For this episode of Velocity, Jen Lopez, Head of Developer Relations at Contentful, talks us through everything community - including running developer showcases and champions programs! 👸
Velocity: Community-Led Growth Stories provides deep dives with community leaders into their growth journeys. From everything tactical to strategic and more, we uncover the successful playbooks of the community space.
This episode is hosted by Orbit's Head of Community, Tony Blank!
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You can find a full transcript below:
Tony: Hey everybody my name is Tony Blank from Orbit and I'm excited today to be talking with Jen Lopez from Contentful. Hey Jen how you doing today?
Jen: Hey Tony I'm great thanks how are you?
Tony:I'm doing awesome got my coffee here in Denver Colorado and where are you based out of?
Jen: Seattle - I'm actually originally from Denver though.
Tony: Oh yeah that's right I do recall that that's awesome. Well, so excited to have you here thank you again so much for chatting with us today about Contentful and community and your background and history and I would love - just to get things started off - just to learn a little bit about your professional journey that led you to Contentful and to introduce yourself to everyone watching.
Jen: Sure so hi everyone Jen Lopez - the other Jennifer Lopez - so yeah so my background, I have this this strange path in a previous life I was a developer myself and I went down a strange, you know, path of SEO and Community and I ran a community at Moz which was started out then SEOMoz that was sort of how I did the SEO and Community thing and then, you know, really found that my passion was still I loved working with developers having been a developer in the past and so before Contentful I was at a company - a low code platform called OutSystems - and that really was like yes this is my, you know, my two loves of working with communities and working with developers and so that has sort of been my like oh this is my thing I really love this. And so at Contentful I lead the developer relations team which includes Community, developer advocacy, developer marketing, and all that sort of thing, and so that's sort of the very short version of how I got here.
Tony: Awesome! And how long have you been at Contentful for?
Jen: Fairly new still. I'm at about four maybe four and a half months and so we're still in a bit of - not planning but still - we're working through a lot of things, going through some changes, hired a few new people too that we really needed that were missing. And that sort of thing so it's - I'm still fairly new and still getting into all of it, but yeah.
Tony: Well, awesome! And if you could just share a little bit for people who maybe aren't familiar with what Contentful does? Tell us a bit about what y'all do and I would love to learn kind of more about the community as well.
Jen: Great, so Contentful is an API-first community manager - not community - an API first content management system. I have community on the brain! And what that means is, sometimes you may know it as a headless CMS, essentially it's a way that you can put all your content - content that you use for anything - so oftentimes let's say you have a WordPress site any content that you put in there stays there and that's it you can't then reuse that content on your mobile app or in paid advertising, things like that. With Contentful you put all of your content into one place and it can be reused and moved around and all of this in different ways and then connected to your site and your mobile and your content on your watch, or whatever or wherever that your content goes. Yeah, that's kind of a short quick version of it.
Tony: Awesome! So as API-first I'm guessing it's a community mostly of software engineers and developers?
Jen: Yes, exactly. So the community is mostly developers we have. So we have sort of two sets of main users. We have the developers who are, you know, making those connections with it, with building out the API connections and, you know, setting it up. The nice thing is what it means though is that a developer doesn't have to then go in and make content changes. So oftentimes, you know, with a lot of CMS's you may have a developer who has to go in and answer a bunch of tickets and whatnot and like make small content changes or what have you and so then the other side is we have the the content creators and they really have full management of the work that they're doing and the the content they're creating and and all of that and so we have those two separate users but but the the community that we really work with is the developer community and the the interesting thing is they come from pretty much all walks of life and all types of development languages because essentially, you know, you can use anything to build and connect with with Contentful.
Tony: Awesome! Cool, and where does most of the engagement like where does most of the community engagement live within the community?
Jen: So we do have a community Slack. We also have - so this is one of the things as I'm getting to know the community and sort of what's happening is really starting to understand how we're going to pull all of these things together because we have a Slack community, there's also a forum, we also have lots of activity that happens in GitHub and in Stack Overflow and Reddit and lots of different places and so we're just going through that process of figuring out how we manage all of those things. Do we really want to focus people in one place? Is a Slack Community the right thing? Kind of going through all of that right now of figuring it all out and that's actually really something that Orbit has helped us with is because we didn't know we don't know where the activity is happening, who is doing it across these different channels like on our social channels. Is it one group of people who's active everywhere? We had no idea and so going through that process of - it's just getting the information and the data around the who and why and when and where and all of that is really our focus right now.
