When you look over to our B2C cousins, the concept of community as a means to drive business is table stakes.
- Rapha has built a cult-like following by branding its shops as ‘clubhouses’ where weary cyclists can grab a coffee and some cake alongside a new gilet.
- GoPro leverages the heaps of UGC created with its cameras, creating a content marketing flywheel that inspires and engages.
- AirBnB empowers its 1m+ host community to connect, share and learn from one another, ultimately helping to create a more premium experience for guests.
Over in B2B? Not so much.
But the days of brands not taking community-building seriously and maintaining a competitive marketing edge are numbered.
Buyers need to feel validated in their decision to work with a company. Their decisions don’t just cost their business money; it potentially affects the working lives of all their colleagues.
That’s a lot of pressure.
So building an active of community of people like them who have already bought in to your product or service is one of the most powerful credibility cards you can play.
There are a heap of other benefits as well – lower acquisition costs, higher customer retention, improved lifetime value, lower cost of service, feedback on roadmap decisions, brand visibility, loyalty… the list goes on and on.
Building a community takes time and commitment. There is no quick fix. But if I were dropped into a new company tomorrow with the goal of developing a strategy, here are some of the questions I’d ask myself.
They’re designed to validate your motivations in building a community, identify any existing communities that already do what you aim to do and make sure you have a clear measure of what success looks like.
1. Why do you want to start a community?
Before running out to set up that Slack channel and sending out a mass invite to your contact list, you need to understand what it is you feel a community can deliver to your business. Perhaps more than any other marketing initiative, community building takes the most time, commitment and resource – there are no quick wins. You need to be sure that the water is hot before you jump in.
2. Do other communities like this already exist? If so, what will you do differently?
There’s no problem in setting up a community to target a profile of members that are already well-served by another. Hell, I must be signed up to at least six different B2B marketing Discord servers. But if you do find yourself going up against an established player, be clear on what makes you different. This could be your area of focus, the platform you use or the members you decide to target.
3. What platform do you want to use to gather this community?
Remember that not every community needs a Slack channel or Facebook Group. Some of the best communities are intimate, highly-focussed groups of individuals who meet (gasp) in person. It really depends on what your objective is. Here’s a great guide on how to choose the right platform.
4. What one metric will you use to determine the success of this community?
It’s important to nail this one down early, ensure it’s aligned with the ‘why’ you’re starting a community AND be sure that all the stakeholders across your business are behind it. If you are looking for the community to reduce support requests, counting the total number of members might not be the right metric to know whether you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Pick a North Star goal and set realistic timelines on when you will expect to see some results.
5. What does an ideal community member look like?
It’s marketing 101 – if you don’t know who it is you’re trying to reach, your messaging will just blend together into a big pile of ‘meh’. Decide on who your community is trying to serve (which in most cases will mirror your target customer profile) and let this inform the approach you take to convince them to join.
6. Who will be the first members of your community?
Inviting the first members into your community is the most difficult step of this process. Not only must you convince them to join, you also have to give them a compelling enough reason to stay. Plus they will set the tone for your community. Handpick 10 founding members and give them a stake in the community’s success.
7. Who in the business will be the Community Manager?
This is perhaps the single most important person across the whole initiative. They will be the one responsible for engaging with members, facilitating conversations, monitoring bad behaviour and helping guide the roadmap of the community. Not only must they have the right personality, but also the time to effectively manage it. It’s NOT a job for the intern.
8. Who will be responsible for producing content for the community?
Communities are about trust. Members must feel that they are getting something of value in exchange for their time and engagement – and content is one of the most effective ways to give it to them. This person may already sit in the marketing team and should have the skills to repurpose content that already exists across other channels, but also to develop a calendar of exclusive pieces for the community.
9. How will you promote the community?
There are a bunch of effective ways to promote a community. Partner with influencers, build a referral programme, integrate it into your wider marketing strategy… the list goes on. In the early days, I would look at how to best equip our sales and account management colleagues with the information they need to invite existing clients as the work of educating them on who you are is already done.
‘Community’ is more than just a mailing list. It’s a group of people collected together over a common interest, who share and engage with one another proactively. Pulling one together – and keeping it going – can be a serious competitive moat for the brave B2B company willing to invest in it.
Oh, and if you want some examples of successful B2B communities, I recommend looking into the ones created by Hubspot, Figma, Notion and Juno as a starter for ten.