Exclusive Customer Interview - Laidlaw Scholars Network

We chat to the Laidlaw Foundation about everything they've learnt about community management and engagement.
Exclusive Customer Interview - Laidlaw Scholars Network
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I am joined by Nikol Chen and Kayla Kim from the Laidlaw Scholars Network who talk about their community journey and what they have learnt along the way since launching their community back in 2019. 

Tell us a bit about your community? 

The Laidlaw Foundation invests in the education of the underprivileged and underrepresented in order to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality and develop a new generation of leaders.

The two relevant programmes that we use Zapnito to facilitate are our undergraduate leadership & research programme and our women in business programme:

  • We support undergraduates in 14 top universities, aiming to develop a new generation of engaged global citizens and leaders; who embrace research, make evidence-based decisions and believe that there is a moral imperative to act with integrity.
  • To ensure that we have more women leaders in business, we invest in extraordinary women to gain their MBAs.

The community is run by Nikol Chen (Digital & Community manager since 2019, now Design and Development Manager) and Kayla Kim (Marketing Manager since Oct 2021).

What is the mission for Laidlaw Scholars Network?

On the Laidlaw Scholars Network, we aim to connect three main target groups: our undergraduate scholars, their research supervisors, and our women in business scholars.

The Network is an online platform where our global community of scholars, alumni, and faculty serve as each other’s inspiration, collaborators, mentors, coaches and sponsors. It is space for all to connect, collaborate and flourish and to reinvest skills, knowledge and experience to help others succeed by:

  • Connecting with other members
  • Sharing research & leadership journeys
  • Staying active contributors of the Laidlaw community, especially after scholars finish their time in the programme

What has been the biggest difference the community has made to your company?

The Network is central to the purpose of our programmes as it allows scholars around the globe to connect more effectively. However, one major concrete difference that the Network has made so far is that it gives scholars a forum to showcase their work. This ensures that:

  • Scholars have a public place where they can post, share and return to the results of their research
  • Scholars can gain inspiration by browsing each others’ projects
  • All our scholars’ projects are easy to see and in one location. This is super useful for us to keep track of how our projects are making a difference!

What are you excited about?

We are excited about the new Events feature, which helps us give scholars another great reason to visit the Network. We are also currently implementing changes driven by the results of the recent research project, which Nikol explains below! This is a huge, exciting project for us, and the results should be interesting.

Personally and off the network, the opportunity to connect with other community managers has also been fantastic and allowed us to gain new perspectives on our work.

What is the most important thing for you to happen in the Laidlaw Scholars Network?

This year, we conducted a big user research project looking at how we can improve engagement across our different user groups. We spent several weeks speaking to our users and studying site analytics to understand their goals, motivations, and pain points so that we could come up with ways to provide the best possible online community experience for them. 

It was exciting because we’ve never done such a big research project before and the resulting insights were truly fascinating. Although it took a lot of resources, the project provided us with a comprehensive, data-driven understanding of our users and a solid roadmap for improving the community experience. 

To give an example of an interesting insight: we originally assumed that we would create value for our Women in Business Scholars by providing resources for leadership development; however, what we found from speaking to the scholars is that actually a more relevant pain point for them is not having a safe space to ask questions and navigate their careers together with peers who are in the same boat. This research insight is extremely helpful because now we recognise the unique value we can provide for this user group.

Is there anything happening in the community that you weren’t expecting?

Not necessarily but I am always surprised by some of connections and opportunities that the Network has facilitated for our users. For example, recently one of our scholars from the University of Toronto completed a 2-week work experience at the Global Leadership Foundation. They received this opportunity after the CEO of GLF saw their research paper on the Network and thought that the scholar would benefit from a connection with Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Canada. Not only did the scholar have the opportunity to discuss their research paper with Mr Clark, but they were then also invited to complete work experience at the GLF.  

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Our biggest challenge is maintaining engagement, which I am sure is an issue for most communities. Since we’ve launched, although our metrics such as pageviews and visitors have grown significantly, metrics like bounce rate and average session time have weakened. We are now working to figure out how to keep users on the site for longer, encourage users to engage with the platform meaningfully, and have them return to it regularly. 

To overcome this challenge, we strive to continuously gain a deeper understanding of our users, as well as study and implement best practice. For example, as part of this year’s research project which I outlined in the previous question, we looked at best practices for onboarding. As a result, we moved from front-loaded instructional onboarding e.g. tutorials, to ‘guided interaction’ onboarding - weaving guidance into key interactions to allow users to explore while having the support they need to be successful. (This is largely based on Krystal Higgins’ book Better Onboarding)

Additionally, we are re-thinking what meaningful engagement is for us and how we can measure it. For example, stickiness or average time spent on site - are these metrics that tell a valid story of how valuable our platform is for our users? Perhaps there are other things we should be looking at to truly understand whether the site fulfils our original mission & vision? 

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone at the start of their ‘community journey?’

Nikol: Do the work before launching the community. Spend plenty of time getting to the bottom of your users’ needs and figuring out why they would make visiting your site a part of their weekly or even daily routine in the current world of information overload. Once you have an adequate understanding of your users, it will be much easier to figure out everything else (the information structure, which events to organise, etc.) and ensure you have a user-centred approach throughout your community journey. 

Kayla: As a relatively new community manager, in addition to Nikol’s advice, I would advise someone starting out their ‘community journey’ to reach out to other community managers and spend time looking at other communities! Every community has its own aims and quirks, but it’s useful to see how different managers inspire engagement and use the different features of the platform creatively.

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