Valued at over $10 billion  and with a reported 30M users , Notion is a shining example of community-led growth. Its component-based product design has made it the Lego of productivity tools, enabling people to take notes, manage projects, share documents, and collaborate with others. But while it lists Enterprise companies like Pixar, Mitsubishi, Figma , Nike, Samsung, and McDonald's  as customers - it’s perhaps best known in the consumer space as the subject of viral TikToks and YouTube videos. It’s the poster child for Community Everywhere, utilizing a decentralized approach to community that has powered a truly global fanbase - more than 80% of its users are outside the US .
This deep dive looks at how Notion’s growth has been powered by community, and how viral TikToks help it land Enterprise deals.
✔️ Origin Story: How Notion and its community got started.
✔️ GTM Alignment: How its community powers its B2C2B go-to-market.
✔️ Key Growth Strategies: The programs that have driven both consumer and enterprise growth.
✔️ Community Everywhere: The pros and cons of its decentralized community strategy.
This is a good one - let's have at it 💪
Notion didn’t start life as the all-in-one productivity tool we now know it as. The original vision was for a visual programming “no code” tool. Starting in 2013, they raised some seed money and started to prototype Concept, which made it easy to collaborate on building web pages . That didn’t catch on , so they changed direction to work on something more Notion-like in late 2013. But, by early 2015 they had run into problems. The project was at a standstill - the app was constantly crashing, real-time collaboration didn’t work right, and they were running out of cash. They made the tricky decision to lay off staff and the founders moved to Kyoto, Japan to rebuild the app from scratch .
“Neither of us spoke Japanese and nobody there spoke English, so all we did was code in our underwear all day” 
In March 2016, a year on from their move, they launched Notion v1.0 on Product Hunt. It was a hit, it became one of the biggest launches of the year and they bagged a Golden Kitty award for good measure . They repeated the same thing in 2018, too, with another smash launch on Product Hunt for Notion 2.0 , and landed glowing coverage in the Wall Street Journal . This gave them huge momentum that they wanted to double down on, so they hired content pro, Camille Ricketts as Head of Marketing. The goal: ubiquity :
“Can we make this thing as ubiquitous as humanly possible where people feel like they are hearing about it from all sides? They saw a billboard. They saw it on Twitter. They heard about it from a friend.”
Camille went in search of unfair advantages that could catapult Notion to ubiquity . In doing so, she came across pockets of creators around the internet who were creating and sharing content about Notion. Camille recalls :
“When I stepped foot into this role, it was already going on. We were already seeing people tweeting a ton about Notion… There were already a few Facebook groups that were devoted to it and the subreddit already existed.”
Despite her content pedigree, having built First Round Review into an industry-leading publication, she had the foresight to “realize that the most valuable content that we could create wouldn't be from us” . What they needed to do was nurture the organic excitement that existed around the tool, what they needed was community.
To deliver on that Camille hired Ben Lang, who was an active creator already busy making content and running a site, NotionPages.com, and the Facebook group ‘Notion Made Simple’ . “I discovered notionpages.com because it was the number one product on Product Hunt on the day that it launched,” remembers Camille. Ben initially joined as a contractor before becoming Head of Community when Notion only had around 12 total staff .
Notion is a horizontal product that’s incredibly flexible. Co-founder Ivan Zhao describes Notion as “A tool that solves people’s daily problems.” Its use cases are spread across both B2C and B2B. It bundles multiple different features from a range of productivity software together in a single tool. The top three things people use Notion for are as a wiki knowledge base, for project management, and for notes or shared documents . It can be used by individuals or teams. You create a doc, invite people to it, and suddenly it's multiplayer . It can be used by everyone from students and homemakers to Enterprises on the Forbes Cloud 100 list (90% of them do ). The total addressable market for this thing is huge, but this flexibility isn’t without its challenges.
Rachel Hepworth who joined Notion as co-Head of Marketing (now CMO) explains :
“There are challenges in who are you speaking to. So your target audience becomes very broad and very diverse, which is often the opposite of what you'd want.”
