How to Make AMAs Part of Your Engagement Strategy

Episode Thumbnail
This is a podcast episode titled, How to Make AMAs Part of Your Engagement Strategy. The summary for this episode is: <p>This week, Higher Logic's Annie O'Brien and Kristin Bednarek join Alex and Heather to discuss AMAs. As Community Managers, Annie and Kristin give us tips on putting together a successful AMA, including questions you should incorporate and the proper timing between each AMA. All of which will help create more value and engagement from these sessions. </p>
When's the Right Time for an AMA?
01:30 MIN
The Content Created From AMAs
01:23 MIN
Considering the Timeframe for Panels with More Than One Person
01:20 MIN
Finding and Collecting the Best Questions
00:55 MIN
Utilizing Impersonation for AMAs
01:53 MIN
Results You Might See From AMA Sessions
01:39 MIN

Heather McNair: Welcome to The Member Engagement Show with Higher Logic, the podcast for association professionals, looking to boost retention, gain new members and deepen member involvement. Throughout our show, we'll bring on some experts, talk shop about engagement, and you'll walk away with strategies proven to transform your organization. I'm Heather McNair.

Alex Mastrianni: I'm Alex Mastrianni and we're happy you're here. Welcome back to another episode of The Member Engagement Show. Hey Heather, how's it going?

Heather McNair: It's going well, Alex, how are you today?

Alex Mastrianni: I'm doing great. I'm excited to talk about AMAs. Ask me anythings. And we've got two awesome guests here, but what do you think about AMAs?

Heather McNair: I have always loved them as a format to get people involved and being one of the things we're going to talk about today is what they look like in a community format. Trent got translated into that online community which is a little different twist people may be used to with an ask me anything, but I do think they're a really great way to engage your audience. We've done so many webinars, we've experimented with all sorts of online learning formats, virtual learning formats over the last 15 months or so. And I think they're very engaging. They're very hands- on and they can also be asynchronous, which is one of the great things like a webinar, really to get the most out of it you should be their life. And so you have to be there from two to 3: 00 PM on such and such date. And with these AMAs in communities, basically the conversation, and I'm not going to not going to steal our guests thunder, but the conversation is happening in the community. And so people can refer back to it. They can participate in it later. And oftentimes they'll stretch out for longer periods than just that one, two, three hours, whatever it was scheduled for. And so I think it gives a great way to involve more people who may not have even been aware in a lot of situations from a marketing side, as hard as we try to promote things sometimes. Sometimes events can slip by without people noticing. But all of a sudden, if it shows up in their community digest, they're like," Oh, hey, this is pertinent to me."

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, for sure. And just along the lines of all of these different online and virtual learning formats that people have been trying over the past year, 15 months, it's so funny because I was just talking to someone on our customer marketing team and same thing with some of our prospect marketing webinars have just been really popular. People have been flocking to them and we're looking to do more in the second half of the year as we're looking at our second half planning. And I think AMAs are a great way to both repurpose some of the content that comes out of webinars or continue to feature speakers or find more relevant topics. So all stuff that we're going to talk about today with Annie O'Brien and Kristin Bednarek from Higher Logic, they are on our community management team and they are experts in this area. So Annie, Kristin, welcome to the show. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do at Higher Logic, and I'm just interested to know if you could attend an ask me anything with anyone who would you want to ask questions to?

Kristin Bednarek: Hi everyone. My name is Kristin, like Alex said, and really excited to be joining the show today. So thank you for bringing us on. I am a consultant at Higher Logic. I'm on the strategic services team and I work with various community customers to boost engagement, talk about strategy and really make their community thrive. And if I could attend an AMA with anyone, I'm assuming this is a dead or alive type situation.

Alex Mastrianni: Yes. For sure.

Kristin Bednarek: Okay. I would have to do Stanley who created Marvel comics and created many of the stories that I love from Marvel. So it would be Stanley for me.

