Note: This is a guest post from Paper.li’s Kelly Hungerford, who heads up Marketing and Communications for the brand. I asked Kelly to write this post for several reasons, but mainly because she’s been a huge supporter of me and my book Think Like a Rock Star for months now. Plus, she’s working with Paper.li’s fans to build an advocacy program and I wanted her to talk about what the brand is doing and what they are learning because it is not an easy process. But building a strong connection with your most passionate customers is definitely a worthwhile goal and I’m so grateful to Kelly for sharing what Paper.li is learning along the way. Please drop Kelly a comment and let her know what you think!
A few months back, before Think Like a Rock Star was available for sale, I approached Mack for some advice. I wanted to pick his brain on the beginnings of a brand ambassador program for Paper.li.
After two years I felt we were ready to move make a commitment and take the plunge into developing a structure and process to begin formally recognize our core users — our advocates. I wanted a program that would
- officially recognize our most loyal advocates and say thank you
- enable them to take part in shaping the service in the future
- empower them to inspire others
After speaking with speaking Mack I realized I couldn’t answer a fundamental question, which was “what are the key elements that would excite your users in a program?. “ I could only make an assumption.
I had spent the past two years listening, responding and engaging but still didn’t understand enough to formalize a process around my fans. I needed to change my approach. Mack sent me an early copy of TLARS and I began reading and realized that I needed to bend my ear past listening to achieve deeper understanding.
Applying TLARS principals at Paper.li
I spent the next 4 months fine-tuning my listening skills, applying and adapting approaches from TLARS to my work. Four months may sound like a long time, but I purposely took extra time to evaluate our users’ needs for three reasons:
1- Resources: Paper.li is still a small company, with colleagues covering multiple rolls. NOT doing my research will impact my team and create more work for everyone
2- Goodwill: we feel a large sense of responsibility to get things right when we roll out enhancements or launch new features. Formalizing a program is no different. Their time is valuable and we value their time.
3- No revenue pressure: my aim is to reward our most loyal users, not to increase any revenue. We recognize the benefits of formalizing a relationship for both sides, but there is was no time pressure to roll anything out before it was ready.
And these were the changes that were implemented:
1- Increased engagement outside of our owned channels
I noticed that when I engaged with users under the Paper.li name, I naturally put on my “helping hat”. I was always looking after issues, giving advice, solving problems. This is a great way to build trust and keep users loyal, but it is a bit similar to going to grab a beer with a colleague and only talking about work the entire time — it doesn’t lend to interesting conversations.
So I increased the engagement under my own name and out from underneath the Paper.li hood. This may seem like a natural thing to do, but when you work for a company, it doesn’t come naturally. The natural thing is to interact with your community through official channels and campaigns set-up through your company.
One of the first outside events I organized for our community was a #BlogChat sponsorship. Although it was company sponsored, I was there on my own time and under my own name. By reaching out this way, the dynamic changed and so did the information flow. I was able to listen without a customer service or marketing hat on my head, participate with my community to better understand what was important to them.
2- Quit making assumptions
There is nothing wrong with assumptions, but when you are structuring something around your users, for your users, why make any assumptions if you don’t have to?
We have the tools available today to virtually reach and shake hands. We should use them to our advantage to better incorporate our users voices into our organizations and create more experiences for them, with them.
I stopped making assumptions and started sending an email, tweet or post to get the information I needed. It took more time, but it yielded the information I was looking for.
3- Leveraged our support function
Where I didn’t have an answer, I asked. This sounds like a “duh” statement, but I am convinced that 50% of the time we don’t have the answers we require because we simply haven’t asked the right question — or any question.
Both Twitter and our support forum give us the opportunity to engage and inquire, but most users contact us via Twitter for quick responses, so this wasn’t the place to ask 20 questions. I opted for our support desk and we began increasing our conversation with our end users there.
We added a simple question like this “Would you have time for one more question?” and then asked our question.
That extra one minute invested to formulate a question not only resulted in beautiful feedback but ultimately strengthened and built a stronger mutual relationship between our team and our users.
This isn’t something that we implemented just to understand our advocates wishes better, this was a change across the board. By going the extra mile we have seen our advocate circle organically grow and we are not just responding to requests, we are building relationships. In fact, a lot of our users just drop us a line to say hi during the week now.
After adjusting our listening, analyzing results and putting a few internal processes in place, we were able to structure the first phase of a very humble ambassador program — around user feedback– for our advocates.
Here’s what they asked for along with what we were able to implement to get the program started.
1- Direct contact with our team: via email, G+, Skype or a special address in our forum, our advocates wanted to be able to tap into at any time. This is great for not only for keeping in touch or answering questions but is essential for getting feedback on features or input on new ideas.
Solution: We set up a private G+ community, gave access to key members of the team via direct email and Skype.
2- Early notification of product releases: our users want to be empowered. They want to show their audience what’s happening before it’s made public. They also want to educate others.
Solution: We hold G+ product, information and best practices hangouts. We invite users to speak and share their impressions with the rest of the group, share best practices and hear what’s new.
3- Badges/recognition: who said the badge is dead? Our core users want to show what they are a part of. They are proud to be associated with the company and would like to show their pride off. Additionally, they wanted to be easily identifiable by other publishers.
Solution: a badge that identifies them as an ambassador/super-user. They will be highlighted in blog posts, cited as distinguished publishers when asked by PR, included in presentations, blog posts and so forth.
4- Testing new product: this take number two a step further. Our users want to be a part of what’s happening and help shape the product for the future.
Solution: shared access on our pre-prod environment. We inform them when new features, improvements or enhancements are ready and let them test. The feedback has been great and they are having a blast and they are helping us resolve issue and define new ways of working and thinking about our product.
5- Receive Swiss chocolate: no kidding! Our fans would like to get their hands on authentic “can’t be found in the supermarket” Swiss chocolate.
Solution: Unfortunately, this part of the program isn’t yet in place. it isn’t easy to ship Swiss chocolate (or food) internationally. We’ll work on this.
Our ambassador program is truly a work in progress. There is no glam, fancy announcements, t-shirts or mugs being handed out. But the anticipation of how this can progress is as exciting as the feedback that we’re receiving from our advocates.
We’ve succeed in pulling back the curtain back and incorporating our most passionate users (formally) into our team as honorary members, giving them a backstage pass and total access to us. We’ve truly begun to Think Like a Rock Star at Paper.li and we’re proud of it!