Atlassian has built an incredible business. Founded in 2002 by University buddies, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, they’ve gone on to create an Enterprise software company used by over 240,000 businesses in over 190 countries, including 75%+ of the Fortune 500 . 10 million people use its software each month, and as of June 2022, it had 8,800 employees in 13 countries  and it currently has a market capitalization of over $50Bn .
The New York Times called it “a very boring software company” . For me, it’s anything but. They’ve played a huge role in the consumerization of the Enterprise trend over the last 20 years, which has forever changed how software gets sold. They’ve created one of the most efficient go-to-market strategies of all time, architecting its whole business around a self-service model . This model is enabled by a community strategy that supports over 4.5M members and an ecosystem of hundreds of partners.
This deep dive breaks down Atlassian’s innovative business strategies and the programs that have made its community a long-term differentiator.
✔️ Origin Story: How Atlassian and the Atlassian Community got started.
✔️ GTM Alignment: How its community programs support their innovative go-to-market strategies.
✔️ Return on Community: The value they create for members, and the returns that drive Atlassian’s business forward.
Let's head down under 🦘
Atlassian’s customer base covers three main areas :
It’s a huge market. They may currently reach 10M users each month, but their sights are set much higher than that: “We aspire to serve the 1 billion knowledge workers around the globe” .
You might assume that to reach an audience of that size, their sales and marketing budget must be huge. But as Cameron Deatsch, Atlassian’s Chief Revenue Officer, highlights :
“We've been able to grow to over $3 billion in revenue while keeping sales and marketing spend under 15% of revenue, for all 20 years we've been in business.”
This is made possible by a product-led approach, which they adopted long before that was ever a phrase. It combines a tight feedback loop between product, business teams, and its community of users, powered by a high-efficiency distribution flywheel that propels its business forward .
This flywheel begins with creating a great product. As Jay Simons, then President at Atlassian, explains :
“Back in the early days of Atlassian, we talked about building a remarkable product. We chose the word ‘remarkable’ with intention. We wanted to build a product that people felt compelled to remark upon.”
Great products create word of mouth, enabling them to acquire customers at low cost. They’ve capitalized on this Jay says by “removing as much friction in front of the customer’s path as possible” .
This is where Atlassian has excelled. It has relentlessly iterated and innovated with its business and distribution model. As a result, they’ve been on the cusp of many big trends over the last 20 years .
“Atlassian has a strong track record of identifying trends early and understanding how our business can benefit. We capitalized on the rise of agile to become the collaboration platform of choice for developers.We evangelized DevOps back when it was considered ‘out there,’ and by the time it went mainstream, we were already seen as an authoritative source for DevOps tools and practices.”
Its innovation started with a strong belief that customers want to help themselves , and from that, they’ve crafted a hugely efficient product-led, almost e-commerce-like approach to selling Enterprise software . To put this in context, at the time of their IPO, only 19% of their revenue was spent on sales and marketing, a fraction of the spend of other companies of similar size and stage .
This isn’t an approach borne out of frugality, its resources are just allocated differently. They invest significantly more in R&D than its industry peers, too .
“What Atlassian did is sort of the magic of when you join a product innovation with a distribution innovation and a business model innovation” 
There are three key elements to this magical self-service model:
Let’s step through each of these aspects, and look at how community acts as a force multiplier, making its strategy more effective.
Prices for Atlassian software have always been low. In 2010, for example, they introduced ‘starter licenses’, which allowed small teams to use its products for just $10 . They didn’t even pocket this cash, it went into a charity pool, which brought them goodwill. The pricing forced many of its competitors to adapt or compete in ways beyond price. Most couldn’t, and teams of all sizes adopted its products in droves .
“Even if you're a Fortune 10 company, you might start with Atlassian with a team of 10 or 20 or 50 or 100…. you could be spending less than a thousand bucks a month.” 
In 2020, they took this a step further. They introduced free editions of its Cloud products : “This had a short-term revenue impact, but introducing Free led to another long-term uptick in demand”. In fact, over 70% of its new paying customers now start on a free edition. As of Q2 2022, paid adoption grew by over 100% compared to the prior year .
But how do they make their low-cost approach work? They’ve removed a lot of the costs associated with selling software :
“We tell them how much it's going to cost, help answer the most frequently asked questions, and then combine that with incredible service at the other end.”
Jay makes it sound simple, but a lot of work and mold-breaking thought has gone into this. Unlike most Enterprise software companies they publish their pricing. And the pricing that’s on the website is the price you pay. As Cameron explains, they don’t waste time negotiating on price :
“We have one set list price and it's all on our website. We do not negotiate pricing with any single customer. Every customer gets the best price.”
