The C2C Podcast: Why Community Is The New Marketing

EP39: How Pandora Launched Their First Community in 2019

Episode Summary

Erick Linares got his start working for FitBit where he helped manage a community of over 800,000 users. Now Erick is at Pandora and had the unique case of launching Pandora’s entire community program in September of 2019. We will talk about what he learned launching a community for a well-established company, how to create superuser programs, increasing engagement, tracking success and so much more. Take a listen!

Episode Notes

Erick Linares got his start working for FitBit where he helped manage a community of over 800,000 users. Now Erick is at Pandora and had the unique case of launching Pandora’s entire community program in September of 2019. We will talk about what he learned launching a community for a well-established company, how to create superuser programs, increasing engagement, tracking success and so much more. Take a listen!

Too Long; Didn't Listen

  1. Since Pandora had never had a community before, Erick started talking to internal stakeholders to see what the needs had and the community could be valuable and fill those needs. He found that he could highlight and educate features to get better product usage, reduce support costs and get the opinions of users for new features.
  2. Erick touched on the main metrics he is currently tracking with the launch of Pandora’s community. His main metric is user registrations, he also tracked time on site, pageviews versus user registrations and solutions to questions.
  3. At Fitbit Erick helped build a thriving user group program, he mentioned that to start one it’s important to give it time (at least 6 months) to identify the true super users. After that, make sure you have an NDA and everything squared away with legal so you can give them exclusive updates before the public gets them. Finally, think of an incentive that will really get them excited. He used the example of Fitbit giving new Fitbit products for free and shared he’s thinking about trying to give Pandora super users a premium account for free.

Episode Transcription

Derek Anderson:
Welcome to the C2C podcast. I am your host Derek Anderson. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time: your customers. Yet, I couldn't find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in-person or at-scale. On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer-to-customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.

Derek Anderson:
I'm excited to have our next guest, Erick Linares, who is the community manager at Pandora. Erick got his start working for Fitbit, where he helped manage a community of over 800,000 users. Now, Erick is at Pandora and has the unique case of launching Pandora's entire community program this last September. We'll talk about what he learned launching community, as well as for an established community, and how to create a super user program, increase engagement, and track success. Take a listen.

Derek Anderson:
Erick, can you describe what Pandora is and what you do in your role?

Erick Linares:
Yeah, Pandora is the number one streaming service in the United States with about roughly 80 million listeners. And in my current role as community manager, I was responsible for founding and building the community for Pandora... it's currently accessible from community.pandora.com... And building out the entire community strategy, as well as the marketing strategy and the internal and external documentation and guidelines for how to use the community space.

Derek Anderson:
And, when you think about the Pandora community, what is that? Is that the listeners? Is that the artists? Is that creators? Like, who is it?

Erick Linares:
That's a great question. So initially, in the V1 of our community, it's for our listeners to share a lot of their music, to share podcasts, playlists, as well as to get support. So, one of the key aspects of the community is as a support community space and it's mainly for our listeners. And, we're thinking about the V2 version of community as possibly adding support for our artists as well. So, that's something that we're thinking further down the line.

Derek Anderson:
And, if there are 80 million people using it, how many artists or creators would there be? If you'd even have a rough number, like are we talking thousands, or are we talking hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, or I don't even know. Less? More?

Erick Linares:
Yeah, so we actually have deals with all of the major record labels, so any artists based on all of the major record labels. And then, we also do submissions from indie labels as well. So, it's possibly in the hundreds of thousands of artists. Right now, our support for artists is actually done through a different support path, where we have an artists' marketing platform where they could submit their own music and we have a team who actually goes through all the submissions and takes care of them and decides if they're allowed to be on the Pandora platform or if they need to go back and fix something before they resubmit.

Derek Anderson:
You have kind of a unique use case of building a community after the company was sort of large and well-established. Could you break down how you went about creating your launch plan for this new community at Pandora?

Erick Linares:
Yeah, I think the thing for me that was exciting was knowing that we actually have a well-established brand, and there's that great brand recognition of knowing Pandora and people hearing that name Pandora for many years and associating that with music. I think for me, the biggest thing was knowing that immediately, once we opened the gates, we'd have a user presence that was hungry for the type of engagement that community brings around topics that is something that's very easy for people to talk about. Like, anyone loves talking about music. Anyone that loves music, likes sharing music with other people and like-minded individuals. So, I think that was the biggest reason for me to actually join on Pandora.