Alex Mastrianni: That's awesome. Good answer. I didn't see that coming.

Heather McNair: I didn't either. Fantastic.

Alex Mastrianni: inaudible. Annie, how about you?

Annie O'Brien: Well, thank you for having me. I'm Annie O'Brien and I'm a team lead on the strategic services team. As Kristin mentioned, we help launch and manage people's online communities and help make them very successful over the years. I'm also going to go with someone who instead for my AMA, it's a bit of a weird answer, but if I could attend an AMA with anyone, it would be Lee Harvey Oswald. And that is because I love history. And I just have a few questions for him. I'd like to get to the bottom of a few things.

Alex Mastrianni: That's great. Well, that would be a very interesting AMA for sure.

Annie O'Brien: Right?

Alex Mastrianni: So-

Heather McNair: It would be interesting what he had to say yes.

Alex Mastrianni: Yes. Kristin, I'm going to throw the first question your way. If someone was thinking about running an in- person webinar or a community, ask me anything, they were debating the different formats, wondering which one would make the most sense. When would you recommend that someone tries this ask me anything format in the community.

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. Good question. I think AMAs are really great solely due to the fact that they're really different. So as you mentioned, webinars, and of course in- person events are always popular, but webinars in- particular during COVID have been extremely popular, but webinars do take a lot of work, not just for the person presenting who they have to get ready. They've got to be live on the spot talking, they might have to be on camera is also a lot of work for the attendees. You can't just pick and choose the parts. You join a webinar, you really have to join the whole thing for the experience. So that's an hour out of your day, maybe even two that's time that you really have to dedicate to that webinar. And AMA on the other hand allows you to really step in and out. So if you have a question on a topic, you only have a couple minutes, you can log in, ask your question, see the answer, and then you can leave. Now it also has benefits for the person who is presenting on it. Instead of preparing, instead of having to get ready to look good on camera, they can just be sitting behind their computer, even in their pajamas, if they want and answering the questions as they come in. So it's a nice change of pace for, I think both the attendees and the AMA expert, because they really get a different opportunity that's not the same as the countless webinars. And let's be honest, we've all seen many, many, many webinars recently. For people who do present at those a lot, they might not want to do another webinar, but they might be willing to try an AMA and then you get this great guest on your AMA.

Heather McNair: Yeah. And one of the things that I have seen be very successful too, is it isn't an either or with the webinars and AMAs, it's actually doing the two of them in conjunction with each other. Like, one of the things with webinars is you usually never have enough time at the end of it, to answer all the questions that people have asked. And so you can then take those questions and move them over to the community and basically turn that into an AMA on the community. So you've got those two formats working together as opposed to having to pick and choose between the two.

Alex Mastrianni: That's a good point. We did something like that after super forum, our annual customer conference, where there were definitely sessions that could have gone another 15 minutes, 20 minutes with just Q&A people wanted to hear from the speaker because of course they always go over time and then there's never enough time to get all those extra questions answered. So what we did in a couple of months after the event was looked at some of those really popular sessions and basically continue the conversation. Where in the community did people keep going back to and ask questions to the speaker or where again, could the speaker have gone on longer than we had the time allotted for? So we did AMAs sessions. So good point, Heather, I forgot about that. What about the content? So this is always something that I find really fascinating afterwards is as someone who I know we've done them in our own internal employee community, we've done AMAs with various folks around the company. I love all the content that's in the community afterwards because I actually found it when I've searched for things. It pops up in the search. And it's great because, I don't have to necessarily carve out 30 minutes to listen to a recording, but I can quickly skim the thread for questions that are relevant or interesting to me to just quickly see what I can take away from it.

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. I think something really great tying in with that searchability there is if you've got something you're announcing, so for a product community, maybe that's a new release and you want to have a forum for people to ask questions about. An AMA is a great place, rather than trying to guess the FAQ's they might have you get the true, real frequently asked questions. And like you said, they're searchable afterwards. You can keep the thread somewhere where people can find it easily, really, really great for after the fact.