They don’t accept changes to their legal terms, either. All of its customers have agreed to a single set of terms.
Such practices have made it easy to try and easy to buy. Its low price point means it can forego a lot of the internal work needed by prospects to convince buyers within an organization to give it a go . Since they sell collaboration software, there are also built-in network effects that help spread usage within an organization. Leslie Lee, then Senior Director of Customer Engagement, describes how :
“We land in one part of the business, and because of word-of-mouth, and how they're using our products, it gets spread to other parts of the company.”
This virtuous cycle is what keeps its flywheel turning, and as a result, it lands thousands of new customers each quarter without any sales interaction . They achieve that distribution in many ways, but content is a key one.
Atlassian was early on content marketing and SEO. Much of its content initially focused on helping build the association between its tool and the growing trend of agile software development. Software development was in the midst of a huge transition from traditional waterfall methodologies to new, agile ones like Scrum and Kanban, and you could use its Jira software to do both. Interest in agile grew, and Atlassian did as a result.
Essentially they use their business goals, and the needs of users, to guide the content that they create. Their overarching strategy is to “Instill confidence through authentic advice from other users and Atlassian in order to help users succeed with our products” .
So something else they were early on was in-depth product education materials. Its products have always been incredibly flexible. Flexibility often results in a steeper learning curve. In response, Atlassian launched Atlassian University in 2011 - offering free training and certification. It proved to be a smart play. It provided customers with an alternative to the expensive in-person training offerings that competing solutions relied on. As you learn new skills you can get more out of its tools, making them stickier, too.
They also put a lot of effort into content about its product features, as well as its technical documentation and how-to guides, that its then largely developer-focused user base enjoyed. This worked on several levels - the content gave them distribution, it built its reputation, and also helped to reduce support requests, keeping costs low. Since they were early to SEO, their content also ranked well on search engines and helped them own coveted spots in the SERPs for high-volume keywords.
Atlassian has a community forum, which Bridget Sauer, who is now Head of Customer Marketing, explains they use to inform their content strategy:
“We pay a lot of attention to Google Analytics and see which questions are organically getting the most traffic. If I can update those questions to make them the best quality they can be, or if there's a need for content that we don't have, e.g., lots of search terms and not a good search result, that is something I'm focused on as well.”
As Erica Finley (nee Moss), former Sr. Manager of Community Engagement, says, you can’t “set up your community and pretend that content is going to appear for community members” .
So Atlassian runs an Authors program - active members in the community are invited to join, and produce articles sharing their expertise . Started in 2019 by Bridget, it has over 700 members. They’re given access to a private group within their community platform, and Bridget explains, “There's a monthly prompt that we give them that kind of reflects what our teams care about. So it could be top tips for Confluence newbies and your best practices for DevOps” . Members are incentivized to contribute by being given a platform to share their knowledge, boost their reputation within the community, and get exclusive access to Atlassian product teams who share insights into upcoming campaigns. They also give swag to the top 5 monthly contributors .
Another way they leverage the community for content is through what they call a ‘community content flywheel’. Bridget explains how it works :
“A PMM makes a post and is trying to source answers to a question they have. So maybe that question is, how are you using Confluence templates? And a bunch of community users respond to that post… and then the PMM will take that content and make a digest, say, ‘Top 10 Use Cases for Confluence.”
Another example of where content and community come together is with AMAs. “Atlassian really values being an open company. And so once a month we'll have someone from the leadership team or an influencer in the space, sign on and do an ask me anything and our users just love it” .
This is something they utilize strategically, too. Ahead of a major product change, shifting its focus from self-hosted to cloud-based, they hosted an AMA with someone heading up cloud migrations. This gave community members nervous about the change the opportunity to ask the questions that were top of mind for them. They complemented this by sharing user stories about teams who had already made the transition, so members could understand the journey: “all the scary parts of it, the challenges, the wins, and laying that out for folks” . Such content is shared via email, on social channels like Facebook, and on their community platform, too .
Atlassian has had a multi-product strategy almost from the outset. Eschewing advice to stick to one product early on, they followed up on the 2002 release of Jira by launching Confluence in 2004. They’ve continued to build out a portfolio of products ever since, either developing their own in-house or adding many through acquisition. One such early acquisition was a product called GreenHopper. Cameron describes how through that acquisition “all of a sudden, Jira became an agile product, and that thing took off” .
