Transcript: How Customer Advocacy Can Be A Growth Lever with Christina Garnett

On this episode, I was joined by Christina Garnett, Senior Marketing Manager, Offline Community and Advocacy at HubSpot. She was instrumental in launching their HubFans advocacy program, which now has over 27,000 members, as well as their Revenue Council for executive advocacy and HubFans council for top advocates. If you’re planning to launch an advocacy community, this interview is a great start. We get into a lot of the mechanics of what it takes to start a community, and even more importantly, how to keep them engaged. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Christina. 

Margot Leong: Hey Christina, thank you so much for joining the podcast and really excited to have you here. 

Christina Garnett: Absolutely. I’m excited to chat. 

Margot Leong: The first question as always is just learning a little bit more about your background and your journey to where you are currently at HubSpot. So would love to get that 30,000 foot view. 


Christina Garnett: So I’m a bit of a polymath. I was an English major in college and then wound up teaching math for five years in public and private middle and high schools. And I really have this continuing thread throughout my very non linear path where I’m constantly trying to figure out how I can educate others, amplify voices.

And so I do that now at HubSpot as a Senior Marketing Manager for offline community and advocacy. And what I do in that role is really identifying our top customers and partners who were the people who are not only passionate about us, but are incredibly knowledgeable. And then how can I put them on stage? How can I amplify their knowledge and the voice? 

Margot Leong: Give me a sense of what that day-to-day looks like, because I’m assuming it’s probably different pretty much day to day. So I’d love to hear about that. 

Christina Garnett: Yeah, absolutely. So it can be different day to day. There are definitely some constants though. I am regularly talking to our community managers to see if they need anything, if there’s any updates in the community, something that’s going to impact positively or negatively the customers or partners that I work with. And I do social listening every day, I go into different social channels and I’m looking for what are the conversations that people are having about us?

What does that look like? Is that something I need to escalate to the team? Maybe someone’s not happy and needs to be taken care of. Maybe someone loves us and maybe we haven’t really loved them back before and that’s an opportunity for us to connect with that person. And so I do that every day. 

I usually start my day by searching HubSpot to see kind of what kind of conversations are happening. Are there opportunities for advocates to be able to share their knowledge and subject matter expertise? I think that’s something that’s very common in a lot of the work that I have is that the people who I find that are really good at advocacy and social listening are incredibly intellectually curious.

They always want to know more about the people they’re serving. They are constantly trying to figure out more. I want to take more surveys. I want to see what they’re talking about in communities. I want to see what they’re saying online. I want to know what motivates them, what makes them feel appreciated and loved. 

And then empathy. I think that for that customer advocacy piece, it’s so crucial that you genuinely care about them and you want to make sure that it’s a valuable experience. Especially in the tech space. There’s so many competitors, it’s very much a red ocean and customer experience is such a differentiator. And when you’re providing people with the means to know that they can only get that experience from you, or I’m only treated this way by this brand, it creates that empowerment that makes them want to advocate for you. So daily, social listening, learning more, what’s motivating them, what’s happening to them.

I’m answering emails and responding to them in the community, planning events, what are their needs? Do they want to talk to each other? Do they want to talk to someone internally? What opportunities are important to them? A lot of brands lean into swag and they don’t really elevate beyond that. So I’m constantly asking myself, what can we give beyond swag? What’s going to make someone feel special. We’ve had people who’ve been in HubSpot academy courses. We’ve had people who’ve spoken at Inbound. We’ve had people who’ve been in webinars for us, or they’ve been quoted in blogs, or they were a part of the Inbound correspondence program we started last year that’s coming back this year. 

And most customer advocacy people that I know they do this too, is you have to constantly ask yourself, what’s the differentiator. What will make this experience different? What makes them feel special? And then how do they show that? How do I make them feel special? If that feels too generic for people, then ask, what would they brag about on LinkedIn and a step above that? What would they brag about and put on their resume? What could you give them that they would want to create permanence around it? 

Margot Leong: I would love to sort of zoom out a little bit and be like, okay, the structure of the entire advocacy program looks like this, this is how many people are part of it. Then there’s like different opportunities and like smaller groups within that. So I’d love to spend a little bit of time on that as well.

Christina Garnett: Absolutely. So we have the larger umbrella of HubFans gamified. Anyone can join, you don’t have to be just a partner or just a customer, you’re able to go in there. You’re able to learn. There’s different types of challenges you can take. So it could be, hey, take this survey so we can learn more about you or check out this new HubSpot academy course, or check out this blog. Or do you want to write a blog for the advocacy blog? We’d love for you to submit a piece or share your testimonial about a specific product. So we’ve really created this choose your own adventure style. People can do all of them. They can do some of them. And that’s great. 

