Have you ever imagined what WordPress would be like without the community? What if there weren’t WordCamps or Meetups? What if there were no volunteers dedicating their time to building the core software?
WordPress as we know it would not exist.
WordPress powers 27.3 percent of the Internet and that growth directly affects the community that WordPress is built on top of. In the last five years, we’ve seen an increase in products, plugins, themes, and agencies built entirely around the CMS, and it’s not slowing down. Those people and their businesses are not only impacted by the upward trajectory but are actively and aggressively helping WordPress grow.
But as the market share of WordPress grows and community participation is seemingly at an all-time high, the ROI of contributing to the community has been brought into question.
Data from Torque’s recent WordPress industry survey highlighted that “20% have sponsored or donated to a WordPress-related event, and only 15% contribute to Core”.
Is it the few that support the masses? Or is it more people spending less time and money, that help support WordPress?
A more pressing question is how do we continue to encourage an environment of contribution while not alienating these individuals and companies that currently give so much?
WordPress Is The Community
You can’t talk about WordPress without talking about the community. The community is the vibrant heartbeat of the progress that WordPress has made. From the people who contribute to core, the volunteers who host local meetups, to the many sponsors of WordCamps, everyone from the single individual contributor to the large multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to find a way to give back to the community that has given them so much.
WordPress has created this ecosystem of ideas and opportunities, and it’s clear that everyone sees the value in helping to keep it alive. At WordCamp US, Matt Mullenweg said that the cost of a WordCamp would be $516 per person without the help of sponsors and volunteers. This speaks volumes to the amount of financial support from sponsors that makes WordCamps possible, and at roughly $40 for the whole experience.
In a recent article by Sucuri’s CEO Tony Perez, the value of sponsoring a WordCamp was challenged, and rightfully so. These events rely on the generosity of sponsors to make them a reality. They can be costly from a time, money, and resources perspective and often times the benefit is simply “giving back” to the community with no real financial return.
In Mullenweg’s speech, he highlighted in 2016 there were 115 total WordCamps in 41 countries, and a total of 36,569 tickets sold. To support those camps, there were 750 organizers, 2,065 speakers, and 1,036 sponsors.
On the meetup side, there were 3,193 meetup events in a total of 58 countries hosting meetups for a total of 62,566 attendees.
These are impressive stats that help quantify the volume of people giving their time and resources to help attend, sponsor, and organize these events.
In an effort to try to understand why people have chosen to invest in the community we asked for some insight from some of these volunteers and sponsors to see why they continue to make the investments they make.
For some of the smaller agencies, the community is a way to make connections. According to Cody Landefeld of Mode Effect, a small WordPress agency in Phoenix, meetups are an “opportunity to build relationships with service providers” which in return establishes trust when trying to deliver excellent service for their clients, said. Landefeld and his wife Raquel have participated locally in their community through meetups and organizing WordCamp Phoenix. Moreover, they will travel to other WordCamps in an effort to meet service providers who can help them grow their business.
It’s no secret that meeting someone in real life helps establish credibility and build a relationship which can help impact your business for the better.
Landefeld also said that it’s important for him to give back to the community because WordPress has given him so much by providing a free resource from which he has built a successful business. Another way they are helping the community is teaching people how to use WordPress for their business.
The community is created on the knowledge of the people that make it up. WordCamps can’t happen without people volunteering to share what they know for the benefit of the community. Front-End Developer at Crowd Favorite, Joe Casabona enjoys sharing his knowledge and passion for education by speaking at WordCamps and Meetups and said it is a “great non-coding way to contribute”.
Speaking also gives you “common ground with the folks” who come to your talk, and allows the speaker to build real connections. It’s a way to make yourself known, which in and of itself helps open doors to accomplish your goals whether that is more self-awareness or visibility for your company, or to just face your fear of public speaking.
Another interesting way to leverage the community is to launch an idea or product, like WP Engine did back in 2010. The company was one of the first hosts to get involved in sponsoring WordCamps. Co-Founder and CTO Jason Cohen emphasized the importance of getting involved in the community early on saying, “WordCamps were valuable to jump-start getting the word out about who we are. Not just ‘we are managed WordPress hosting,’ but meeting the human beings behind the words and website.”
WP Engine’s goals may have shifted since their first WordCamp in 2012, but the importance of giving back is just as strong. “It’s in our DNA,” said Cohen. “And [we expect] of all of the over 420 people at WP Engine to ‘give back’ to the many communities that sustain us and helped us get to where we are, as a company but also as individuals.”
Support also has started to come from non-traditional WordPress companies, like GoDaddy who has clearly made a name for themselves when it comes to dominating the domain and general hosting market. They saw an opportunity to extend their product offerings and wanted to get more involved in WordPress.
But in a close-knit community, how did GoDaddy break through the noise? Mendel Kurland, Head of Evangelism said “our strategy is people-first. We care about what members of the community care about.”
GoDaddy’s goal is to tell their story, and they lean on their evangelists to help them build authentic relationships with the members of the WordPress community. Kurland said, “We did this by not only making a financial investment, but by attending, speaking and investing in community events,” And encourages others to “Start there, instead of letting dollars talk.”
Freelancers look to the community as a way to connect to the bigger picture. “Somehow the WordPress meetups and conferences attract those with similar interests,” said Brian Hogg a WordPress freelancer behind Event Calendar Newsletter.
When you work for yourself, or work remotely, you have to find ways to physically meet with people. “At some point during your business, chances are someone offered help, advice, and/or support when you needed it most,” Hogg said.
It’s clear that there are different reasons and inspirations for supporting the community, and what works for one person might differ from another. But it is still important to have specific objective goals for whatever it is you’re doing whether you’re sponsoring an event or contributing back to core. There should be some expectation of accomplishment to achieving that goal or not.
There is value, it might not be in the form of dollar signs, new customers, or immediate sign ups, but ultimately it’s helping to empower and keep afloat the very community that so many people make their businesses off of.
As WordPress continues on it’s path to web content management system domination, I’m sure the WordPress community will have to evolve as well. It’s clear that it’s resilient, but as more major players enter the market place, it will be interesting to see how the community landscape changes.