Community and passionate customer advocates can be a company’s most valuable asset, but how do you nurture and mobilize advocates within more skeptical industries like cybersecurity and IT?
AttackIQ, the leading independent vendor of Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) systems, launched their cybersecurity and IT community, Informed Defenders, in August 2020 with the goal of creating one community of cybersecurity experts who could share best practices in threat informed defense and give back to the greater cyber community at large.
In this Influitive Spotlight Recap, Julie O’Brien, CMO and Jenni Opel, Sr. Marketing Manager and Community Manager at AttackIQ share their advice for recruiting and engaging cybersecurity professionals, how they deliver personalized experiences for their members, and what success looks like one year after launch.
Tell us more about your Informed Defenders advocacy community.
Jenni: Our Informed Defenders community consists of our AttackIQ Academy students, customers, and partners. It is by invitation-only and we really strive to provide fun and engaging challenges, while also getting to know our cybersecurity professionals. Our goal is to engage our strategic audiences with great content and fun engagement challenges and facilitate networking and feedback. We really want them to feel the exclusivity within the program and be able to network with their like-minded peers.
How do you recruit members to join Informed Defenders?
Jenni: One of the biggest ways we engage is through AttackIQ Academy. We have an automation set up so that once somebody registers for AttackIQ Academy and completes their first course, they’ll automatically receive an invitation into Informed Defenders. While in AttackIQ Academy, they can earn points in Informed Defenders for completing course materials and will unlock their points once they register later on. For customers and partners, we do a simple database upload to ensure they receive an invitation to join.
Tell us more about your launch process.
Julie: We began the program as a pilot, and I had a very strong inclination that this was going to work for us. Even though it was a different part of the IT market, we weren’t 100% sure what our uptake would be and it caught on like wildfire. For us as a growing company, one of the best ways to show up in the market is by punching above our weight class. That meant really harnessing the collective power of our customers, partners, and students to get that valuable social amplification and engagement, which feeds back into the quality of our content.
I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. We had a very aggressive launch timeline and our Influitive CSM was very accommodating with us because we were pushing the edges of how fast communities launch into the market, but we did it with quality and hustle within six weeks. It was a great process and it comes back to the partnership that Influitive brings to the table with them. It shows in the quality of their CSMs and really understanding what we were trying to accomplish as an organization, and then helping map it out to ensure our timeline was doable.
While launching, we were doing a massive web relaunch and rebranding AttackIQ, so it was really important for us to have these things coupled as closely together as we could from a timing perspective. That’s why we were really, really hustling and why we made it work.
What made you decide to launch an advocate community during the pandemic?
Julie: Launching the community during COVID was a really key part of our plan to stay connected with customers and prospects. Even though we couldn’t be face-to-face, we needed a platform that would give us an opportunity, given that every physical event had pretty much gone away at that point. In fact, Jenni made a pretty significant pivot in her career as a marketer to step up and take on becoming our new community manager. I also think that goes a long way to say how flexible this platform is. If you’ve got the right chops as a marketer, customer advocacy and community is something that you can roll up your sleeves and really dig into.
I also just want to underscore why, even as a growing startup without a huge budget, we decided to invest in Influitive. To me, the community is your lifeline as a marketer. It’s absolutely critical to know what your community thinks about your brand, your products and services, and how you stack up against your competitors. If you’re aren’t hearing from customers directly, then you’re bound to fall really behind.
What do you think is the biggest roadblock on engaging people or with engaging people?
Julie: Because you are serving people and learning what makes them active or inactive, it sometimes just comes down to time and bandwidth. That’s your challenge as a marketer: if time is precious and limited, what are you going to serve up to them? What value will motivate them to take the time to participate? It’s all about listening and learning as you go.
Jenni: I love having our weekly digest emails and knowing very soon that we’ll be able to select which challenges our members can see within these emails is going to be amazing. I always try to ensure there is one fun challenge in every digest so that there’s a variety of content coming every week.
How do you motivate cybersecurity professionals to participate in an advocate community?
Jenni: This is a big question especially in the cybersecurity world – people aren’t always really wanting to open themselves up. They’re very secure and they’re not adamant about signing up for something that they’re not quite sure about. To combat that, we’ve made it very clear how they will benefit from joining the community and have the assurance that it’s invitation-only. We also never want our members to feel like they’re being marketed to, so we encourage them to express their honest opinions on the latest trends and talk about threatened form defense or any other topics that are related, which in the end actually help us improve our product.
Here are a few value propositions we share with our members:
- Network with cybersecurity professionals
- Get personal invites to our events
- Discuss the latest trends and spread the word about threat informed defense
- Beta test new Academy courses
- Receive 1:1 time with Academy instructors
- Enter exclusive contests
How popular is fun content amongst your cybersecurity audience?
Julie: If you think about a cybersecurity professional and their livelihood, their career is so stressful. It’s interesting as we talk to all levels of cybersecurity practitioners, we hear how nice it is for them to be able to blow off some steam in the community. So I think having a fun channel of content gives them a break in their day and creates some light-heartedness in a very stressful career environment.
How do you deliver personalized experiences for your program members?
Jenni: It’s all about celebrating our members. We created an Informed Defenders blog where members can submit pieces and abstracts that we’ll review and publish. We’ll also recognize our members on social media by following and engaging with their content. Every week we highlight every person who completes an Academy course by tagging them and just saying congratulations. We’ve had to start doing them three times a week because our community has grown so fast!
Another way we recognize members is through our Defender of the Month program. Members can nominate themselves or their peers and explain how they’ve stood out throughout the month. This includes engagement like writing a blog post, completing courses, sharing content on social or just interacting within our community discussions.
What lessons have you learned since launching Informed Defenders over a year ago?
Jenni: Here are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way…
- Authenticity: We send personal messages constantly and aim to respond to each question we receive within 24 hours. It’s nice to let them know that they’re talking to real people and gives them confidence that we’re here to help and not just here to market to them. We also approach our content with sincerity and make sure it’s beneficial to the community. It’s all about giving more than you expect to receive.
- Don’t Give Up on Inactive Members: It’s easy for a lot of our members to get lost in the shuffle of life and work and play. We employ simple email reminders to show that we are pumping out frequent updates and challenges every week. It’s also important to read and digest survey completions to understand why they aren’t engaging and becoming inactive. We’ve catered and automated personalized challenges from these responses. For example, if someone tells us they are too busy, we’ll direct them to our weekly updates so they can keep tabs on what is going on. Other members stated that they didn’t have a clear understanding of what they were supposed to do, so we’d direct them to an explanation of the program and leave an open box for questions that we’ll respond to right away.
What results have you achieved from the Informed Defenders program?
Jenni: One week after launching we had 429 members and now, one year later, we have over 3,330 members and counting. The increase is so immaculate that we now have a dedicated OKR for Informed Defenders membership. We also measure the number of testimonials we receive and are currently averaging 22 testimonials per quarter which is fantastic. When it comes to beta recruitment, we’ve had over 40 beta testers for nine courses. Lastly, we hosted our first cybersecurity conference, Purple Hats, in June and saw over 3,000 registrations and 21% of those were from the community which exceeded our expectations.
A few other key results we’ve seen since launch include:
- 33,000+ challenge completions
- 17,000+ acts of advocacy
- 1,500+ discussion replies
- 837 social shares