We have over 26,000 in our gamified. And from there, we have different communities that they can join. So there’s Hubfans Council, which is our top advocates. And we also include our community champions in that group because they do a lot of really great work. They’re constantly answering questions for people in the community. They’re incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly kind and helpful for those people who are coming to the community for assistance. 

And then we have our Hubfans, which is a group that’s open to anyone that just wants to connect on a smaller level. The bigger community you have, as it scales, you have those numbers and that’s really fantastic, but it can lose a lot of that value for people as it gets bigger. And so you need those micro-communities to essentially reroute people. Like, Hey, you’re in this huge party that now feels too overwhelming for you and you want to find your people. How about we go back and then do this instead? 

Do you want to talk to other people who are in the rev ops space? We have a rev ops community for that. Do you want to connect with other people who are taking HubSpot Academy courses? There are study groups for that based on what certification you are. 

So those micro-communities, you get to be a part of this bigger umbrella. But you get to recenter yourself too, to say like, what if I want to be a bit more niche? And I want to be able to meet more people who have more things in common with me beyond HubSpot. Cool. I’ll go into these micro communities and find my people there. And then you can have more intimate conversations and it doesn’t feel overwhelming cause you’re not in like a 30,000 feet conversation with people.

And so as we’re building the structure for that, I wanted to make sure that there was opportunities on that one-to-one as well as one to many. The gamification? Really great for scale, but then we still need to make it feel personalized. You can filter based on what kind of challenges you want to do. And then there are points that you get for each of those. And as you get more points, you get opportunities to do more things, private events, opportunities to be beta testers. You eventually get to be a part of the Hubfans council, things like that. So that as they’re doing more for us, their value increases too. They feel like they’re getting more from the situation. Their seat at the table is getting bigger, so to speak. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I’ve had advocacy programs in the past where you know, it was about a thousand, but 24,000 is definitely a whole different type of beast. How does the structure of your team look and what are they focused on? What are the different areas that they’re owning?

Christina Garnett: Yeah. I have a really fantastic team. I’m very lucky. I have Rodrigo, who’s my manager who runs our entire team and he’s really supportive and really lets us be the subject matter experts for the work that we’re doing and guides us to make sure that we have the resources we need. If they’re blockers, he’s there for us. And so it’s been a really great environment for that. 

We just added a member of my team to take on executive advocacy. We have our revenue council, which is a micro-community for VPs of sales all the way to CROs. And it’s a great opportunity for them to be able to connect and ask questions that they might be pitched to if they ask the question in a different community and they’d rather be in a smaller, more intimate group of their peers. 

And then I have Natalie, she works on merchandising. She does a lot of our customer stories and works with a lot of our bigger brands. And then we have Alexis, who’s fantastic. She works collaboratively with Natalie and does a lot of work with our brands: case studies, trying to figure out how are we taking care of our customers? Are there ways that we can highlight them? What does that look like? 

We also have Kristin who does our reviews. She has been a really great asset to the team and she does like our review campaigns to see how people are reviewing us on different review sites and it’s a really lovely team. The vibe’s really good. We are constantly collaborating. So if I find something like, how can I help you? How can you help me? How can we work on this together? Is this something that a customer that you’re working with might be a good fit for something that I know about that’s coming up and vice versa. We’re constantly getting team wins because we’re always looking for ways to work together. 

Margot Leong: It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the social listening piece. Is that a big chunk of your role currently? 

Christina Garnett: I do social listening. I lead the Hubfans program, so I do Hubfans, Hubfans Council. I’m working on the Inbound Correspondents program and the after hour show that’s coming back again this year and then figuring out how we can continue to grow the work that we’ve done as well as making sure we’re continuing to add value. We’re adding opportunities, we’re increasing our reach, making sure that that our global advocates feel just as appreciated. We don’t want people to feel like if I’m not in North America and my first language isn’t English that they don’t care about me. We want them to feel just as included. We want them to feel like they have opportunities. All of that. 

Margot Leong: From what I understand about Inbound Correspondents is that they’ve created like a ton of content. They helped you guys out in all these really interesting ways. And so would love to hear about that program and what that involves for advocates. 

Christina Garnett: Absolutely. I’ve been to quite a few Inbound. Last year we had digital and for me, it just became really obvious that we continue to see how many people feel like they get to go or they get to speak, but they don’t necessarily get to put their fingerprint on it, so to speak. It’s an opportunity for people to really be subject matter experts. So when we talk about amplifying our customers and partners, they’re incredibly knowledgeable, so we are in this really unique space where we can elevate them and give them essentially their own kind of stage.

And so our Inbound Correspondents are able to get tickets to Inbound, are able to share their knowledge. And so last year I made social cards for them to share, talk about their participation in the event and they’re able to specifically share their expertise. So they’re not just going to an event and live tweeting, they’re going to an event and telling you their perspective as a professional.