But what its portfolio approach has really enabled, is its land and expand strategy. Atlassian has raised little venture capital, but in 2010 they raised $60M from Accel, specifically to help fund its M&A strategy and shortly after acquired BitBucket . Its portfolio has grown from two products to over 20 different products of different sizes and in different markets . Its acquisitions have worked well for its growth. Atlassian’s non-acquired products (Jira and Confluence) have grown 4x since IPO whereas its acquired product lines have grown by roughly 8x over the same period . As Jay says :
“Every product in Atlassian’s portfolio is effectively a product that a customer could begin with or a product that they could expand to. I can start with Jira and expand to Confluence. I can start with Confluence and expand to Bitbucket. I can start with Bitbucket and expand to Trello.”
They buy and build products to solve customer problems across an entire category, like DevOps for example. Through such tight integration, customers aren’t just buying a product, they’re buying into a comprehensive suite of solutions . It’s a strategy that has worked well for them - over 90% of customers paying more than $50k per year have purchased 3 or more Atlassian products . This doesn’t happen by chance, Jay explains how they nudge people along: “We invest in triggers and capability in the product to basically encourage and accelerate expansion and adoption within the account without a lot of investment in persuading or selling” . Once a company has bought into multiple products, it makes them incredibly sticky. In FY18 for example, it had a 98% retention rate .
To understand which products to build or buy, it needs to listen to and get feedback from its customers, and this is where community helps support its portfolio play.
Product feedback has been a key part of Atlassian’s process from its early days. Cameron remembers, having a public Jira instance “where we tracked all the work, our entire backlog… was tracked on this public Jira site, but more importantly, this is also where customers could and still can today submit feature requests” . Now with hundreds of product managers across its portfolio of products, collecting and responding to product feedback is a significant undertaking. Pirow Cronje, then Head of Customer Service Experience at Atlassian, describes its scale :
“We're talking about tens of thousands of pieces of feedback per month... it comes from everywhere and it doesn't just come from the products themselves. We also have a very rich online community… we've always had a very public feature suggestion tool, we've got a public bug tracker, we've got a public roadmap, so this feedback is genuinely coming in from everywhere. Twitter, Reddit, you name it”.
They tackle this in a few ways. Firstly, the Atlassian Community forum provides a gathering point for insights and common customer pain points, but also a way for product teams to interact directly with users in a one-to-many model . Rather than PMs browsing forums for feedback, since there’s so much information, they’ve developed feedback programs to help product managers get faster, cheaper, and more authentic feedback . Many of these are spearheaded by Mandy Ross, who was the Community Program Manager for Product and Design .
They run early access feedback programs through community groups for all new features and products , which gather feedback from some 50,000 users . Erica describes how this works :
“People can raise their hand and… hop on a Zoom call for an hour and talk about my pain points, my challenges, what I would love to see in future.”
They’ve also launched a Product Accelerator, Point A, to co-create with customers to solve problems they wanted Atlassian’s help to solve. In the program's first several months, they fielded 65 product ideas, funding a dozen of them. This led to five new product offerings, including Halp, a help-desk ticketing solution built into messaging platforms. They use Intercom to get live feedback from users beta testing these new products :
“Whether it's the PM, the marketing manager, or an engineer… they'll happily engage with people directly in Intercom… on any feedback they can get their hands on in terms of how they might find better product-market fit.”
The incentives here are an opportunity to try the newest technology, provide insights that shape the development of the products, and access insider knowledge to get the most out of Atlassian products .
Lastly, they’ve invested in data engineering to consolidate all this feedback in a single place, partnering with an external company to use natural language processing to help them process it all at scale .
One final way the community helps with product development is actually with launch amplification. Jay says they “try to sequence our community as a launch amplifier… we had organized all of our community leaders, and said can you schedule a user group on this day, at this particular moment” and “we'd sent them in advance these gift boxes full of swag that was related.” The intention was to inflect word of mouth around a launch with coordinated community events led by champions who shared launch communications on social media .
Famously, Atlassian doesn’t have a sales team. At least, not a traditional one. This is another reason why it’s able to keep its sales and marketing costs low . But as Scott is keen to highlight, “We are not anti-sales.” Instead, they just go about selling differently. “We are pro-automation,” says Scott, “we take an engineer’s philosophy to everything that we do. We are really about scaling the business” .
