Why Your Community Needs Internal Allies
Here’s a complete hypothetical: Imagine you’re at Google HQ, and a Google team lead greets you at the main entrance. She starts talking about all the cool things they’re doing at Google and how Excel has made her team’s productivity skyrocket.
Wait, did she say Excel? She doesn’t use Sheets? That’s weird, right? But it’s not necessarily the end of the world. Maybe she just prefers Excel.
As you collect your name badge and start to make your way through the office though, you notice something off about this place. There are thousands of employees and not a single one is using Sheets.
From an outsider’s perspective, that’s concerning.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of Google’s brand advocate. He’s travelling the country, spreading the word about Sheets, collecting feedback from Google users, and trying to convince other cloud users to join the Google Sheets community.
Big problem: trying to welcome outsiders into your community when your own insiders aren’t part of the community is a major challenge.
If your own employees aren’t interested in being a part of your community, why should anyone else?
Design Reactor CEO Leon Papkoff also warns that in situations where company representatives aren’t participating in the community, the community almost always dies quickly.
Why is that? Why do communities need internal allies?
Community-building is a long, experimental journey. Engaging a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together is no easy feat, so once your community starts to come together, your community managers need to actively listen, collect feedback, sift through said feedback, then make changes to the community based on that feedback. Sometimes those changes can be risky.
For example, when my team first started a Slack community at TechWell, our focus was on creating a space for delegates at our STAR conferences to connect during the conference. However, we listened and continued to hear feedback that delegates didn’t only want a place to connect outside of conferences, they also needed a place to connect with professionals outside of their specific job roles.
We knew making these shifts to the community would be risky, however, our colleagues not only had our backs, but they began to share new ideas about the community, relay feedback to us from community members, and actively participate in the community.
While it may seem small, the participation from those internal allies actually did wonders for our team’s confidence. Because of the psychological safety net the internal support provided, we started to experiment more, and as a result, we started to see our community flourish.
On top of serving as a support system, internal allies can also help by speaking highly and honestly about their communities and opening additional lines of communication with community members. Regardless of the size of your community, you will always need people who champion your cause and who step up to help when your community organizers aren’t available to answer questions or share important updates.
Even more than evangelizing, it helps if your internal allies are users that like participating in your community. If they think something in the community is missing, then they probably have feedback that is true for other community members as well.
When we started the TechWell Hub, the company routed most, if not all, of our community communication through the community manager. Even small technical questions were brought to my attention. That process, however, was not scalable. As we grew, we started to share the responsibility of answering questions and sharing news which helped to organically improve community engagement.
Certainly having your colleagues supporting you psychologically and tactically is important, but fellow community builder Mandy Menaker Winer also notes that nurturing relationships with community advocates who are not part of your team is also important for building trust and growing your community.
“People are also more likely to trust an internal advocate within your community than your team, because the review is genuine and based on their own unique experiences using your service,” Menaker Winer said.
As Menaker Winer illustrates, internal allies can really come in multiple forms: your community team, your corporate colleagues, and your community advocates. If you can work towards a point where those three groups of people are working together, communicating openly, and supporting each other, your community foundation will strengthen and your community engagement could drastically improve.