Imagine if you went to a conference and you had an expert right beside you whispering in your ear the whole time, telling you what parts were the most important, and here’s how they would implement those learnings. So it’s almost like you have cliff notes for every session. It elevates the value of being at Inbound in addition to creating so much content that it creates all this FOMO. If you’re not there but then you see all these conversations and all these decks and all these things that are happening, it’s an opportunity to let them shine, but also be a voice for the event, which is really powerful.

We had over 1200 pieces of content that were shared over three days and I got kicked off Twitter twice. Because I tweeted too much, I retweeted too much. And then for six hours, I couldn’t like or retweet anything because it was like bot energy. I was like Twitter, I’m just retweeting stuff. Please let me back in. 

Margot Leong: The adrenaline, the dopamine must have been like very high on those days. Like a constant dopamine rush. 

Christina Garnett: Like clutching my Starbucks. 

Margot Leong: I think more companies would like to do this, but I think maybe what it was holding them back is what if someone doesn’t like something about the event and they’re critical about it, you know, or they say something negative. They’re worried about not being able to fully control the conversation.

Christina Garnett: I think that’s something too, and it comes down to trust. You talk about how the advocates, you want the advocates to trust you, but you need to trust them too. That trust needs to be dual directional. Like I don’t like canned responses. Like I hate them. So when advocates are talking about us, I’m never telling them what to say. I hate seeing that online, where you see like the exact same copy, like 20 different times, they could be real accounts, but it just gives off bot energy and I don’t trust it. I’d rather have them come in with their genuine experience and be able to share what’s working for them and what’s not working for them and how they’re able to help people and what HubSpot has done for them and what’s their use case. And I find that just fosters genuine responses and those genuine responses create genuine trust.

Margot Leong: There is definitely like a shift. And this is something that I’ve touched on with other people in different episodes, but, if you think about, for example, what we’re used to with consumer reviews, if you look at Amazon, everything is four and a half stars. And you’re like squinting at it. And you’re like, Hmm, I’m pretty sure the actual sentiment is not that way. So then you start actually turning more to like reading the three-star reviews.

Christina Garnett: Yes, I always do one and three. And you look for patterns. 

Margot Leong: Yes, exactly. The pattern. Takes a lot more time, but there’s something soothing about it as well. The way that people think about brands now has totally shifted. And I think there’s a higher degree of skepticism. They can very easily suss out, for example, this is a canned tweet that the brand gave you to write about whatever it is. But there’s value, I would say in seeing both sides of the coin. 

And actually when you give your advocates the power, most of the time it actually turns out fine. They are honest about some of their experiences, but they’re really so kind about it too. I do think that actually, where brands would do well to start going in this direction, like sharing and being okay with all feedback is good feedback and putting that feedback into the light, like exposing it to prospects. That’s actually okay. You know, versus everything has to be glowing and perfect and totally buttoned up because we’ve all seen through that. We moved past that. 

Christina Garnett: No, I completely agree. You have to come from a place of how can we foster that trust when brands aren’t trusted anymore? How can you make sure that you give them empowerment so that they want to be a voice for you? At the end of the day, it really all comes down to relationships at scale. Who do you trust? Who do you believe in and making those connections over time. 

And then once you have them in there realizing that because someone signed a contract with you that that relationship isn’t done, it’s literally just started. Now you have to not only do what they’re paying you to do, like you have to satisfy them. That’s base level, but then you have to continue to give them an experience that feels even better than what they asked. You need to make that customer experience elevated and special and unique because there’s plenty of people who can offer the exact same thing as you in maybe a different color or maybe a different price, but they can’t necessarily treat them the same. They can’t necessarily give them the same experience. 

And people will believe strangers over brands. Every time. Every single time. Of course the brand’s going to tell them how great they are. Of course they are. Brand’s going to give themselves five stars every day. I always look for that middle row. I always look for three. Then I look for one. Then I look for five and I look for patterns. And so that really provides for me a perspective as to what’s working, what’s not working, would I have a similar situation. Based off of the information, what feels the most realistic to me, because one feels almost like it’s too harsh.

Five feels really unrealistic because how many people in today’s society think anything’s perfect, very few of us. So we live in a world where most of us are threes and fours. So the ones and fives tend to get a lot of attention, but are really outliers if you think of human psychology.

Margot Leong: Something I’m really interested in that we covered in our pre-call was this concept of advocacy as a growth lever. So I’d love if you could share a little bit more about how you think about that.

Christina Garnett: Absolutely. So advocacy really has this opportunity to essentially grease the flywheel. Because now you have people who are raising their hands to say they want to help you spin it. They want to help it go a little bit faster. 

