EP 22: How Asana Got Community Buy-In, Feedback, Ambassadors & More

Building an online and in-person community today for companies is tough. Customers are smart enough to spot marketing even if it’s hidden under layers of personal and emotional messages. But at Asana they seem to have cracked the code with ''Asana Together'', a community of like-minded individuals created around shared interest in teamwork and productivity.

And with us is Josh Zerkel, Head of Global Community and the brains behind ''Asana Together''. ''Asana Together'' is a success with over 33 countries represented through customers, leaders and certified experts, coming together to learn and connect with each other.

We will take a deep dive with Josh who will share with us how he kick-started the program by talking to different stakeholders on how he wanted to create a community that has become ''Asana Together'' today. We talk about how they are managing the program, getting more people to sign up for their events and what analytics they are using to gauge their performance.

Together, we will break down the community program and learn how its involving everyone by ditching the ''one size fits all'' approach and focusing on creating a multi-faceted community where you can attend Asana events, become an ambassador or even establish yourself an expert through ''Certified Pros''.


Derek Andersen: 00:03 Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over a hundred 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.

Derek Andersen: 00:29 On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to a build customer to customer marketing strategy and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before the competitor does. Josh Zerkel is the global head of community of Asana where he's responsible for growing and engaging the Asana community across the world. He's also a certified professional organizer, and has spent over a decade helping people in businesses get more organized and increase their productivity.

Derek Andersen: 01:00 Before joining Asana, Josh was the director of global customer education and community at Evernote. Take a listen.

Derek Andersen: 01:09 Josh, I'm so excited talk to you today on C2C Podcast because you're like one of the OG's of community and there aren't a lot of OG's because it's like a new category. It's a new industry but you've been doing this for over a decade, do you feel like an OG? Do you feel like a new G? Does this offend you that I'm calling you this? How does it feel right now to be in the position that you're in building this community at Asana?

Josh Zerkel: 01:37 Well, now I feel old, so thank you very much. I mean, I definitely feel like I've seen a lot of evolution in the community space over the past, honestly, year by year. And it's just been really interesting especially in the past few years to see how businesses have really started to sit up and take notice of community as something that's not just nice to have but something that's actually really valuable.

Derek Andersen: 01:59 Explain what Asana is and then please tell us what you do as the global head of community there.

Josh Zerkel: 02:06 You bet. Asana is the leading work management platform for teams and it's helping pioneer new way of working together. Basically, it lets everyone know what people are working on across the company, what needs to be done to achieve goals, and keep track of all the work. Who's doing what by when, so it eliminates who's supposed to be responsible for a task or a project and provides a lot of visibility into the work that's getting done. It just makes things easier so that everyone can have more impact.

Josh Zerkel: 02:33 And my role at Asana is I'm in charge of our global community program called Asana Together, which brings together our customers and our team to learn more about collaboration and productivity and teamwork, and how we can start achieving better things together.

Derek Andersen: 02:48 Asana is such a great ... It's such a beautiful product but it also solves the job and the problem really well. We love using it at Bevy, and our whole team uses it from the engineers down to the marketing and success. So great job on that.

Josh Zerkel: 03:01 Thank you.

Derek Andersen: 03:02 Could you give us a quick breakdown of the different components of your community program like Asana Together and the forums and the other things that you're doing?

Josh Zerkel: 03:12 Yeah, I'm a big of proponent of creating multifaceted community programs. I don't think there's such a thing as a one-size-fits-all, so our program is designed to meet people across different levels of their involvement in the community. So we have our community forum which is for people that want to ask and have answered questions.

Josh Zerkel: 03:31 There are events that we hold where we sponsor them or we host them ourselves, our community members host them, and those are for people that want to learn more about productivity and how to use Asana. Then we have three specific membership groups within the Asana Together program. Forum Champions, these are for people who want of lead conversations on the community forums. Ambassadors, which are people within teams that are using Asana who are the team champion or helping their team members get on boarded. And then, there's Certified Pros, which are independent consultants who go out into the world and help other people get set with Asana.

Josh Zerkel: 04:03 We've created a program that really is for a variety folks wherever they are in their journey.

Derek Andersen: 04:08 One thing that I love about working with you and speaking with you that is really unique in our category is that you seemed to be able to get these programs approved and growing and successful, and I think a lot of other people really struggle with this. I wonder if you could, as somebody I think that's really an expert at this, who are the people in the company that the community team needs to convince in order to get a community program created and funded?

Josh Zerkel: 04:42 I really try to put myself in the shoes of other team members especially all the decision makers at whatever company I'm at, and try to get what value would they see out of the community program. Because there's typically key stakeholders across the board, whether it's in marketing where my team sits, sales, product, customer education, support.