They favor their self-service model, but even that has always had people involved in it keeping things moving along. Cameron says, “We didn't hire our first commission seller until 2014” . Instead, they have advocates in many different forms. They started with product advocates. Their role wasn’t to sell, but to help people move along the self-service funnel - aiding them if they had questions or concerns. Jay explains what this means :
“Our product advocates were absolutely focused on the success of the customer and they were there to remove whatever potholes the customer might step into. They’d answer a question on product capability, or competitive alternatives, or pricing, but with a great answer, they would then send the customer back into the self-service path.”
Later, they layered in customer advocates, who acted post-sale, and whose job was exclusively focused on the expansion and renewal of existing customers. So this was sorting our billing questions and that sort of thing. They also had Technical Account Managers for customers who wanted direct access to an expert who could provide them with strategic guidance on the trickiest implementation and integration issues . As they moved up-market, getting into larger businesses, they added an Enterprise advocate role, too .
With that said, there are a huge number of salespeople involved in Atlassian product deals, they just aren’t Atlassian staff members - they work for one of its many channel partners.
Its network of channel partners is a key part of how Atlassian does business. Cameron says:
“We have over 700 solution partners worldwide. Many of these have been with us since 2004 or 2005.”
These channel partners have grown as Atlassian has. I should know, I used to work for one. What started as a 3-person company working out of a co-founder’s dining room is now a group of companies employing over 1,000 staff with offices in 13 countries.
These certified solution partners provide expert consulting and managed services around Atlassian products, and are based in 84 countries around the world . Their role involves guiding customers through the product discovery, purchase, and roll-out phases of Atlassian products, being involved in around 40% of Atlassian’s total revenues . Cameron explains their role:
“If customers want in-person support… someone in their office doing demos, filling out RFPs, security questionnaires, implementation services, in-person training,” well, Atlassian doesn’t do that. So “we’re going to largely hand that to our partners” .
Having its channel partner network means it can support Enterprise requirements, globally, and without building out all of those capabilities themselves. As Jay highlights as an example, “If it was just us, with a team of 100 people in Germany, that approach I believe is dwarfed by the thousands of partners in Germany that get up every day, without a business card from Atlassian, but are in essence working for Atlassian” .
The way Cameron explains it, it works like an outsourced sales team: “You have to open up your customer portfolio and introduce them so that they can get their ball rolling and get their own investments” . When a new, large organization signs up for an Atlassian product, a product advocate will have already been talking to them, and if they have some unique requirements they can’t solve, they reach out to a partner and hand them off to them.
This is a brave thing to do. It can be hard to trust a third party with a core part of your business. In this case, finding, selling, and converting customers, then making them successful, but that’s what Atlassian does. “We were focused on where we could get leverage that improves our speed and velocity and efficiency of the business,” says Jay, and they didn’t think the sales process was where there was a competitive advantage, so they hand-off that bit .
“We had a really symbiotic relationship with the channel because we weren't competing with them directly”, says Jay. What’s more, this comes with many efficiencies, especially when doing business internationally: “We got the leverage and advantage of saying, well, there's customers in France that we could sell to that don't want to buy online from us. They want to buy through a local entity. And rather than create our own local entity, we could actually sell through a reseller that is a local entity. If the customer wants to buy in Euros, they could invoice from a French address for tax reasons” .
This international advantage extends to community too. In the early years, what emerged was a sort of decentralized community of Atlassian users in different countries around the world. The main channel partner or partners in a region or country would organize their own community events and workshops. In the UK for example, I would help run a bi-annual, one-day, two-track event with more than 20 speakers and 200 people in attendance. It was funded by the partner, and promoted from our own mailing list of customers. Atlassian would help promote the event, too, sending emails to local customers on our behalf, and they would occasionally send along a guest speaker. Similar events were arranged by partners in France, Germany, the US, and other key markets too. In most, Atlassian had no local presence. Each of its 700+ partners employs tens, or hundreds of staff, meaning there were thousands of people collectively helping to spread the word about Atlassian products. This was the beginning of the Atlassian ecosystem.
“If we're not going to build all the features that our customers want, simple - we'll let them build their own damn features.”
That’s Cameron, explaining how Atlassian started to build out its ecosystem .
They opened up its software to third-party developers early on with a hugely flexible SDK. You could get into the guts of the software and change things around, which opened up many custom development opportunities for its network of channel partners. In addition to their consulting and implementation services, they also build and sell custom add-ons, delivering on the functionality customers wanted but Atlassian hadn’t yet got to. These plugins would then get listed on a plugins Wiki, built using their own Confluence software. Later, this was formalized more with the release of the Plugin Exchange. The Plugin Exchange, introduced in 2009, was a simple, free website where developers could post their plugins, and customers could discover them and extend the functionality of their Atlassian tools.