And so whenever you have the voice of the advocate, they’re going to be able to get in rooms that you just can’t as a brand. They’re going to be in closed communities that you don’t even know exist. They are going to be at conferences talking to people. They’re going to be talking to their colleagues about their learnings and about why one piece of technology is better than another, and why we should choose this vendor or another for tech stack. They are going to be in places that you essentially don’t necessarily realize.

And so when you’ve empowered them and you’ve created a structure where they understand how they’re valued and they’re empowered to be a voice for you, imagine a spy network that’s constantly working for you. That’s constantly answering questions about their experience with the product and their experience as a customer. That they’re there in ways that the brand can’t be.

So they’re going to be trusted more because they’re not the brand. We’re picking really strong, really smart, empathetic people. So not only are they going to come across and answer those questions, but they’re going to do it empathetically, which is also a reflection of what HubSpot is and the HubSpot heart. 

Our advocates are some of the kindest, smartest people you’ll ever meet and so when they’re having conversations about us, they do reflect the culture of HubSpot. They want to help. They want to give value. They want to be a part of that. And they know that what they’re doing is that just as HubSpot works to scale businesses, they know that if they’re able to bring other people on to HubSpot, they get to be a conduit for those people being able to grow now. So yes, they’re growing because of HubSpot, but they’re growing because that person made that connection to them. They get to be a bridge for future customers, for future partners, for people who want to be a part of this ecosystem.

And so it’s basically like if you’re on a football team and saying can I bring on extra players? And we all play? That’s what you’re really doing. Imagine if you got to have more players on the field, how much more powerful you’d be, how much more land you essentially have, how much more coverage, how much more power you had.

It’s an opportunity for you to grow with the biggest voices you have. And those internal needs have been turned into external opportunities that yes, for the brand, they’re doing that for you. They’re bringing in referrals, they’re bringing in leads, they’re helping the brand grow, but it’s also helping them grow. They’re thought leaders, they’re subject matter experts. They’re getting opportunities to be at events. They’re getting to write blogs that they get to show off the knowledge they have, which could open up other opportunities, maybe new jobs that they didn’t realize were available. It’s mutually beneficial for everybody.

So that advocacy is a growth lever. It’s growth for the brand, but it’s also growth for the advocates. They are proud to be a part of it. Their career is better because of it. Their opportunities are better because of it and the brand gets that voice of the customer at the front line. 

Margot Leong: There’s so many conversations that your brand is not, involved in or directly in control of. And so what are you doing to ensure that the conversations that you’re not a part of, right, that at least your name is coming up in a good way. And so the way that you do that is that you’re building up these advocates and increasing your luck surface area across all of this. 

Christina Garnett: I mean, that’s what you’re doing is you’re relationship building. You can call it advocacy, you can call it community building. You can call it all these things, but it’s relationship building. 

Margot Leong: I think a lot of companies say they would like to do this or say they do this, but I feel like they’re just sort of bumping up against it. But I think a lot of them don’t actually have the intellectual curiosity or are not willing to go beyond status quo. Where would you say we are in the maturity spectrum for like where most companies stand. Do you think this is more commonly accepted or like kind of not really. 

Christina Garnett: I think the problem is that it goes against every other trend that these companies are doing, everything is about how can you automate? How can you make things more efficient? How can you do this at scale? And those are all important questions. 

But the problem is that this is the opposite of that. This is incredibly high touch, incredibly human. There is no like the easy button, the staples, easy button, there’s like an easy button for swag. And there’s an easy button for sending emails, but there isn’t an easy button for making someone feel special because it’s one-to-one. 

And so companies will invest money. It’s harder to have them invest time and staff where that person’s sole responsibility is to be the face and the heart of something. I’ve tried really hard to make sure that people know they can talk to me and how they can reach out to me. And that’s on LinkedIn and that’s Twitter and that’s my DMs and that’s email and that’s however is comfortable with them. It has nothing to do with where I want them to go. It’s where they are comfortable because it needs to be based off of their journey, not mine. And they need to know that I’m there for them.

And there’s no email copy I could write that’s going to be able to replace the trust that you get from knowing that if I need something, I know I can talk to Christina. If there’s an opportunity that comes up, I know that Christine will tell me and I’ll have doors open for me that wouldn’t have opened otherwise. 

I think a lot of the community people and a lot of customer advocacy people are in the same space where you can use tools and you can have a tech stack that’s incredibly robust and helps so much to scale the program, but there are some elements that have to stay human and you have to protect that humanity. Because as soon as these people who feel like they’ve connected with you feel like they’re getting the same email as everybody else, they’re going to pull back a little bit. 

If you wrote a love letter to like your boyfriend or girlfriend or your spouse, and then you’re like, I’m just going to copy and paste this and send this to people. Like you’re not going to get multiple people to love you once they find out they’re not the only person that got that.