Annie O'Brien: Yeah. And what we typically see people do is pull in that content to emails afterwards, use it as a marketing way to drive people back to the community because there is so much great content that's generated there and it really can be evergreen on the community.

Heather McNair: That's a great idea. I love that. So someone, if they're hearing about this, they're excited about this concept of an AMA, where do they start? How do they plan one? You guys mentioned briefly on," Oh, I think Alex actually did." About how we decided on topics for super forum, but how do you guys kind of go about that with the customers you work with?

Annie O'Brien: So the first step would be to select a topic and some of the ways to do that through the community are obviously if there's a hot discussion that is taking off, that can always be a good way, but we always also like to look at the top search terms report. So if there is something that people are really searching for, maybe it's a new product release. Maybe it's just a hot topic in the industry. That can be a really great thing to host an AMA on. So that's always a good one. And then also it's kind of fun to do a poll. So say you have about four ideas amongst staff, and you want to see which ideas the members actually want to put a poll up on the community for about two weeks to get those votes in. That can be also a really great way to select a topic.

Heather McNair: Yeah, that's great. Because then the members also feel some ownership of it. So I'm sure you get a higher attendance rate with that.

Annie O'Brien: Exactly.

Alex Mastrianni: How do you find your expert? I almost said speaker, but clearly they're not speaking here. How much of a time commitment do you sort of pitch this as to the experts?

Annie O'Brien: So in general, we will work with members of the organization and right off the bat, they'll think of five ish members that could fit the bill for the AMA. Another great way to look for people would be people that are very active in the community. So taking a look at their engagement scores and saying, Susie Q has been super active, maybe she'd be willing to participate in an AMA, but generally we'll say it takes about two hours, total of prep. So we'll do about a half an hour beforehand, just making sure that they understand the platform don't have any questions are fully prepared. They can answer questions ahead of time an hour for the session. And then we say about 30 minutes afterwards, just in case any questions come in later on, we want to make sure that they still get answered. So there might be some straggling questions that they need to answer.

Heather McNair: So Annie, you mentioned staff may come up with five people off the top of their heads. Do you ever do these with more than one expert or is it pretty much you stick with one person?

Annie O'Brien: That's actually a great question. I actually have done a decent amount of AMAs, probably more so than not with a panel of experts, which actually works out quite nicely because then you get multiple opinions on each question and it works out quite nicely. It also adds more content to the thread. So there's a little bit more meat to the thread there and it sparks a lively debate.

Alex Mastrianni: And they must be excited that they don't have to make slides. I mean, that's a benefit to all the experts.

Heather McNair: Yeah. And as they say, controversy always gets a conversation going too. When you do it with more than one person, do you stick with that one hour ish or do you tend to go for a longer period? I'm assuming there's more conversation going on. So it may need to stretch out for a longer.

Annie O'Brien: In my experience, I've kept it to either an hour or an hour and a half, and they will answer some questions ahead of time as needed. But in general, either the experts will answer a few questions or they'll say, that's not really my area of expertise. So you take that one, but any more than an hour and a half, and it just becomes a fairly big time commitment for the experts. But Kristin, what would you say?

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah, I typically leave it to about an hour just so I can give them that promised window. Hey, we're going to not take up too much of your time. I think one of the benefits is when you've got a panel, you've got room for different areas of expertise, a great way. I know this is going back a little bit, but if you're looking for some great experts for a panel, if you ever demographics within your community, you can use those to filter and find people that are in the fields that you want to feature, or maybe have a specific practice area. They have that expertise. And then it's a true panel of experts, maybe not in all the exact same field, but they can give different insights to topics. And maybe a different question might be answerable by one person, but to another one, they don't really have an answer that saves when you've got that panel, you can really open it up to the group and say who has a good answer for this one? And that allows them to kind of claim the area of expertise and give whoever's asking that question a good answer.