Josh Zerkel: 05:02 Each of those people or leaders of those groups will care about the community program if you position it and its value in a way that makes sense for them. For instance, it may not be immediately obvious how the product team could make use of community but as soon as I explained to the product leads, ''Hey, you're going to have a bunch of people that are happy to test out things at a moment's notice. You're going to get lots of immediate feedback for the people who care the most, and we're going to have people all over the world who will be able to give you a variety of perspectives.''

Josh Zerkel: 05:28 All of a sudden, people on the product side really sit up and take notice, and they see how this could be of value to them. So it's really about communicating the value not in a broad scale way that community is great to have. It is, but if I'm on one of these other teams, why should I care? And being able to articulate that is how I get these programs moving.

Derek Andersen: 05:47 I think I've heard you talked about this before where you kind of even have different materials or different slides or value propositions for each of these teams so that it's ... Like you're almost talking about them like each of them is a different customer for you in terms of in what value you're creating for them. You really like not just sort of thinking about it or put it, but you're actually building the docks in terms of how you explain it. You're actually putting those things into the whole process of that pitch.

Josh Zerkel: 06:18 Yeah, absolutely. When I first started here at Asana, first, I got the lay of the land and started to understand what I thought the community program could be. Once I started formalizing what the program would morph into and the elements that will be inside it, I did a roadshow with each of the stakeholders across the different teams and explained to them, ''Here's what I'm thinking of doing. Here's how I think it will work with your group and how it can help support your work. Here's the value, I think, it will add,'' and really tailor that message to each individual person, so that they would care. Because I wouldn't want to see a generic presentation.

Josh Zerkel: 06:50 If it were me being presented with this new program, I would need someone to have thought about what it would mean to me, and I took the extra effort to do that.

Derek Andersen: 06:58 Like many companies, you had an online community first, then you activated it offline for your customer at customer events. How do you go about getting people to actually come to these events and be there in person?

Josh Zerkel: 07:15 Getting butts in seats is always challenging no matter the size of your company or the awareness of your brand. To me, I think the best way is to create really valuable, really compelling content and market that content well to the people that you want to have attended. It's really Marketing 101, but especially if you're asking people to take their time to move from one place where they're at to a place where you're hosting your event and spend an hour or two or three with you, you have to make it really clear what they're going to be coming for.

Josh Zerkel: 07:44 We try to stack our events the ones that Asana hosts with really compelling speakers from brands that people recognize, and let them know that this is not going to be an Asana commercial, that we're going to be providing real value that they can you use whether they use Asana or not. And that is one of the ways that we've really brought people in, in a way that feels like we're not selling them because no one wants to sit through a commercial.

Derek Andersen: 08:06 What metrics do you look at to gauge success?

Josh Zerkel: 08:12 For events, we look at a few things. One obviously is registration and the attendee numbers. But beyond that because I sit in marketing, we're really looking at brand awareness and amplification, so we look at how many social shares are generated from a given event. And we also look at how many applications we get to our community program from people who attend.

Josh Zerkel: 08:32 Then further down the line, we look at sales pipeline that's generated and then also changes in accounts of people who have attended. So either using Asana more after attending event, hopefully they are, which can help us provide more learnings for future events that we might host, so we look at a number of different factors.

Derek Andersen: 08:48 And so in terms of like tracking the sales or the changes in, is that something you're taking the data from the events you're hosting? You're putting that into your sales database or your marketing database or something? Is that something you're sort of doing cross system or how are you doing it?

Josh Zerkel: 09:06 We have to move the data from one system to another to do that sort of cross functional analysis. And that's something that, to be honest, is an ongoing piece of work that we're getting implemented over time. We've been doing some of that analysis manually recently but even that is showing very positive momentum.

Josh Zerkel: 09:23 Part of it is we also rely on anecdotal data from sales team members to say like, ''Hey, my customer attended your event. Now, they expanded by hundred more seats,'' that sort of thing. Although those are not the primary goals of our events, they're certainly very nice to have and help prove the value of what we're doing.

Derek Andersen: 09:37 You are great about getting feedback from each of the events. Could you share an example where you actually implemented feedback in a positive way?

Josh Zerkel: 09:46 Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big proponent of collecting feedback both live at the event like asking people afterwards, ''Hey, what do you think of the event? What else would you like to see?'' So I'm unafraid to ask for that right in the moment, so I feel like you get really great feedback right then.

Josh Zerkel: 10:00 And then we also ask for feedback asynchronously via forums which is great too. I think it's good to collect both. We always have adjusted our content based on what people have said and have tweet things here and there. But a more interesting piece of feedback we heard really recently was about our swag because we always give swaging goodies at our events. And we're constantly evolving our swag game because we're trying to figure out what's the right size, what's the right amount, what should we give, what should we take out.