I did a tweet a few weeks back talking about something very similar to this where the problem with community, and I think why it struggled for a long time to really become so pervasive until 2021, when it kind of became the buzzword was, they knew what they needed it to do, but they didn’t want to say we’re going to build this community and then you’re basically going to work for us. 

The thing is is that you can have communities and have goals. You can have communities and have metrics and have OKRs and it can influence the bottom line, but it has to come from a place of how does this align to the community members and their value and what they’re getting from it. Like the structure that I really advocate for is determining like, okay, so leadership comes to you and says, let’s build a community. Here are these goals that we have for this. And then create that structure. 

Okay. These are the goals for the community. Let’s reverse engineer. Now that I have my goals, what kind of behaviors do I need to be thinking about, or need to be happening in the community for us to hit these goals? What KPIs are we going to be looking at to determine if we’re hitting these goals?

All right, now that we have that. What is preventing these people in the community from doing those specific behaviors? So they’re not being asked to, they don’t understand that’s a need, it’s just too hard, it’s confusing. Whatever those frictions or blockers are, then we’ll remove those.

All right, cool. Now that we know what we need them to do, and we know what’s preventing them from doing that and we’ve taken action to remove those from the equation, now we need to keep going backwards and say, cool, how can we trigger these behaviors? How can we motivate these behaviors?

So that gives you that leadership stakeholder side, but then on the member journey or the advocate journey, you have to do the same thing for them. What is their goal for being in this? Why would they be a part of this? Why would they return? And then how can you reverse engineer back from that to determine what’s motivating them, what’s triggering them and you have to look for those overlaps.

I’ve said in the past, like a carrot only works if you’re hungry. If you are giving me something that you think is amazing, but that doesn’t have any value for me, that’s not going to trigger a behavioral response from me. Because I don’t need it, or I don’t want it. You need to understand those people and understand that you could have a hundred people in the room that have a hundred different needs, and you need to find a way to determine what can work so that you can take care of them and make them feel special and really showcase that you’re listening, because that’s the other thing too.

How many times do you get something that was quote, unquote special the first time and then they never scale up. That first hoodie. It’s always going to be more important than the second hoodie. The third hoodie, the fourth hoodie, the fifth hoodie. You need to continually give them that serotonin and dopamine to make them feel appreciated.

Otherwise it just feels like, yeah, they just sent out another email. They just tapped another button. Instead of they really care about me. They really want me to be successful. The thing about community and the thing about advocacy is you need to be able to solve for the one-to-one as well as the one to many and be able to find strategies and opportunities to make them each feel like they can get value, even when all of their desires and motivations are not identical.

And that’s tough, but it’s not impossible. But it comes from that foundation of you have to want to know and care about them. 

Margot Leong: At the end of the day, right, you’re trying to scale what is inherently extremely psychologically motivated. You know, when you joined HubSpot, when you came in and looked at the landscape and were like, okay, what should I tackle first? Or how should I think about approaching this? How do you think about that now? 

Christina Garnett: So I’ve been a fan of HubSpot myself for quite a few years. So I knew a lot of partners and customers that were pretty vocal originally. And so as soon as I was like officially a part of the company, I started reaching out to people and saying like, I’d love to talk to you. I’d love to learn the good, the bad, the ugly, everything you care about, everything you don’t, what kind of opportunities you want. 

I went straight for one-to-one customer interviews. Do you feel special? Do you feel loved? We had a previous advocacy program called HubStars a few years back, and I looked for people who were part of that. What did you love? What did you hate? What would you have changed and really set up essentially a community advisory board, a small group that turned into our HubFans Council that essentially beta tested what we were growing.

So we always had the voice of the customer through the entire ideation phase and creating a safe space for them, so that if they didn’t like what I was planning or they had questions, or there was something that they thought would be beneficial, that they felt comfortable enough to say, Hey Christina, this is great, but I need this or this didn’t work, or I don’t understand how this is helpful.

I think that’s another thing is with advocates, you’re essentially creating this fandom and you want the positive passion with that. But I mean, you can look at Star Wars and you can look at Marvel and you can look at DC. There’s just as many angry fans as there are happy fans. So you need to also be able to embrace that negative feedback too to realize that they aren’t saying this out of malice. They really, truly care and love this and they want it to be better. You can’t take it personally. You have to be just as receptive if not more so to the negative feedback than the positive. And that’s what I did. 

I leaned into that to figure out what’s important for them, what’s not important for them. We used gamification for our scale program and that’s fantastic. It’s a really great way to do that one to many and to be able to provide opportunities where people can essentially choose their own adventure. I only want to do challenges like this, or I want to do this type of challenge, but gamification doesn’t work for everybody.