Heather McNair: That's awesome. You've talked about how to find these people in the community and do you ever go to Twitter, LinkedIn kind of external to maybe bring in an expert who isn't necessarily participating in the community?

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. That's a great point you bring up, I have seen that work very well. So you can leverage social media a lot for these AMAs, and I've seen a lot of organizations be successful with opening it up on Twitter and Instagram for questions. Now, of course you might not get members asking those questions, but you can leverage the anonymous posting feature to post them, or just have a staff member posted in as a question that came from social media. Now for the expert, if they're not a member, I would recommend creating an account as a courtesy, whether you want to give them a trial membership as a thank you or just access to the platform for only that day, I think it is a nice thing to give them that account, allow them to set it up and then you don't have to post through staff. And it is a true person's profile who is answering the questions.

Heather McNair: Yeah. Completely agree with that approach. Yeah. So they're interacting with the actual expert.

Alex Mastrianni: So what's the best way to get the questions that you're going to ask. How do you promote this? Is at all through email and the community itself, on social, combination of all of these and more? What's the best way to collect these and get feedback from members?

Annie O'Brien: All of the above. So we recommend announcing it on the community and then directing members to a place, whether that's an email address or a form where they can post or share their questions ahead of time. That gives you a sense of how many questions you're going to get, how busy it's going to be in case the experts need to prepare ahead of time and fill some of those out ahead of time. We also like to leverage automation rules, to target people who are engaged in the community. And then I always like to send to a group of members that are unengaged in the community in case this AMA is what brings them back. And then I always recommend that the organization also leverages whatever newsletters they have going out, directing people to sign up or fill out a seed question form so that we can collect all of those. And recently I've been seeing on the top of the social media on Instagram, the question boxes, member organizations have been using those lately as a way to collect seed questions. So that's also been cool.

Alex Mastrianni: I love that. That's a great use of that question box and Instagram stories. How many questions do you typically get? I'm sure it varies on the depth of the content, but is there a number people should try to get through or target or that you could promise the expert you'll get about 10 questions over the course of an hour.

Kristin Bednarek: I think it depends on how much you leverage getting questions ahead of time. So I have noticed with communities where it's a more technical topic, the experts typically prefer to have more advanced so they can get out there and answer right longer answers. Maybe even I've seen occasionally they might be citing a source. If it's a scientific community, they don't want to be put on the spot really. So if you leverage that ahead of time, start with a longer promotion period, you can get more questions in there, but it's not as much weight on the expert during the live event. So that's something to consider there, but it's tough to say. I think it depends on the topic at hand. If you've got a panel I've noticed there's typically more questions that come in, because there's just more people on there. They probably read their bios in advance. They might have different questions for different experts with one expert it depends what they do. If they're really, really popular, if they're famous within the community, it's going to be a lot of content. If maybe they're not, then it might be a little bit trickier to get some questions. And I always do recommend if you do put out a request ahead of time, and there's not that many, you can always supplement it with some additional questions from either staff or from just anonymous posting, but disguised as a nice staff question.

Heather McNair: Just on a purely logistic side, Kristin, when you're posting those seed questions that you've gathered ahead of time, what does that format look like? A lot of times when we launch a community, when we're doing seed questions, with that person's permission, we'll go in and impersonate the member and post on their behalf. Are you doing the same thing in the AMAs? Is the expert just jumping in and answering the question?

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. So great question. And I'm glad you bring up impersonation because that is a great feature to utilize for AMAs. Now, of course you have to ask for permission to do this, but when you are initially soliciting seed content, if you do ask for permission to impersonate, it really makes things run a lot more smoothly on the day of, so you can have staff just sitting there impersonating to post that question and even to help the expert, if they've answered it in advance, you can post their answer as them. So it gives them the time to focus on the live questions and they don't have to do any work for those ones you've collected in advance. Well, aside from actually answering them ahead of time, but during the live event, it saves them that time. So impersonation is great. If someone does not wish to be impersonated, I always offer them the ability to have it posted as an anonymous question. I will tell them it's a great question. We definitely want it in the AMA. Do you mind if we posted anonymously? I have never had anyone say no to that if they're initially not okay with being impersonated, people want their question answered.

