This sponsored post is produced by Inga Weizman, Founder of Cloud Mafia.

Cloud Mafia has recently had its two-year anniversary. I’m very excited to be part of such a fun and growing community. We’re definitely growing up as a community. We have 2,400-plus members and 16 events, and we’re averaging about 100 attendees with tons of great sponsors and speakers that have gotten involved. Our topics have definitely evolved, a lot of that is a direct result of the maturing cloud market. More enterprises are strategically moving to the cloud and new software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers focusing exclusively on enterprise markets. This was not the case a few years ago.

As a result, the talks at CM events have matured as well, focusing on topics such as scaling infrastructure, optimizing the web, scaling applications, security, and big data. What remains the same is the continuous interest in being part of this community and actively contributing and learning from one another. My focus has been on creating events that focus on relevant topics and building relationships in a fun and casual environment. If you want to know more about how CM was created, read my previous post.


Community as a strategy

Having been in marketing for about 10 years and focused on SaaS for a long time, community comes up sooner or later as part of the company and marketing strategy. Some see it as a necessary evil, while others an instrumental part of the strategy and culture that they want to drive and contribute to. Whether you have a freemium model fueled by trials focusing on SMBs or targeting enterprise, creating a community can be extremely valuable. I have seen this in both very early stage startups and in enterprises. Communities can connect you to other users and experts and help drive adoption and usage. Being able to interact with others users and experts is very powerful for both sides.

I always get questions around whether a community should be built early on or developed later? Is there ROI in building and maintaining a community? There is no magic formula to get this right and each situation is slightly different, so you need to be ready to experiment a lot to figure out what’s going to work for you. There is a core set of guidelines that successful communities exhibit.

Core community guidelines:

  1. Have a vision for your community.
  2. Build a community centered around a topic or idea that you are passionate about or have expertise in.
  3. Communities are about give and take, so make sure that both sides participate and are getting something out of it for the long term.
  4. Don’t build a community if all you want to do is to propagate your product.
  5. Collaborate with others that can contribute and share common interests.
  6. Listen to your community and give them a voice.
  7. Think about both long-term and short-term goals as well as growth.
  8. Make a commitment. It’s not easy to build a community and even harder to sustain it over time.
  9. Have fun doing it and have people involved that are passionate about it.

A lot of companies think that building a community will somehow magically convert your free users into paid ones. That’s not what a community is all about. Community should be part of your marketing strategy and compliment other programs. Communities are about interaction, learning, reach, and exposure. They provide the opportunity to interact with a large group of enthusiasts, users, customers, hackers, etc. Communities can be great source of feedback, but be ready to hear both positive and negative feedback and do something about it. They can also be great evangelists for your product. Giving someone access and a positive experience with your product is priceless whether they are ready to become a customer or not, that is what SaaS is all about. Even if they don’t ever become a customer, they may help you get others.

SaaS influenced behavioral changes

The SaaS model has disrupted the traditional sales and marketing model and the customer experience. The “free trial” is ever popular, allowing product evaluation and onboarding to be real-time, on-demand while cutting down on personal interaction. That can both be good and bad. While SaaS allows automation and scalability, it can leave your customers needing support in both pre and post purchase that you’re not able to provide. Communities can help support your efforts in the trial stages and after conversion. They help with validation, can answer technical questions and support a lot more conversations than you could or might want to handle on your own, especially for free users. Knowing there is community support out there is a powerful tool for both sides, knowing a lot of people have tried and like a product builds trust and creates awareness.

Future for CM

I feel fortunate to have started a community that continues to grow, engage and contribute on a regular basis. I’ve gone to a lot of meetups, for fun and competitive research, and I realized it’s damn hard to build a good group with members you want to interact with regularly. Meeting new people is great, but you want to be able to have meaningful conversations and build real relationships, it’s hard work to meet new people and if you’re not enjoying yourself, you won’t come back to do it again.

My goal are to continue to build a community that learns from each other, has lots of interaction, and is fun. I truly enjoy the events and meeting new people, hearing feedback and learning new things. I have a great core group that loves to host, participate, and get involved — and lots of new members wanting to get involved.

Look for many more events from CM. If you want to get involved, contact me directly, follow me at @ingawsf or go to Cloud Mafia meetup page.  Cloud Mafia has monthly events and has been sponsored by companies like Salesforce, O’Reilly Media, Netflix, Rackspace, New Relic, AdRoll, PagerDuty, Loggly, CloudPassage, Stormpath, MongoDB, Cloudability, and many more.

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