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GTM Playbooks

Community-led Growth: How Notion Grew a Global Community of Advocates and Influencers

This post by François Dufour is part of our series on Product-Led Growth Playbooks. There, we share insights and advice from leaders who have built successful PLG businesses.

When PLG founders think about acquiring new users, they usually consider how to bake growth into the product itself. That is, how does the user experience naturally lend itself to further acquisition? The growth of Slack, Atlassian, and Zendesk are textbook examples of PLG.

But how big of a role can community play in spreading the word, cultivating users, and ultimately growing the business? At Notion, community and social are the largest acquisition channels. Notion users enthusiastically share their experiences, productivity hacks, and favorite features on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

So when somes founders asked me whether and how they should leverage community to fuel their growth, I reached out to Camille Ricketts, Head of Brand and Communications, and Ben Lang, Head of Community at Notion. Camille, Ben, and the rest of the Notion team have built an impressive playbook that others can learn from.

The two shared:

  • Why Notion prioritized community
  • The scope and KPIs of community and social
  • How they created and grew a global community of ambassadors and champions
  • How Notion nurtures communities on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit
  • How they work with influencers across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram
  • Other lessons learned

Key Takeaways:

  • Community can become your largest top of funnel channel, especially when your product creates superfans
  • Identify, motivate and equip these fans and they can also play a significant role in customer activation
  • Start your efforts in a fairly small and open-ended way to figure out what would work
  • When making hires, look directly into your community, as your best hires are the ones already into what you do
  • Look for ways to tap into community-generated content and scale it

Why Notion Prioritized Community

When Camille joined Notion, it was immediately clear that community was going to be the most successful early lever for growth.

“In the early days, we saw people on Twitter and Reddit sharing tips and providing support to other users,” said Camille. “With a small marketing team, it was clear that this would be a way for us to amplify Notion.”

The early engagement on these platforms convinced Camille that Notion needed to bring in a new hire to run the community right away. Ben Lang was a deliberate pick– he’d been running a fan site for Notion and getting an amazing amount of traffic. Camille described him as “the most formidable figure on social media when it came to the Notion community- he knew everybody.”

When they first began, the community was a top of funnel channel, important for building brand awareness. But they soon realized how useful it was for activation. Today, they also see how much it contributes to upgrade and expansion. The community essentially acts as a complement to Notion’s customer service and success teams all around the world.

One of the biggest engines for the community is Notion’s templates. Users can create templates for different use cases– then share them.

“We’re now seeing people sell Notion templates,” said Ben. “Not only does that mean they’re super fans of our product, but it also means they’re promoting it for their own businesses.”
Notion showcases templates created by users.

Obviously, not all products have such dedicated fans in the early days. If you’re not seeing a community sprout up organically, should you still prioritize community? Yes, most likely it should be a consideration, but on a smaller scale. Find who your fans are, even if it’s a tiny group, then figure out how to leverage them. Don’t have fans? Sweat through product and make product-market fit improvements to create some.

The Scope and KPIs of Community and Social at Notion

Notion’s community team is made up of Ben and Francisco Cruz-Mendoza, a community manager, and sits on the Brand team next to social and influencer marketing. They get support from contractors, as well as those in the Notion community. Together, they focus on community, which offers a myriad of ways to get involved, as well as social media platforms like YouTube.

Their biggest, all-encompassing KPI is the number of new signups driven through various channels. “Ultimately, we are looking at sign-ups as our true north,” said Ben. “At the most basic level, keeping track of sign-ups– and how many come from our community channels– is a good measure of success.”

The team is always working to come up with new initiatives to move that number. They’re also intent on educating users for successful activation and upgrade. The team always has an eye on their stats for:

  • Overall community
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Their subreddit (not managed by them)

They’re doing extremely well– Notion has 216,000+ followers on Twitter, 138,000+ on Instagram, 108,000+ followers on LinkedIn, and Youtube with 136,000+ subscribers.

In terms of tools, the Notion team uses Commsor and Dots for community integration. SwagUp is used for swag warehousing and management and can be connected via Zapier.

Creating and Growing a Community of Ambassadors and Champions

Notion has both an ambassador’s community and a champion’s community, which live in separate Slack instances.

  • Ambassadors are those who have communities or influence outside of Notion. For example, two ambassadors run Notion’s subreddit, which has 164,000+ subscribers. Ambassadors lead local communities, organize online and offline events, produce courses and tutorials, create templates, share translations, and much more.
  • Champions are people inside of Notion’s customer’s companies who are responsible for bringing Notion into their organization. These individuals help train their internal teams on how to get the most value out of Notion.

