Original blog published on December 16, 2019.
One of the biggest challenges businesses face in growing is generating attention and engagement from companies (and people) in their target markets who are not currently looking to buy something.
They also know that generating word of mouth is the best form of marketing there is, but if you don’t have thousands of customers who regularly use your product, or your product isn’t “buzzworthy,” word-of-mouth can often feel like a distant dream. Today, especially, with the hustle and bustle of the always “on” world, it can be that much more difficult to find time to be present outside your business bubble.
If you’re dealing with these challenges, then implementing a community marketing program may be the recipe you need. Joining or creating an online community might just be the extra spark you need to get connected with others. If you aren’t already part of one, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to expand who you’re talking to, reach out to a whole new audience, and expand how you help others. You’re able to add a whole new perspective to your knowledge base! And just like the saying goes, “two minds are better than one,” you too can reach a better outcome through joining or creating an online community.
What is a Community?
Traditionally, a community is a group of people that share common interests, goals, attitudes, etc. Most communities meet with each other at a certain location or put on events and rally around one another.
In speaking with the #MarketingTwitter queen herself abound communities, Christina Garnett defines community as the 1-2 topics that people have in common that they gravitate towards along with the similarities in those topics. There is a central love or central hate that people have in common; a commonality of passion that they want to talk about including what it means to them. A community is a place where others want to invite others in to congregate and then build off that to find other similarities.
What is an Online Community?
An online community is simply a community that meets in the virtual world through social media, hosting sites, or elsewhere on the internet. These virtual meeting locations include places such as:
- Facebook Groups
- LinkedIn Groups
- Mighty Network (a hosting app)
- A subdomain off of your website
- And more
These communities can also put on events and meet if they would like and/or if they have the ability to. With the capabilities that we have today, meeting online through a Zoom call or Twitter Spaces makes it easier when members aren’t in the same location. The ability to connect has become far easier.
Benefits to the Member
Whether you decide to become a part of an online community or build one yourself, you’ll either get to reap the benefits of being in the group or you’ll provide benefits to your members. Some of these benefits include:
Access to Exclusive Content. It always feels nice to have the ability to see something that not just everyone can view. This makes members feel special and valued. This also can include receiving updates quicker or before the rest of the world.
Having a place to network and connect with others. Online communities are a great place for collaboration. There are times where your members will ask a question and will receive an unexpected solution. Your community will also allow them to discuss new ideas or problems/challenges they’re facing and receive advice that others in the group and you can help them with.
Between time zones and individual preferences, there is no 9-5 work day for the internet. Since online communities are open 24/7, you’re able to accommodate individual schedules and answer questions when they need help. This can lead to leaps in innovation as users interact when they are most productive instead of having to wait for a particular time to respond. Everyone has ideas and your online network can help them in more ways than imaginable.
Feeling a sense of belonging. I know this one may sound like a no-brainer, but finding your tribe and a place where you fit in does something to the brain. If your members are enjoying themselves, it can lead to a positive impact in their lives. Even if they’re venting, they can walk away with a sense of relief. Your members have the ability to feel happier, more included, and special. They can also rest easy knowing you and others with similar experience are there to help them, answer their questions and allow them to feel welcomed.
Benefits to the Business
Members aren’t the only ones who benefit from online communities. It’s usually a win-win for both your members and your business. Here are seven benefits your business acquires:
Staff Support. The biggest priority of a community is to help each other out and with that, weight is lifted off of your support staff. The community can help answer questions and point others in the right direction, rather than your team doing all the heavy lifting.
Product Advocacy. If you’re coming out with new features or a new product, utilize your community members to be advocates. They can help to push your product out to more people, and it’ll be more genuine coming from someone that believes in what you’re doing.
Not only can you get help promoting your products, but you can get help improving them, too. The community is there to support you. Share what’s going on and use them like a think tank to find out what kinds of new features they would want or which features they hate and never use.
Acquisition. Communities are word-of-mouth armies. They can help to acquire new leads and more awareness for your product/service.
Contribution. Community members have great ideas and can help you create marketing collateral through reviews, testimonials, guest blogs, and more. If you’re looking for help, ask them!