Erick Linares:
My background is in music. So, my initial thought was to understand why Pandora wanted to build a community and what the end goal was for the company. So, my take was to actually meet with all the internal stakeholders and decide on product education as being one of the key things for the community of new and existing features. So, we wanted to highlight the product and features that users did not have a full understanding of on the Pandora community.

Erick Linares:
The other thing that we wanted to highlight was to save support costs. So, we wanted a self-service support space that was accessible 24 hours a day, that we could provide peer-to-peer support and not just support from the moderation team.

Erick Linares:
And, the third thing we wanted to touch on was co-creation for new features with our listeners. So, we wanted to ask the listeners, "What do you want to see in the Pandora experience that you currently don't have?" So, we decided to have an ideation space where we actually allow our listeners to provide us the ideas for what they want to see. And then, we actually work internally to decide if we want to throw that onto our roadmap or if it's something that we might leave there for some time and decide to add that later on, but it's something that we're currently doing internally and processing all of that information.

Derek Anderson:
Wow, it's incredible. I hate to be Debbie Downer here, but in hindsight, with all those things that you did and positive effects as most have had, what's the biggest thing you wish you would have done differently with the launch?

Erick Linares:
I think for anyone that's launching a community from the ground up and just joining a company that was in the mid-inception of actually deciding to build the community, I think it was just time. So, we had a deadline that we wanted to actually launch the community on. And there was some small minor things, minor improvements, that I have in a backlog already, lined up for a V2 of the community. I just didn't have enough time to implement them before our launch.

Erick Linares:
So, I think that's the thing that I would have done a little differently, is had a little more time. But that's also the beauty of the platform. And, we use Chorus for our community, so the beauty of the platform is that we can continuously iterate and launch new features and add to the current version of the community.

Derek Anderson:
You also put together a super-user and MVP program, and that's not something personally I have a lot of experience in. I know some communities do it, some don't. But, how would you suggest listeners go about creating the framework to build that kind of program in their own company?

Erick Linares:
So here at Pandora, I don't have a super-user program yet, but I have built one at Fitbit and have worked with the team at Fitbit to build one there. Here at Pandora, what we're doing, since we just launched, we're actually... This is the first month today, the fourth, so we're exactly at one month of the inception of our community. But I generally believe that giving the community time to develop and show who the super-users are and allowing that to be an organic process, is the way to make it happen.

Erick Linares:
So, we're giving it about six to 12 months before we decide to actually implement the super-user program, just to allow for that organic growth of the community and for the users to show themselves who are going to be actual super-users in this space. So, I think that's the first step is just giving it time and letting people show themselves to be super-users, instead of you reaching out to them.

Erick Linares:
Working internally is one of the biggest things that you have to do if you're implementing a super-user program. Some of the key things that a super-user program actually brings value to the user is that we're giving information to the user before it's publicly broadcast to the general public. So, signing users under NDAs, step number one, making sure that you've reviewed your NDA with legal and they're aligned with your goals for the program and also for the types of information that you'll be relaying. So, having that communication and cross-functional collaboration with internal stakeholders is definitely key for having a successful super-user program.

Erick Linares:
And also, creating perks that are valuable for the actual users in the program. So, here at Pandora, some of the perks that I'm already thinking about is giving users who are on a free subscription, a free subscription of premium for being a super-user program and keeping them engaged. We have access to artists, allowing them to go to shows with artists and to concerts and to events where artists are available, because we have that accessibility. So, those are the types of perks that you can think about for a super-user program and bringing that value to the users.

Derek Anderson:
And, did you have perks at Fitbit as well and what did you use if you did?

Erick Linares:
Yeah, so the perks at Fitbit that we had were, almost every year we announced a new product at Fitbit. So, all of our super-users received all of the brand new Fitbit products in the lineup. So, they had everything from the wristband trackers to the scales, from time-to-time send them accessory wristbands as well. We added them to our premium offering for free. So, it was a constant send-out and share-out. So, we had to make sure to think about that budgeting as well for the program. That's something to always think about as well.

Derek Anderson:
I know from my own experience, keeping people engaged can be really tricky. What are some things that you've tried over the years to increase engagement inside the communities that you worked on?

Erick Linares:
A lot of it is in discussion spaces. So, at Fitbit we actually had a discussion space that was based around exercise, activity, sharing of recipes, and generating content like that. A lot of the users that come to support communities come to get a support question answered, but the way to keep them on your community is to actually have engaging conversations with them, generating organic conversations around topics that they're already invested in. So, if a user's wearing a Fitbit, they are invested in exercise, and then creating content, having a content calendar where you actually share recipes, share exercises.