Some people think it’s stupid. Some people only want to do it if they can win and be number one on the leaderboard. Others will do all of them. They’ll collect them all like they’re Pokemon cards. 

So making sure that there was also a community space. If you also want to be in the community and you want to network and you want to connect with each other, that’s amazing too. We really want to be able to foster these relationships. It’s very much nurturing and creating a space for people to feel like they have a seat at the table and so doing those customer interviews really helped me have a stronger idea of what people wanted. 

And then I went straight to the basics. I did the minimum viable community, the community canvas, and went through and broke down my thoughts. Why are we doing this? What do we want to gain? What are the guard rails? What’s the value for them? What does that look like? And ask those questions. What do you want? What does “I love you” look like to you. What’s your love language. You want to make TikToks for us? Do you want YETIs from us? Do you want to be able to be a speaker for a hug? Do you want to be a beta tester for something? Do you want to talk to PMM or product team? Like what kind of part do you want to play once we give you a seat at the table? 

And you’d be surprised. That’s another thing. It’s the money versus time. I know how much swag costs. I know what that looks like when someone gives it to me. But when someone gives me an opportunity, that’s priceless. Oh, I get to beta test something that comes out and then I get to help you promote it whenever it comes out. Or I get to talk to a team about the struggles I’m having and with the product and because of that, they create a new solution or a new feature that other people needed. And now I have a sense of ownership once that’s able to be released? You’d find that access, there’s no money. You don’t have to pay for that, but you do have to pay the time. That’s the investment.

And that’s what usually makes people feel more special. We had someone who was featured in a HubSpot Academy video and she didn’t just be like, Hey, this is really cool. Check me out in here. When she was able to share it once it was published, she was like, this is the biggest career milestone of my life. There’s no dollar amount for that. 

Margot Leong: Yeah. At the end of the day, I think you always just have to go back to this what value are you giving to people? And once you figure out what all these people are interested in from a value standpoint, the potential is so unlimited because they feel like you understand them, you’re not just throwing random things their way. Or just being like, Hey, like you’ll be satisfied with little snippet of something, right. 

Christina Garnett: Little breadcrumbs. 

Margot Leong: Breadcrumbs. That just takes so much more thought, but I think it just pays dividends in the future because they’re just so much more willing to go above and beyond as a result. But I think there’s like shallow community and like deep community. A lot of companies have done the shallow community thing. And I think where it needs to start moving is like this deep piece, which ultimately requires a lot more work. 

Christina Garnett: It’s a lot more work and it’s a lot more care. You genuinely have to care and you want to have the voice of the community close to you because you genuinely want it there.

Not because you need it, but because you actually want it there. You can tell the difference between people who are customer centric and people who say their customer centric. It’s like this with anyone. You have to walk the walk too. We have to, and they can tell. 

The product team at HubSpot is second to none. And they see our advocates and our customers and partners for what they are. They are this priceless resource that they want to make sure that they’re building for the needs of our customers. It isn’t even an afterthought. They’re in tandem. You have to have that voice of the customer there. You have to make sure that you’re tapped into what their concerns are and what they love and what they don’t love and what features would make their job easier.

 We have the ideas forum, which is literally a depository of all of these ideas that people have. Hey, I would love it if we just had this, or can we have a feature that does this? And our product team is in there all the time, looking and seeing what are we missing? What could improve the product? What could be something that could really elevate the experience for people? And so we’re constantly looking for opportunities to be able to give that voice and that platform for our customer. 

No product is perfect. Every product can be improved upon. And we want to be able to make sure that the customers have a huge role in what that looks like moving forward as we add features, as we add new ways for them to be able to utilize the products. 

Margot Leong: You know, you talked about embracing also the negative feedback, right? I’m assuming that, with all the different advocates that you have, right. All the people that are invested in HubSpot products, there’s probably directions that the product is going to take where it doesn’t align with everything that every customer wants. So how do you think about responding to that kind of feedback where you’re like, okay, I know this is not going to be on the roadmap. 

Christina Garnett: Transparency wins always. People will take bad news or they’ll take that they’re not going to get what they want. But you got to talk to them like adults and you have to be honest. I would rather have bad news be told honestly to my face then be told good news. Be honest. Be transparent. That’s how you instill trust. It’s easy to trust people in the good times. It’s very hard to trust people in the bad times. That’s when you win and lose trust, you have to be transparent. 

Margot Leong: This is all super interesting because ultimately at the end of the day, it goes back to how do you build an engaged community? And I mean, that’s something people struggle a lot with. You may get a lot of people coming in at the beginning and then there’s a massive drop-off in engagement over time. And so how do you think about maintaining that engagement? Are you understanding what your users want? And are you making sure that that’s aligned with their interests or else they’re just not going to keep coming back. Like what’s in it for them? 