Tony: Awesome! Have there been any like surprising insights that you've gotten as you start to look at that engagement on the various different channels in Orbit?
Jen: I’m not sure if it’s necessarily surprises I think it's more of like okay yes it really often is the people who are more more active in the Slack we also see them on social and we're also seeing them whereas it was hard to connect them before but we can now see that it's often the most active users are kind of active in all of the places which is really helpful because our one of our priorities for through the end of the year is to build and implement an MVP or Champions program and so it's really helpful because we now have a starting point. We have this group of like - okay we can see these are our most active users across all these different places let's start with them and get feedback on what they would want in a program and, you know, would they want to be a part of it? And so all of that has been a huge huge help in in just giving us a starting point.
Tony: Nice, awesome, have you found that there's any like specific engagement metric that you found more helpful to identify those those Champions or are you looking more at kind of the aggregate of activities across kind of all the different places where they're engaging?
Jen: So one of those for that particular program that we're really looking at are people who are responding right? So folks who - whether they're responding in the forum and they're answering questions or they're responding to somebody's question or post or whatever in Slack. So folks who are already actively like helping in some way those activities are the ones that we'll be looking at for this Champions program because they're the ones who are not just out there posting or asking or what have you or even folks who in GitHub are like oh have different changes that they found or documentation updates or things like that. So folks who are actively helping those are the activities for that program that we're really interested in.
Tony: That's nice, awesome, tell me a little bit more about your developer showcase. I was poking around your site and and I think it was such a cool idea it seems like this is a pretty active engagement in the community around that.
Jen: Yeah the great thing with that - so the developer showcase we launched it actually right before I started like two weeks before I started it launched and essentially what it is, it’s what it sounds like, developers can submit their site or whatever the thing is that they've built using Contentful and has a description and whatnot and it goes through… we go through like a voting and internal voting process as to what actually gets published and one of the things that I love about it is that it really promotes the individual so so often, right, we look at the company, we look at the things that they're doing, you know, customer stories and whatnot it's really about the person who's doing it and I find that when when building and growing communities and specifically developer communities being able to promote the individual and the thing that that individual did is a really great way to, you know, get people excited. We find, for example, on Twitter when we post one of our developer showcase items those posts get the most engagement on Twitter because we're talking about a person and they're like oh this is really cool like we have this really neat one where this guy and his family essentially the whole family they're called Builders and they have a whole site that they've built around all of the Lego creations that the whole family have made and they have these like team bios and it's like each individual it's like the the husband wife and two kids each are Builders and they have their own little bio and, anyway, it's really neat so like there's fun stuff there's like there's the the corporate enterprise things but then there's also just these really fun things that people have built for their own personal, you know, needs and people love it they just get excited and it's helpful in the sense of one of our focus areas is bringing new developers in and getting excited about using Contentful and and understanding what it is that you can do and sometimes it's a lot easier to get them to understand something fun like that than ‘here's this use case on I don't know workplace innovation’ or I don't know that's boring.
Tony: Totally. Yeah yeah it can be kind of tricky to use these four like specific enterprise-y kind of use cases but it's easy just to go to like a hackathon and look a little demo or something is going to be really super illustrative there as well.
Jen: Yeah yeah exactly.
Tony: I was wondering a little bit I think it's really cool that y'all have like that internal process to vote as to which of those submissions is making it to the developer showcase. Tell me a little bit more is that all community members are there people from other teams that are helping select which which of those projects show up?
Jen: Yeah so right now the process is it's the developer relations team we'll go in and click on each one and kind of give feedback and because one of the things that we have to do is verify that they actually did use Contentful so there's a bit of a verification process and most of the voting is around that of like does it meet these, you know, this bit of criteria? The nice thing is so we went through the process once when it first launched everything was manual and one of the developer advocates on the team has kind of worked through that process and now it's pretty much all automated when something gets submitted like it goes into Airtable and it does, you know, like all of these things happen and we get an alert that you need to go vote on the thing and and all of that. So it makes it a little easier than having to, you know, manually do all of the things obviously I would love to have, though, you know, have voting on the site like things that we've talked about for the future because I would love to give away awards right? Like People's Choice Awards and, you know, different things specifically around that because again when it comes to, I've done this at a previous, in previous roles being able to recognize the community and the work that they've done not only do the individual community members obviously, you know, love to get the recognition but it really helps to show just in the - across the community - that you care about the individuals and the people and it's not just about the company and the product and the thing that you're doing right? It really has to come back to the people and the individuals who are who are doing the work and people like love to rally around and get excited for other people.
