EP12: How eBay Built Their Community

eBay is one of the longest running communities born out of the digital age. Luckily, we got the chance to sit down with Alan Aisbitt who has been at eBay for over 9 years and has been a community manager since 2013.

Community is everything for eBay, it’s a pure marketplace that relies on their buyers and sellers which are the community members. Their C2C community has grown very organically because passionate sellers who want to meet other sellers in their area will host events in their city to help support the local community.

eBay knows that supporting the power members of your community is a smart thing to do so they keep tabs on cities that are gaining traction with their events and reach out to support them. They support them by providing content, news on product updates, swag or even eBay staff going on the road to meet the sellers.

As far as what they measure for success they look at a few metrics including unique visitors, overall growth of users, posts and levels of activity. One of the metrics that's unique to them is their “accepted solutions” and “kudos”, an “accepted solution” is when a user marks their question as solved and “kudos” is similar to likes on social media. With those metrics they are able to see not just quantity but the quality of the activity that their community is putting out.

Of course, it’s always good to prove the worth of the community from as many angles and perspectives as possible. One way that eBay does this is through their “voice of the customer” report. They take an incredible story every week from one of the customers in their community and then turn that into a report that they send to senior leaders. Sharing these helps create meaningful change that the community team can then bring back to the community and show that their voices actually matters. Alan strongly suggested any community team create a report like this because it’s a great touchpoint from inside the company and great for the community as well.



[0:00:04.1] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time; your customers. Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brain in person, or at scale.

On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.


[0:00:44.1] JF: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am John Frye from the Bevy team. Today's episode is with Alan Aisbitt, who is a Community Manager over at eBay. He's worked at eBay for over nine years and he brought that experience to this episode, because in just 15 minutes he shared tons of strategies that you can walk away with and immediately implement into your community programs.

One of which was the voice of a customer report, where he highlights a customer and he shares that up the chain to show, “Hey, here's my community, here's the awesome thing they're doing and the awesome stories that are coming out of what we're doing with the community.” We also talked about metrics, ROI and a ton, ton more. Without further ado, please enjoy the show.


[0:01:30.8] JF: Alan, for the two people in the world that have not used eBay at this point, tell us what eBay does.

[0:01:39.2] AA: Sure. I would love to give you a bit of a quick history of eBay. eBay was founded back in 1995 by our founder Pierre. Pierre on Labor Day weekend was sitting around his house and he had a broken laser pointer in his house and he thought, “Wouldn't it be great if I could sell this to somebody?” He wrote some code and launched the website and listed his broken laser pointer for sale thinking that, “Yeah, maybe this might never take off. People might be interested in my broken laser pointer.” Somebody bought it. Somebody in Canada did purchase the broken laser pointer. From there, really eBay was born and has continued to grow all the way up to 24 years later almost, I suppose. We launched in 1995.

We are a global marketplace. We have currently about a 179 million active buyers around the world. What sets eBay apart from other marketplaces and other sites where sellers might sell is that we don't compete with our sellers. We are a pure marketplace. We have everything on eBay from a mom-and-pop store, to people selling things out of their garage, to huge enterprise businesses turning over millions of dollars per year.

Really anybody who wants to start up their own business, who wants to sell something in their house can quickly jump onto eBay desktop, or open their phone, download the app and list something in a minute, get that out in front of a global audience of buyers and typically they will sell it. If there's if there's an item out there, there's usually a buyer on the other end somewhere around the world and looking to purchase that item.

[0:03:15.0] JF: What does community mean to eBay?

[0:03:16.8] AA: Well community is huge. Community is everything for eBay. Because we’re not a retailer, we don't own any inventory, we don't sell any inventory, we rely on our community for eBay to exist. If we don't have buyers and if we don't have sellers, eBay goes out of business. It really is as simple as that. Really since the early days of eBay, we've always put our arms around our sellers and our buyers and brought them in and worked closely with them to understand what they like about eBay, what they don't like, what they would like to see in future iterations of eBay, to help it be a better marketplace.

