If you want to know what your customers want, you need to build a community. That’s the advice of Joshua Zerkel, Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana.

In a Leadtail TV conversation with host Bryan Kramer, Josh discusses how building a community can help B2B marketers better understand their customers and create products they’ll love. “Community is just such a fantastic wealth of feedback,” Josh says. “What community can offer is, they’re going to tell you what’s on their mind, they’re going to tell you how they think of things in their own words. And so it offers a different perspective.”

Expanding the Community Toolkit

Josh’s work centers on building, supporting, and sustaining relationships with Asana users. One of the primary ways Josh and his team have done this over the years is by hosting events that bring the Asana community together. That all changed when the pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020.

Pre-pandemic, we would host in-person events—and not just one or two—we would host around 200 events every year, in locations all around the world,” Josh says. “My team was always on the road, I was traveling internationally between 25 and 40 percent of my time—meeting customers, hosting events—and then COVID happened. And so we had to completely reimagine the entirety of what we do on the events portion of our community program.”

Josh and his team pivoted to virtual events like many others left in a similar situation by the pandemic. At first, the team tried to replicate the in-person experience online, but over time Josh realized that the only constant in virtual events is change.

“As soon as we found a format or methodology or time of day that we thought we’d landed on, the world would continue to shift,” Josh says. “And people would start to tire of virtual events in new and different ways. … So we have to continually reinvent what we’re doing, which is both very hard and an exciting challenge.”

Despite the challenges, Josh and his team have found virtual events offer a new way to connect to the Asana user community. Engagement starts with meeting customers where they are. Online events created a fantastic opportunity to connect with more people. And after experiencing their potential, Josh sees virtual events as an essential part of the engagement toolkit post-pandemic.

Building Community Around a Product

Relationships are at the heart of what Josh does. He is responsible for building engagement with Asana’s users and potential customers. And that means creating space for community to flourish.

Josh has built a community program at Asana designed to create space for conversation and collaboration between the Asana team and user community members. Perhaps more importantly, it’s designed to foster relationships between users. Asana becomes a catalyst for ideas, a hub for sharing tips and recommendations, and a community center for a passionate and engaged user base.

“We have an Asana project that we’ve created called Asana-Verse, which is where all of the people who are part of our program can access resources and ask questions of us,” Josh says. “They can send us tasks in Asana; they can comment on tasks from other people.” 

Josh and his team created a hub for the Asana community built entirely in Asana. Not only does the “Asana-Verse” project create a space for two-way conversation between the Asana team and power users, but it also fosters collaboration within the community by encouraging conversation between users. Crucially, Josh’s team built the community tool using Asana’s product, creating new ways for community members to experience it.

“So it’s reintroducing our product to them … in a new way in a different dimension, and has created … a center point for all of our work with them,” Josh says.

Engaging the Community

The next phase in Josh’s work building and nurturing the Asana community is creating opportunities for community members to take ownership within the community. This means restructuring events to include more community voices. 

Asana community engagement events used to be a more one-way conversation with Asana employees and experts giving talks and offering workshops. Josh’s perspective has shifted on this front, and his team is now experimenting with how to involve community members as the face of Asana events. 

“We’re not the holders of all the information,” Josh says. “There are community members that are experts on specific topics. We’ve invited them to come and lead workshops and talks. And we coordinated all of our work together about the event, all the backend, behind the scenes work, in Asana.”

Asana benefits from user engagement and gains the additional benefit of fresh perspectives on its product. By including these community voices, Josh creates more opportunities for buy-in from community members and diversifies the viewpoint of the entire community. The result is a “stickier” community experience and an environment where ideas flourish organically.

This type of engagement is the holy grail of marketing. When a passionate community coalesces around the product, it becomes a virtuous circle of feedback that improves the product and energizes the user community. And it all boils down to listening.

Your customers will tell you what they want if you pay close enough attention.

“If you want to hear from real people on the ground, like what their opinion is on something that you’re developing, come talk to my team,” Josh says.  “We can introduce you to some people in your target audience. And then, they can share with you feedback on what you’re developing. Community is just such a fantastic wealth of feedback.”

Engagement is Human

The most important thing to remember as you create a robust community engagement program is that it’s about people, not the company, the software, and the widgets. Keeping people at the center of the conversation grounds a community engagement program in what matters most to its success.

“I think part of it is just being honest when we’re doing things that feel like they’re for an entity or company versus for a person,” Josh says. “And as soon as we start talking about the entity rather than the person, that’s when we know we’re getting off track.”

Community engagement and engagement marketing are bi-directional enterprises. Messages, whether they take the form of events, resources, or community platforms, go out to users, and then those users respond. And careful listening, relationship cultivation—keeping the conversation human—is the secret to making this kind of marketing get the incredible results that it does.

“Behind the logo, behind every logo, there are people doing real work, working together, collaboratively,” Josh says. “Let’s hear from them about what it means day-to-day on the ground. And, to me, that’s pretty awesome.”

You can watch the entire conversation with Josh Zerkel on Leadtail TV.