It didn’t take me long after joining the Pantheon team to see how passionate their users are. Pantheon is a WebOps (Website Operations) platform for Drupal & WordPress — both are open source content management systems. Open source folks are by far the most passionate people I have ever met, in my opinion.
I first started noticing the passion in our social media platforms. Users would share their workflows, favorite features of the platform or just how much they loved the product overall. After doing a little research, it turns out that many users shared their love for the product in a variety of ways — blog posts, tutorials, documentation, videos, presentations at conferences & more!
My immediate thought was, who is reaching out to these folks to thank them for sharing their love for Pantheon? The answer was no one, at least not on a regular basis. Sure, depending on the content and where it was showcased, someone may reach out to them, but there was no official process behind this. I decided to change this.
Exciting New Role with a Shiny New Title
When I first joined Pantheon, I was in a Developer Advocate type role. You can read more about what Developer Advocacy is in Ashley McNamara’s blog post. I love everything about community—participating, creating, maintaining & growing, I love it all. I make friends easy and have a knack for getting to know people quickly. A little over a year into my time at Pantheon I ended up with a new role with a shiny new title—Developer Outreach Manager. This new title brought a lot of new goals and objectives that I was very excited to dive into. It meant I was given the go-ahead by our executive team to build an advocacy program — an official way to thank and embrace all these great users that were already sharing their love for Pantheon.
The first step to success is admitting you don’t have all the answers. The second step to success is figuring out who does.– Myself 🤣
To be 100% honest, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, I have participated in many communities including creating & moderating, but I had never built an advocacy program before. However, I have that relationship building thing I referenced above and that has truly guided my pathway during this journey.
Why Build an Advocacy Program?
Advocacy programs allow you to spread your messaging beyond your budget & resources. Imagine having an army of people going around telling everyone how great you or your business is. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Well that is exactly what an advocacy program can do for you.
Not only is that successful for your business, but it also gives you an opportunity to show your appreciation for your users — you know, the ones that are already out there sharing how great you are, plus bringing on a bunch of new ones.
For me, user appreciation & relationship building was top-of-mind. I have seen many advocacy programs out there that never talk to their advocates. That is wrong in so many ways. These programs are only successful if the advocates are seeing as much value as the business is. I wanted our Heroes to know that we had their back and the focus of the program was to make THEM more successful. By making them more successful, Pantheon would naturally feel the effects of that success and they would appreciate our relationship because of it.
Pantheon’s advocacy program is titled Pantheon Heroes with an advocate being called a Hero. We allowed our Slack Community to submit entries to a contest to help us name the program. The basis of the program is that a Hero could participate in various missions as their way of giving back and Pantheon’s way of giving back is through various incentives & support. You can look at a list of the missions and incentives that we landed on at https://community.pantheon.io/.
Missions are basically anything that we either need help with internally or opportunities to allow our heroes to showcase their love for Pantheon. For example, Pantheon has a very good rating at G2 Crowd and we want to keep that momentum going, so we created a mission asking our heroes to provide their candid & honest review of our product to G2 Crowd. This allowed the heroes to share their love for Pantheon and help us maintain our rating. Another great example was we had a hero speaking at a few events this year. They were able to deliver awesome presentations with great content, authentically, and we covered their travel expenses so they were able to share that knowledge with the community. This is a win-win for the community as well as Pantheon. We have also had missions asking for feedback that helped us internally navigate where our next path should be with various projects and product improvements.
In the future, I think it will bring a lot of value if we bring a Hero into new projects at Pantheon. External voices & input is very valuable, especially when it comes to product direction. What if your company had a team of external folks that you trust that could help you shape & grow where your business went? Why wouldn’t you do it?!
I mentioned above that we covered travel expenses for a few heroes to attend events and that is ramping up even more the remainder of this year and in the future. We have had social dinners at a few events including a really fun Superhero-themed cocktail party with local swag at DrupalCon Seattle. One of our heroes really wanted to attend a conference they had never been to before and we were able to purchase that ticket for them as a gift for their contributions.
I never wanted the program to be you-do-this and you-get-this format, I wanted it to be personal and authentic. I spent time getting to know each and every new hero to ensure that when they helped us, we were able to thank them with something meaningful. This personal touch is something that I hope the program never loses and I plan to prioritize in any programs I participate in. We are all human, we all like to be cared about and recognized.
Phase 1 included inviting around 20 heroes into the program. Those invited into this phase were both thought leaders in their respective communities as well as past contributors or true Pantheon fans. These heroes were vital to the program — they provided feedback and insights into the ideas and structure that I was planning (and figuring out as I went along).