We've been doing that for over 20 years and we continue to do it to this day and I'm looking enough to lead the community in the US now and we every day continue to work on our community boards and that is online, but then there's also an offline and we have events around the country and meetups that we also support.

[0:04:08.1] JF: Let's start there with your CTC program. A 150 groups, I understand. Talk to us about – I'd love to know how you choose the people that are organizing those, or working with those. How do you know who to pick? How do you vet them? How do you decide who to get engaged in that?

[0:04:25.9] AA: We do support some seller meetups around the country and we're very lucky that they pop up organically. Sellers who sell online, sometimes it can be a lonely job. They're sitting in their house days on end listing and selling and shipping things out and they love meeting other sellers in that situation in person and talking it out over some food, or some drinks, or just going into a conference room somewhere and spending some time networking.

How we support those groups, on the eBay community platform we last year built a page, a landing page for meetup and events. If you are a seller, you can navigate to that page and you can see all of the latest upcoming meetups around the country. You can also see conferences where eBay is in attendance. If you're at Shoptalk for example and eBay has a booth there, it will be listed.

How we support the meetups is that we will keep track of the ones that are popping up and ones that are growing and we will contact the meetup organizers, or they will contact us a lot of the time and they will ask for support. We support them by providing content. We'll let them know the latest and greatest eBay news that's coming out, send that on to them so they can share it with their community. We will also sometimes send eBay stuff. We're very lucky on our team that we get to travel around the country and go to meetup events and spend days with sellers. Sometimes staff go out on the road and meet up sellers. Then sometimes we will send swag eBay water bottles, pants, things like that to give out. Fun aspect of meetups as well, it’s not all business.

[0:06:01.1] JF: If I asked one of the sellers or one of the people running one of these meetups why they do it, what's in it for them, what do you think they would tell me?

[0:06:10.6] AA: I think they would tell you that it's about the person-to-person connection, that networking, identifying with somebody in your neighborhood who is doing the same thing as you. You can see when sellers meet up and they talk, you see the sparks fly, you see the connections. Typically, they will be sharing ideas of where they source inventory, or where they – shipping tips as well. A lot of the times, when sellers are new they're trying to figure out how they can grow their business.

Things like choosing the right box to ship your item out in and the right postage rates are quite complex. You'll see sellers sharing tips. I think, really that is the power of the community and in-person is that they will get tips and tricks to grow their business from other sellers in the same situation.

[0:07:00.1] JF: Yeah, what metrics are tracked internally? What metrics or KPIs? Does the eBay community team measured on as a whole?

[0:07:09.8] AA: Really we track a couple of metrics for our community platform. We look at the amount of unique visitors that come in. Obviously very important for us to know how many people are coming in and is the community popular? Is it growing? We keep a close eye on that and we also keep an eye on posts, the amount of activity in our community. Accepted solutions are a big thing too. People are asking lots of questions, but are the answers that they're getting useful? Having a high acceptance rate of accepted solutions is a great indicator that your community is healthy, people are given great answers and the authors are marking them as solutions. Then things like kudos, another good metric as well.

Those are the main ones that we focus on. We also do things like tribal knowledge base, where we aim to publish regular knowledge base articles around most frequently asked questions in community. That would be something that we track too is the amount of articles that we get out per year.

[0:08:07.5] JF: I read you did something called the voice of the customer. I wonder if you could just explain how that works.

[0:08:13.9] AA: Yeah, so that's something very close to my heart. It's something that I believe we should be doing and I encourage any community manager to do it if they're not doing it. Every week, I work closely with the wider community team and from what I see on the discussion boards and I gather together all of the insights that I can find. I will put together a report weekly and send it out to senior leadership detailing the items that are coming up on the boards. Really what people, what buyers and sellers are liking and not liking currently.

I mean, the power of that is that we see real change at eBay. Our leadership team are totally listening. They have the ear on the ground and they are listening to what our members are saying. I mean, that's the most powerful thing for me is seeing hot topics, escalating that internally and then actually seeing changes being made at eBay to improve the marketplace. Then closing the loop with our community to say, “Hi sellers. Guess what? That topic that you were talking to us about for some time, now we've actually made some change. We've changed the policy. We've changed the product. We've changed a strategy and you can now see that implemented on eBay.” For me, that really is so satisfying to see actually the volume of the community results in meaningful change at eBay.