Erick Linares:
For the Pandora community, our specific discussion spaces are based around music. So, we have specific topics that we're generating, content that we work very closely with our organic social team, who already has a ton of content as well, to replicate the content that they have on Twitter and Instagram into the community space, because a lot of those users are not going to go from Twitter and Instagram to the community and vice versa. So, we're trying to replicate a lot of the data that is already created and also generating original content on the community to strive for driving engagement around activities or events that are currently happening in the world.

Erick Linares:
So, recently we had an artist who passed away and we created a thread on the community just sharing a playlist of all of that artist's music, to honor that artist. And, a lot of our users came in and were like, "Wow, this is awesome." So, just driving engagement and those types of different aspects of community.

Derek Anderson:
A lot of companies look at community as support.

Erick Linares:
Sure.

Derek Anderson:
How would you suggest listeners convince their brand to launch something more than just a support community?

Erick Linares:
I think if your community is only a support space, you can look at the metrics for your help site. If your company hosts a help site, you can see the bounce rate. I think the value that community brings is more of the engagement and aspect of community, where users feel that they actually have... A sense of community that you hear a lot about is where you belong to a space and you belong to a set of users and a group of users who actually are sharing a common interest.

Erick Linares:
And, if it's only a support community, people are going to come in, get the answer for their support question and bounce off, and never come back until they have another support question. So, there's no real sense of community if it's only a support community. What we like to do is to always have some sort of discussion space or a space where we can co-create with users and have continued updates for the users so they continue to come back to this space.

Erick Linares:
And, a lot of what I like to do is not just be a corporate persona, but be myself in the community, talk to them like another human being, and be able to actually relate to the things they're talking about, and have... Like, if they're sharing, what kind of music? What's their favorite type of music? I like to share what kind of music is my favorite music. Having my personal picture on the community space, so they see it's not just a logo, it's an actual person talking to you.

Erick Linares:
And, I have private messages with our users. So, that's another way to drive engagement. Some users just don't really like to publicly have communication, so privately messaging users and saying like, "Hey, I noticed you answer someone's question. Thanks so much for being a part of the community." And doing small, minor things like that, will bring people back to the space and will give them that feeling of value for the space.

Derek Anderson:
Can you break down what metrics matter to you at Pandora right now, to grow the community or to track engagement?

Erick Linares:
Yeah, so since we're fairly new, we've done a lot of like CRM marketing. We've added banners into the community and our help site to drive traffic to the community. We have a link in the top navigation of pandora.com that drives users to the community. So, we're doing a ton of things to market community and get people into the platform.

Erick Linares:
So, right now I'm really looking at user registrations, how many people are actually signing up, how many minutes users are spending on the community, the amount of page views compared to user registrations. So, are we getting X amount of registrations but triple or quadruple the number of page views? Because on communities, the majority of people who actually visit communities are just lurkers who are actually viewing the space and reading information but not actually engaging. So, that's definitely a KPI that's of value to us, of page views.

Erick Linares:
Solutions. Since we're trying to drive support costs and lower support costs, we want to make sure that we're providing solutions and the number of solution views, because that's the same as I said about lurkers, is they just come and view. So, people want to find the solution and they want to read it and they view the solution. And, that's another metric that we're currently driving for.

Derek Anderson:
As we sort of wrap up, I'd love to hear, what's a community that you love and why do you love it?

Erick Linares:
Not to sound biased, but the Fitbit community is definitely a community that I actually love. I worked on-

Derek Anderson:
That is super biased.

Erick Linares:
I worked on that community for almost five years. And, when I first joined, it was a small community space that we were able to grow to over 800,000 registered users. It's in eight different languages. There's all kinds of content. There's super-users who have been there since the inception of the community space. The super-user program is very thorough. I think it brings a ton of value to Fitbit. It saves like millions and millions of dollars for the support team at Fitbit.

Erick Linares:
And it's very well done, not just because I worked there, but all of the people who are currently there have a ton of community experience and they engage with the listeners and I think it's very engaging. So, I think that's one of the communities that I really, really love and I have a passion for it because making the world a healthier space I think is an awesome thing for the community.

Derek Anderson:
Thank you so much for listening. If you liked the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you'd like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.