Tony: Yeah yeah I mean I definitely have seen that and I think that's one of my favorite parts about building communities is is the fact that we get that opportunity to shine a light on our community members so often because like they just do such amazing work out there so it's it's it's great to hear that kind of working on on your side as well.
Jen: Yeah it sets the stage also. We want - you want it so that somebody joins the community - it becomes very obvious right away that it's an open welcoming community that we help each other out, that we promote each other's work right? You want it to be like ‘oh yeah this is how this works’ you want it to just be easily known, you know, that this is the way this community works.
Tony: Yeah yeah that's right that's right. So you mentioned Airtable and how you kind of automated that process and like the community ops side of things is an area that I love to like nerd out on because, you know, as as a, you know, leading community teams for years I find that like the only code that I tend to write these days is like automation code for my teams to like do, you know, to do stuff easier - better. You mentioned like you use Airtable tell me a little bit more of kind of like your automation - like Slack or tricks or talk a bit about kind of your community ops process.
Jen: Yeah so well first of all I would absolutely love to have an actual community ops person who could focus on that. That is like the dream to have that in our systems but don't have that yet here at Contentful. So everybody's, you know, kind of learning and doing their own process but the great thing is so we do use Airtable we have like a corporate not membership yeah we use Zapier we have like a corporate account with Zapier so that's one also within Orbit we're learning what those automations and things can be and how to do that and really being able to use Zapier in that way - because I think there's a lot of things that we'll be able to pull in data from different places using Zapier into Orbit and we're trying to build out, you know, okay what are what are all of those things right now? Those are probably our main ones. I mean I do feel like Airtable also has automations right? So there's a lot of different ways to do it but yeah I think between Zapier, Airtable, and Orbit, kind of encompasses the majority of some of those automating all of those tedious tasks and things.
Tony: Totally and like the kinds of automations are kind of like, you know, stitching forms together and kind of doing notifications for your team. Is that generally the kinds of stuff that Orbit are building out with that?
Jen: Right now I would say the things that I would like to do though - that we're working on building out - okay these are, these are what we want. We want to have actual onboarding like in Slack right? We want to have set up those automated messages in a smart way and I think there's a lot of things like that that we want to make sure to implement and then when it comes to when we do have the MVP program we want to be able to - when we have opportunities to speak or content that, you know, that they've written or work that they've done or whatever finding ways to make it really easy for them to like ‘hey I did this stuff’ okay it gets promoted on all these various channels and these are the things and it goes into the newsletter and that, right? So there's a lot of those things that we're working on and planning right now that aren't currently in the process but we know in the future like we really want to set these up. I want to be able to, you know, somebody who's fairly active and they're on our active list and all of a sudden they stop and, you know, maybe in a month that we had set up some sort of automated outreach that just like ‘hey checking in’ or even thanking people. So one of the things we've been doing manually is when somebody in Slack is answering, you know, answers a bunch of questions and is being really helpful will just DM them and thank them and it is amazing what just that simple thank you for helping other people does because people will then go back in and they answer more questions and they spend more time right? So finding ways to automate those things that doesn't feel auto – so it doesn't feel automated will be a lot. Some of those. The next step is how do we engage with the community in a meaningful but meaningful and somewhat automated way, you know, with the small team, you know, you have to find ways to do some of those things.
Tony: Totally yeah yeah, you know, scrappy small teams that's - I think that probably describes most Community teams out there right?
Jen: Yeah especially with, you know, a lot of the dev advocates that are certainly building together tools and all kinds of, you know, hack and stuff and solving problems and everything - it's cool.
Tony: I think it's really awesome that you had a dedicated community ops person if you wouldn't mind like tell me a little bit about how, like, you were able to justify and get that head for community ops. I think that's probably something that people would want to hear about if you wouldn't mind sharing that story.
