One year ago we launched the Jama Support Community to provide a more interactive and valuable forum experience for our customers. Thanks to the participation of Jama users, the community has become an active venue for getting questions answered, sharing best practices and collaborating around ideas.
Think about the newsgroup, forum or a MUD that you checked first thing before school or after the workday. How exciting was it to start a popular thread, create a new reality, or just receive a PM from a beloved moderator? Participating (or at least lurking!) became a daily requirement as you formed relationships with people who shared your interests. I discovered that feeling in 1999 when I began collecting Masters of the Universe toys and stumbled upon He-man.org. “I have an extra Thunder Punch He-Man sword that I’ll trade you for Mer-Man’s armor.” Those forums not only helped shape my routine for years, but it also gave me a sense of what an online community was supposed to be.
The Jama Support forums of 2014 were nothing like this. Customers posted issues and shared ideas for improving the software, but we were the blockers to success. We just didn’t have enough hands on the team to answer questions, follow up on problems, or acknowledge feature requests on top of the work we were doing in tickets. As we built out our team, however, devoting time to the user forum became realistic. We worked on updating and reorganizing the content, but it became clear that the forum software we were using didn’t make moderating or tracking threads easy, so we began looking at alternative solutions. It was during this research that we realized forum software itself was passé, and what we really wanted to do was create a community. There’s not really a technical difference; what changed was our intention. We didn’t want a place where threads languished unanswered or trolls took over—we needed to curate content that would be helpful to customers no matter if they’re new to Jama or seasoned experts. We could start by migrating content from the old forum to the new community, but what about the questions the articles don’t answer? What happens if the community manager doesn’t know a workaround to a problem? That’s where our customers come in.
I pored over the old user forums to find people who posted once in a while. I checked tickets looking for loquacious users—both flattering and critical of the product. Lastly, I asked colleagues for recommendations. I ended up with a list of about 30 customer users to invite to a beta. I sent them all emails, specifying why I thought they were each a good fit for our new community, hoping they would understand the value of what we were trying to build. Lucky for me that strategy worked, and we launched in February 2015 with a couple dozen users who had months to years of experience using and managing Jama. After much discussion on both using Jama and optimizing the community, we went live in March 2015. So what happened in the next year?
By that measure, we got a great start building the community in year one. Users from 1/3 of our customer accounts have registered, and 1/3 of Jama employees have contributed new content or replied to customer questions. And that’s not just Jama’s support team—that’s also our consultants, our engineers, our product managers, our VPs, and our marketing managers. All told Jama employees have written 265 posts, ranging from walk-through tutorials to release announcements. That’s a lot of static information our customers can digest. But what of their interactions?
What’s worth noting about these metrics is that 10% of the questions and problems were answered or solved with zero Jama intervention, and many of those at hours where no one is checking in on the community. Many more were resolved with customer-provided workarounds or shared scripts and minimal Jama intervention. Put simply, our customers are amazing: they know a lot about our application and they’re willing to share tips and tricks. So here’s a shout-out to our most active users in year one: Swoo, Harald Hotz-Behofsits, George Butler, Sebastian, Ryan, Bob, John, Angela, rupee, Anna, Edward, Jennifer, Victoria, Mike and Kevin. You all, and the many others who have joined, mean users see an average first response time of less than two hours. That’s faster than Support can answer, so thank you, community!
If you aren’t yet convinced of the value of a user community to a software company, I’d like you to consider the following.
-Tribal knowledge doesn’t help if it’s limited to one organization. We need to make what we know readily accessible to our customers, and offer them the opportunity to tell their stories to us and more importantly, each other.
-There’s a good chance your customers know your product better than you do. Don’t you want them getting the best advice possible by asking each other?
-A community is the best place to source customer feedback because one-off requests turn into conversations and you can gauge how many people have the same problem—and then listen to them try to solve it for you.
Now the great challenge is turning more of those thousands of visitors into registered users who will help us continue building a valuable knowledge base. It might not be as thrilling as discussing Wonder Bread He-Man with a bunch of nerds, but it will help us all do our jobs, building great products and ultimately changing the world for the better.