May 1, 2012

Social Networks and The Changing Face of the MailChimp Customer Community

As a MailChimp user, we value your feedback and think it’s important for you to have an easy way to share your thoughts with us. Frankly, it’s where we get all our ideas, so we don’t just "value" your feedback–we need your feedback. That’s why we set up The Jungle, our private customer community on the Ning platform, a few years ago. For a while there,  private social networks like this were growing pretty common. Now, they’re quickly becoming a thing of the past, and we’ve decided to adapt accordingly.

The internet was a different place four or five years ago. Social media was certainly a thing (remember Friendster!?), but it was way different from the omnipresent social layer that’s now built into everything from running shoes to bathroom scales. Facebook didn’t hit the one-hundred million user mark until August of 2008, and that’s right around the time that we launched our customer community, The Jungle.

At first, The Jungle was a nice way to connect with customers. Over time though, it’s become an overgrown and inhospitable place, full of weeds and confusion.  Inevitably, the bots and spammers decided to invade, which made us force account setups, and get more strict on moderation. That’s not a complaint about moderation, by the way. We actually believe strongly in it, in order to protect your community. It’s just that customers started to perceive these spam-protection barriers as hurdles and hoops that they had to jump through when all they wanted to do was submit a new feature idea.

Meanwhile, Facebook has grown to just over 900 million users, and is projected to cross the one billion user mark in late summer 2012. With the world population hovering around 7 billion humans, that means roughly 15% of us are on Facebook. And I’d venture a bet that in the business and technology communities, the actual percentage is much higher. The trend is undeniable, and it makes us question the need for our own private social network.


Okay, but what about "community"?

We do a good bit of thinking about community at MailChimp. We just last year launched LongReply for Twitter and Social for WordPress. LongReply was developed out of the very real need for more than 140 characters when helping folks via Twitter. With Twitter quickly becoming the first place people turn when they’re looking to avoid call centers and automated contextual menus, LongReply allows us to give technically thorough, and thoroughly human responses to customer tweets. Social is a WordPress plugin that allows you to integrate WordPress with Twitter and Facebook, so you can collect everything people are saying about your blog in one place. More and more, people use Facebook or Twitter as their primary identity(ies) on the web, and Social lets commenters log in and leave a comment using their preferred social identity. They can also publish their response directly to their Twitter or Facebook account from your blog. (If you’re curious to see the plugin in action, just scroll down to the comments section of this post!)

The point here, is that every day more and more people are joining Twitter and Facebook not only to connect with their friends and family, but also to connect with brands. This also happens to be why we integrated Facebook comments into your MailChimp campaigns back in 2010. You’re using these channels, we’re using them too, and so it makes perfect sense to meet in the middle and use these platforms to engage in an open dialogue with one another.

Our experiment with fostering community through The Jungle has allowed us to make some interesting observations over the past few years, in particular about what’s working for us and what is not:

  • We don’t believe you should have to authorize an application or sign up for a service just to give us feedback. Sounds like common sense, but the Jungle’s Ning platform was initially used as a simple way to discuss topics and form friendly, virtual roundtables with customers. Over time, it eventually turned into the default place to send customers if/when they had feedback or feature requests. To that end, having to create a Ning profile just to submit a simple suggestion got silly.
  • Spam messages and accounts led to the necessity to moderate comments and approve users, which made our social network closed off to the point that it became extremely cumbersome for folks to share feedback. This contradicts the reasons we established it in the first place!
  • The Ning platform  was acquired by Glam Media last year, and we ultimately feel that it’s not going to meet our community’s needs in the long term.
  • The conversation has naturally shifted to Facebook and Twitter as adoption has increased for both services. Shameless plug: you can connect with MailChimp on Facebook (and Twitter and Google+).
  • The vast majority of the tech support questions that are asked in the Jungle have been thoroughly detailed in our Knowledge Base, which we’ve invested heavily in over recent years–but that’s worth another blog post entirely.

That being said, we’ve decided to make some changes that will make it easier for our users to send us quick feedback and "wish list requests," and make it more natural to talk with our users on the social networks they already use.

To that effect, as of May 1, 2012 we’ll no longer be approving new member requests for joining The Jungle.

Note: We originally planned to keep the Jungle live for another month  so that users could log in and download anything they might need, but this security report made us decide to take it down completely until we’re comfortable with the idea of making it live again.

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us directly if you have questions or concerns.

So what’s next?

We’ve set up a feedback form on our site, and when you submit your thoughts they go directly to MailChimp’s CEO Ben, Chief Customer Officer and co-founder Dan, and a few other key humans on our User Experience (UX) team. We’re also constantly monitoring Twitter and Facebook to answer technical questions and field feedback. Our hope is that all of these options make it easier and more convenient for you to get in touch, because we’re genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say!

Lastly, the MailChimp blog will form an important cornerstone once we officially shut down The Jungle. Ben started the blog waaay back in 2006, and it continues to be one of the key ways we keep our customers up-to-date with changes, industry news, and application upgrades. To be perfectly honest, the blog has been better at fostering community than The Jungle ever was, and we’re cool with that. It allows us to have topically relevant discussions in a way that makes sense, and get you the answers you need in the most timely manner possible.

So keep doing what you do– asking questions and sharing your feedback– just in a slightly different (but hopefully more natural) way now. We look forward to continuing the conversation!


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