Jen: Yeah well I wish I had some special thing. Essentially what we did is we we moved someone into that role and so we had someone on the team who was really interested in like working with all of the other teams and helping to build out processes and understanding we’re making sure that the data was connected in meaningful ways and all of those things and so we essentially put together a job description - and what was really great is she worked by like meeting with other community ops people in the industry and asking them questions and then she also met with our product operations, director of product operations, really just to understand okay so on a product side what is your job and what do you do and how does this happen? And she essentially built out a job description and, you know, we were able to go about it that way I wish I could tell you that I had some like awesome trick for getting that to happen [Laughter] unfortunately that was not the case but it's key and actually I was just on a call I was meeting with the the HubSpot community team. They're doing these really neat things where they have like guests come into their community team meetings and and I was just on this call with them and they were asking, you know, ‘what are some of the the community things that you're most excited about?’ And I actually said community operations - like this is exciting there's so much and it's often the thing that people aren't very good at or don't like to do or, you know, it's the thing and when everybody has to do their own operations it just it can be a struggle right? Like not everyone's good at doing those things not everybody wants to deal with those things and I'm a big proponent of when leading teams and stuff it's all about leaning into your strengths and so everybody working at the things that they love to do, that they're good at doing, that they really excel at. Obviously you have to do things that you don't love because that's just life and we don't live in this perfect world but to me it's really important for people to - they're going to be a lot more excited about the work they're doing and all of that if they're able to really lean into those things and there are people who love doing this stuff and I want them to be the ones doing it rather than everyone being like ‘oh no I gotta go set up this process I hate this and I hate managing this data and I hate bleh’ right? You want the people who love doing that stuff doing those jobs.
Tony: Yeah yeah I think that's definitely an interesting thing, you know, to dig in and talk a little bit about it, is the kind of the specialized role of community teams versus like the general community practitioner and I I think ops is a great example where we see, you know, some focus. I've seen some people tend to lean more into being more like Road Warrior right and like do more events based engagement and then you see the people that are more kind of content focused and like to, you know, to do more of that educational content material. In your experience leading teams how often do you kind of focus one of your members on a specialized task? You know, have you set goals around like specific things or do you keep it more kind of flexible with kind of the the various things that you have your teams do?
Jen: Yeah so a bit of both. What I like to do, so as a team we'll go through and and we recently did this exercise we literally do this exercise called the - I need a better name for it - but like a Love, Like, Hate so everybody first of all lists all their tasks. All the things they do or things that they did or things that they feel like we should be doing - essentially just all the stuff. We kind of organize it in a way and we used Miro or because I love sticky notes and I need and like visuals and so that's the best way with a distributed team and so essentially we have this list of all of these things and everybody takes their sticky and they put it in the ‘do they love doing this thing?’ They like it, it's fine, or like please don't ever make me do that thing again, and so it's a good way - number one you get an inventory of all the work that people are doing because sometimes you find that you're like you do that? Like you spend time on that, what are you talking about, why is that a thing? And you also find you - what I like about the visual side of it is you get to actually see… you can visually see - oh so in this community area all the developer advocate’s sticky notes are on the lean toward hate or hate and are like this is why we're hiring a community lead who loves all of these things because, you know. And we literally use that as a way to organize like ‘oh this person actually loves doing the developer newsletter we were just about to move that off of her plate and put it onto somebody else's plate’ or like ‘do you want to keep that?’ And she's like ‘yeah I just thought maybe he wanted to do it and I felt bad and so I was just gonna give it up and she's like but I really want to do it’. So like well duh like keep doing it then if you love it and so that's how we tend to, you know, I tend to work through how people do things because I almost always find if somebody hates a thing there's always somebody who loves it. It just is. But being able to do that, you know, every few months whether it's quarterly or even just a couple times a year to go through and be like okay do we need to readjust? Like do you - are you actually now done with the developer newsletter that you don't want to do this anymore? Right, we recently had someone come and say ‘I'd really like to focus on the events I'd like to spend at least half of my time running our developer events and getting meetups off the ground, three off the ground’ because pre-pandemic we had stopped them and things like that and so keeping it open so when when someone does have the ‘I'd like to try this… I think I might love it… I want to give it a shot’ I'm doing it as a team so the entire team is really aware of whatever - what are the things that the other people on the team want to do even career paths I really like having the entire team having a good understanding of where each person wants to be because it helps if somebody gets a request to like be on a podcast or speak at an event and maybe they're not interested but they know the other person on the team has a personal goal of, you know, speaking at certain number of events or something they might reach out to them and say ‘Would you want to do this I can totally introduce you or whatever’ right? I think those are just really nice ways of helping people lean again leaning into those strengths and focusing on the things they're best at as opposed to - I'm not a huge fan of everybody has the same job and they all do the same thing and we divvy it up evenly because people just work different and, you know, love different things. I see it as a, you know, it's that concept of the the T-shape? The T-shaped dev advocate or whatever where there's a base knowledge like you have - oh there's a bunch of things that everybody can do. You can write a blog post, write code for this thing, you can, you know, there's some basic but then there's the deep dive that each person kind of has a deep dive into an area.
