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How to build and maintain global online communities with Mindaugas Petrutis

How to build and maintain global online communities with Mindaugas Petrutis

Mindaugas Petrutis is a Program Director at On Deck, where he's building a Designer Fellowship - a remote program for designers looking to level up their skills. With experience building design communities at InVision and a combination of sales and recruitment background, he loves building relationships - connecting the dots between humans and systems.

Mindaugas Petrutis is a Program Director at On Deck, where he's building a Designer Fellowship
- a remote program for designers looking to level up their skills. With experience building design communities at InVision and a combination of sales and recruitment background, he loves building relationships - connecting the dots between humans and systems. We've sat down to chat about his learnings from building successful community projects as well as upcoming trends for the future ahead!

After building Design Leadership Community at InVision, can you tell us more about your next challenge and role in On Deck?

I didn't have a super clear idea of what I wanted to do next in my career, so I had to step back a little and collect my thoughts. I really enjoyed the process of launching and connecting communities before and had a gut feeling that this area could be it. I discovered On Deck on Twitter and was taken aback by their philosophy of how they thought about community and results they've been achieving. I came across a Program Director role - I haven't applied for a job in 10 years, but this role felt like it was written for me! I left a personalised note saying '...if you'd like to launch a design-focused program, I'm the person to do it.' :)

How do you like it now?

After 2 months, I'm extremely impressed with how the company operates, especially as we're still young but growing really fast. The team has been great, very agile and supportive with launching new initiatives. We've been able to launch the designer fellowship in just 4 weeks, and we did it 90% asynchronously(!). We've only had a couple of calls and collaborated via docs, Slack and Loom. When I joined, most operational and logistics tasks were already prepared for me, I just had to focus on crafting the program's narrative and start executing. The whole experience and efficiency were amazing. 

I want to invest in community marketing - where should I start?

For me, building a community is a very similar process of building a product. It's easy to overcomplicate things very quickly. You build something small; first, you then show it to a small group of people. If they're excited about it, they become your early users and then they're the ones that are spreading the word. That's how a growing community is similar to building a product.

My biggest advice would be to start by answering the following questions:

  1. Place - where is this community going to live?
  2. Who is going to be in it?
  3. What activities are they going to be doing?
  4. Why will anyone care?

What about the place? How important it is choosing the platform?

It's important to do your research ahead of time. Let's say you're building a community for lawyers. Do a survey and talk to lawyers. Ask them where they hang out or what tools they use to communicate. Because if you just generalise and decide, e.g. for Slack, you might find out that lawyers work in a tightly secure environment and don't have access to Slack. Do a bit of research and find where your ideal community hangs out. Make sure to understand the whole context of the industry and your target persona first.

At the same time, if you’re just a small group of likeminded people hanging out and the community starts growing, don’t be afraid to explore ideas on where this community should live in the long term. It’s much easier to try to move a community to a new platform/space when it’s small.

What minimal resources or capacity do you need to run a community?  Let's say I'm a solo professional that wants to start a side-project.

I learned that onboarding is EVERYTHING! Especially as you start to scale. It can very easily take up a lot of your time very, very quickly. You have to put processes and tools in place soon, so you don't have to worry about the heaviest lifting things. Ensure your whole experience and funnel from the start is smooth and ensure your members have all the information available to start with. Automating as much of that as possible in the earliest stages is a huge advantage. When there are 20 people in your community, you can easily DM everybody, welcome them and say - here's a link to the resources guide or FAQ. It's much harder to do that when you have 50 new sign-ups a day. It's not a viable option to just message people one-on-one, and, what's even worse is the fact that when you get overwhelmed, the passion for what you're building disappears.

Automation also helps you set much more ambitious goals. Instead of a goal of bringing in 20 new people, we're talking thousands. I'd highly encourage you to put together all the processes before your launch. And I’m talking about mindful automation - something that helps you be more efficient, reduces friction for your members but also gives you the ability to keep the onboarding personal at scale. 

How do you keep community engaged and relevant? Do you have a roadmap or any kind of structure in place for continuous engagement?

Following up on the last point here: make sure the onboarding and any associated processes of getting people into your community aren't the tasks that take up most of your time.

Make sure to fix any bugs, so you don't have to do anything later. This means you'll have the time to focus on keeping the community healthy and growing if those are your goals. I've been through a situation when things got busy very quickly and all of a sudden you're just fixing bugs because somebody applied and didn't get the email. Or they get into the group and have no idea what's going on because they haven't received any welcome DM or can't find the FAQ. All of a sudden, they don't even know why they're in - it's a nightmare.

Automation enables you to free up your time and focus on delivering value back to your members. For example, welcome Friday - giving a shout-out to all new members. It's a nice, simple push that usually sparks a conversation.

Your early users are your biggest fans. Make sure to involve the most active users in building up the community further, give them responsibilities. Diversify it so you can focus on other things as well.

How do you know you're doing the right thing? Do you gather feedback? If yes, how often should we do it?

Be open to experimentation, I played around with a couple of experiments in the past. We've taken a group of 20 inactive members and created a workflow in AhoyTeam to find out what was happening, why they were not engaging in a community or just what was not working for them. It's unlikely they'll get fed up with you because they're already a part of the community unless you're sending messages way too often. 

People change jobs, life happens, they might lose their Slack login... Sending just one survey a year is not enough. Be more agile and experiment with surveys on a smaller scale and more often. Start small and then scale it out to larger groups, if it makes sense. 

Ensure you can deliver value - there's no point in having 5000 members with 30 active users. 

Upcoming community marketing trends or predictions for 2021? What should our readers focus on?

The community hype has exploded over the last six months. You can see companies now starting to hire Director level and even Chief Community Officers - new titles are coming up daily. 

Community is the new remote work :D Everyone is all of a sudden an expert even though they may have never built or led a community. Don’t get overwhelmed, sift through the noise and the snake oil and you’ll discover some truly amazing people to learn from, big shout out to the team @Community.club for creating a space for folks to hang out and learn from each other. 

In the end, after the initial wave of excitement things will level out and community will finally become the important piece it should be. For companies, community truly touches all points across the business yet it’s not really understood or recognized. I have a feeling that’s about to change. 

Thanks for your time! You can find Mindaugas here. LinkedIn | Twitter

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