Plus, with flexibility comes a learning curve. Often when you say you can do anything, people struggle to know where to get started. It’s the blank sheet of paper problem but in software form. You need to educate people on possible uses but at scale.
It was with these problems in mind that Camille and Ben set about building out the community around Notion. One of the first considerations is often platform. Camille says “When you hear the word community you think of a big forum… or something else where people are chatting away all day long, and I don't think it has to be that” . That’s certainly not the way Notion went. Instead, “we allowed people to go and create their own,” says Ben . That’s what was happening organically anyway, so they went with it, adopting a decentralized approach to community. It embraces what's being called Community Everywhere, an appreciation that the way people interact with communities is changing, and communities no longer have clear boundaries. Rather than have a single, central destination for a community to gather, members now seek out like-minded people across multiple platforms. It's this trend that Notion has built its community-led strategy around.
Community wasn’t part of some master plan from the outset, the community-led strategy at Notion has been more emergent. But it’s one they have gone all-in on. As Camille notes, “that program has exploded into sort of a multi-channel effort,“ and it’s now a massive piece of their go-to-market. Ivan says :
“Our biggest bet is that good community drives good business.”
Community-led has been bought into not just by its founders, but also its CRO and throughout the organization with multiple teams touching community. Community started as a top-of-funnel channel for them, helping them to build brand awareness. But it has since grown to cover activation, upgrade, and expansion, too, working closely with its customer service and success teams .
“Community drives the rapid adoption for you if you want your product-led company to scale” , says Olivia Nottebohm, then CRO at Notion. Ideally, “Community is a force that should power every stage of the funnel” . We’ll use the funnel to step through the major programs and initiatives that form Notion’s community-led strategy.
For awareness, they primarily use its Ambassador program. Its ambassadors are passionate enthusiasts who teach and share Notion with their own communities outside of Notion . “The ambassador program is really the heart of how we interact with the community,” says Camille. The program is known as Notion Pros and it provides a way to “bring in folks from all over the world who are building local Notion communities or creating content around Notion,” says Ben. They then “connect them to the Notion team more closely” .
For example, two ambassadors run the 300k+ member /r/notion subreddit. While others run local communities, produce courses and tutorials, as well as organize events both in-person and virtual, or create templates, provide translations, and other contributions . Rachel explains, “We don't actually give them specific campaigns. We don't direct them because that's not the point of the community. It's just about arming them with the tools” .
They now have over 200 ambassadors in 23+ countries  but it started back in 2019 with just 20 . “We ended up standing up an application on a Notion page,” recalls Camille, “and we got 400 applications.” But they didn’t want this to be a huge program from the outset, it was an experiment, says Ben :
“We were really just looking for these people… to connect with them and just understand, why are you doing this? What can we do to help you? What can we do to provide value to you? What can we do to make sure you feel supported?”
From those hundreds of applications, “We picked 20 and we put them all in a Slack group,” and Ben and others are in Slack “all day long, answering questions, celebrating their achievements, ideating on new ways that they can get involved” . They’ve since migrated over to Circle, but they cap new ambassadors to 20 per month so they don’t grow the program too quickly - the goal here is quality not quantity, and so they want to make sure they can onboard new members properly, and encourage strong relationships between them . They also have a deliberately long application form, too. Francisco Cruz-Mendoza, Global Community Lead at Notion, says “We learned very quickly that if someone isn't willing to go through the entire process” then they were unlikely to be “dedicated enough” . They seek out those with prior community-building experience, or signs of intrinsic motivation, such as whether they’d already started a YouTube channel, a newsletter, or hosted an event .
That intrinsic motivation is what makes incentives interesting for this group. They’re already out there doing their thing, so the incentives focus mostly on making sure they can do those things to the best of their ability.
“Every time we add a new ambassador at Notion, they get introduced to the entire company,” says Olivia . They support and equip ambassadors in several ways. They provide funding to run events and secure venues . They also run events for the ambassadors themselves, like AMAs with staff including founders and other members of their executive team, or the individual engineers who worked on certain features . The goal here is to “try to give them as much exposure to the decision-makers behind the scenes”, says Camille .
