Reflective strategy - Learning from our beta training launch

During and following training we ask those before us to focus on goals. To center their work around digital strategy and to think about the Engagement Cycle: Planning & Brainstorming > Execute > Engage > Impact >Feedback

We also use digital strategy in our day to day work. We launched the beta version of The Digital Plan training website and we went back and forth on several trade-offs for several months in website development. Two core technical problems:

  • The technical delivery system of trainings.
  • The communities’ ability to ask questions and engage with each other.

But we also know our #1 goal:

Provide scalable quality and impactful digital knowledge and strategy to as many people as possible.


Problem #1 The technical delivery system of trainings.

The delivery system we ultimately selected uses Zoom webinar. There are lots of good reasons to do use Zoom. One reason is because it has some reasonable integration with our CRM which powers a number of behind the scenes items. There wasn’t a direct connection from Zoom to our CRM system and we’re sure many of you have become acquainted with Zaps and other tools to sync data and functions. We  didn’t want to go that route because we prefer as direct as possible connections or integrations.


We’ve learned over the years that the fewer the connections the fewer the problems to troubleshoot.


We decided to use PlusThis an integrated system that sends all of the Zoom emails from our CRM. It had a feeling of slickness. You signed up on our site and our site sent on brand and matching emails. It looked great when it worked… However, to make it work meant setting up a campaign for each webinar, each campaign had over 15 data points. All of these could be a location for troubleshooting if the wrong email went out. Sometimes it added an hour of troubleshooting or more if an email went with the wrong info.

Another lesson we’ve learned over the years, if there is a tool to do the exact thing you’re doing use it and move on.


After 6 weeks of beta we broke all those connections powered by our CRM, we decided to solely use the Zoom branded emails. Zoom has a massive team of engineers. They have people dedicated to making sure reminder emails come to you. If our goal is “To provide scalable quality and impactful digital knowledge and strategy to as many people as possible” then QA’ing a working system is a waste of time, and we are not focusing on our primary goals. Also, no one subscribes because they think they will get well-branded emails but they will unsubscribe if getting training reminders is too hard.


Problem #2 The communities’ ability to ask questions and engage with each other.

This was a conundrum from the beginning, We spent several months viewing different forums and messaging systems that worked well with WordPress. We scoured WordPress forums, and even hired a consultant at one point. There isn’t a great place to go to have a discussion or get help on topics especially when they link into strategy. There are hundreds if not thousands of places to ask Photoshop, Social Media, Video editing etc questions. However, there are less clear places to ask for help when you have niche questions or it overlaps with your strategy.

In the deep work of figuring out how we would create membership profiles, connect a webinar system, email systems etc we found several membership and training sites were using some similar systems for their communities.We liked the idea of not reinventing the wheel but none of them played well with the WordPress site builder we love to use. In the end though we decided to go with a theme and system of tools and plugins other companies were using. Our original hunch had been to build the community on Slack and integrate that into trainings in smart way. But this system looked like a better integrated experience… and this is why we test. After 6 weeks of the beta test we ended up with a grid that looked like this:

The majority of problems were coming from the profiles and the groups and no-one was using the groups to actually communicate. We’ve helped build a number of intentional online communities. It can be hard to get right but once it goes wrong it can be even harder to bring it back around. The question was do we invest time and money into making the integrated profiles, forums, and groups work well? If we don’t we will only scale problems. We made a hard decision but in the end what we think is right. During a sleepless week, we rebuilt the core functions on the site, moved everything over to a sitebuilder we trusted more, and closed out the groups. It was hard to let the past work and “potential” go; and to know that setting up other group options would be even harder.

But we’ve decided to wait… because there is one main goal. Providing scalable quality and impactful digital knowledge and strategy to as many people as possible. Everything we do that doesn’t link to that doesn’t serve us. I do believe developing a strategic community will be a major part during long term but it’s important that today when someone lands on the site they can access great recorded trainings, resources that help them win, and sign up for upcoming trainings. Deep in the web development section of The Digital Plan there is advice on what to avoid in web development. Things like too many bells and whistles that pull away from your primary goal. We paused for some of our own advice but we’re sharing it because that’s the goal. Share hard learned strategy with you so we can all grow together!


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