“All of a sudden they weren't just waiting around for our roadmap… our customers were solving their own needs.”
Atlassian also built the plug-in framework, which was a customization layer on top of its applications that enabled third-party developers to build functionality into its cloud-hosted tools, too .
Both the plugin exchange and framework would undergo significant changes over the years before Atlassian created the Atlassian Marketplace in 2012. Until that point, partners had to roll their own online sales, licensing, and renewals capabilities. The Marketplace, led by VP of Product Marketing & Sales, Daniel Freeman, commercialized the plugin exchange and made it the central hub for all plugin downloads and sales in return for a commission. More than just a storefront, this provided for all the licensing, payment, invoicing, taxes, subscription renewals, etc. that developers needed. The result? “Over the last 10 years we've done over two billion dollars in lifetime sales through our Marketplace,” says Cameron . The majority of that has gone to channel partners, which for Atlassian is like a huge “investment into our ecosystem that has allowed them to raise more capital, allowed them to hire more developers, allowed them to build more apps, and thus expand our use cases that we can support and bring in more customers into our ecosystem” .
As of 2019, there were over 25,000 third-party developers on its platform, and many more now . They’ve collectively created more than 5,000 apps in the Marketplace. The Marketplace is now a key part of its go-to-market. Buying into Atlassian products means buying into this whole ecosystem of apps, too. It’s another factor that makes its platform sticky, as Cameron describes:
“If a Jira customer installs more than two apps into their Jira instance, their retention rates go through the roof… and that customer retention is worth way more than any dollars we can make off the marketplace itself” .
Channel partners employ tens of thousands of people helping to build the Atlassian ecosystem. To support the development of this ecosystem further, Atlassian launched Atlassian Ventures in 2020, which invests in companies “with the potential to be the next big hit on the Atlassian Marketplace and beyond” . It has invested in more than 30 organizations in 13 different countries .
Partners and developers are supported through a Discourse-based developer community forum, which is separate from its main Atlassian Community . Until 2019, they ran an annual AtlasCamp event - a multi-day get-together for its developer community. This element has now been merged into its annual user conference, complemented with virtual DevDay meetups.
So that’s some of the ways the Atlassian community supports its wider business strategy. Let’s take a closer look at the specific community programs deployed to make this happen.
“Come for the products, stay for the community.” That’s the tagline of its 4.5M member community platform. Its members gather in two main ways: on its online forums, or at virtual or in-person community events. They’ve held over 4,500 events and there are almost 200 groups .
In 2019, these two elements were merged into one cohesive community, with the snappy tagline, “Connect globally, meet locally” . Part support community, part community of practice, its mission is to help users connect, share, and learn  with the ultimate goal of turning users into passionate champions who spread Atlassian products within their organizations and beyond. To that end, its community strategy is built around three core pillars: Customer success, open collaboration, and brand champions. The latter, brand champions, being its North Star according to Stephanie Grice, Head of Global Community & Customer Advocacy at Atlassian: “We want to build this brand with Champions at the core and with fanatical customers at the core” .
Their outlook embraces the “community everywhere” concept (something they were doing before Richard Millington coined the phrase) as Stephanie says:
“We kind of have flipped the script and started to see this definition of community as anybody engaging with our brand, anywhere.”
This can make it tricky to track as folks are not necessarily logging in to a platform you own, but Stephanie says, “You're keeping the pie really small if you're making everyone log in” :
“It's about these people, and adding value for them, and out of that will come these things that you're that you care about.”
This broad-based approach is complemented by programs created to serve specific community member archetypes, the “Champions that we want to know and serve and create programs to help.” In addition to its forums and user groups, it has a solid Community Leaders program, and everything is supported by a Community Advisory Board. We’ll take a look at each of these key parts.
User groups, or Atlassian Community Events as they’re now known, can cite their creation back to 2006. Around 80 people in Virginia began to meet to share best practices, connect with fellow users, and generally discuss all things Atlassian . They had self-organized and created their own meetup. As Jay reflects, “I think what they're expressing to us is there's something that we're not able to get from you that we believe we can get from each other” . So they reached out to these people to understand what motivated them and why .
