Company: NetApp, Inc.
Company background: In a world full of generalists, NetApp is a specialist. We’re focused on one thing, helping your business get the most out of your data. NetApp brings the enterprise-grade data services you rely on into the cloud, and the simple flexibility of cloud into the data center. Our industry-leading solutions work across diverse customer environments and the world’s biggest public clouds.
Contact: Drew Claybrook
Title: Community Manager
Kudos Category: Best-in-Class: Community
1. Describe the organization's objectives in launching a community. What is the use-case and purpose of your community? Do you use your community for support, enablement and learning, marketing awareness, customer success, driving sales, product innovation, etc.? Has the community charter evolved in any way since launch?
The NetApp Community empowers our customers and partners to optimize their support journey. Built on robust Knowledge-Centered Service v6 Practices and a five-channel support model, the Community operates in the peer-to-peer space. You may be familiar with the standard three-channel approach, but in 2021, our strategy was expanded to include “detect and predict” with our Active IQ solution, and in 2022 with the development of an in-product, API-based offering. Our pursuit of the “shift left” strategy keeps us at the front of trends in the support industry.
While the NetApp Community was originally launched in 2008, it had limited success in its early years. The site was migrated to the Khoros [Lithium] platform in 2014, where it was managed by marketing and served as a blog platform, with occasional “glances” at support. In 2018, the community was completely redesigned to improve the user interface, aiming to increase engagement and participation.
In 2019, Community responsibilities were passed to the Digital Support Organization and gained the supervision of a full-time Community Manager in January 2020. Since then, particular emphasis has been placed on ensuring topics are responded to (and answered) in a timely manner.
To make these assurances, a “community backstop” program was introduced in 2020, supplemented by a team of senior support engineers. Members of this supplemental team continue to serve as moderators, and now act as the front-line of community support. Their insights are shared with the rest of the Digital Support team to guide focus, and their feedback is crucial to our successes. If you want to read more about the beginnings of that story, take a look at NetApp’s 2021 Kudos Award entry.
Now a primary, trusted forum for support and related topics geared toward external and internal audiences, our Community hosts a growing variety of smaller, specialized conversations. Our partners, resellers, and employees have access to unique “micro-communities,” offering perks to their members.
These restricted spaces make content management much easier for category owners. For example, Group Hubs serve as the center of our Early Access (beta) Programs. This enables program managers to interact directly with group members without burdening the support organization when issues arise with software not yet available to everyone. These spaces benefit several organizations internal to NetApp, including sales enablement, support, marketing, product development, and ultimately, our customers and partners.
Being able to capitalize on a multitude of community use cases is vital to its success. The commitments we’ve placed on expanding and restoring members’ confidence is paying off, as we’ll share in our story below.
2. Tell us about how you are using your community and how you made it happen. Did you get executive/business/stakeholder buy-in? What was your process to gain this buy-in? How have you achieved cross functional support, added stake-holders and increased organizational adoption?
In mid-2020, we enlisted the services of a community development partner to help redesign a few areas of the site, and extensive efforts have gone into creating an employees-only space for a variety of teams. In late 2021, we migrated a separate, internal-only Khoros community instance into our main community site to simplify management and reduce administrative overhead. This consolidation gets more of our staff together in one place and serves to “normalize” community participation.
We were fortunate to have strong, top-down support of the community early on in our transformation. Building community tasks into the everyday activities of support engineers seeds familiarity, and after securing executive buy-in, this ultimately means engineers are given more flexibility. Occasions to explore and learn about new products, features, and tools outside of one’s normal focus area doesn’t usually come often.
Fortunately for our community team, that opportunity presents itself almost daily, with inquiries about unique use cases landing in one of our discussion boards. The engineers love it because they're learning about new things, and our customers love it because they're getting answers and learning from the shared experiences. Maintaining a strong alliance with our marketing team through these transitions also fosters new strategies for instilling community awareness in our current and future members.