Josh Zerkel: 10:26 And we package everything in a sleeve, a plastic sleeve, and we got feedback from one of our attendees that asked, ''Asana's really a mindful company. Why are you providing us with more plastic?'' And even though what we were using was recyclable, I really took that feedback to heart and so we're actually working on sourcing vendors for more eco-friendly packaging for our swag.

Josh Zerkel: 10:48 We really look at the feedback that people give us whether it's about the content or the goodies and everything in between, and work with that feedback to improve.

Derek Andersen: 10:57 I get this feeling, Josh, that in high school you were the kid that only got one question wrong and then in the next one you didn't get any wrong. You just constantly ... I mean, now I'm feeling so much more guilty about my events. If plastic was my only flaw, then I would sleep better at night. Let me to say that.

Josh Zerkel: 11:20 Suffice it to say there are lots of things that could be better at our events. But that one really stuck with me because it felt very ... Once they brought it up to me, the customer who was there, it felt very much out of alignment with what we're trying to do at Asana. And I work really hard to make our events feel like they're part of the Asana family if they come to one of our events.

Josh Zerkel: 11:40 This is a place where we could improve. So, yeah, I do focus on the one thing that's wrong, the one thing that's called out to me. But that helps us get better. Derek Andersen: 11:48 The Asana Together hashtag has all of these incredible posts from the local events and things that you're sending out. Also, you can see all of the incredible designs that the Asana design team has created for these events which are absolute beautiful. How do you think companies should go about creating social campaigns that tie in with the in-person communities?

Josh Zerkel: 12:14 Well, it has to be authentic. If you're going to be asking people to do something that's taking their effort and using their own personal brand or their company brand, it has to feel like it's fun and it will add value to them. So we make it really fun for people to participate using the hashtag at our events. One of our creatures that shows up in Asana when you use it is a yeti. And so we have stuffed yetis that we bring with us that people can take photos with.

Josh Zerkel: 12:38 We encourage them to share it using the hashtag and we let them know that if they take a picture at the event and they use the hashtag or tag Asana, that we will like it or repost it. And so we're letting them know that there's value in it by raising their profile. So we make it fun and we let them know what's in it for them. And I think that combination is magic.

Derek Andersen: 12:58 You also have the Certified Pros which you've mentioned a little bit. But what role did they play in the community and how engaged are they in what you're doing?

Josh Zerkel: 13:10 Yes, Certified Pros are actually our fastest growing segment of our community membership program of Asana Together. They're really integral. They spread the word about Asana, especially in places where Asana will likely not have the physical presence anywhere soon. Like we have Certified Pros all across the Middle East and Africa, in Russia, in parts of Asia where we don't yet have a presence. They're out there talking to people about Asana, giving their own trainings in languages that we just can't support as a business quite yet.

Josh Zerkel: 13:39 And in GOs that we just aren't in. So, to me, they're really integral as both an extension of our family and as an integral part of it.

Derek Andersen: 13:49 Regarding brands, what do you think is the future of companies using C2C communities or offline communities to bring people together in using their products?

Josh Zerkel: 14:02 To me it's about authenticity and it's about being real and not salesy and marketing-y because nobody wants to be sold. And people can spot marketing and marketing messages a mile away. Communities both B2B and B2C and C2C are about creating real connections between a business and individuals, and between individuals and each other. And that matters to people.

Josh Zerkel: 14:26 In a world that's increasingly fractured, creating communities that are around what people care about is critical. And if those communities happen to be supported by a brand that people like, even better. But it doesn't have to be centered on the brand for it to be valuable to the people and to the brand itself.

Derek Andersen: 14:42 What's a community that you're following, that you respect or you think is doing a great job at showing authenticity and connecting with their audience?

Josh Zerkel: 14:51 A little bit outside the box here, I'm a big fan of K-pop. And I have been very fascinated how communities built around specific K-pop brands have really catapulted something that is for most people in the US, especially extremely foreign, into widespread popularity. It's not marketing 101. This is really community and fan based.

Josh Zerkel: 15:13 And it's really interesting because we've never seen anything quite like what's happening now where communities of fandoms, and this could equally be true for business but it hasn't been yet, are being created in a wide scale across languages and cultures which I think is pretty amazing. And there's a lot that all of us who run community can learn from these sorts of things.

Derek Andersen: 15:33 How can I, if I want to be part of the Asana community, how can I find out more or join a local Asana event or join the Asana Together movement?

Josh Zerkel: 15:44 Well, it's so easy. Just go to asana.com/community. And you can see all the ways you can get involved online and offline whether you want to just attend an event or participate in an online conversation or become an Ambassador or Certified Pro, it's all right there for you.

Derek Andersen: 15:59 Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you 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.

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