They soon realized that this was a signal that there was a nascent demand for such events in other cities, too. It awakened thinking about how they could bring customers together to provide more value to them and get more value from them in terms of feedback . So they started to organize an Atlassian User Group program. These decentralized community events remained pretty free form for many years, but they did put some plans and budgets together to help organizers find venues, cover expenses for coffee/beer/pizza, and let local customers know about them [25, 33]: ”There's no alternative for real human connection. And so… our job was to help drive people there, you know, just put up the flag. We've got a user group leader… we're going to help you maintain it, manage it, and grow it. And then, we're going to cover the costs for it.” As the program has scaled, they’ve formalized this more, even creating an event-in-a-bag pack. This pack contains swag, promotional materials, and activity cards, covering suggested icebreakers, presentations you could give, interactive events you could do, questions you can ask, and content to distribute .
Fast-forward to today, there are now events in more than 200 cities, attended by over 30,000 people. The program has since been rebranded from Atlassian User Groups to Atlassian Community Events, the motivation for the switch Stephanie explains :
“One of the reasons we rebranded… was because you don't have to be a user actually to attend these events - they're just community gatherings of people who care about a thing.”Management of all of these community leaders is shared among the community team on a regional basis . They try and get Atlassian employees along to as many of the events as possible. They can be a great channel for Atlassian teams to share marketing strategy or product messaging, and their attendance is appreciated by the audience. As some of these events have moved online this has become easier, as it has “totally removed any barrier for internal teams to engage with these events” .
Running such events has made a lasting impact on Atlassian’s business. Firstly, they help close the feedback loop between Atlassian and its customers, as Leslie explains: “User group members and people within the community have access to our product managers and feedback gets routed back into the company” . What’s more, they found that people who attend user groups are more likely to renew and have higher NPS :
“It's kind of not surprising they're more engaged, but from survey data… they're saying that the user groups are helpful for them in being able to spread Atlassian within their organization and being able to use the products better.”
But the Atlassian community isn’t just an offline thing, it has a huge online aspect too.
Atlassian has long had a customer forum, but in 2017 it decided to make a much bigger investment in its online community . As Erica says, before that change, “The community looked more like a Q&A forum. So someone would post a question, and users who felt that they could offer any value would jump in. But it was very transactional” . They moved to what’s now a Khoros-based community platform, and Stephanie says, “Our online forum… is everything from Q&A discussions to longer-form content, videos, and UGC programs, and now gets about 2 million visitors every month” .
That’s more organic traffic than any other Atlassian property . In 2021, for example, the online community had 17.6 million visits  and averaged 22,000 posts per month . 80% of questions are answered by community members . With the change to a single platform, Jay says, “We have really focused on galvanizing our customers together and providing different outlets for them to unite to give us feedback” .
They encourage further engagement in its online forum through gamification. Joined the community? You get a badge. Answered a question? Bingo - another badge. But there’s more to it than badges. Kudos motivate its community members to create great content, answer more questions, and consume more updates and videos. Beyond badges is a robust system of leaderboards, levels, challenges, points, and recognition. It encourages members towards its goal of more interaction and participation in the community .
One challenge, for example, awarded a badge that aligned with one of their target behaviors: answering questions over 90 days old. This “no questions left behind” challenge, offered a badge for answering three such questions, and they saw answer rates increase from 75% to 84% in the first month. No settling for that, they added in a swag prize, and they saw answer rates increase to 96% in the next month.
Another learning from their experience is that refreshing a leaderboard quarterly has a bigger impact than just listing overall standings. It means more users have an opportunity to get their name at the top of the rankings than if they only had a long-standing leaderboard .
When it comes to gamification, a great place to start is with a specific goal you’re looking to achieve. You can then tailor the badges, challenges, and other mechanics around it, to build habits and KPIs that lead to your goal. The outcomes of having such great engagement are clear. “You can run faster feedback loops with customers,” says Jay, plus, “one of the biggest lead referral channels for product trials is the community” . 90% of traffic to the forum comes from Google , and as Jay highlights, a lot of its trial referrals don’t come directly from a product marketing post about a new feature, “it's usually a post where somebody said I'm trying to do this thing,” and the forum acts as great social proof .
Despite not having a traditional sales team, the community team still has to be protective of the forum. Jay says they make it clear to other teams internally that “this isn't just another website for you to flog stuff, it has to be in the service of helping the customer” and so you need to be “thoughtful about not just using it as a marketing vehicle because I think you lose some authenticity.” But having done that successfully, the forum is now “a really meaningful source of leads” .
There’s a support cost saving, too, as a result of so many questions being fielded by community members. “We get to hire fewer support engineers and channel that money towards other things,” says Jay. But perhaps the biggest benefit to the business is its impact on churn reduction. New Atlassian product users who visit the community in their first two weeks are two to three times less likely to churn .
