Six lessons Christina Garnett learned while building the HubSpot community

Life is infinitely sweeter when there are shared spaces for people to grow together. Whether it’s a common interest, shared professional passion, or long-held value, we know one thing to be true — communities are what power people.

But starting a community is not easy. Community builders need grit, vision, and compassion to build a space where people want to offer their time.

To help guide you on that journey, we’re speaking with proven builders, leaders, and managers to understand the art and science of community creation. 

Christina Garnett is the Principal Marketing Manager, Offline Community and Advocacy at HubSpot. She oversees HubFans—a community of more than 6,000 active advocates.

HubFans has existed at the intersection of advocacy and community since 2017. Read on to see the top six lessons Christina has learned along the way.

1. Live the motto “Choose your own adventure” ⛰️

“A community is a group of people who have one to many commonalities. And they tend to strengthen those beliefs or that love of their commonality by being together,” says Christina. “Community acts like an amplifier of that commonality.” 

HubFans is a powerful subset of the HubSpot community. It’s made up of people who are customers or partners, sure — but they’re also diehard fans of the brand. 

As a community leader, Christina nurtures this curious and loyal spirit in members by letting them choose their own adventure. Whether they want to give a talk, answer questions in a forum, or be featured in a case study, members can engage with the community their way.

This model allows them to consider their own motivations as well as how they want to interact with others in the community and the larger HubSpot brand. This element of choice softly encourages them to lean into their strengths and empowers them to be who they want to be.

By supercharging this love and knowledge, Christina’s role inspires members to not only take part in the brand, but become it. People within HubFans share unprompted feedback about HubSpot, test new features, and dream up new offerings.

2. Make members the hero of the story 🦸 

When building a community, it’s important to know what a space is not.

Communities aren’t supposed to be merely an echo chamber of countless forums. They should offer a range of activities, touchpoints, and engagement opportunities to be genuinely valuable.

Healthy communities give members the chance to become the hero of the story. This means they feel championed and heard within the community and outside of it.

To make HubFans the hero, Christina develops community-led growth initiatives like the Inbound Correspondence Program, where expert HubFans essentially become influencers and their voice is shared beyond the community’s gates. 

“These community members are going to get a ticket to INBOUND. They're going to share the talks they attend, their feedback, their takeaways — and they're not just someone with a ton of followers. They're people who get it and are able to say, ‘This was actually gold,’” says Christina.

Christina is constantly passing the mic to members and amplifying their voices. This makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger (because they are). It’s just one way she provides HubFans with value.

3. Strike a balance between community ROI and community needs 💰

In the magic potion that brews community, you need to be mindful of monetization, yes, but more importantly, your members’ needs. Without one or the other, the potion sours. A business community brings its brand much more than revenue, yet without tangible ROI, the community would disappear.

So…with that in mind, how should community builders at organizations balance these two things?

For communities led by businesses, ROI is, of course, a top priority. But so are the needs of your customers and members. By understanding the business impact you want to drive and the KPIs you need to measure, you can work backwards to consider what behaviors have to happen in the community to reach them.

Check out some of the benefits HubSpot enjoys beyond just revenue ROI thanks to HubFans:

  • Word-of-mouth marketing. Time to cut that paid advertising budget. When your community becomes successful, growth happens exponentially. Members chat with other prospective members and tout the community on their own social channels. The brand benefits, in turn, through positive sentiment on social channels and in product reviews.
  • Strong retention numbers. HubFans want to get closer to the brand and bond with people who are at the same product knowledge level. Opportunities to have meaningful conversations and build rapport do just that by making customers and partners happier — and more likely to stay.
  • Customer access. A community gives you access to a subset of your customers, and oftentimes your power users, 24/7. “You essentially have the voice of the customer at will,” says Christina. “If you ever want feedback on anything, I can get the good, the bad, the ugly, what they wish was on the roadmap that isn’t there, what they love, and why they don’t like something else. And a lot of times, they’ll also share how they would fix it.”

Create an opportunity for community members to do something that is really meaningful to them, while also driving the behavior that will happify your business. It all stems from one big question — how can you better take care of your people?

4. Measure the right stuff, at the right time ⏱️

A strong community manager knows which metrics to look at. But more importantly, they know at what time they should assess them. Community managers need to monitor their spaces differently depending on how mature their community is. 