Alex Mastrianni: Cool. So that is definitely, probably what's keeping a community manager busy during the actual time slot of the AMA itself. Any other things that come up or that you have to keep in mind from a community manager perspective during the live event?

Annie O'Brien: We definitely recommend about five minutes before that you send an automation rule out, reminding people that it's about to start. That can be a great way to get some live questions, sort of like a join right now, email and that again, will get you some live questions and then the expert can focus on those while you're posting some of the seed questions. Additionally, it's definitely a good idea to be on a call with the expert, just so you can communicate during the event what's going on, which question to answer, et cetera. It can be nice to chat with them and also just make sure that the logistics are running smoothly.

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. Something I'll add here. I have noticed with AMAs pretty much always is a little bit slower in the first 15 to 20 minutes. That's totally normal. Don't be alarmed. People just don't tend to show up on time to things, but that's why if you've got that seed content prepared ahead of time, you can just start the flow of conversation right away. And you can kick off that AMA where it looks like it's filled up the whole hour and then those live questions will fill up your time towards the end of the day.

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah. I feel like it's one of those things where the more content people see, the more people will come in where you just randomly see people standing in the line like in a city. And you're like," Oh, what's everybody in line for." It must be something good. So yeah, same thing with the community. I love that. So thinking about all of the different customers you've worked with in the association space that have facilitated these different AMA sessions, what kind of results have they seen? What kind of sessions are they running? How do they compare to some other events that they either do in their community or just general community engagement?

Kristin Bednarek: From what I've seen, AMAs are one of the highest performing engagement events within a community. I've seen them work in such a wide range of communities, whether that's a corporate tech company or a scientific association, or just really any organization. I think an AMA can be highly functional and you're going to get a ton of engagement. I've seen one customer comes to mind that I've worked with where AMAs have become really the most important part of their community. People are requesting to be featured in it. People are requesting topics. It's the thing that people really look forward to. They actually have them monthly people get really excited for them. And even on months where the regular community engagement is slower, the AMS are guaranteed to be a success and people are always praising them and asking to have more of them. So I think when they can work with really any type of organization, I can honestly say I've never seen an AMA not work for an organization. When they don't work it might be because the topic that was chosen is not great, but then it can rebound for the next one. I do think though AMAs are just a great way to teach people about the community, bring them in for the first time. And for someone who might be a little bit hesitant to post in the community, generally. It gives them a forum where they can post and have a question answered when they might not feel comfortable starting their very own discussion thread, they can contribute. And then they've done it for the first time. Once you post it for the first time in a community, you're much more likely to come back and post more. So you've got a member who maybe wasn't engaged at all. Now they're posting and asking questions in your community.

Heather McNair: Yeah. I think depending on the expert you use, what I've seen is sometimes these are consultants, they're industry experts, and they are people who can charge three, four, five,$ 600 an hour. And the opportunity for members to be able to get free, I'll put in air quotes, free advice. It's usually in conjunction with their membership, but to get that free advice is very compelling and gets them to the community. And I've seen in specific situations where a third of the people asking questions, it's their first time actually posting a question to the community. And it is a really exciting way to get them over that fear, that hurdle. But yeah, if I could get free$ 600 an hour advice, if I can just get over that. Okay. I'll post to the community for that. That's worth it.

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah, for sure. That's such a good point too, because I don't know what the right word is here. Like low risk to come and post a question and a community AMA instead of starting a full thread from speaking from someone who was on the shier side here, if I was like, I wanted to participate in the community, but wasn't sure how that's a great way to get people involved. I didn't even think about that point. Another thing that you said was you had the customer who does these monthly. Is there a good cadence that you would suggest for these types of events?

