to check out the full episode in audio form, you can find it over here!
We spoke about:
- Her role and responsibilities at Gong
- Her experience in community
- What makes community a valuable tool
- Key skills you need to be a head of community
- If community-led growth is the appropriate strategy for every business
- Making the room for community in a business
- Mistakes to avoid when building a community
- Communities and notable figures in the space she admires
- Advice for listeners
Let’s hear what she had to say. 👇
Tell us about your role at Gong as Head of Community
As the Head of Community, it's my responsibility to unlock the excitement and creativity of our customers. These customers have an appetite for learning from each other, connecting, sharing their best practices, and learning from others’ best practices. I basically built the Gong community, which is an online platform for people to learn from each other and get connected in an organic way.
Walk us through your career and experience with community
I graduated with a degree in marketing and then started working in a marketing capacity at a small startup. At the same time, I was also running a community meetup group for fun. It was a meetup for startup founders that had built a company and wanted to launch it and needed a place to get feedback. This was before TechCrunch, Disrupt, or Demo Day where people would meet in person and connect.
So I was running this meetup when someone from Microsoft approached me and said, “Hey, did you know that you could do this as a full-time job?” I had no idea that community was actually something that companies desired to build in that way. For me, community had always been a very prescriptive motion and wasn’t one of the traditional customer marketing channels studied in school.
I now realize after being in the industry for over a decade that community spans across everything. It covers every single industry and business function and really affects everyone. So I’m really grateful to be able to do this job.
I’ve always brought community into every role I’ve done, at Salesforce, Microsoft, Facebook, and other smaller companies as well.
What does your day-to-day job look like at Gong, and how does Gong see community as a valuable tool?
Day-to-day, there is so much to do. We primarily make sure that we have lots of authentic content. Yesterday, we launched a campaign where you could meet our CEO and our Head of Content for 30 minutes if you shared some content or words of your own that showcase how awesome it is to be a Gong customer and how you use it in your particular role.
People were really excited to share their thoughts. People who are Gong nerds are always looking for an opportunity to share even more about how they're using it, why they're using it, how it's made their lives better, and how they've been able to build up their career. And the community does a really great job at providing that space.
Content-enabling discussions are also really important. We do one-on-one networking which is always happening and always on. We use a tool called Meetsy, which is really amazing. If you've ever used Donut for Slack, it’s very similar to this, except that you create your own inputs and people get connected on a weekly basis.
We also have meetups that run every single month. We have both a Women in Revenue meetup and a data meetup that meets once every month. And this is just how people connect. It's about building opportunities and a platform for people to connect with each other.
From the lens of Gong, community is the only function where it's not all about what Gong wants, it's about what our customers want, and we enable that.
I'd love to share a quick story on how our meetups were born. I love meetups and used to run them for fun. So I thought about the kind of meetups people would really like and made a list of five to 10 that I thought would be wonderful.
Unfortunately, the meetup I came up with and wanted to try was not interesting. It had almost no traction. However, there were two women who had actually met through our one-on-one matching program and had become best friends in the Gong community.
One of these women was super active in the community, and she was a Head of Sales. So I reached out to her and said, “Hey, I'm really impressed with your background. I think it would be great to have a Head of Sales meetup, (which was another one of the meetups on my list) and I’d like you to run it.”
Her response to me was, “Well, I was actually going to come to you because I met my best friend in the Gong community. We had a wonderful chat and we want to create a Women in Revenue meetup.” And that's when I realized something that we've already known for years at Gong; you have to follow the music. Follow what your community wants to do. So of course I agreed to have a Women in Revenue meetup.
I was trying to build the foundations and mimic that around what the company was working on. But no one cares about that. People want to connect on topics they care about. So our new strategy is to follow the music.
As a result, we've built the Women in Revenue meetup and it runs almost completely by itself. There's a group of women that really care for each other and have really connected. They create their own invites, do their own write-ups, and the meetups happen at the same time every month.
If you were hiring someone to take over your role, what would you be looking for? Are there any key skills you’d want to see?
It's very hard to pick the right person for this role because you need someone who has the propensity to gather with other folks. If you're somebody that likes to bring your friends together, the one that's always organizing your yearly girls' trip, or the kind of person that looks at the sent mail in your inbox and sends out three intro emails every single week, this could potentially be the right career for you.
It took me a while to get to this point in my career, and I really did a lot of community marketing. I was doing product marketing and developer marketing for years, and I would say, “Okay, we're going to use community to enhance what we're building in the product and build up our developer ecosystem.”
If you're looking to get into the profession, it makes sense to learn from the greatest and the best in community. In my personal opinion, that would be Erica Kuhl. I call her the fairy godmother of community. She has her own consulting firm now, but she founded the Trailblazer community at Salesforce, which is the most successful B2B SaaS community and SaaS community in general.
Do you think community-led growth is right for every business? How would you figure that out?
There are two general frameworks that can help individuals figure out if community-led growth is right for their business. Community is not a one-size-fits-all, it's very different for every company and for what you're trying to achieve.
There are two main things that I would consider. The first is, do you have community market fit or community product fit? What I mean by that is nobody would ever start a company without making sure there's a group of people that would actually use their product.
When you think about building an MVP of something, you'll go out and talk to your potential customer and ask them what their problems are, do a bit of discovery, and then purpose-build the product for those folks. And if there really is a problem, then you can build a product around that. And I think that's similar to community, so it would be something you could assess from that perspective.