Christina Garnett: Yeah. You have to look and do audits regularly to determine where are those hotspots. So in the community or in the advocate pool, whatever that looks like. What are the opportunities where people are raising their hands the most? If there’s a comment section, what are the kinds of topics and questions that are resonating the most? You might have content and discussion boards that relate to specific things that you think are amazing and it’s like this with most marketing. I have an idea. It’s going to be brilliant. It’s going to be great. You put it out there and it dies. Just crickets. 

Same thing with community, same thing with advocacy, you have to constantly experiment. You have to constantly test and see what’s working. What’s not working. What’s resonating with them. Are there things that we did not know that they needed?

 For example, you might have people in your community that are asking questions. And you’re like, huh. This could be a great HubSpot Academy course. And we can respond to a lot of people who have the same issue at once and we can educate them and help them. And that’s another way to minimize support. You’re creating resources in a way that are directly related to the needs that people have. 

So I think that’s incredibly important to think about. It always comes back to them. What are they engaging with? What are they not engaging with? If you ask one type of question and it just falls flat, make a note. If you respond on Mondays and the entire channel is dead, make a note. 

It’s humanity. So you’re basically dealing with psychology every single day. What triggers work? What questions work? What kind of topics work? What kind of classes they want to know about? All of those things.

I think As long as you were just constantly reviewing and auditing and seeing what’s working, then you’re going to be on a better path to create like a stop start, continue document, and say, based off of this, these things don’t work. So we’re going to stop this. These other things that we’ve done, they work, but maybe not as well as we thought, so we’re going to continue, but maybe tweak some things. There’s been comments about this specific topic. Let’s start doing some conversations or webinars about that. So now we’re going to start things related to that. 

It’s constantly evolving. It’s a human experiment. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. And so you have to constantly monitor, really decide and also know what good engagement looks like. You could have a lot of engagement, but it be because there’s like a fight in the channel. Is that the kind of engagement you want? I mean, the percentage, if we look at just baseline engagement numbers, numbers are great, but it’s still not a good experience. So you need to make sure that you’re also looking at things from a quantitative and from a qualitative perspective. It’s easy to fall into just looking at quantitative, but you need to look at both. 

Margot Leong: I mean, perfect segue into my next question around what are the metrics that you’re looking at. So if we can go into the more tactical metrics, and then what are the metrics that you report upwards? 

Christina Garnett: So when you’re starting off, you’re looking at growth metrics, which can feel like vanity metrics, like how many people follow me. That’ll probably be a baseline. How many people are in the group? And then as you’re getting deeper and deeper and fostering these relationships, then you’re thinking about what behaviors have we been able to trigger? Have they talked about us? Have they shared an event? Have they joined a reference pool? 

Because if they’ve joined a reference pool, maybe that’s something that we could do to determine attribution. How much MRR or ARR have they influenced by like reference calls they’ve taken? How many people are sharing things online. Are they a part of event promotion? Are they Inbound Correspondents? What does that look like?

There’s really a multitude of metrics. It really depends on the goals of advocacy. There’s a lot of stuff that you’re not going to be able to fully attribute. There’s a lot of dark social conversations that you’re not going to know about.

Great example. Let’s say that you saw a tweet about HubSpot. There weren’t any links or anything. It just mentioned HubSpot’s great. Because of that, you go to the HubSpot website, let’s say that you learn a little bit, it’s great. And then you decide, you know what, this is actually what I’ve been looking for. I’m going to become a customer.

If there’s nothing in that journey, when you talk to sales or you talk to your CSM, if you never, once in that time period, say I went to the website because I went to this specific tweet and saw this and it made me curious, then it’s going to be really hard.

And I know the attribution is a touchy subject for marketers, but that’s when you need to be doing social listening, because then you can say like, we have positive sentiment. We have this many mentions. These are the trends that we’re seeing. That can kind of fill in the gaps for the stuff where it does feel a bit more dark.

Margot Leong: The opportunity is immense because for so long people have mostly been leaning more towards new pipeline, growth at all costs and neglecting existing customers. There’s so much that you can do with your existing customers and I think you’re a sort of a testament to that. Even the way that you think about community it’s like its own little marketing channel. You’re always testing. You’re always tweaking, optimizing, how can things be better versus this is just a one and done sort of thing.

And I think moving into that mindset of thinking about community and advocacy in that way, like the opportunities are unlimited. It’s a shame that if I look at advocacy communities and like engagement metrics, it’s just like abysmally low most of the time. And If we really think about this as something very long term, I think you can blow a lot of those metrics out of the water if you are just always constantly tweaking and you’re not overly precious with your hypotheses and like things that you try and that you abandon things. You realize that the data’s just not there to support it. You just keep moving on because you are going to hit things that will be valuable to the community. 

