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The Community Manager’s Cheat Sheet for ‘Doing Things That Don’t Scale’

Posted by Krista Gray on Apr 26, 2016 10:00:51 AM

3 minute read

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If you work in community management or at an early stage startup, you’re likely heard the phrase “do things that don’t scale.” The concept, made popular by Paul Graham, the well-known computer scientist, writer and venture capitalist who co-founded Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, speaks to the importance of doing small things that have a limited but very powerful impact.

While Paul Graham’s advice has stuck with founders who have decision making power and steer the company’s ship, much of what he talked about can fall into a community manager’s lap as they have a direct relationship with users and customers. That said, the following four points, or tactics, are things that all folks working with early-stage communities should consider trying.

1. Start with a narrow group. In his essay, Paul Graham talks about how Facebook launched at Harvard with a very specific target market. Although Community Managers don’t necessarily get to call the shots on where and when they company’s product or service will become available, they can certainly have influence over the type of people who become customers or users.

This can happen in variety of ways, whether it’s helping put together community data to inform decision-making, working with marketing to guide user/customer acquisition strategy or even by growing the community across channels with targeted tactics.

Your first community members, whether in general or in a new area, will help you win over groups or people while understanding what works and what doesn’t. After, you’ll be well positioned to aim for growing and managing a more broad group.

2. Offer super personalized help. The opportunity to help community members on a customized level is one of the joys of managing a new community. Not only does it help you develop a deep bond with some of your earliest users and customers, but it provides an opportunity to collect hoards of incredible qualitative feedback about the product and service.

Airbnb, now a well-known company with hundreds of thousands of beautifully photographed listed units around the world, once went door-to-door to help hosts take photos of their spaces. As you can imagine, this would never work with today’s enormous, scaled marketplace. In a second example, Paul Graham talks about how team members at the software startup Viaweb used their own product to build stores for clients.

Much like Airbnb, this approach wouldn’t translate with a developed community of customers. However, both help efforts translated into success as aiding the community helped meet goals and ultimately, led to growth.

Work to find the best way to offer customized support and outstanding help for the early users and customers using YOUR product and service. Tailor your help offerings accordingly. You’ll be glad that you did.

3. Go above and beyond to delight. Your initial community members and customers are the most important you’ll ever have, so work tirelessly to ensure that they’re over the moon with your product, service and the experience they have. Retention, after all, is the name of the community game.

Community Managers can create delight in a ton of fun ways! For example, you may consider setting up ‘office hours’, or a set block of time, to talk with users 1:1 or in small groups to address their concerns or share their feedback. Gamification is a great way to increase engagement between your community members, features such as tags or other rewards for certain type of interactions to help provide recognition. You might run contests for top customers or users with insane prizes and offerings.

Or you might do something simple and truly thoughtful as sending handwritten cards to each new user as Wufoo did. The online form and cloud storage company attributes early much success to their effort, which shows that little things really can go a long way. And whatever you do, don’t worry about fostering too much delight - there isn’t such a thing.

4. Do things yourself. Once a community is larger and can operate at scale, you’ll find that a lot of day-to-day tasks, like moderation, can be outsourced or simply take care of themselves. In the early days, however, you should roll up your sleeves and dedicate yourself to doing whatever needs to be done.

While executing tedious tasks or wearing a ton of hats that don’t feel related to your work can get frustrating and tiring from time to time, it’s part of a Community Manager’s job when it comes to things that don’t scale. The silver lining? You won’t have to do it all forever and will be able to double down on strategy once your customer or user community has evolved into a self-sustaining, established community.

Take these tips from top tech companies to help your community blossom while making major contributions to the company’s overall success. Though you might not be able to replicate and reproduce all of the small and powerful things you do early on, the value of doing them when you can is real.

Now that’s a win-win.

Topics: Community

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