Building community is easier said than done, but we’ve compiled strategies to get started. In case you missed it, the first piece in this series defined community as a marketing strategy that augments and scales your company’s existing marketing efforts.
However, the crucial difference between traditional marketing efforts and building community is that the latter focuses on members, their problems, and what they care about.
For more on creating communities, listen to this B2B Nation podcast episode:
For the sake of full disclosure, we’ve pulled the following insights from David Spinks’s The Business of Belonging: How to Make Community Your Competitive Advantage. We highly recommend giving the book a read to deepen your knowledge of how communities excel.
Companies traditionally build online communities on popular social media outlets for brand awareness, engagement, and relationship building. However, we’re taking this to the next level to align community goals more closely with business goals. In essence, we’re operating on Spinks’s understanding that “business is community, and community is business.”
How to Build a Community That Drives Business Goals
The good news is that if you’re an established brand in your market and/or if you have an active, grassroots community already, a lot of the groundwork is already complete.
However, if your company is new to the landscape and you haven’t identified existing enclaves of current or potential users for your product or service, no problem. We’ll outline strategies for building a healthy community that brings people together and strengthens your brand.
Learn how to grow your company’s existing following: How to Generate Value from Online B2B Communities
Identify the Community’s Identity and Mission
Spinks recommends starting out small and simple, especially if your company or brand is not yet well-known. Start with who, what, and why.
Note that the mission doesn’t have anything to do with your specific product, service, company, or brand. It’s about the members.
Establish who your community members are. Defining membership ensures the community is not too broad or too specific. You don’t want to define your community as anyone with a pulse, but you also need more than two people to join.
For example, a new company (let’s call it Thingly) specializing in B2B content analytics for global healthcare providers would want to target current and prospective users in this product category — such as content marketers, writers, SEO analysts, etc. To make it more specific, however, we could add that the target members must be multilingual and in the healthcare vertical.
Thinking through what members will do in your community helps you articulate the value that your community brings to its members and that members bring to one another.
Returning once more to our hypothetical example, our new B2B content analytics company serves content marketers. The community space might therefore facilitate virtual conversations about accessibility, overcoming writer’s block, sharing cringe-worthy typos, lamenting (or celebrating?) AI’s move into content creation, translation of health care terminology between languages, and other relevant topics.
Finally, the “why” of the community members and their actions forms the mission of the community. In this case, the mission might be “to empower multilingual content marketers in the healthcare industry to become stewards of accessibility, discuss tech trends, and celebrate content created with a human touch.”
Notice how Thingly’s product has not taken center stage thus far. However, there’s no rule prohibiting a company from giving its community the same name.
Set Business and Community Goals
Business and community goals must reinforce one another. Spinks recommends thinking through specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific (SMART) business goals first. Then consider community goals that will support those business goals. However, you could just as easily do the reverse.
Thingly’s community goal is to grow to 200 members within the first year of launch, with at least 50 being active participants in discussions. Active contribution means commenting on at least 20% of administrator or user posts. These active contributors stand out as potential thought leaders that Thingly community organizers can engage for future discussion opportunities for the group, such as live webinars.
Thingly has two business goals. One is product-based, aiming to glean 10 actionable product development ideas from community dialogue. Conversations about challenges that content marketers face inform how Thingly’s product team improves the Thingly content analytics tool. The other goal is acquisition-based, striving for 75% more traffic to Thingly’s commercial website.
Read more on project-management.com: Using Organizational Goals & Strategies for Better Project Plans
Public outlets or professional networking sites like LinkedIn are low-barrier entry points for starting up a virtual community. However, those venues own the valuable data needed for building healthy communities.
Starting a community on a white-label platform, such as Bevy, keeps you in control of the data and streamlines community and business goals. Plus, you’re in control of curating the user experience with company branding and other desirable features.
Organic growth is the exception to the rule, so garnering engagement is likely going to take persistent effort over time. In his book, Spinks implores community kickstarters to expect manual growth but hope for organic growth. Community organizers have to work hard to promote the community and to attract and engage members.
To jump start Thingly’s community, organizers will post a thought-provoking question or statement each week on Thingly’s own customized community forum. In addition, they’ll promote the forum on their social media sites and send personalized virtual invitations to 25 content marketers who are active on LinkedIn and have a following.
Read more at Small Business Computing: Customer Engagement Software for Small Businesses
Jumping ahead in our example: A year has passed, and Thingly has fallen a bit short of its community goal (150 members and 20 active members), but has exceeded business goals. Community organizers have picked up on 22 actionable ideas to improve the Thingly content analytics tool for content marketers in the healthcare industry. In addition, traffic to Thingly’s corporate site has spiked by 150%.
They have successfully booked three of the 20 active members to appear on Thingly’s first panel webinar about data analytics segmentation for content marketers who want to understand and act on international site traffic and engagement.
So how does Thingly keep this momentum going?
Spinks relies on psychology to strategize the timing, frequency, and type of rewards in building thriving communities. Rewards are supposed to solidify members’ loyalty to the community and, by extension, to the company that’s hosting and facilitating the community.
Spinks draws on psychology in his book, emphasizing a reward system based on social value to increase and sustain member engagement. That is, the intrinsic reward of helping others. He advises against rewards that are tied to market value, i.e., rewarding contributors with money. According to Spinks, members will become more extrinsically motivated by cash, and thus less motivated to do good by others in the community.
However, it’s important to remember that the community is a business. Over time, and with stellar measurements in place, community can be shown to directly benefit the company’s revenue. If part of your manual growth strategy is to ask members to give increasingly more of their time and effort, make sure the reward is worthwhile to them, even if that means paying for some contributions. Otherwise, the community could become exploitative.
The two speakers at Thingly’s first webinar will reap some benefits for their respective companies, such as brand awareness and leads. However, if Thingly wants to continue engaging these speakers at more events or even ask them to run their own events for Thingly, an agreement on pay should be in place.
Read more about rewards: How B2B Firms Can Improve Customer Retention With Loyalty Program
From Strategy to Measurement
These strategies scratch the surface of what David Spinks explains in great detail in The Business of Belonging. They nevertheless set you well on your way to crafting a solid community building strategy that you can approach your CEO with.