When Josh Zerkel started his career as a productivity consultant, he had no idea it would lead to a director position of global community at a $1 billion tech company in Silicon Valley. “I have the most unusual path of anybody here,” he says.
Selecting a community member to manage a thriving business network proved to be nothing but a success for Evernote. As Director of Global Community, Zerkel leads two successful communities: Evernote Community Leaders and Evernote Certified Consultants. Collectively, these networks impact Evernote in many positive ways.
We sat down with Zerkel to learn more about his career path, and get advice for community managers in the tech space.
Check out his top 3 tips on maintaining momentum in a community:
Mobilize: Tell me more about your background and how you became the director of Global Community at Evernote.
Zerkel: When I worked as a productivity consultant, I worked with small businesses to helpthem learn how to make better use of their time. I trained most of my customers to use Evernote. It’s one of the tools that can really be used in every industry.
During that time, I got to know everyone at Evernote really well. I wrote a couple books on how to use Evernote. They ended up creating the brand ambassador program and it was the precursor to the community now. Eventually, they decided it was useful to have someone like me on staff. I joined about four years ago. I understand both sides of the equation now.
I understand both sides of the equation now. I understand what the needs are, and the goals. I understand the business value of the community, and how I can help balance those needs with the needs of the community.
Mobilize: What are the communities you have now at Evernote?
Zerkel: We have two communities, Evernote Community Leaders—who are evangelists— and Evernote Certified Consultants. In Community Leaders, we have 500 people. In Evernote Certified Consultants, we have around 700. Both of these groups are global.
The evangelist program is more about brand awareness. The certified consultant’s group is different, they’re looking to make a living by training people on how to use Evernote. Both communities have different motivations and impact the business differently.
Mobilize: Describe a typical day in your job.
Zerkel: My team personally manages all of these people, so a lot of time is spent managing the people in these communities. It varies a lot, but there’s always a chunk of time set aside to run training courses. Part of my job and the team is dealing with ongoing concerns, responding to messages, thinking of new ways to market and grow these programs.
Mobilize: How do you measure community growth at Evernote?
Zerkel: We pay attention to getting new customers, and metrics that measure brand awareness. We want to spread awareness about Evernote in an authentic, non-marketing way.
We measure the number of referral links: how many people are customers bringing in? We also look at the number of people in our communities. Are these numbers growing or stagnating?
Mobilize: You’re in a unique position since you’ve both been a member of the Evernote community, and now you’re the global director. In your own words, how do you define community?
Zerkel: It’s a group of like-minded people who care about something they share.
Mobilize: As a community leader, what publications do you read to for support and advice?
Zerkel: That’s a tough question since there aren’t a lot of great resources out there. I love the content from CMX. I think it’s great. I like the HubSpot blog too.
Mobilize: What’s the most challenging part of managing a community at scale?
Zerkel: One challenging part for us is the different languages and time zones given the global nature of our community. We have a private forum, so when someone posts from the US they go to sleep and there are responses waiting for them. A different challenge is if we want to host a webinar, and trying to find a time that works for everyone.
Mobilize: Many communities find it challenging to keep the momentum going in their communities. How do you avoid this, and keep the momentum going?
Zerkel: It’s both challenging to keep the momentum going from a manager and a member perspective. They are two different sides, both with different motivations. It requires a lot of people and engagement skills.
A few ways to keep the momentum going is to give the community something new to engage with—maybe a peek into a beta feature or having a call for them with the CEO.
At Evernote, we do global tours where we host community facing events where we invite consultants and members to speak. Face-to-face engagement is really important, it’s also super fun for me and very re-energizing.
Mobilize: In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about being a community leader?
Zerkel: I think people think it’s marketing partnerships and business development on some level. The truth is building a community takes a lot of time, and a willingness to invest in that time. It’s an ongoing relationship and you have to enjoy that.
Mobilize: What advice do you have for people who are just starting to build a brand ambassador program?
Zerkel: Start small. I think there’s a tendency to scale these programs as quickly as possible. Begin with the people who are in your orbit, and who are excited about what you’re doing. Talk to them, and tell them what you’re trying to do. Ask what they think, and let them lead the way as long as you’re clear about the business goal you’re trying to achieve.
Mobilize: What traits do you think make a strong community leader?
Zerkel: Being organized, strategic and personable.