Ambassadors are given early access to new features and before doing a launch, “we actually send it out for feedback to our community,” explains Olivia . This wasn’t supported at the time, so the engineering team had to do some “elaborate feature flagging” to build the capability “into the shipping process,” says Camille . But it’s worth it - such early access not only helps motivate the ambassadors but also ensures they’re informed about product developments. “If we are handing anyone a megaphone,” says Camille, then they want to make sure “that they're talking about the product in the right ways”  so that they can use that knowledge to educate the market . Supporting them is a team effort and it’s not just community managers who are active in Slack, for example, if an ambassador raises some questions about a specific feature it could be their CTO and co-founder who provides a detailed response .
Ambassadors are also a trusted source of product feedback. They “created a database [in Notion]… that would allow all the Notion Pros to put in their feedback and feature requests and things that they had been hearing,” says Camille, these are then voted on by other ambassadors, producing a ranked list of priorities, which informs the product team roadmap . This is complemented by “a lot of one-on-one conversations with ambassadors,” says Ben. “We treat them almost as if they're an extension of the Notion team” . Capturing such product feedback is so important that they even have a Social Community Specialist, who manages their social presence and captures all the user feedback from social channels back to the product team . Olivia describes how this works :
“Every tweet that was sent to Notion was recorded and tagged. And that still occurs today.”
This means they can send personalized follow-ups. So every time they do a feature launch they send out notes to everyone who requested that feature. “We have no research team. This is our research team, right?” says Olivia .
An example Notion ambassador is Marie Poulin. Marie makes a living from her Notion courses and tutorials via her popular Notion Mastery site . A former web designer and business consultant she has earned $500,000+ per year by selling content, office hours, live events, and community support around Notion . “We advocate for her. We extend her messaging. We make sure people know when she's putting on events,” says Olivia. Notion even teamed up with Marie to produce a weekly series of webcasts on the official Notion YouTube channel where they teach some part of the product .
Another example is August Bradley who has 60k+ YouTube subscribers and sells a $1,750 Notion Life Design course, making hundreds of thousands of dollars teaching people how to use Notion .
The result of all of this ambassador activity is “You can search ‘How I use Notion’ and up pops these various people who are helping users day to day,” explains Olivia. They “drive an understanding and value of our product” . The advantage of this to Notion is that they’re educating users in an authentic way, “It feels less like they were selling… and more like they just want to show off what they were able to do with this thing,” says Camille. “So many stories are being generated by them about how they're using things, what that's made possible in their lives,” the work for Notion then is to use its own channels to amplify those stories :
“Content and community… they're capable of forming this incredibly virtuous cycle.”
So on the flip side, when Notion creates content itself, it shares it with its ambassador community to get them excited to go out and share it with their own audiences, too .
An extension of Notion Pros is its Campus Leaders program for University students . These are similarly passionate Notion users who are students and they support them on a Discord instance, rather than Slack . “We were seeing so much early traction among students and they were also the loudest, like, bar none,” says Camille . With this program, the emphasis is on “trying to help students also host events,” explains Francisco. “We have a grant program to help…sponsor their own goodies and just teach each other how to use Notion effectively to study” .
Another group worth looking at is Influencers, which have provided Notion with huge amounts of brand awareness by sharing their experiences on social platforms like YouTube and TikTok .
Rachel explains that influencers “can have a B2B element, but… they're much more powerful in the consumer space” . These differ from ambassador creators because Notion is paying these creators to make TikTok and YouTube content about how they use Notion .
“Early on, certainly YouTube was the one that was front and center for us. But then TikTok sort of came in in a huge way,” says Camille . TikTok “really changed the game for us and was a very efficient way to sponsor some creators and then reach massive audiences” . Its success here has been powered by smaller creators who saw more established influencers using Notion and then started to create their own organic content about it . If you can “reach influential creators followed by other creators,” explains Ben, then “you can get them onboard, and they can help you reach so many more creators over time” .