Here’s what we mean. In the beginning, some metrics are extra critical. The number of members you have. New member engagement. But over time, priorities shift, and other metrics become more important. Think net-new membership. Month-over-month retention.

“Measurement really changes based on the life cycle,” says Christina. “I spent my whole previous life in social strategy, so I understand what that looks like. You’re going to have the same vanity metrics. Follower count doesn’t really matter, but it matters in the beginning when you’re trying to build and create brand awareness. It’s the same thing with community.”

Ask yourself some questions to confirm what you should be measuring and when:

  • What actions are members taking in the community?
  • Where in the community are they hanging out?
  • What’s event attendance like?

When conversations start to flow organically, Christina suggests that engagement should become your primary focus.

Have in mind the KPIs you’re measuring, but know they’re going to shift. The heart of communities runs on vibes, so you’re going to want to pay attention to how your community ebbs and flows, and respond accordingly.

5. Make the community engaging for every member 🤠 

If you’re building your community for the power user and the power user alone, that’s the quickest way to miss out on the other unique voices in the room.

Communities aren’t just for the ultra-engaged; each member experiences the community in a different way. If you’re a community builder, you need to make sure your community is engaging for everyone. This helps members participate in the way that feels right to them and find the value they seek.

Christina begins by looking at the community members that are most engaged and also considering the folks who are poking their head into conversations — and then taking a multi-prong approach to engage ‘em all.

“You need to reach out in a one-to-one way. If someone is deeply engaged, they might feel ignored or unappreciated if they bring a lot to the community [and you don’t reach out as the leader]. You’re going to lose those people really quickly,” says Christina.

Acknowledge that you value these members and appreciate what they’re giving. The HubSpot Community Champion Program seeks to remedy this issue by giving power users a private sub-community where they can access perks and exclusive events. It’s a way for HubSpot to give back and say, we see you.

Another critical point of engagement is the onboarding experience. Community builders can fall into the trap of focusing on the vanity metric of total members. But this might mean someone popped in once and never came back.

Be very thoughtful about what onboarding looks like, the paths members can take, and the knowledge immediately available. Then ask yourself if you yourself would return based on the experience. If your answer is no, think about what would be necessary to remedy the situation, and adjust accordingly.

With that, it’s not enough to focus on the most engaged community members and stop there. You should also keep an eye on the lurkers.

“A lot of people assume lurkers are introverts, and that’s not necessarily true,” says Christina. “Lurkers are just trying to see, what’s the vibe in here? And can I get what I need without having to feel stupid or victimized or special?”

Put yourself in your lurkers’ shoes, and take a walk through your community. Make sure the space holds their attention and is a place they’ll want to hang out. Because even if they’re not actively engaging, this is what feels best to them. Community builders need to honor that.

6. Focus on you — yes, you! Prioritize mental health and remember community burnout 🧘

To run a successful community, you need to celebrate one more important thing — yourself.

With millions of stimuli competing for our attention, community managers often feel the need to constantly capture their members’ time and energy. But it can come at their own expense. Community burnout can keep you from doing meaningful work.

Christina recommends knowing what your triggers are so you can self-protect. “You have to know what’s going to hurt you and what’s going to bring you down. You need to be able to self-diagnose that you’re getting burned out before other people would notice,” says Christina.

She recommends safeguarding the moments you can keep to yourself. Block off 30 minutes to meditate. Get off social media. Take a walk instead of reading another email. Know what this critical piece of self-care looks like to you, then protect it at all costs.

In the same way you combat burnout, your members may also experience community burnout. “You’re competing with their life, their vacation, their work, and everything else that could get their attention as soon as they’re awake,” says Christina. “Community burnout is something you need to be incredibly thoughtful about.”

Be mindful of what you’re competing against, so you can protect yourself and your community members along the way.

The best communities are fueled by trust 🤝

Here at Superwave, we want to empower communities to realize their fullest potential. Before they can do this, community leaders need to lay a foundation of deep trust and safety, so members can be their authentic selves and make lasting connections.

“It takes a very long time to build trust, and it takes very little time to lose it,” shares Christina. “You can be there for somebody for years. And you missed one important time when you should have been there for them, and that’s what they remember.”

To Christina, communities are relationships at scale — but never at the expense of excellent one-to-one interactions and connections. Those conversations are where the real trust is built.

We believe in your community, whether it’s an idea you can’t stop thinking about, or it’s out in the world and growing already. So go forth and build a community worth joining, and feel free to borrow Christina’s advice as you do.