AMA with Beth Vanderkolk of MURAL


Beth Vanderkolk is the Director of Community at MURAL. ​She has spent the last 13 years creating content and new communities, forming advocacy and ambassador programs, and building customer-facing knowledge systems.

Take us through the process of planning, ideation and launch of the new community at MURAL. What can new community builders learn from this?

I came into MURAL very eager to launch the Community. The platform deal had already been signed, but there were still 1,000 ducks to get in a row. I met with various stakeholders- including product managers, product marketing, design, and support. I was interested to hear about their projects and hurdles to see how we could align and help them benefit from Community. It's critical to first identify the goals of the Community and align with the business. Community is such an amorphous thing; the goal of the program strictly dictates your initiatives.

Very rapidly after I was hired, I was given the opportunity to put my team together. I was able to hire a Community Manager straight away. Lindsay Olson and I worked together on Community at GitLab, and she's an incredible resource. She joined MURAL ready to get her hands dirty.

Our next steps were to focus on profiles of members our Community was geared toward; Marketing and Product Marketing was incredibly helpful with that. I also had their help, as well as our Community Ops team, in putting together a list of people we'd invite to an Early Access group. As that list was being put together and passed around the company to ensure no one was falling through the cracks, we built out the framework- the categories and subcategories, the tags, the look and feel we wanted Design to execute, content and programming we wanted to have in place for launch. She also played a crucial part in creating a product feedback process and bring insights to internal product teams. I wouldn't have been able to launch so swiftly without Lindsay.

Amanda Peterson joined the team next, and as a former Community consultant, she was able to come in, look over what was already done, and identify gaps as well as propose solutions. Amanda's someone you can really count on to care, invest her time, and propose thoughtful ideas. Shortly after Amanda joined, we joined forces with Marketing to launch Early Access!

Kerri Ratcliffe joined my team as well just a few weeks ago, and she's focused on spotlighting community members both in the community forum, as well as plugging them in across various opportunities at MURAL. We want to lift up our members as much as we can, so Kerri gets to offer engagement opportunities like guest blog posts, template creation, learning content creation, social spotlights, and more.

I could write a novel about everything that happened between January (when I joined MURAL) and April (when we launched Early Access to Community). And this is just the beginning! Now my team is caring for an infant Community with some very real tender, loving care as it grows. We're focused now on executing community strategy, delighting our customers, hitting milestones, and sticking to the roadmap.

Your work was educating customers and harnessing the power of community at InVision. What does education have got to do with building a thriving community?

A big part of Community is about identifying pain points your members are experiencing. Using that feedback to improve educational resources (as well as the product, of course!) is essential. Community should work hand in hand with the Education team to help flatten the learning curve of the product so that members can be successful. Absorbing member conversations and ideas on Community provides a way for participants and employees to leverage what others have done to build new things or improve what others have built, making contributions that go beyond content.

Leadership is very critical while forming a community. What should community leaders do in order to create a sense of belonging in a community?

Getting as many coworkers involved in the community is a great way to help members feel seen, heard, and encouraged. It's also a killer way to get the inside scoop from customers, which is invaluable at a company no matter what your job is. Community leaders should work cross-functionally internally to connect the dots. I see a lot of value in escalating customer concerns and sentiment, and even more in getting coworkers to respond personally to members in the Community and make 1x1 connections.

Community building effort pre-covid was hosting offline meetups to get people together then form a Slack or Facebook group and call it a community. What has changed now when it comes to building a community?

To some degree, I appreciated the shift from a focus on in-person to online engagement. It's so much more inclusive, and there's still so much opportunity for engagement. A tighter grip on programming comes into play when you're focusing on community building online. It's been a great time to connect over efforts like fireside chats, AMAs, an executive round table series; and so many more people can be involved because to some degree, your location doesn't limit you. And given that MURAL is a collaboration tool, we feel strongly about taking employees and coworkers out of their silos and connecting customers with each other so they can share collaboration and transparency tips for others to implement.

Advice for community builders.

Since the community world is on a very rapid ascent these days, I want community builders to remember that in chaos, there is opportunity. Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a mess and makes a difference. But most importantly... don't forget how important work/life balance is.

Follow Beth Vanderkolk on Twitter.

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