These videos captured a large Gen Z audience sharing how they were using Notion for homework planners, content calendars, and vision boards . As of September 2023, #Notion officially hit 1 billion views on TikTok, which Lexie Barnhorn, Head of Influencer Marketing at Notion, describes as “truly incredible for a SaaS brand, but also for any brand” .
Camille says she was “pleasantly overwhelmed with the amount of traction and traffic that was driven by working with some of these influencers,”  which is a nice way to say that they caused a few unplanned outages . But after revamping its infrastructure, Notion says it’s prepared for more spikes of users, with COO Akshay Kothari, saying “I feel good about the next phase of scale… We’re ready to take on more TikTok virality” .
Its influencer program started within the community team through Ben as an extension of his outreach to ambassadors. “Many brands pay influencers to read out a script, around 30-60 seconds written by the brand describing their product,” says Ben. “When we tried that, the return on investment just wasn't there. We realized it was critical that creators use and understand Notion before we work with them” . The program has since moved under Lexie and the wider marketing team, and they’ve established a robust sponsorship program that works with thousands of creators: “They're all feeding into this flywheel and generating momentum for us,” says Ben .
Ballpark figures? They change a lot but as of September 2023, Camille says “If you get 20,000 to 70,000 average views on a video… you can probably charge anywhere between $500 and $1,000 per TikTok” or for “like 500,000 plus views on your content, you can charge something like $2,000 per TikTok” .
On Notion’s success in this area, Dylan Harari, Global Head of Creators at FanFix, says “There's a major lesson here for founders... a disruptive product will be a magnet for content creators… the incentive structure is there for a TikToker, Pinterest creator, YouTube creator, to blow up a product organically.” But to get their interest, it has to be genuinely disruptive .
The last awareness program to highlight is its affiliate program. A natural complement to its massive organic reach, its affiliates program provides a scalable way to provide financial incentives to content creators in all forms. Launched in 2022, its focus has been on publications and outlets by incentivizing coverage with a revenue share model . For every new Notion subscription, affiliates earn 50% of all payments for the first 12 months, with no limits. This makes it a potentially lucrative program for those with a large audience and is sure to grow its network of awareness-raising creators .
While community started as a top-of-funnel channel, they soon realized its importance for activation, too . For Notion, Olivia says this means “enabling your community to extend and educate and inspire” .
There are currently 32 officially recognized groups about Notion. These cover a range of platforms, including Clubhouse, Discord, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter. The largest is the Notion subreddit, which has 300k+ members. They also cover multiple languages and have regional focuses, such as the Notion Vietnam Facebook which has 238k+ members, while the Arabic Notion Facebook group has 47k members, and Notion S. Korea has 48k members. These are online groups where members share info about new features, tips for existing users, and inspiring examples of how people are leveraging advanced functionality .
There are also 65+ in-person meetups, running in cities in 40 countries. There’s now typically an event about Notion somewhere in the world on any given day, but it got started with around a dozen or so events, starting in 2019 . “It was pretty clear that the community… really wanted this,” says Francisco. “As people saw more and more of them, they're like ‘okay, I want to do that in my town’,” and the program grew from there : “You just can't beat the magic of in-person gathering.”
Both groups and meetups are supported via a channel within its Slack ambassador community , with them covering the costs of venues, food, and drinks for meetups . They also needed to figure out a way of “sending goodies, stickers, what have you… and localizing a lot of the content.” Events range in size from 10 to 300 people, but for them, Francisco says the focus is on “making sure you're providing enough value where people… come back and also tell their friends” .
Ben mentions that they did test out organizing their own events :
“We realized it was just so much more powerful for the community to go and organize these on their own.”
However, that experience did give them some insights into the event formats that worked well. Initially, they organized an event for 50 or so people with 3 speakers. “It turned out that most people were really excited… to come and be able to show off what they had built,” says Camille. So next they “broke the group into small breakout groups based on theme, and then even had people rotate halfway through.” This was far more popular: “We got really good feedback from this unconference format.” This underlined for Camille that the “atomic unit of the Notion community was sharing something that you've built or learning… a hack that someone else has built” .