The Notion team has focused a lot on ambassadors, as they’ve noticed people doing incredible things in a couple of different places, and wanted to connect with them and connect them together. In the first week of introducing the ambassador community, Notion received 600+ applications, proof of how passionate the community is about Notion.

To grow this community further, ambassadors get exclusive access to the Notion team who is always happy to share what they are working on. Ambassadors also get early access to new products and features (and are invited to provide feedback), as well as swag and other things to make them feel special, encouraging them to share the love with their own communities.

Champions are obviously important for customer success, as well, particularly since they help teams get the most possible value out of Notion. Fostering a community among these Champions helps Notion penetrate further into the customers they serve.

How Notion Nurtures Communities on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit

So much of nurturing community on social comes down to understanding what users want to see on each platform. The team at Notion, led by Social Media Manager Alex Hao, has worked hard to understand what types of content work best. They now know that on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, info about new features, tips for existing users, and inspiring examples of how others are leveraging advanced functional all perform well.

Notion is less interested in self-promotion, and more interested in lifting up the members of their community. “On Twitter, we retweet all the social proof that is out there from our community,” said Camille. “On LinkedIn, we share a lot of customer stories that are multi-player and team-oriented because we noticed that’s a better channel for our Team and Enterprise products. It all comes down to inspiring users with examples of what Notion could help them achieve.

Because Instagram is a visual platform, Notion focuses on making beautiful GIFs of the product. Their recommendation is to make polished and eye-popping design a requirement for social media channels. This is what makes Alex so rare and valuable - he not only writes all social copy but also designs these images.

For small steps. And giant leaps 📦✈️— Notion (@NotionHQ) January 5, 2022

Transforming Creators into Influencers Across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram

One of the most powerful builders of brand awareness and activation for Notion is influencers who share their experiences. These creators often have a substantial audience already. When they share the value they’re getting out of Notion, it not only encourages others to try the tool but also helps existing users get the most possible value from it.

YouTuber Michelle Kanemitsu shares a Notion tutorial. To date, the video has received $1.85M+ views.

But how can a company transform creators into influencers who are happy to share the benefits of your product? According to Ben, it’s key to focus on people who are already using it. “Many brands pay influencers to read out a script, around 30-60 seconds written by the brand describing their product,” said Ben. “When we tried that, the return on investment just wasn't there. We realized it was critical that creators use and understand Notion before we work with them.”

The team has also discovered it’s best to partner with influential creators who are beloved by other creators. “The key has been to reach influential creators followed by other creators,” said Ben. “If you can get them on board, they can help you reach so many more creators over time.”

To find these influential creators, the Notion team has looked into which channels people feature on their recommended list on YouTube, or how many verified commenters are responding to videos.

The Notion team looks at a mix of conversions, brand exposure, and market penetration to measure the success of the ambassador program. “At its most basic level, keeping track of CPAs is a good measure of success, but what's really powerful with creators is as more people watch videos over time the CPA goes down,” said Ben. “This content is evergreen and continues to drive people towards your product indefinitely.”

This has become such an important driver for Notion that they hired Lexie Barnhorn to lead influencer efforts. She came from Curology, where she led a large team to do this work promoting skincare, a field more well-known for influencer marketing.

What they would do differently with the benefit of hindsight

Notion has seen unquestionable and far-reaching success by leveraging community, but the team has learned a number of lessons. If they had to do it all over, there are a number of things they’d do:

  • Clarify the community purpose and code of conduct earlier. Looking back, clarity early on would’ve helped keep everyone aligned and connected to Notion’s goals, though the team would’ve still left some wiggle room in the very beginning as things were getting off the ground.
  • Hire a social media manager - The team did hire a social media manager last year with Alex Hao. But, looking back, they just wish they’d done it sooner — If only to relieve David Tibbitts, the product marketing manager who took this on part time. It would’ve been great in the early days to have someone scouring channels to find and reshare interesting things full-time.
  • Rev up LinkedIn - Notion is now enjoying the benefits of LinkedIn, but that wasn’t a focus until the end of 2020. LinkedIn is great for sharing team and enterprise stories, in particular.
  • Focus on international early - Notion has gotten a lot of international traction, in large part because of ambassadors. The team wishes they’d focused even more time and effort on this earlier in their journey. But with several new languages launching this year, they’re now on the path to go big across top markets.

Thanks to Camille and Ben for sharing their experience and learnings and congrats on making such a great impact at Notion!

PS: if you are targeting developers, check out Apollo GraphQL’s guiding principles for engaging a developer community (and delivering great virtual events).