[0:09:38.1] JF: Yeah. As somebody that made the vast majority of the money that they made in college via eBay, I thank you.

[0:09:46.0] AA: That's great to hear.

[0:09:48.5] JF: I think one thing that's interesting with eBay is that it really as you say, community has been at the core of the product and it's one of the oldest, most internet treasures, have been around the longest of just about any other website. You've had so much longer to run these programs and to see them play out over time. Whereas, a lot of the companies that we talk to, whether on this podcast, or with Bevy, a lot of them are just newer companies.

I wonder what you've seen from – I say a lot of companies have a hard time proving that these kinds of programs should be supported. They say, “I can't find the ROI and I can't track it on this end.” On the other hand that – but eBay has decided that they're going to invest decades-long into this program. Have you seen people that engage with these community programs, does it raise the NPS? Does it increase how much people buy, or how much they sell, or does it increase general satisfaction, or lower support tickets, or are there are any very tangible metrics that you've seen?

I know you come from a background in support, so you probably understand that part of it better than anybody that we've talked to. At the end of the day, what are we getting out of this thing? I think that's what a lot of senior marketing people say when the community conversation comes up. What have you seen actually turn the dial for eBay in this regard?

[0:11:19.2] AA: Yeah, we've always believed that users who are active on our community are invested in eBay. Like you say yourself, you're an eBay fan and you want to – you want to make it better and you want to help the future of the company. Yeah, so I think for us going back to the voice of a customer, point that I talked about recently. I think for that when you can show meaningful change at a company and say that this change to the site, or the product was a direct result of customer feedback, that's a huge win for a company.

I know some people, they’re on Facebook groups, or private Facebook groups, but it's hard really to manage and actually know who that people are on social media. The great thing about our own community is that we can tie it back to the seller, or the buyer and see exactly who that person is who was sharing the feedback.

Yeah, we believe that people on who are on our community are more loyal to eBay. They buy and sell and transact more with eBay and that is something that we believe. Again, another thing we do on the community is we have a super user program. We have about 50 to 60 super users on our community. The super users are really the most active users that are on our boards answering questions, who have either applied, or been nominated to join the super user program. We call those folks eBay community mentors. Really those folks do an amazing job. They answer thousands of questions per week on our community and they let me know and they let the community team know when there's things that need attention.

For the most part, they're happy enough and they can answer questions. Sometimes a new topic will come up, maybe it's a policy change and they'll ask eBay staff for guidance. Really the super user program that we have helps eBay by having those questions, go there and we have our super users answering questions. It's just a fantastic experience as well, because eBay staff can give advice and guidance to a seller to grow their business, but isn't it fantastic for another seller to give advice to a seller, a peer-to-peer connection and they're on the same level. Whereas, sometimes it's coming from a company and might be perceived as biased information. Whereas, if you're on a community and a person on the board is giving you that information, it's coming from a good place and you know that they've probably had that experience before.

[0:13:48.2] JF: Some might call that customer to customer, but –

[0:13:51.4] AA: That’s right.

[0:13:52.7] JF: Those are the circles that I swim in. Look, you've been in the community industry a long time. What communities inspire you? What communities do you think are doing a good job, or what companies are doing a good job with community?

[0:14:08.1] AA: The platforms themselves that I really like are Airbnb. I think the design of Airbnb and how they focus their community on their hosts is a really nice touch. I think it's well designed and there seems to be good staff engagement there. I also think Etsy do a good job on their community. Similar to eBay, they've got buyers and sellers as a marketplace. A lot of similarities between the two platforms. I think those two platforms are good, ones that I keep an eye on under.

There are some in the UK. Another one in the US that I would look at would be GoDaddy. I think GoDaddy have a fascinating product and all the services that they have available. GoDaddy is another one that I keep a close eye on.

[0:14:52.6] JF: Alan, it's awesome. Thank you so much.

[0:14:55.2] AA: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.


[0:13:19.6] DA: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.


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