From the day we started Tailwind, Alex and I agreed that above all else we had to invest in our community. Our community of users and advocates are not only a competitive advantage, but they are literally the reason our company exists. If they don’t find value in what we’re doing, we should do something else.
In the early days, getting traction with our community online was difficult. We primarily relied on social media and email to connect with users. But the results weren’t adding up as hoped. Months into this effort, we had a handful of budding advocates, but never heard from most of our members.
Then, one day I received a handwritten thank you note from Intercom, an app we were testing out for user support and have come to love. My first thought on getting the envelope was: “who sent me snail mail?” But when I opened it and read the sweet, simple note, I thought: “wow, that feels amazing.”
So we decided to try the strategy ourselves.
We held a “Thank You Party” soon after. We ordered in dinner, sat around the table with all (then) four members of the team and wrote thank you notes for hours, until our hands were sore and all of our (then) couple hundred members had been thanked. We dropped the notes in the mail and waited to see what happened.
A few days later, we began to see a response. Most members got the thank you note, came back to our site and gave us another look. That’s not a bad outcome (about the same cost of online retargeting). However, what really blew us away were the number of members who took time to reciprocate, thanking us for the gesture. Some sent emails, others handwritten notes. More often than not the response came via tweet:
— Erin Heisler (@Erin_Heisler) April 19, 2013
Our community is made up of very busy people with too much on their plate. The fact that they’d taken time to respond gave our young company a renewed sense of what building community was all about.
In coming months, we found that going offline helped us grow faster online, especially on social media. To this day, the members who responded in some way to our thank you note remain among our most loyal and active @mentioners, repinners, Likers and Sharers, fueling our viral growth for the past 2+ years. They are also among our most active users within Tailwind itself. Some have become true (online and offline) friends.
We now send thank yous every week to all members who start a paid Tailwind account. It’s the most fun and gratifying five minutes of my week. And, from a business perspective, that five minutes could be the difference that leads to a lifetime relationship with one of our members. I wish we could still contact all users this way, but we’re growing a lot faster these days. Based on some back of the envelope math, writing a thank you to each of our users today would take one person about four to five months. If everyone on the team dropped what they were doing to write thank yous, we could finish in a week and a half. It’s a tempting though, but things like building a great product and providing timely service also show members we love them in a different way.
As someone who has spent my career in the digital world, the addition of such a simple “real world” practice blew me away. It reminded me that our efforts to build community online and offline are ultimately building the same community. As a society, we may be spending an increasing amount of time online, but we will always spend 100% of our time offline. So, don’t forget to ignore real world interaction, connections and emotions as you build your community on social media or across the web.
Which real world hacks you’ve found for building online community? Please share in the comments below. Or, better yet, mail me a note.