I completed video interviews with all of them and gave them the opportunity to share with me the things they were excited to do as heroes, incentives we suggested and any ideas they had of ways we could show our appreciation better.
We also launched a community forum during this phase. Pantheon had a Slack team that anyone could join, however, with it being a free Slack instance, all of the great knowledge and Q&A was lost in the Slack-black-hole. This new community forum would allow for these same collaborative conversations but in a place where questions could be searched and re-utilized.
Tiers, Skills, & Tools
The founding heroes helped me see where their passions were and where other heroes may see value in the program once we launched to the public. Also, having a group of founding heroes let me start to figure out processes and workflows with a smaller group before scaling. Which led me to the somewhat finalized version of the program we launched with.
I thought that tiers would come later, but it didn’t take me long to see that tiers were necessary from the start. Some of the activities we were having heroes do required a level of trust & awareness. We needed heroes that we had worked with before or that we knew already from their respective communities. We could easily put those folks in a tier that allowed us to utilize and approve them for basically any missions they were interested in.
We also had another tier that allowed us to recognize those that had amazing potential, but we just needed to get to know them a little bit more before allowing them to participate in certain missions. For example, representing our company at a conference required a level of trust. Those in this tier are evaluated as time goes on and moved to the other tier as they proved themselves.
The last tier are folks that were either a Pantheon user for less than a year, lesser known in their respective communities or didn’t have a lot of experience in technical writing, public speaking, etc. These folks are in a tier that would allow them to grow and receive mentoring and professional training from our team or fellow heroes so they can eventually move to a higher tier.
Along with tiers, we also have skill badges that we assign to heroes. This allowed them to be in any tier, but still get involved with missions that they were qualified and vetted to complete. For example, one skill badge was Public Speaking. In our on-boarding calls, I would ask them which skills they felt they were qualified for and would later vet their abilities. So if someone told me they were a skilled Public Speaker I would watch a presentation or two they had delivered and apply the badge if I felt they were qualified to do public speaking as a Pantheon hero. This meant that even if they were in that middle tier (gaining our trust) but we had a mission to present at a local meetup or event, they would still be able to participate in that mission, allowing them to prove themselves to level-up their tier.
To be 100% honest, this has and will continue to be a per-case basis. Each person is different and their interests, skills & path cannot be put into a box. The program requires empathy and passion and the ability to see the true value in every person in the program & where their interests lie.
I don’t even know if I want to talk about this — but it’s a question I get often. Tools was a struggle from day 1 and continues to be a struggle, to be honest. There is no perfect tool for what I built. However, I used a combination of tools to get started and continue to evaluate and grow as time goes one.
- Airtable — the holy database of Heroes & everything to know about them
- WordPress — of course, to create our Heroes site
- Discourse — community forum and home-base for heroes to opt-in to missions.
- Slack — private channel for only heroes to grow relationships with one another and for announcements
- Confluence — documentation
- Asana — keep me on task, I’m a dreamer and constantly full of ideas. Asana reminded me of just how many ideas I had in my backlog.
I would actually really love to create a SaaS product that helps other companies create developer advocacy programs by first evaluating who their prospective advocates are, and then providing the missions/incentives interface as well as reporting to know which activities are truly providing the most value (plus a bunch of other cool stuff, but I can’t let all my secrets out in case I get to actually build this). Yes, there is software out there that does this, sorta, but not focused on developers and they are different. If this is of interest to you as well, please reach out, I would love to collaborate with someone on this.
The question with every community, developer relations, & advocacy program — how do I know it’s working?! Sometimes you just need to trust your gut, but more often then not, there is a metric for that! We implemented a points-based system that we used internally that gave each mission a base value dependent on the amount of time it would likely take to complete. We then added a weight to specific missions. For example, sharing a social post is 1 point (it takes a minute or two to do) but if that social post was really important to our business to be shared, we would add additional points based on value.
Currently the heroes are not exposed to the points system, however, this is going to change once we have built out our custom web solution for the program. It’s important to know what value you are getting out of each activity (mission) because if you can assign appropriate values to missions, then the only reporting metric that truly matters is points awarded in a set period of time. However, we do also report on membership (applications, new, etc) as well as influence (some heroes provide more value than others based on their network).
My New Role
There is definitely a lot more going on with the program behind the scenes, as with any program and community offering. I absolutely love Pantheon, their product and the team, but I was offered an amazing opportunity at CircleCI where I will have the chance to create another fabulous developer-focused advocacy program. I will transition over to being a Pantheon Hero myself!
Wanna learn more about building an advocacy program or what I’ve learned? Schedule time with me through Calendly — I am always happy to talk community and hoping to use some of my time, outside of my role at CircleCI, to help other companies create advocacy programs too.