Welcome to the LikeMinds community leaders series, where we speak to an exciting community marketing leader in each episode and get to know what makes them tick!
This week, we spoke to Edu Giansante, a community-building leader who's grown some of the world's largest communities around SaaS products such as Wix, Dropbox, etc. He's currently helping build a community for Persona. Ed gives off a warm and friendly vibe that's instantly endearing. We're sure you'll enjoy watching the interview just as much as we did shooting it.
Even industry leaders like Edu are particular about their me-time, as we discovered when we asked him what he loves to do outside of work. Ed has many one-off hobbies, but his greatest interests are traveling and hiking. He built a camper van to travel around Europe and stayed in it for several months.
He also loves to play music, jamming with people. He also wrote a book. As a dog father, Ed spends a lot of time with his pride and joy.
With that, it's time for Ed's experiences with community building.
Marketers often get lost in the grind of bringing products in front of audiences; hence, for Ed, staying authentic is very important. It's one of his core values, and he brings it to his work. When he helps people, he's not expecting a reward.
Ed is against structuring all your behavior around a goal like community building; he advocates doing things that feel good for their own sake. This idea also trickled into his answer to what key patterns or elements contribute to community growth and engagement in general.
When asked about the concept of engagement Ed has a very far out there take - "Every time someone throws the word engagement, a dolphin gets hit by a jet ski in Sri Lanka". According to him, it is easy to create engagement, and not even of the good kind, by just making contradictory and controversial content. Ed emphasized first defining what growth means for you.
For a website like Sampar or chief.com, growth means an exclusive community open only to a select few; hence, their engagement strategy differs. Growth may be the most significant thing for only some businesses. Ed also only has a little use for communities of a casual nature.
We asked Ed what he's noticed as an evolution in the community space and some key trends observed. He highlighted the following:
He sees a rise in the use of in-app communities but does not perceive it as a typical trend. People are building social elements into in-app and calling them in-app communities. According to Ed, a real community creates common stories, goals, and activities among themselves, but in these experiences, they interact with specific content.
He is optimistic about companies cracking the code to move siloed community platforms "into a more enhanced and in-app, in-product experience where you don't have a second credential or URL. You're in the product, and if you want to engage, you engage, so that's definitely a huge thing".
Persona offers identity verification services to brands; their product is not openly visible to the end user. Ed operates by validating multiple hypotheses. If a method doesn't confirm his assumptions, he swiftly shifts focus. He is intentional with his work and conducts numerous events and meetups.
He handles various tasks without a fully structured team or rigorous process. The dynamic nature of startup culture, where he has to assess what works constantly, contrasts with his past in big tech, where established processes precede action.
One of Ed's significant achievements in his previous role at Zynga was starting a program for user-generated support content. With 300 million active users across the games, it was humanly impossible to offer personalized support at scale. Zynga saw a massive cost reduction in customer support with Ed's initiative.
At Dropbox, Ed was one of the early community hires and watched it grow to 400 million users. He built a super-user program that helped scale education support by 10-100X; the real achievement was knowing that so many users cared enough to join the community.
He also worked at Wix, where he supported the community of users who are primarily freelancers who build sites professionally and of course, those who create for themselves. The goal of the community was to offer support by teaching critical skills like negotiation.
VMware was his most challenging role because the product was highly technical. Ed enjoys working with the Persona team and finds them very smart and inventive.
Ed has often been a one-person army in his community roles, so we wanted to know what superpowers have come in handy, helping him do such fabulous jobs. Having a good understanding of social media and events is a default, but what else does Edu bank on?
"Well, visual storytelling, as I mentioned, is key - bringing more visuals into
what you narrate, but I have some ADHD. So, being solo in what I do can be great
for ideation; I can come up with a lot of different ideas and start things. But, I'm terrible at following up and organizing myself".
In this regard, a personal victory for him was learning to deal with this problem. It's akin to being a mini-entrepreneur or founder within a company when operating solo. He has built an adaptive mindset that allows him to creatively address challenges, find solutions, and build things without a significant financial investment.
This question segued into our crucial question for Ed on two or three pieces of advice for the upcoming generation of community entrepreneurs and builders - thousands of whom read this blog.
Many aspiring community builders wonder about the right degree or job to pursue, especially in the broad realm of community work.
Ed is not too concerned about that. He advises us to try various things, create hypotheses, and rigorously validate them. He warns against unquestioningly adopting ideas —whether from LinkedIn posts or blogs.
"I can't read a single framework my friends create because I can't follow a single thing;
terrible with that. But that helped me because I must create my own version of things and validate my hypothesis". The first key is to validate your hypotheses; don't assume that a particular approach will automatically grow your community.
Secondly, Ed emphasizes that AI is an enhancement, not a complete solution. Avoid the temptation to become lazy by relying on AI for everything. Experiment and try things before seeking AI solutions. Use AI to enhance your work, not to replace it.
As a third point, Edu swears against overly relying on technology or people. Some believe hiring a specific person or acquiring certain knowledge will solve all problems. Be cautious because the industry often pushes this mindset.
While tools and platforms are helpful, they are enhancements. Know your goals and engage with tools accordingly, whether it's Facebook groups or WhatsApp. Only jump into expensive tools with a clear understanding of how they will enhance your work.