What’s fun got to do with it?

Erica Kuhl
Jan 29 · 5 min read

What do you think about when you hear the word fun? I think of skiing, hiking mountains, playing card games with my kids, traveling to exotic places and playing tennis. Fun is a big part of my life and until I met David Thomas, a professor at the University of Colorado, I didn’t realize it’s a part of my work life too. He calls himself a Professor of Fun. How’s that for the coolest title ever?

He recently saw me speak about my journey to Community at an event at the University of Colorado. I was talking about my twists and turns that led to running a highly engaged and strategic customer community at Salesforce. I mentioned that “fun” was one of the four pillars of our community messaging. He was so curious and reached out to me after the talk to dive in further on how “fun” came to be a strategic focus and what did that mean.

Not surprisingly he asked right away about our Salesforce characters and wondered if that was the impetus of fun. While I explained that we always knew not to take ourselves too seriously at Salesforce and we strove to speak in simple easy to understand language, I didn’t think that was how fun started in our community. It got me really thinking …. how did fun get started and why was our community fun? Was fun a strategic decision? Was fun an accident I stumbled onto to? More interestingly how could an enterprise tech community even be fun?

After much reflection, what I came to realize was that the community takes on the personality of the Community Manager. I always stress how critically important this person is to building a community and this is one of the main reasons why. The Community Manager is the face, voice, personality and culture of your community. The behaviors the Community Manager demonstrates often dictates what is acceptable in your community. What activities the Community Manager rewards and recognizes becomes the benchmark of the behaviors you’re looking to create in your community.

Since I built the Trailblazer Community from scratch, that Community Manager was me. I saw outstanding behaviors bubbling up early on and I jumped at the opportunity to reward and recognize them. If I’m being honest, I had no strategy, I had no money, and I had no guidance so I went with what I know…my gut. I had this one community rock star that was answering a majority of the questions on our discussion forum in the early days. I happen to know he loved a particular type of beer called Pliny the Elder only sold in California and he was from Boston. To thank him for his amazing work I packaged up 4 Pliny bombers on dry ice and shipped them to Boston. Another one of our early stand out members was about to become a father so I made him a custom Salesforce onesie.

We always took full advantage of holidays to have some fun too. We launched a Valentine’s Day campaign and crowdsourced the best Salesforce pickup lines from the Community and turned them into shareable cards on Twitter. We had hundreds of submissions and picked our top 14 to highlight. Here’s one of my favorites.

I think you’re starting to get the picture….fun was eeking out in many ways. Fast forward to today. The community is rich and vibrant and often very sparkly. Don’t believe me? Search up “bedazzle and Salesforce” images and you’ll come across Trailhead bedazzling parties, shiny golden hoodies, Salesforce custom shoes and capes, sticker swaps, ugly sweater meetups, and MORE!

What does this all have to do with the success of our Community? If you ask anyone to describe the Salesforce Community ecosystem they’ll tell you it’s trusted and welcoming. In large part I think that comes from giving our members the permission to be playful while also solving real issues. Fun allows us to lower our guard and it reduces any fear or shame when having to ask a question. It allows us to show our vulnerabilities but know that we’ll be surrounded by support. I wanted our Community to be available to all types of customers from the most expert to the most newbie. My gut told me that bringing some levity and lightness to the Community was the perfect way to do just that. I’d say it worked!

Professor David asked me if fun is in my playbook when I’m working with new clients now on their community strategies. I didn’t have it explicitly called out, but now I’m going to change that. Fun can manifest in many different ways because sparkles and stickers may not apply to every company. Fun can be pithy responses, funny memes, small surprises that delight your members, and even just emojis. We live in a very serious time right now with some very heavy issues swirling around us so let’s do what we can to bring a little fun forward whenever we can.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing” — Dale Carnegie

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