As a product person, I can’t help but envy them. As a product community, we can learn from their example.

Source: Elon Musk at Twitter

Just imagine this. What if starting tomorrow, you were given direct access to a user group providing real-time feedback? You wouldn’t need to hypothesise whether a product change was beneficial.

You’d have carte blanche to experiment, test, and enhance the product.

You’d be able to observe the impact of your actions.

And regardless of the controversy it might stir, you will have support.

That’s the reality of Elon and the Twitter team’s world. The game of product design and development has completely changed.

He’s transformed what it means to Build in Public, and his fame attracts praise and criticism from the product development and business community.

550 million views on Twitter on a product release announcement!

It’s giving us access to a wealth of real-time, uncensored feedback. This level of transparency is unprecedented.

Public roadmaps are a frequent topic of discussion in the product community. The ongoing questions include:

  • Do you make the roadmap public to your clients?
  • Do you make the roadmap public to your company?
  • How detailed is your roadmap?
  • How far into the future do you create the roadmap?

When Elon took over Twitter, he announced that he would “break things” and we would enjoy the ride.

But I wasn’t expecting this level of transparency.

From Twitter files, Twitter Blue, subscription models, and API changes to advertisements for creators, we witness all the changes happening live on the platform.

I can’t think of any other company I use that does that.

I have no idea how Google or Instagram are changing their algorithm to affect me or how Netflix is trying to get me hooked on a new TV show. Accessing real feedback, customers, and data has been a longstanding challenge as a product manager.

We learn the best practices for building products from books. The typical cycle for startups and products is to build, measure, and then learn.

Yet, for most of us, measuring is the most challenging step. You make decisions, some big, some small, and then you wait. If you work in B2B, you’re lucky to get any feedback.

Collecting data and feedback on the impact is a daunting task. But Elon Musk and the Twitter product team don’t have to wait. His transparent communication strategy gives him an unparalleled advantage.

He makes a change, and its impact is immediately apparent. In contrast, the competition relies on sophisticated metrics and analytics. They do it all out in the open.

From a product standpoint, it’s extraordinary.

For instance, regarding the latest change on post-view rate limits, he was able to adjust them an hour after the announcement upon seeing the impact.

Imagine being able to push changes at this speed. Each decision alters the current reality.

Like a thrown stone’s ripple effect on water, Elon Musk and the Twitter team can see the immediate impact on their platform. He is the megaphone and a hack all product development teams wish for.

We know he’s capable of investing heavily to reach his goals. We’ve seen his track record with Tesla and SpaceX. He will wield immense power over the social media platform if he successfully leverages the data.

What’s crazy is that people who were supposed to leave the platform long ago are still here, either to watch it crash or burn. Just as he did with his other ventures, he’s created an ecosystem with himself at the centre.

In light of what Elon Musk has accomplished, what lessons can we learn from his example?

Here are some questions I encourage you to ask yourself:

How can we incorporate this transparency into our work?

The favourite answer of every product manager is, « It depends ».

We like to see things on a scale of uncertainty and unknowns. We want to be prepared for every eventuality.

Transparency has to be managed with discretion. Details such as sensitive data or competitive information can put the company at risk. Yet, there is always a degree where it is actionable.

Transparency is a value needed to be included in the organisation’s culture. It will fall to being open as a company externally and internally.

There is no scale of transparency — it’s 1 or 0.

And it starts by being open internally.

As product leaders, it means ensuring every team member understands what it means as a value.

It’s about creating an environment where people can share and be open, where feedback and innovative ideas are encouraged. It means the roadmap, priorities, and rationale behind every decision are understood.

It also means that they can’t be any retaliation or that the information provided is used against someone. It has to be balanced.

Leaders in the company have to be assertive about the culture. It will only fit some, and there can be a reshuffle of responsibilities and roles.

You can only attain a vision with consensus and have everyone on board.

Everyone must embody the culture of the organisation. You have to walk the talk. For example, it means being transparent before, during, and after product changes.

Most complaints on the Twitter-sphere that you can read in comments are about the way the Product Team and, as a CEO, Elon is directing the changes erratically. Pushing changes on a whim and then waiting for it to explode. There is a general feeling that the platform is always unstable.

All of this is creating a sense of insecurity towards the service provided.

Transparency is challenging when we want to walk the talk.

Engaging our users directly and regularly means sharing before, during and after updates.

We can share about the development process, plans and challenges we face.

The problem lies when these communications lack authenticity and honesty or are not comprehensive.

What we thought would be an insight into how our products are shaped will impede growth and general disappointment.

In a general sense, you have to be all in in the way you communicate and then trust the people that the information provided will benefit you in the long term.

However, it needs preparation. Transparency doesn’t mean not having control over what is said or how.

There are multiple ways to do it.

Some companies like Buffer or Collato have a Slack channel inviting their community.

Medium use its original platform to provide insights into what is happening.

The tech team at Uber or Netflix are showing their work to the tech community through their medium blog.

Some companies use newsletters, discords, telegram and other forums to send updates.

There is not a unique way to do things. You have to choose the best way for you.

The customers are not the only ones racking up benefits from being transparent.

It can help your recruitment process. Netflix and Uber use it as a medium to show what their engineers and data scientists are working on.

More and more companies are pursuing a community strategy to expand their reach and fanbase.

How can we build a community around us and turn immediate feedback into actionable insights?

A community is a way to create a sense of belonging and unity between people following a brand.

Buffer is the best example I have been following for a long time.

Since its humbling beginning as a Chrome extension, they have been transparent about its knowledge, product, and company.

Providing even their revenue details and salaries.

For a while, this movement, « open startups », gave you an insight into how they were doing. You can still find a list of those companies here: openstartup.com

Building a community starts by solving a pain for your customers. Buffer is selling a platform to help you manage your social media. They understood that the pain of their customers was more significant than this.

They started to create content on how to master social media. They are at the origin of the content strategy for growth used by many companies now.

They did it by living the pain and sharing their journey with their customers. They were sharing what works and what doesn’t.

Acknowledging their needs, concerns and suggestions, they showed a commitment to their community and genuinely helped them.

Again the way you do it is yours. It could be through podcasts, a YouTube channel, or user-generated content competitions.

Such forums and agoras in the Roman Empire, your community needs a place to meet and rituals. You have to put in place all those elements. Once you have been giving for a while, turning feedback into actionable insights is essential to this process.

You can use the « forum » to identify common issues and trends by leveraging qualitative and quantitative data from user feedback. A structured process for routing the information to the right team, reviewing and implementing these insights must be implemented.

You can emulate your community and transform them into fans one by one. A community will become a dynamic ecosystem where everyone feels heard, valued and part of the journey.

In regard to transparency, you don’t have to wait for the company to do it at scale. With each company I worked with, I created my community. I had a set of customers I was giving regular feedback and had access to me.

I was not only giving them updates on the product but also helping them by giving them insights on the research I have done that could benefit them.

In return, I had insights into every product feature I implemented. Helping me and my team develop the product, which in return will improve the business.


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