Another key finding, though, when they looked into who was answering all of these forum questions was that 12% of users answered 91% of the questions, highlighting a core group of highly engaged users - its champions .
The Atlassian Community Leaders Program is a group of 400+ advocates . They’re active members of the community, who answer questions, moderate discussions, write articles, and so on. But they also get into the weeds too, “They're cleaning up spam and they're making sure that our tag architecture doesn't get out of hand… it’s super difficult to put a metric behind, but it is absolutely essential to the health and the growth of the community,” says Erica .
They started with an initial batch of around 60 people - existing, highly engaged members of the community. The goal here, according to Erica, was to “get some stewards of the community and really create some ownership there.” Selecting those initial members “was very manual,” explains Erica, “we're talking Google Sheets and Confluence pages… hand-picking folks to join this program” .
It’s now a more established process with an application process that’s built into Salesforce. This process divides up submissions based on geography, assigning them to the relevant community team member for that region. That intentionally lengthy signup form leads to a support review, where they look at a member’s past contributions to the forum. Then they use an onboarding call via video chat to “learn folks intentions and make sure that they're in it for the right reasons,” says Erica.
The bar for inclusion in the program is high so that it retains an exclusive feel, like a VIP club, and they’re also careful to not include folks who “aren't super knowledgeable or do not reflect sort of the personality and tone that our current leaders exhibit because they are, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the Atlassian team” .
For their efforts, though, there’s an extensive range of perks for its members. These include access to a private Slack group, free conference tickets and certification exams, exclusive member swag, as well as a dedicated Community Manager, and direct access to Atlassian team members, alongside early access to new product features .
One example Community Leader is Nic Brough. Nic works for a channel partner, Adaptavist, and is a prolific contributor to the Atlassian Community. Nic was recognized with a personal video by co-founder Scott Farquhar in 2020 when he passed the 10,000 questions answered milestone in the Atlassian Community. That’s but a fraction of his contribution. He’s now up to 24,000 and was active on the old forum, too, which combined means he has answered around 75,000 questions. When he hit that 10k milestone, 1 in every 6 questions asked on the Atlassian Community was answered by Nic, and he had 30% more accepted solutions in the community than the entire Atlassian community support team .
Nic is also a founding member of the Atlassian community advisory board that helps steer the direction of the community, which we’ll take a closer look at next.
The Community Advisory Board (CAB) was founded in 2017 to give Community Leaders a stronger voice on the direction of the Atlassian Community. It helps ensure that Atlassian is meeting the needs of its community members . Stephanie describes it as “a more formal rotation of people that come and meet weekly and review our priorities as a team” .
Managed by Monique Van den Berg, Principal Online Community Lead, the board is made up of six Community Leaders, one representing a different part of the Atlassian community, including Marketplace Partners, Solutions Partners, Community Events, and its Online Community. Plus there’s a seventh seat for an Emeritus Member who hasn’t served on the CAB within the past few years. CAB members serve for up to two years and emeritus members for one. On the Atlassian side, they have representatives from Community Management, Community Support, Community Experience, Social Care, and the community executive leadership team. The topics and work they do cover a range of areas, but for example, include things like feedback for improvement of Atlassian partner guidelines. As well as suggestions for how our Community Leaders can better support users. They provide input on how Community Events can form a closer partnership with product teams, provide feedback to refine gamification and recognition on the Atlassian Community, as well as undertake research into community archetypes, ensuring that everyone has a full understanding of all user types and needs .
I covered incentives in my deep dive into the Salesforce Trailblazers community, and the SNAP community incentivization framework created by Holly Firestone, in particular. Well, before joining Salesforce, Holly was the Global Community Lead at Atlassian. So it should come as no surprise then that Atlassian’s incentives game is on point. As Holly says :
“There’s more to swag and perks than just picking something that looks cool and moving on. Just like anything else you’re committing time and budget to, you need to go in with a plan.”
That plan should account for the perks. What behaviors are you incentivizing? What outcomes do you want to reward? What are important milestones to celebrate? How can you surprise and delight? .
Some examples from Atlassian include hosting a dinner for all Atlassian Community Leaders ahead of its annual conference, with Scott Farquhar in attendance . Holly would also hand-write a note to each of the leaders thanking them for their work over the last year.
Through Atlassian University, members can get access to product training and achieve certifications. Leaders are offered speaking and networking opportunities at meetups and conferences , and they host events for leaders to socialize, too. One such example is a regular Zoom coffee chat that Erica would host with leaders. Attendance was often the same few folks, so she decided to mix things up and encouraged attendees to sign up to present ‘weird talks.’ Attendance increased by 171% in response, says Erica :
“It signaled to me that an informal networking session was less of a draw than the opportunity to learn something new.”