Sometimes, information in the Knowledge Base and the Community can benefit from supplemental content, and we’re using videos to fill that gap. Our knowledge team has published several videos highlighting popular articles, and our Community Manager has also produced videos demonstrating common tasks on our support site. Check out NetApp KB TV on YouTube to see what we’ve created!
The recognized success of NetApp’s industry-leading KCS program opens the door to community contributions and ultimately improving our Knowledge Base. Even when a post isn’t directly actionable in the Knowledge Base, its presence in Google is sufficient to drive traffic to the Community. We know people are searching – knowledge persistence is imperative to success!
3. What were the results? Tell us how it impacted your customer experience or the outcomes you seek as a business. Please include metrics if possible.
Executing on the strengths we sought to build in 2020 and 2021, the Community continues to grow and perform well. Registrations are primarily driven by a variety of programs suited to our internal audiences and customers.
Campaigns focusing on one of our internal community areas brought in droves of employee registrations in early 2021, indicated below in blue. This not-to-be-named space was launched in October 2020 where campaigns and targeted posts brought in views and participation from across the company.
Another set of registration bumps can be seen in May 2021 and May 2022, coinciding with our May the 4th be With You badge campaign. Community members were awarded 212 badges in 2021, and in 2022, 701 NetApp-inspired digital “Baby Yodas” were gifted to community visitors – an increase of 330%!
In the Fall of 2021, a couple of other noteworthy events took place. In September, the first round of partner-focused content was migrated from a separate platform to the Community, influencing an influx of new registrations. Momentum carried forward and spiked again when our internal support community was migrated to our “main” site at the end of November 2021.
This shows us the number of public forum topics created, paired with a percentage of accepted solutions, displayed as a lagging indicator. None of us were immune to pandemic-related hardships over the past two years and the performance above is a small depiction of human authenticity. Despite this, the overall net-solution rate is slowly, but surely increasing!
Interestingly though, the number of topics created seems to be decreasing, and we think we know why… the NetApp Knowledge Base contains over 25,000 articles! By some measure, one might say that the success of the Knowledge Base is cannibalizing the Community – and as long as people are finding the right answers to their support issues, we think that’s okay!
Ideally, a side-effect of a well-oiled knowledge base is that the nature of the questions coming into the community tend to increase in complexity (as do those coming into support). One of the things we haven’t revealed yet is that in many cases, customers are getting an answer from top-tier escalation engineers, not just our initial response teams. In addition, we’ve noticed that the average solution time on some boards is often 24 hours or less, which means that collective community knowledge often leads to answers more quickly than a lower-priority support ticket would yield – primarily due to the visibility that a peer-to-peer support channel offers.
Something that’s harder to measure is ease of use. We use a suite of tools, coupled with anecdotal evidence to spark conversations about perceived pain points. One of the projects born from working with the moderation team this past year was a category cleanup. It became more evident to us, that our members were often posting their questions in the “wrong” discussion boards. Topics most commonly landed in the General Discussion, or Community Related Discussions boards instead of one of the more specific areas. After some extensive reviews with the team, we were able to consolidate 24 boards in 11 categories down to 17 boards in 4 categories. By simplifying community navigation, the number of topics needing relocation was appreciably reduced.
So, after all of this, how do we know people care?
For that, we have Kudos! Since Kudos are roughly equivalent to “likes,” it seems to be one of the most organic measures of overall user satisfaction available to us. The best part is that they can serve as a regular and unobtrusive metric that users aren’t trying to exploit. While we have separated internal Kudos from the site total, it’s apparent that we’re trending in the right direction and that people like what they see.
Needless to say, we’re happy with the role the NetApp Community plays in our “new” five-channel support strategy. Paired with our award-winning support site AND a gold-standard Knowledge Base, our customers and partners are destined to get help when they need it- and now, where they need it.
We’re excited about where we’ve been over the past two years of “building,” but we’re more excited about where we’re going! There’s a lot to look forward to with Khoros’ upcoming launch of Aurora too- let’s go!
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