Kristin Bednarek: I think it depends on your community. You don't want to do too many. I would never recommend for the sake of the community manager, mostly doing them weekly, because that would be very tricky. I think monthly works if that is the focus of your community and people are still remaining excited for them. I think quarterly generally is a great place to start. It allows plenty of prep time, a lot of time to pick a good topic or a good expert, and it makes it, so it becomes a little bit more of an exclusive event they're happening quarterly, not monthly, I think maybe start at quarterly and move forward to monthly, depending on how it goes. Annie, you might have some thoughts on that though, as well.

Annie O'Brien: I agree. I would start with quarterly and see how it goes. Quarterly makes it feel like an exclusive event and they can be a decent amount of work to put on from the community manager perspective. So you want to make sure that it feels special. And you also want to manage your workload.

Alex Mastrianni: For sure. Any final tips for things that we haven't covered if someone is thinking that they might want to test this out with their organization?

Annie O'Brien: One thing I have seen be very successful is that some organizations will have a theme for each quarter. So maybe Q2 is students. And so they would align their AMAs to those themes. And that has worked very well because then you can tie it into all of your various promotions that you're doing things of that nature. So I would definitely recommend if you kind of have that larger content calendar to try and align it with that.

Alex Mastrianni: How about you, Kristin?

Kristin Bednarek: I think a good thing to keep in mind is to never do an AMA last minute. It's something that I think benefits heavily from promotion and collecting seed content in advance. I think an AMA more than even a webinar, I think a webinar you can probably get away with kind of doing an impromptu one and AMA you really can't. You got to make people aware of it. You got to leave time for them to ask questions and then you got to make sure most importantly, probably that your expert is comfortable in the community. And on the day of you're not spending the first 30 minutes troubleshooting their tech issues because that's never fun.

Alex Mastrianni: You mean like we did before we started recording?

Kristin Bednarek: Exactly like we did before that. We would have benefited from some more time out of time.

Alex Mastrianni: There's always something.

Heather McNair: crosstalk every podcast. Yes. Yeah. And to think we're tech people. This is all fantastic advice you guys. I hope we've inspired some people to go out there and host some ask me anythings. And if they have any questions, any follow up, what is the best way to reach you guys? LinkedIn, Twitter, Email? How would you like them to reach out to you?

Kristin Bednarek: Yeah. You guys can reach out on either LinkedIn. My name is Kristin Bednarek. You can have fun trying to figure out how to spell that. Or you can email me at kbednarek @ higherlogic. com.

Annie O'Brien: Same here. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn or annieobrien @ higherlogic. com.

Kristin Bednarek: We'd love to hear about your AMAs that you put on. Annie and I both love AMAs.

Annie O'Brien: Yes.

Alex Mastrianni: Yeah. And if you are in the Higher Logic customer, community hug, definitely head over there. Post if you've done any AMAs, what's worked for you. We'd love to hear from you. Our team is always in their engaging with our customers. So we'd love to hear your own stories. Before we sign off, I have to ask you one final question that we ask all of our guests, what is your favorite engagement tactic could be very big, could be small, whatever you-

Kristin Bednarek: AMAs, of course.

Annie O'Brien: AMAs obviously.

Kristin Bednarek: Come on. We love AMAs.

Alex Mastrianni: Yes. Well now I want to go do an AMA and I don't have a community, so yes. All right. Well thank you ladies so much. This has been great. Please share your stories out there in hug or on the LinkedIn post about this episode. Tell us what you've done that's worked for you. That's going to do it for another episode of The Member Engagement Show and we will see you next time.


This week, Higher Logic's Annie O'Brien and Kristin Bednarek join Alex and Heather to discuss AMAs. As Community Managers, Annie and Kristin give us tips on putting together a successful AMA, including questions you should incorporate and the proper timing between each AMA. All of which will help create more value and engagement from these sessions.