They have subsequently organized their own virtual user conference. Called Block by Block, the first event had 15,000 people sign up . All events, both its own and those organized by its community are listed on its community hub page. They have a shared events calendar on Luma, which lists them all. “If we were running these groups and communities, it would be a lot harder for us to do it and probably not as authentic,” says Ben. “We don't know the culture as well. We don't speak the language as well” .
Templates on Notion have become a key way for people to discover and get started with it. It was where Ben focused his efforts initially upon joining Notion, enabling people to submit their creations . Racking up millions of downloads , templates enable you to turn a simple document into things like a to-do list, a habit tracker, a project planner, a reading list, or even a whole life planning system . These are useful for helping guide new users to understand the power of its Lego-like block-based functionality, and they’re also great for SEO . They’ve become a core form of content that people like to show off at meetups or share in online groups, too .
“We put in some templates ourselves,” says Olivia, “but actually it's creators and members of our community who are putting in these templates and monetizing” .
To align incentives, Notion’s template gallery allows for both free and paid listings. Most companies would have monetized this, but not Notion. It takes no cut, they just allow people to link out to sites like Etsy, Gumroad, and other online marketplaces to drive sales for paid templates . “We are excited and delighted when people are making money on the back of Notion because we know that they'll continue to do that,” explains Olivia .
This has helped a whole category of small businesses form around Notion, including marketplaces like Notionery, Prototion, and Notion Everything , to folks drawing and selling social avatars in the style of Roman Muradov (the artist behind Notion’s iconic illustrations) . People are running paid Notion courses, events , and other side hustles based on creating and sharing Notion educational resources.
The next step in the funnel is upgrade and expansion. These programs focus on helping users continue to get value out of Notion once they’re up and running with it, and for that, they’ve turned to consultants and champions .
Rather than build out its own professional services arm they’ve enlisted the help of the most advanced and passionate users who have become experts on the platform . They’ve formed revenue-generating businesses as Notion consultants, some of which “are now employing dozens of other people,” says Camille . Notion consultants help teams and users make the most of Notion through custom workspace creation and training. To help build up this channel, they’ve created a directory on its site, helping customers find a consultant, and they refer large customers to consultants as prospective clients . Again, Notion doesn’t monetize this, this is “our community members working directly with our customers and us not insisting on being the middleman,” says Olivia. “Consultants are truly an extension of your company because they're the ones actually helping with implementations, helping with imports from one tool to another” .
To become a consultant there’s a certification process and test to pass. This process was created by Ben and one of its ambassadors, William Nutt . The result is “A cohort of people who are deeply engaged with Notion,” says Camille. They’re “able to handle any manner of question, understand a lot of our more advanced use cases, and who we feel totally comfortable connecting with our enterprise clients” .
Lastly, there’s the Champions program. Olivia describes them as being “A very important part of the puzzle for us in helping us scale. These are the people inside the companies where we've landed who are advocates” .
In another Slack instance, they’ve created a shared space for its most enthusiastic users within its large customers . “They're there to explain and assist all of the users of Notion at their company,” explains Olivia . This is a powerful channel for customer success, and they support these champions with access to the latest information, features, and resources . It has become a great way “to be more communicative with those companies, making sure that things are sticking or obstacles are being overcome,” says Camille .
One interesting aspect, is that “They're not as engaged as personal users or as students,” notes Francisco. But when surveyed, members do find the program useful, they’re just busier than some of its other users. So one of their learnings has been, for some groups, “just because people aren't commenting, reacting, or engaging in things doesn't mean that they're not interested” . Ben notes that the program has proven to be “a really scalable way for our customers to learn from each other and get inspired by what other folks are doing” . “We only have less than 10 customer success people,” notes Olivia. “We do not have an army of go-to-market people, and yet we have over 20 million users worldwide” .
Notion has been incredibly successful in nurturing the organic interest around its platform, and directing this enthusiasm with programs to improve the efficacy of activities across each stage of the funnel. Meanwhile, for its community members, Camille says :
“The idea is that we create this ecosystem where people can choose their level of involvement and engagement with us, and hopefully, we're unlocking a ton of potential for them as well.”