She got things started by calling out a few folks she knew well with a few suggested topics, that was enough to nudge the initiative into life and spark some ideas for other members to follow on with .
They also recognize leaders' birthdays, anniversaries, and key milestones (like Nic’s 10,000th answer). And of course, they give out swag, too. Things like wearables that show off their contributor status, and practical items that help them with community contributions, such as microphones for podcasting or webcams for virtual meetings. Lastly, another solid one is a bag drop in hotel rooms before an event. A survival kit that includes things like bandaids, EmergenC, Advil, hand sanitizer, and snacks .
Erica also flags that they have an annual community awards ceremony where they shout out rising stars and change-makers within the community. As well as awards for content to “lift up and elevate folks who have been writing really great articles in our community” .
As community member Ravi Sagar writes, though. In contributing, you learn and plug your knowledge gaps while staying up to date with the latest developments. You may get some goodies along the way, but the payoff is really in helping others to solve their problems and in the commitment to your own self-development .
“I'm currently at a state in the game where we're not as a team having to prove ROI,” says Stephanie . A statement many community managers will be envious of. However, that hasn’t always been the case, despite senior leadership being bought into community as part of its business strategy.
“I definitely have been through a path of just trying so hard to prove the value to everyone in this company against whatever metrics they have defined by success.,” So Stephanie would go to the head of each function and highlight how community was helping them to reach their goals. For support, that was showing stats about reduction in cases and support costs. For marketing, it would be showing how they’re moving the needle on customer acquisition and revenue .
“Your CMO probably won't know how to make sense of a number like contributor rate; but if you show how community traffic compares to other properties, particularly properties with higher investment, it's a much more compelling story” .
In general, Stephanie says, “When you can put some numbers around it and pull up some faces, it is really helpful.” They present stats in their monthly, quarterly, and annual ‘State of the Community’ internal blog posts. They supplement this with a monthly community show-and-tell event, which Erica describes as being a time when “we get basically everyone in the room who touches community and we share wins and highlights or things we've shipped” . Another recommendation from Stephanie is to share “weekly wow moments.” So alongside more formal reporting, Stephanie says “Every Friday I'll just ping… a few other leaders that I'm close with ‘look at this thread in our community’ or look ‘the CEO at Fidelity just posted’.” The point is that you can’t wait until you need those folks, you have to be proactive and build those relationships ahead of when they’re needed. And these “snackable things… you're just feeding those to the right people throughout the year” .
Holly suggests similar, saying, “I've encouraged a lot of my clients to… start a Slack channel for community and you invite everybody to join and you post updates.” But she suggests going further and periodically running an “internal education roadshow,” where you tailor a deck to each team and you show them how community has impacted their goals. Holly says, “It's a lot of work but it pays off because then you get them to start thinking about community” .
Atlassian’s community team is large, relative to most. As of March 2021, it consisted of 15 community team members, as well as a team of 8 product engineers, and 10 support engineers . The community team has members with specific focuses. They have someone focused on the operations of the community site and gamification. Management of the Leaders program is split over a few members. There’s someone dedicated to content, both writing articles and posting stuff themselves, and getting members to do the same. They also have someone dedicated to email and paid social, promoting and re-engaging people in the community, and then some focus on in-person events and making sure hosts are happy and have what they need. Operations is an important aspect, too, so they have team members “thinking about the platforms, the processes… making sure those bells and whistles are running along smoothly”. While Stephanie focuses on “the strategic stuff, the roadmap, where are we going, what are our goals” as well as “elevating the community program to internal stakeholders” .
Team structure is a changing picture, though. As Stephanie highlights:
“We have a Global HQ team, and Global HQ tools, and that was how we did community” but “we're moving to a world of regional pods and regional tooling, and maybe even someday totally different strategies for different regions” .
Atlassian continues to invest in and iterate on its community strategy believing it to be a long-term differentiator . Over the last 15+ years, it has been able to bring together millions of people in a community that helps directly improve the outcomes of its core business and go-to-market strategies. Community means that Atlassian is more than just software. It’s a suite of solutions, a network of experts, and a mass of resources that help make its customers more successful, which drives its business forward.
There you go! That’s how community growth works at Atlassian. For more deets, check out the sources below. If you found this newsletter useful, please share it with friends and colleagues. And if you haven’t already, subscribe below. ✌️