The second thing to consider is if this is something that the market needs. Is there an interest? Is there a burgeoning group of people and a potential field where these folks can gather? Understanding if there's a market fit is step number one.
The second framework is to think about what kind of community you’re building, for yourself. So if you're a company, it has to be in service of something.
I think about the top-of-the-funnel community and the bottom-of-the-funnel community to oversimplify it a bit. With the top-of-the-funnel community, I think of it as a primary driver of category creation. So you’re thinking about how to get people excited about something that everyone cares about, and you’re the one that gets to own that conversation and that talk track.
Gong did this really well early on, which is why I now have a job for the bottom-of-the-funnel community I’m running. Gong did a really good job at creating a revenue intelligence podcast. They also ran AMAs, and they had a bunch of webinars.
Gong has the best content by far and away from any B2B SaaS company, and I'll say that to anyone, any day of the week.
What's really amazing is that they organically created a group of raving fans that just loved the product and wanted to talk about it and help other people, people that were looking to capture their customer interactions and unlock reality for their businesses in a way that they hadn't before.
What I love is that it gave way to an opportunity to create a true community like an actual product. I built a website, which is open for anyone to join, but if you become a Gong customer, you get 10 times as much content as you see in the community.
So to sum it up, I would look at whether there's a fit in the market, and if there’s a need within your customer base.
You then need to understand where your business is, if community is being used for category creation and top of the funnel, or if it’s being used because you've already built something really strong and you want your customers to connect with each other to harness the power of whatever your company or product is.
Have you ever struggled with finding a gap or a place to build a community?
Yeah, definitely from a fit perspective. I’ve been at companies where people didn't really believe in community as a model. They didn’t think of it as a channel and were convinced that we should be doing demand gen or SEO instead. They said, “We should be focusing on content, why would we focus on people?”.
Ultimately, it's people that are educated on the product and end up buying it. So if you focus on creating a community of people that are interested in the same topic you're interested in, you have a higher likelihood of actually selling into them, if that's your goal.
I often hear people say, “We just need to focus on messaging.” A lot of product marketing is centered around messaging and positioning, but the best way to message and position is by understanding the voice of the customer. You do that by leveraging community. So I'd either build the community or tap into an existing community to understand what they were saying.
Now, I get to use community for something even more impactful and meaningful, to change people's lives, to have them build on their careers, and introduce them to their best friends.
Are there any mistakes you've made when building a community?
Absolutely. I've made 100 million mistakes, and I continue to make them. I literally wake up every day, look in the mirror and tell myself, “Nisha you know nothing. You have so much to learn.”.
I think having that mentality is what will really help you to grow.
There was actually a big mistake that I made very early on in my career. I had been doing things in a certain way for five years, and I was all raring and ready to go. But I realized that I was just so hyper-focused, excited, and ambitious, that I didn't step back as a person and realize that there's so much more to learn. And I think I missed a lot of learning moments and opportunities as a result of that.
I've made a tonne of mistakes. I've launched campaigns that have sent emails to the wrong people. I’ve not checked copy editing properly and sent out something that was sentence case when it was supposed to be title case.
My dad always says that results follow intention. I think if you have genuinely good intentions, that's okay. It's important to experiment and try new things. Sometimes it doesn't work and that’s okay. But, sometimes it will work and that’s great!
If I were to caution anyone in community, I would say the biggest mistake that you could make is to not understand if there is an opportunity to create a community that is actually impactful to the business.
Do a lot of early work and a lot of diligence, internally and externally, to figure out if you have a base of people that would support you in creating a community. In the life of a company, it's very difficult to deform one, so you really want to make sure that people have your back in making that happen.
Earlier, you mentioned some examples of community leaders you admire and communities setting a great example. Can you talk us through that a bit more?
Well, I already gave the biggest shout-out in the world to the Salesforce community, I think they're doing some wonderful things.
Slack is also starting to do some really wonderful things in community. They have meetup organizers and people that run the meetups for them on behalf of the company.
Notion is another amazing community that's run by Ben Lang. If you want to know the name of a person who has mastered the top-of-the-funnel community, that’s Ben. With Notion, Ben knew there was a B2C and a B2B play here. You can easily get lost and build something that’s not very strong, but he's managed to find a way to build a cohesive story in multiple communities within the Notion umbrella.
Some of the most impressive communities that I've come across are communities that are built for community people. CMX is a really great one, as well as the Community Club. These are groups that have people like me who are in the profession, and they want to learn from each other. And so community people make the best communities.
Do you have any advice to share with listeners?
My honest answer is to be nice and kind. People can smell inauthenticity when you're not being nice.
A friend of mine says this a lot, “Small world, long career.”.
Community is forever. It has existed for generations, and it's so important to build a community with the right heart and the right intention. And that will have a network effect that will last lifetimes and that will go with you no matter what role you go into.
Those two women I mentioned earlier that connected in the Gong community, they're going to be friends for the rest of their lives. I don't know if they will be in the Gong community in 2050, I hope they are, but I know they will be friends forever.
I think that there is a certain kindness and empathy that is so deep and intrinsic in community leaders and in community spaces. So if you lead with that, and you lead with your heart, there's no way you won't be successful.
Eager to get started with your own community but not sure where to begin?
Check out our How To Build An Online Brand Community Playbook now, with actionable steps and checklists to ensure you hit the ground running - as well as valuable insights from community professionals!