Bill Johnston on how Autodesk rebooted social community management for Fusion 360

At Autodesk, they refer to the rise of 3D printing as the new industrial revolution.

What if you treated every customer interaction as an opportunity to build community?

In fact, in his presentation at's Brands-Only Summit, Director of Online Community and Customer Experience Bill Johnston says, “3D printing is one dimension of a very big revolutionary wave that's currently hitting us. It's potentially of a larger size, impact, and scale than social media.”

To support that new way of working, Autodesk created a user community for their mechanical and 3D design software, Fusion 360. The Autodesk-hosted community would be a place for makers and kickstarters to share ideas, ask questions, and show off their work.

But, Bill explains, there were a few things holding back the community.

With a lack of content strategy, community management, and clear goals, they were missing a lot of opportunities with their customers. To make matters worse, they relied too heavily on Facebook.

“The catastrophic drop in organic reach with Facebook — how fun was that? The main thing we were relying on collapsed with no real strategic underpinnings to rely on anything else,” he says.

Their engagement and reach plummeted.

To reboot the Fusion 360 community, Bill spent time collecting data, interviewing stakeholders, and developing a comeback strategy.

For me, community social strategy comes down to a couple of very simple things: customer needs and business objectives.

“For me, community social strategy comes down to a couple of very simple things: customer needs and business objectives. And where those two overlap is where magic happens.”

Bill shares five key areas of focus to make that magic happen:

1. Tone
2. Social ecosystem
3. Community engagement
4. Community editorial
5. Community user experience

1. Tone: Position Autodesk as the tool provider and their users as the craftsmen.

Bill says their current approach seemed tone-deaf. He explains that mass marketing tactics and empty compliments like “That's an excellent diagram,” weren't working with their high-level users and engineers. They needed more critical, analytical engagement to get their customers' attention.

“They don't have time for BS, they need high signal, low noise, they want to be engaged, and they want to help build. They want to put their fingerprint on the features,” Bill explains.

2. Social ecosystem: Develop a social presence map to create a more holistic approach.

To be successful with social and community you need a portfolio strategy. It can't just be a couple of social touch points or a hosted online community. Everything has to function in concert.”

3. Community engagement: Stop letting engagement opportunities fall through the cracks.

For example, Bill explains that through their email marketing automation, they completely rewrote nurtured streams to flow emails to Fusion 360 community managers.

“The open rate for these emails is right around 45%, which completely blows most email marketing from Autodesk away.”

4. Community editorial: Get a handle on content needs with a strategic plan and central person in control.

Bill shares a pyramid explaining the types of content and relative volume to share.

Community Editorial

“My intention is to build as close to a lifelong relationship as possible with these customers. In part, you do that via community by talking about contexts bigger than your tool or product.”

5. Community experience: Evolve the community platform to reflect their users' needs.

Autodesk redesigned the community platform to include a bespoke gallery featuring their users' visual and immersive content and 3D models. They also created a specific place to share feedback and ideas with the company and personalized each user's layout based on usage patterns and data.

Nine months later, things are looking up.

Social is driving 26 percent more trials of Fusion 360. Their conversions are up 20 percent on Twitter and over 30 percent on Facebook. They also reached 90 percent of their goal for active users.

Bill ends his presentation with this challenge, “What if you treated every customer interaction as an opportunity to build community? What might that look like? What might that produce?”

Check out Bill's full presentation here and follow him on Twitter.