Christina Garnett: I agree. Going back to my non-linear life, I think teaching really prepared me for that because you create these lesson plans and I’ve sat preparing for a lesson, go in and recap the day before and they don’t remember a lick of it. And then you gotta be like, all right, I’m just going to reteach it. I’m just going to start from scratch and do what I did yesterday, all over again, and do things differently and use different metaphors and different examples and hope that I can make it click this time.

There were a lot of days where it’s oh, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Okay. We are throwing out the lesson plan and we’re doing what you need to know now to be successful. So I feel like that prepared me for marketing because the best intentions and it falls flat, or it goes viral. You never know. 

And you just gotta be like, okay, it is what it is. How do I take the next step? What does the next step look like? So I completely agree with you. There’s going to be things that you’re constantly experimenting and you can’t let it get to you. You really can’t. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, chalk it up to a learning basically, you know, at least it’s data. It’s just the feedback loop and you have to keep gathering more data and then it will get you in the direction that you’d like to go.

Are there any tools you would recommend that you’re using for that purpose on the social listening side? 

There’s tons of tools. I know that budget’s hard for people, so I would suggest native first and then set up Google alerts and Talkwalker alerts. It’s a really great way for you to start at least modifying and automating some of the needs that you have. There’s a lot of opportunities there depending on your budget. There Socialbakers, which is now Emplify. There’s Brand 24, there’s Meltwater, there’s Sprout Social. You can use HubSpot’s social media tool that’ll be able to pull in your mentions and things like that. 

There’s a lot of tools depending on your budget, but I like to start native cause it gives me an idea of what’s there. I do Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn. I do all of them, but those are my big three that I always try to jump into. 

Yeah, absolutely. Social listening is super important. And of course it’s very dependent on where your audience lives. I’m assuming that with HubSpot, because you guys have such a large presence that you probably find quite a bit of activity across the channels that you mentioned.

It’s also willing to be like, okay we’re a logistics company or something and maybe our persona like spends no time on Twitter. But maybe they’re like on LinkedIn. Even just getting a signal that nobody’s talking about you on social, maybe it’s either your personas just don’t do that. Or maybe it means that the experience is not special enough for them to want to talk about you guys. So even that is super interesting. Can the entire experience move the needle to get people to engage in a way that they might never previously?

Christina Garnett: Yeah. And you need to be thinking about that too. Like what would make someone want to move from passive to more of an engaged person, either as a customer or as an advocate or as a community member? What does that look like? And sometimes they don’t know how to put themselves to that next level. Other times it’s they don’t feel safe enough or they’re introverted.

And so that’s when you need that psychological safety. What kind of psychological safety are you creating for your advocates in your community? So that even if they’re worried or they’re scared or they’re shy that they have the environment where they feel like they could step into a space that’s a bit higher than where they are and they would feel comfortable. 

Margot Leong: What are some ways that you try to create psychological safety within your community? 

Christina Garnett: No question is a stupid question. One of the easiest ways to drive someone away is when someone is genuinely curious and needs help, or just doesn’t understand something. And they feel rebuffed or rejected or excluded because they didn’t get the response that they wanted.

If you come from a place of, I genuinely want to help people. I want people to feel like, no, no, seriously, that’s not a stupid question. Let me help you. And we have that a lot with our HubSpot community. Everyone’s incredibly helpful. There are no stupid questions like, oh, you don’t know how to do that? Let me help you. Let me show you how I did it. And that makes people want to return because they know that when they have a second question or a third question, that there isn’t going to be a wall there for them. They’re going to be able to get help without judgment, which is incredibly important.

The other is that you need to have them feel like their opinion is valid when they’re saying something negative versus when they’re saying something positive. They need to feel just as valid regardless of the sentiment because if they only feel valid when they say something positive, they’re only going to talk to you in that capacity. The way you treat them is going to condition the behavior they have for you, so you need to make sure that we’re driving opportunities for them to feel safe, to feel heard, to feel appreciated and that they don’t have to blindly love us in order for them to be valued. I want them to feel that if they have a feature that they want or something’s just not working and they’d love to talk to a product team to see like, why it’s not working for them, I want to be able to work towards that and make that happen. 

Margot Leong: Christina, this was an incredible conversation. It’s obvious that you are just so passionate and really love what you do. If people are interested in connecting with you or learning more about what you’re doing, where’s the best way to reach you?

Christina Garnett: Absolutely. So I am @thatchristinag on Twitter. You can also look me up on LinkedIn. Instagram’s mainly pictures of trees, so not as like groundbreaking as you might imagine. Feel free to join the HubSpot community, you can do that at We hope you’ll join us.

Margot Leong: Perfect. Thank you so much for coming on. 

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at Take care, everybody. 



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