Notion’s community-led strategy has enabled it to enter a busy market, and compete across multiple categories. To do that, “You need to drown out the noise of everything else,” says Olivia. ”And what could be more compelling than a user out there telling the world what they love about your product?” .
However, this strategy has evolved in order to help it move beyond individuals and SMBs, to target Enterprises, too. Camille explains that its success with consumers helps to de-risk Notion as a choice for large companies :
“Your community helps you achieve such ubiquity and such name recognition that it actually allows you to start moving up market into the Enterprise.”
Camille admits that “Somebody is not going to buy a massive number of Enterprise seats in a piece of software because they happen to see a video on TikTok.” However, that’s not to say that such a strategy can’t help in other ways. It can still build confidence around the buying process because, as Camille explains, prospective customers begin to think “Oh, I've heard about them from so many people at this point that yes, I do feel comfortable entering into this size of deal”. She goes on to add, “It wasn't a rare occurrence for us to hear from folks who are C-suite or VP-level executives that they heard about Notion from their kid” .
Camille says that “the decision was made very early on that we were going to go after individuals… SMBs and also the Enterprise,” so they’ve evolved their community strategy to help them achieve this, explaining their approach with a 2x2 that cuts across degree of product-market fit, and Enterprise to consumer focus.
Olivia explains that when you’re early in your focus on the Enterprise, then a good place to start is with Customer Advisory Boards (CAB). “Making sure that we have a good representation of types of companies, types of teams, and… customers have different needs based on geography as well” . The CABs help you get feedback from relevant customers on your product roadmap, help in learning about their needs, and developing an understanding of how best teams can engage with them .
Then as you get more of a footing, Champions become a strong entry point into the Enterprise, too :
“People would prefer to hear about a solution from a peer or someone who has similar problems and is trying to solve similar use cases. So we really find that the Champions are highly valuable within the Enterprise environment.”
Meanwhile, it’s bottom-up tactics with ambassadors and creators help too. “We are not trying to knock on the door of every CIO and ask them if they want to buy Notion”, says Olivia. “That doesn't scale in the way that we want to be able to scale.” There’s also a long-term element to this approach, too. “The digital native startups of today are the Enterprises of the future,” explains Olivia. Monzo is an example of that for them. They were a company who rapidly scaled from startup to scale up. They “joined us much earlier on in their journey” but now “has thousands of users. And we've gone on that journey with them” .
However, it’s Enterprise motion is sales-assisted. While you can self-serve onto its Enterprise plan, Camille notes that “oftentimes, they have a bit of a longer sale cycle and needs some assistance from sales” , so there is a top-down sales motion too .
This has developed into a B2C2B approach , and Camille describes how it works :
“Individuals may fall in love with using the app on a personal basis and then realize the value that it might have in the workplace, and bring it to their team. Their team really loves it, maybe shares it with a few partnering teams, and then maybe it works its way up from there.”
Figma is an excellent example of this. Carmel DeAmicis, then editor at Figma, describes how “we first saw our customer service team quietly sneak off Google Docs and switch to Notion. HR came next, followed by Marketing. Like dominoes stacked to fall, once one team shared the gospel and showed what was possible, others couldn’t help but get curious” .
Now most of the people who move on to team or Enterprise plans “had in some respect, either been influenced by or come out of that community,” says Camille .
By being able to merge its B2B and B2C motions, Notion can reap the benefits of both :
“You get the virality… the mass adoption and mass awareness of a consumer product and you get the stability and the net revenue retention and the expansion of a B2B product.”
As Rachel comments, “the Notion community just dwarfs any other B2B company I know” . While Notion does have a paid plan for individuals, the majority of its revenues come from B2B. So they lean into using the consumer motion to drive advocacy and buzz toward its B2B efforts. Camille says that early on, they used its community strategy to handle “a lot of the B2C messaging, particularly in markets where we would never be able to invest that early, while the team in-house… could be a little bit more focused on making sure that the website was messaged for teams” . What’s more, “Sales doesn't engage until after we already have paying users,” says Olivia . The majority of its sales pipeline comes from product qualified leads and “the whole step of becoming a paid user is really owned by the community.”