Tony: We're almost at the time that I wanted to to circle back around I know that that many community teams work on a Champions or Ambassadors programs if you mentioned that's one of the focuses that you're working on standing up right now and I know that yeah it sounds like - unsure how far along you are in that process of like standing up the new program but would love to hear just a little bit about kind of your thought process and headspace of standing up a new Champions program.
Jen: Yeah so one of the things with a program like that is it's - it has benefits across the board. It's great for the individual developers or the individuals in the community because it, you know, gives them more, it sort of lifts them up within the community. Oftentimes I find even that if if they work for a partner for example or an agency or something like that the company wants to get their employees in this program because it also helps - it's like additional promotion for them right? It's also great for us, for the company, because we can get direct product feedback, we can get help with creating content, or they're often like the user group organizers and things like that and so it ends up being just a win-win across the board of, you know, some give and take and so that's one of the things when I first started even going through the interview process here my question was like was ‘is there some kind of MVP or Champions program because I see these people in the community that are active that are helping that are wanting to do these things: they're writing blog posts, they're speaking, they're answering people's questions, they're doing all these things for free, like for nothing? Imagine what they would do if, you know, they had recognition and they had direct access to product teams or engineering teams or whatever they want access to and they get swag or gifts or, I don't know, whatever the thing is, you know, sometimes swag like really awesome swag is great right and have them putting that on their LinkedIn. We had some at OutSystems - we had a a pretty robust program and as soon as, you know, they would get this whole digital swag and they would change their Twitter and their LinkedIn and they, you know, would oftentimes their company that they worked for would do whole like social promotions around them, you know, getting this MVP status and they would get a backpack full of goodies and just all of these things, right? So you want to keep them engaged and feeling like they're making sure that they're getting something out of it is key and not just okay what we want it because we need all of these things from them right - you have to continually like - okay what are they gonna get out of it? And even making sure on a yearly, quarterly, whatever, basis that they're still feeling like they're getting that from it so yeah. So we're still in the beginning stages where we're in the putting together a group of folks that we will use as our, like I said, we're going to start with interviews of how are they, you know, what would they want to be a part of a program like this… what would they want out of it? What would be beneficial for them - things like that. And so we're just barely in those stages but it's going to be a huge… it'll make a huge impact sort of across the organization and I know that like our product team is really excited about it because we want to set up those direct access - probably a Slack group or something - where they have direct access to the product team and can ask the questions both ways right? Yeah that's sort of a quick and –
Tony: Yeah well that's awesome. I love it so much - that is starting the process from talking to the community and saying, you know, what would you like out of this I think it's easy I think for us to like, you know, kind of move forward with what’s gonna be some invalidated assumptions and I love to kind of always throw questions back to the community and say well ‘yeah of course I was thinking you'd like swag but it's great to hear that you like swag too’. So it's great to get that validation right.
Jen: Yeah yeah because do you need another t-shirt? Yeah, but a hoodie?
Jen: Things like that that I've always found having the feedback and hearing directly from the community as opposed to assuming what they're gonna want right? And sometimes it's just validating - it's just validating like yeah we're pretty sure this is it, yes that’s correct, okay lets move forward. I I think there's so many times where you see an organization will make some big change right or even even if you look at like Twitter or Instagram or something they make some big UI change right? And everybody's like ‘what is this?’ Everybody is so upset and we did at OutSystems - we had made a change to our forum which is where most of the activity happens in that community and we worked with… we got feedback… we had them giving submitting ideas… we had them give up look at mock-ups and give feedback and all of this so we were able to say we're… so when we launched it we were able to say ‘this was from you, this is what you asked for, this is what you wanted, this is what you approved, this is what you said was going to work’. And so it wasn't about us again, it was all about them and I think for me when it comes to community that's the biggest piece is continually like okay how do we lift up those individuals and make sure that it's about them and not about us? Even though it is about us but that'll come.
Tony: Yeah awesome! Well I think that that's a great spot for us to to end it for today. Shining a light in the community is awesome thank you so much Jen for the time today. I'm thinking that maybe we could maybe grab some time in a couple of months. I would love to kind of check in on the Ambassador program and yeah and see how that's going but thank you so much Jen!
Jen: Yeah thanks so much thanks for having me Tony.