Deeper engagement. Posting within an online group can spark deeper-level conversation than posting the same thing to social media. You’re able to get insight into your members’ preferences and needs which can help you continue to share interactive content with them. Having that cycle of posting specific content that your members want to see gives your posts more of the likelihood to be seen, appreciated and acted on.
These people that are part of your community are going to feel connected, so they’re going to make sure they have others see what you’re posting. It’s not like a social post where people will like the content, maybe read it and never take action.
Customer retention and loyalty. Loyalty and trust are super important to any brand/business. Some of your members are likely to also be your customers. Nurturing your group will create a desire for your members to keep coming back. When people feel they are part of your success, that empowers them because when you grow, they feel they are growing, too.
Hosting an online community--which allows members to rant, ask questions and know that you and others in the group are there to help them out--creates a sense of trustworthiness for your company. After hosting a group for a while, it can start to improve your reputation, too. You could create a whole new image for your business based on what goes on in your online network.
Revenue. Yes, even an online community can bring money into your business. Depending on the size and scope of your group, you can accomplish this by having a membership fee, paid tiers within the community, and more. It’s like if you subscribe to a music site like Spotify - the more you pay, the more features you unlock. The same idea can be applied to your online community.
A Business’s Role in B2B Online Communities
As online communities have grown and developed over the years, businesses have started to play a bigger role within them. They are able to do these two key actions:
- Become a part of different communities and interact
- Build their own community
The upside to these two actions is that they can both benefit your business. Being a part of different virtual communities and interacting with content that’s posted allows your brand to take action about their beliefs and allows you to be in multiple places other than just your website and your own social media pages. You’re able to build a bigger presence.
By creating your own online community, you’re able to start something that adds on to your brand. This allows you to interact more with your followers and/or customers in a way that benefits both them and you as mentioned in previous sections.
Yet, when it comes to communities, as a business you need to know it’s not about control, it’s about fostering. As Christina mentions, you have to come from a place of nurture. What is it that your members need? How can you empower them? How can you entertain them? How can you educate them? You need to have your members at the forefront of your mind and seek to understand them.
Should Every B2B Create a Community?
While it might seem like every business should try to create an online community, I’d say it really depends on what your business is and if you can offer value. If you aren’t able to give your members something to be excited about or something of value, then an online community might not be the way to go. The other thing is, you have to make sure you’re able to pay attention to what’s going on in your network and be able to nurture it. If you find that no one person has the time or desire to do that, maybe it isn’t the right time for you to create this extra space.
I mention this because community bleeds into every part of the business. It’s an extension of your user base. So those who have the capacity to build a community and plant the seeds earlier on are going to be in a healthier situation. The issue with just tacking it on as another tactic is that you’ll end up hitting barriers. When you’re focused on the end goal being a metric or some sort of measurable result, it’s a means to an end. It’ll never happen soon enough or give you the results fast enough because communities take time and effort to grow.
If you find that you are able and willing to put time and effort into creating value for your members and are willing to nurture the group, then you might want to think about creating or fostering your own online community. By doing so, you’ll want to make sure of these three things:
Develop a community that is in line with your brand. Don’t have people guessing why you created something that doesn’t align with your business.
Make sure you provide value to your members and create an environment that people want to participate in. If you’re not putting out content that your members find interesting and/or fun, they’ll drop off. Try being upbeat and personable, too. If your members feel comfortable, they’ll more than likely stick around.
Don’t be an outsider. Just because you created the online community doesn’t mean you can sit back and let the members do all the work. Get involved, interact and engage with people. Monitor the conversation.
Just remember, creating an online community isn’t for every business. Don’t feel like you have to have one to be successful. It’s just another action you can take to put your business and brand out in the world.
If you’re reading this and thinking about joining a community or have been looking for a new community to join, you’re in the right place! We host a community called The Sales Genius Network. This network contains tools, resources, training and more for those that help in revenue generation (RevOps, Marketing, Sales, Customer Success) who want to elevate their knowledge, skills, productivity, and improve outcomes in their profession. All the content provided through the network is for members only, so join today to perform better and make your mark.