“We very much believe in this community-led introduction to the product itself.”
Notion’s Community Everywhere approach means it's active across many platforms and uses many tools to manage its efforts. Notion is, of course, a central hub for its team . They also use Notion to host their public /community page.
They use a mixture of Slack, Circle, and Discord to host their own communities of ambassadors, campus leaders, and champions. They get a complete view of what's happening within those communities, and how that activity plugs into larger go-to-market initiatives, with Common Room. They combine data from social and product alongside community to understand and track the effectiveness of their own community efforts and to plan events, for example, where specific groups of people are most active online .
SwagUp is used to house and automate the sending out of swag . They use Tremendous to handle paying out grants, issuing gift cards, and sending money to cover the cost of events and meetup travel internationally . Luma is used for events - they have a shared, open calendar of all the officially recognized events. The hosts use a variety of platforms, like Meetup, but most stick with Luma, too. Sanity is used to create customized data-tracking dashboards, while Threado is used to automate workflows as part of its community management .
Notion is known for running lean, with a low headcount relative to its funding and audience size. The community team is no different and consists of just 3 core members: Ben Lang, Francisco Cruz-Mendoza, and Emma Yee Yick . However, they’ve recently brought on Diana Wong  to head up the team and they’ll be adding a community ops person, too . The team sits on the Brand team within the wider Marketing org . Each of the programs has a point person , with Ben mostly working on templates and consultants, and Francisco and Emma splitting the Ambassador, Champions, and Campus Leaders programs . However, they also leverage input from contractors, mostly hiring them from within the community, with ambassadors Marie and William exemplifying that .
Notion’s decentralized approach to community has enabled it to go where its users are and tap into huge platform-specific audiences. However, this approach is not without its challenges. Three factors emerge from Notion, which make it a tough example to follow.
A decentralized model, especially one implemented with Notion’s hands-off approach, makes it difficult to track data and therefore report value. Notion’s community team has that all important exec buy-in, as Camille notes :
“Ivan and others saw the inherent value in community from the very beginning and was deeply supportive.”
Camille mentions that they didn’t start measuring community growth concretely until 2021 , but even then, it’s not clear how expansive this is. For its own managed communities, so those for its programs on Slack, Circle, and Discord, they have rich reporting in Common Room. However, for member-run groups, Ben said in 2022, “We don't really have a way to measure how are all these groups doing” . Since they are run by its members and Notion’s community staff are not admins , this means they’re only able to track publicly available information, such as member counts. You can plot these over time to see trends, and they’ve created some custom tooling to support this , but unless you have administrator privileges it’s difficult to go beyond surface-level metrics. Of course, you could make group leaders add you as an admin. Although, this isn't a step Notion wants to make, as Olivia notes, “There's this trust and we don't try to intercede” .
They report on program-specific metrics  and try and relate these to business outcomes. For example, they use custom links with UTM parameters to track influencer campaigns and other initiatives, so they can attribute signups back to specific activities . They’re also able to understand “which Geos are on the rise, which need help” . Ben says, “At the most basic level, keeping track of sign-ups and how many come from our community channels is a good measure of success” . But ultimately Camille advises to “not make metrics the be-all and end-all,” going on to say that “one of the worst things you can do is cut this off at the knees… obviously, this is good, [even if] we may not be able to measure it” . This is something that the team had to get comfortable with. Rachel, for example, mentions that “I'm a very metrics-focused marketer, but you can't really measure community in terms of dollar in dollar out. How much time do we spend on it? How much revenue did it generate?” . This may work within Notion, where there’s a solid belief that its community strategy works, but other corporate cultures may find this untenable.
