One of the things I have been learning at work is about marketing campaigns. I’m the Community Manager for Adopt & Embrace and as part of the role, I am responsible for looking at ways to have the community be continually aware of what it in there by way of interesting and informative discussions and new content that is being uploaded every week.
My System for Community Contribution
Some people may not have a system in place to keep visiting the communities they are members of or alternatively, will only use them when they need to ask a question; find a resource or check out if there’s anything new. Looking at my own use of external communities, I have them all listed within a folder in my Microsoft Edge browser and then allocate time every week (which I schedule in usually once a week late in the day) when I can go through these and see what I have missed out on.
These scheduled times allow me to commit up to 15 minutes just searching on the Microsoft, Yammer, Learning and Development and B-Corporation communities. It involves me liking posts, responding to notifications, asking a question; responding to people’s questions; searching on links that are shared. It’s akin to personal development – well, it IS professional development.
However, looking at the ways of how I use the systems available to “trigger” the act of committing 15 minutes of time to community contribution and engagement, I have room for improvement. In the past, I would have notifications pinging to remind me to make this time but now it’s simply part of the way I work to commit time every week to this without the need of any reminders because it’s built into my personal learning plan – it is simply a necessary and critical way of ensuring that I continue to have the relationships and networks with fellow community members and to keep abreast with what is happening in these subject areas.
I know however, that this is usually something that many people don’t do – whether they may not be aware of it or if they’re simply too busy with their day to day work or if they see no value in community engagement and contribution as professional and personal development. As a result, I have to think of ways to have people keep returning to the community until such a time that they simply don’t need me to remind them anymore. That is, it happens because the community itself is generating the content and discussions – the value – that keeps people returning and contributing without prompts.
Trust me, I’d be really happy if as a community manager, I was not in this ‘middle’ process and that I focussed my time on purely facilitating the connections and introductions between people who need help from each other. I like the coaching and community building aspect to my role however, in order to get there first, I need to consider ways in which I can help support my members to see value in their communities.
One way I’ve been doing this is looking at what marketing is doing – specifically around email marketing campaigns. I know it sounds a bit weird for me to talk about email however, there’s no denying it that it’s still the main way the majority of people use email to communicate.
Learning from Email Marketing Campaigns
For me, my email has now become a repository of notifications. Notifications for subscriptions to newsletters; notifications of my Power Automate flows; notifications of the many online conferences I have signed up for. So as a result, I have created various rules in my Outlook email inbox that have emails being siphoned off to various folders and sub-folders. Some of the most important emails also have flows attached to them that move them directly into Microsoft Teams for me to action.
Remember those olden ways of sending messages to different parts of the organisation through pneumatic air tubes? I liken my current email set up to that.
So knowing that people still use email, one of the ways I thought I’d set up as a reminder is to create fortnightly newsletters that link back to the community pointing out to relevant discussions, questions people have asked, content that is being uploaded. The main body of the newsletter is always on some hot topic – whether it’s a reminder of an upcoming event; or a question that the community is asking about or something that we at Adopt & Embrace are exploring. Usually the body of this part of the newsletter is inspired by our team meetings as where the main ideas are discussed and debated and I figure that if we’re discussing and debating these, there’s 99% chance of it also being a topic the community would need to know. After all, like many organisations we are also adapting to change every day and we are learning on the go too.
One of the things that struck me though looking at my own use of email newsletters (I do subscribe to some of them because they’re valuable to me as a learning resource) is that I realise that they need to be of high value to people and not spam. If it’s a way to enable people to click through and back into the community from the newsletter, the newsletters open up a doorway that is minimal effort – click on the link and bang, you’re in the community.
Of course, the only thing here that prevents my thinking of newsletters as doorways into community and ‘remind’ triggers for people is that really, at the end of the day, these emails can be identified as spam (in which case, they’re lost) or that people automatically delete these without reading. I can’t help these but I’d like to get it to the point that the emails provide value so that they are ‘sought after’, looked at, rules created so they don’t go into spam and result in high open rate.
Learning Active Campaign
As such, I had to learn Active Campaign which is the marketing software program. It became apparent that my content and community development really is useless without some way of being able to promote it. I can create the copy of the newsletters without any issue which I think has come about from many years in the area of instructional design and learning and development. However, the gap was the marketing engine. We had Active Campaign which is the email automating engine but admittedly, I was using only a tiny percentage of it and bumbling my way through it via YouTube videos, articles and learning resources on its site.
I had prior experience of Mail Chimp (what I used on this website) but both systems work differently to each other. I think Active Campaign is a little bit more sophisticated and there’s tons you can do to generate email campaigns.
So I decided to pay for a structured course because I quickly realised that bumbling my way through it meant that I was wasting time in other aspects. If I could automate the campaign, it meant I can spend more time on the more important stuff in community management, building and developing.
I explored various resources and came across The Active Marketer which was brilliant. I worked my way through the various modules. On one screen Barry would explain the course content and demonstrate it in Active Campaign, and on the other screen I would have open our own Active Campaign and basically build it out as I went.
His tips and suggestions literally saved me so many hours. The way I had set up my Lists and the lack of tagging and automations basically meant that I was setting myself up for failure, stress and confusion in the future.
What I particularly liked was the use of “tagging” everything; and using tagging to automate processes. For example, add a tag to a customer list or a customer name, incorporate it into an automation and automatically it starts the automation in the background.
This effectively opened up a whole new world to me of thinking about my work HOLISTICALLY and through the eyes of a customer. I guess people in the field of Marketing call it “The Customer Journey”. However, I’ve always been in the field of Learning and Development (we don’t think this way) so all this way of thinking is completely new to me. It made me realise the engines behind the scenes of those emails we get in our inbox. If we don’t click on a link, we get emailed again.
So I guess it made visible the invisible processes of many emails sitting in my inbox.
Now I’m no marketer – nor do I want to move into this area. If anything, it started to make me think of that you can promote the hell out of something but unless the person at the end of the line is MOTIVATED or ready to buy/click/commit/learn then no matter what you do, this is something you cannot control.
So What Can You Do?
Although it has been a lot of fun to learn Active Campaign and start off my first ever 4-week campaign last Friday entirely automated and using the lessons learned from the Active Marketer course, I still stand by the idea that it’s up to me as a Community Manager to continue to engage, support and help my community members. It means consistently creating, consistently building, consistently messaging in the hope that one day I’m really not needed anymore.
That is, people see the value without me having to remind them, to prod them, to create To Do items, tasks, notifications for them.
If the community simply becomes an extension of their work – then I would have achieved my goal in my job.
A Word About Power Automate
For those asking, “why did you use Active Campaign and not Power Automate?”. Thing is, you can use the latter. You can build an email marketing campaign with Power Automate because the automation aspect works similar. That is, you can set up certain actions to trigger off events such as sending emails.
I learned Power Automate alongside learning Active Campaign and admittedly, in hindsight, I’m glad I did. Learning one helped me understand the other and vice versa.
If you’re thinking of creating some internal messages and campaigns and you have Power Automate, I’d err on the side of using this especially for an internal audience and if you have other Microsoft products. Campaigns are great ways to share resources to people who may not be accessing other systems such as Yammer, Teams or SharePoint. You can also have the flows shared across multiple platforms so that you are able to get your message out to many people at once and drive them to where you want them to see, connect, work, collaborate in.