The Autodesk community has several million registered users and somewhat more overall visitors to the community each month. In addition, we have consistently seen around 60,000 new registrations a month.
When Camilo Lemos, our EU community manager, envisioned the Welcome Email Campaign, he assumed we could make a customization to Lithium and that would be it. What he observed, was that new users are not becoming productive fast enough and that he could solve that by gently onboarding them. His definition of becoming productive involves more solution creation, increased kudos and higher interactions.
The challenge was to create a ‘getting started’ workflow that would get a message to each new user right when they registered. Then it would introduce new users to community best practices; and lastly point them to places to go and allow them to meet other members.
Camilo envisioned spacing out three emails over two weeks would give new registrants a chance to quickly learn to use the community just like experienced community members do.
To manage this campaign efficiently, the community managers required key analytics on an ongoing basis. Although Lithium does collect and make available myriad metrics from user activities, it didn’t have the ability to deliver the kind of email campaign analytics that an online service could.
Additionally, Lithium would not allow us to create ’workflow’ logic for custom emails on the platform allowing us to bind templates and insert salutations based on usernames as a conventional email marketing service does.
Lastly, we needed timed automation, which would allow us to trigger the email workflow based on time and other conditions of the new user registration.
Solution – Welcome Email Campaign Application
In previous roles, I had the opportunity to work intensely with email marketing tools such as MailChimp, Marketo and ActOn Software. Although any of these tools would work, a higher cost would be incurred that could not be justified by project stakeholders.
This is when I came across Campaign Monitor, a San Francisco company that offered an affordable solution to a hosted email marketing service we could use.
Additionally, they offered API’s that would allow us to programmatically ingest new registrants into the mailing list and have their 2-week journey start when they arrived.
The company also offered us pre and post-sales support, which was vital to getting this going.
Personally Identifiable Information (P.I.I.)
One other very important requirement is that we do not expose personally identifiable information (PII) by storing clear text user info on the Internet in between sessions. This necessitated that our application reside on an internal Autodesk virtual machine running Linux. This was behind the firewall and accessible only via VPN or on our campus network.
Creating The Application
Sachin Katiyar, our architect from our development partners, Persistent, came up with a good solution to building and deploying this on internal servers. His architecture allowed the app to request new user info from a custom Lithium endpoint his team created and pass it to a Java app implementing the Lithium and Campaign Monitor API integrations multiple times a day. Problem solved.
In some early testing, we found that we could run a Cron job on the app server that made the two calls (see the simplified solution diagram) and pull data from Lithium and write it onto the mailing list in our Campaign Monitor account. Simple - right?
Simple Block Diagram of Welcome Email Application
Too Much Freedom
When users signed up for the community, we had not restricted their use of crazy characters in their username. When parsing JSON strings in the API response, the exactly correct combination of characters can fool JSON into thinking this is a directive and not part of someone’s username. This caused the Lithium user fetch to fail in mid-stream and stop.
To solve this, we had to parse the response string and ‘escape’ the special characters in the username. Once this was implemented, everything starting working correctly and our huge number of new registrants was ingested into the email campaign successfully.
Welcome Email Campaign
A team spanning several continents and time zones were responsible for creating and perfecting the email templates that we would send to new users. These were HTML emails that contained images, graphics and links but also a small amount of personalization.
Welcome 1 Welcome 2 Welcome 3
Welcome Email Templates
One feature of these emails is to link the new users to places within the community where community managers have created posts that guide them. Additionally, the template provides a link to ‘Introduce Themselves’ to other members in an informal forum where they may discover common ground or make new friends.
How Is It Going?
Judge for yourself – Here are some analytics that come out of Campaign Monitor –
Notice how we experience vibrant open rates. These are higher than the industry average. There is a healthy combination of mobile and desktop opens going on. There is also a healthy geographic distribution of opens.
Our expectation is that the success of the welcome email campaign as originally envisioned by Camilo and team would result in a greater number of Solutions, Kudos and interactions in the Autodesk Community. An increase of these Key Performance Indicators of 5-10% (or more) would be considered a smashing success. We will update you in the future with the results.
Since our team came into this with full confidence and experience with Lithium APIs, we were sure that piece would be easy. It turned out that it was. Campaign Monitor has a long history of customers using their API’s to integrate with other services and our risk factor dropped substantially. Once we had checked both ends out, the Java app with two API integrations was a breeze.
So far, our stakeholders are happy and we are on the way to delivering on their expectations.
Thanks to Autodesk Knowledge Platform Team UX - Grace, Jonathan and Mark for template design, SMAC team Camilo & Mike for dreaming this program up and also to Veit, Sachin and team at Persistent for solid dev work.
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