With community-led in general, and especially in the case of decentralized models, there’s a loss of control in areas such as branding and messaging. Brand has been especially important to Notion, its minimalist, monochromatic style, and illustrations have become globally recognizable. Yet, “We've been pretty lenient and permissive about use of our assets,” says Camille , which means “not being overly precious about your ambassadors or your community members taking your brand and making their own beautiful creations” . This has been another deliberate trade-off and one that was a difficult choice to make. “The brand itself in every expression of the brand that comes from us is very polished, very considered,” says Camille, but ultimately they saw the bigger picture :
“We want to see more creation in the community. Send us the books that you've written. Send us the T-shirts you've made. My favorite one is that there's now an anime character based on Notion named Notioko.”
When you embrace community running with your brand, you have to accept that “There isn't consistency,” says Francisco. “We have a very particular brand, but sometimes one group will look a certain way, another will look another way” . The same goes with messaging, too. You can educate ambassadors on your product, its new features, and provide resources that explain its value in a particular way. But ultimately, if you’re leaving the delivery of that messaging up to community members then they’re going to interpret and express it in their own way, and you have to be accepting of that. Again, for some companies, this may prove to be a difficult choice to make.
The power of community means, “It's almost like we have a ton of people on the ground that are constantly promoting the Notion story and we can be everywhere at once even though we have a very tiny team,” says Camille .
When Notion began with community, its members were already globally distributed. They had groups in South Korea, and Japan, as well as in Europe, the US, and elsewhere . That’s great for awareness but comes with some logistical issues, especially for a small team. Its members speak “50 plus languages,” notes Ben, “so we don't have any capacity to follow that” . This exacerbates some of the brand and messaging control issues, as those international groups will not only be translating your messaging but adapting it to their local norms and culture. For those willing to embrace it, though, it can be a huge benefit. For example, when Notion launched a localized app in Korea :
“We don't have anyone on the ground in Korea… it was people in the community who were doing all the press interviews,” says Olivia. “Ambassadors in Korea were answering questions for 8,000 people live during these press interviews, like an extension of the company.”
But localizing a product can be a big undertaking, redirecting resources away from other roadmap priorities and you need to think through the support requirements, too. For Notion, it forced them to “turn the key on internationalization, I think way earlier than most people do,” says Camille. That Korea launch was in August 2020, “like a year and a half after we were just a team of 10 or 11 people” . They still made the choice though, because as Zhao puts it: “In South Korea and elsewhere, the Notion experience is… not optimized” . The product was in English, support is in a different time zone, and you couldn’t pay for Notion in Korea, they didn’t have a payment provider that supported that market .
“The whole product has to be translated," Zhao said. "Everything in the product. Everything in the marketing. The help guides are translated, and that's a lot of work.” . It required refactoring Notion's entire codebase and rethinking critical parts of the product, such as templates. 251,000 words of text needed to be translated in total. They used a service called Lokalise in the app to help them, and community members came through with some of the translations, but it was still a huge lift for a growing company.
So that’s another thing to think through when considering Community Everywhere - is your product, and the rest of your organization, ready to be everywhere too?
Despite its challenges, Notion has made Community Everywhere work for them. In no small part, this is because of its light-touch approach to community. “Our philosophy is having a strong relationship with the moderators and these ambassadors who run them,” says Ben . That has meant they’ve avoided tactics like gamification and similar incentive models for its programs as they want to maintain that trust . Notion has tried to nurture rather than control its community .
“We didn't want to force anyone to use a certain platform, use certain art, or use a certain structure” and members can “use whatever platform works best for them” says Francisco :
“Just allow members to come in and do what they do best.”
That takes restraint, but Rachel notes it’s essential, otherwise “if you try to put your stamp on that, you change the motivation and destroy a lot of the innate value” .
Notion has done a stellar job of nurturing the organic community that formed around it. They’ve enabled members with tools and support that have given its global network of micro-communities the fuel to grow. In return, Notion has grown with it and has become a beloved, ubiquitous, multi-billion-dollar business as a result.
There you have it! That’s how community everywhere works at Notion. Be sure to check out the sources below for more details. If you found this newsletter useful, please share it with friends and colleagues, and be sure to subscribe below. ✌️