If there’s a product, service, or company that you could passionately talk about at length, if you volunteer your time in forums to help others use the produce or service, or if you follow the company on their social media outlets and regularly engage with their posts, then you are part of a powerful marketing strategy that’s simply called “community.”
What Is Community?
On a basic level, a community is a group of people who share common goals, values, or interests. Members are intrinsically motivated to engage with each other about a common theme on a regular basis to foster a sense of connection.
For the marketing world, the concept of community is employed as a retention mechanism that accelerates and augments what a company already does, except the focus is on the customers, their problems, and what they care about.
A company with a thriving community has “entered the conversation in [the customer’s] mind” to solve a particular problem for them, according to Bolaji Oyejidem, Senior Director of Demand Gen at Bevy, who describes community in an episode of TechnologyAdvice’s B2B Nation podcast.
Listen to the full conversation with Oyejidem.
Entering the customer’s mind sounds creepy, but it really just means that your company name is on your customer’s radar. Through community, customers become increasingly familiar with your company’s value, culture, and what it has to offer, all in a low-stakes way.
According to Tammy Cavadias, Community and Member Services Manager for TechRepublic, “community means a company can gain a deeper understanding about an audience and what they want, which, in return, gives brands more of a chance of attracting new users, members, customers and retaining existing ones.”
Community is a human-centric approach to business that emphasizes long-lasting connections over transactions. This is not to say that it operates at the expense of strategic business goals; rather, conversions are an organic byproduct of it.
Read more about how to sell on the buyer’s terms: How to Use Your Content Marketing for Situational Selling
Key Features of a Community
To be clear, we’re not talking about social media pages when we speak of community. The focus here is on how companies build and maintain their communities on company-owned, company-moderated platforms for engagement. The key features include:
It’s ok to be exclusive. Members engage because of the specificity of what the community speaks to. It’s therefore important to be clear on what the topic is and from there define who becomes a member and who doesn’t.
Exchange of influence
Ideally, you’ll have a variety of community members who can mutually support and influence one another, from thought leaders in your industry to newcomers, from beginner users of your product to expert users. It’s crucial that your company or its community manager does not become the center of attention. It must be a grassroots effort. Trust the members to curate connections and events.
The community must fulfill members’ needs and provide value, otherwise it will fizzle out. Each member gets something out of it that keeps them coming back for more, such as:
- Technical advice for using a product or service
- Ideas about how to apply a product or service category to their business
- Knowledge about trends in the industry
Let’s not forget that community is an extension of the business that serves its needs as well. Your company hosts the event, forum, or any other engagement platform, so by default, community events get your name out there. It’s even better if you somehow integrate your own product or service to allow members to experience it firsthand.
For example, after Bevy, an event management platform, acquired CMX, a community professional networking hub, they achieved a mutually beneficial relationship because CMX used Bevy’s software to host and run their virtual and in-person events.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the heart of the community is the members, not the product or service that you sell. Members come together to bond as fellow human beings, but they also join to rave about your product or service and support each other in using it. By bonding members and serving their needs, your product or service permeates the community in a subtle yet impactful way. Your product or service isn’t the focal point, yet it’s the reason for the community’s genesis in the first place.
Sense of belonging
You want to create an atmosphere where members keep returning to consume content. But the hope is that eventually, members will feel empowered to contribute to, perhaps even leading, discussions and events. This is part of an ongoing cycle of identification, participation, and affirmation by which members get drawn further into the community’s orbit to become leading contributors. The goal isn’t to get everyone to become leaders in the group; the power members are just as important as the more passive members.
Over time, your community will develop norms and codes of conduct that will need governance as it grows to compound the sense of safety and belonging within the space.
Case Study: TechRepublic
As a B2B community-driven brand, TechRepublic’s common theme is technology; more specifically, educational content about which technology to buy and how to use it. TechRepublic serves its community members as a trusted source for tech information through its articles, videos, galleries, newsletters, and forum discussions.
TechRepublic keeps a finger on the pulse of what members need through user profiles, newsletter subscriptions, user behavior, feedback forms, and surveys.
TechRepublic gets to know its members through profiles that outline each member’s personal and professional interests and current tech they’re using. Users have the ability to save and share content.
TechRepublic tracks which newsletters members subscribe to and how many.
TechRepublic can monitor which topics a member visits, which articles, videos, and galleries they interact with, and the content they download.
TechRepublic garners feedback from its users through feedback forms distributed by Customer Care or through surveys.
TechRepublic’s community is characterized by a purpose to be a trusted source of information for tech users and enthusiasts. Its identity is defined by a group of people interested in technology, who work with technology, and who are curious to learn about trends in the tech space. TechRepublic provides value to its members in the form of personalized content curation. It grants autonomy to members by allowing them to share, save, and download content and contribute to forum discussions. Emotional connection and belonging are established through peer interaction and TechRepublic’s gentle moderation of user-generated content and activity.
5 Ways Community Benefits Your Business
Community positively impacts your business in several ways, but an important caveat is that it will take time. Patience and consistency will serve you well in creating and maintaining a thriving community for your company.
There isn’t necessarily a straight line that directly attributes increased revenue to community, but it certainly builds trust in a brand, and as Cavadias notes, “a trusted brand leads to an increase in revenue.” Community contributes to revenue streams in indirect ways that can nevertheless be traced and measured. In a follow-up to this piece, we’ll talk more about what defines a successful community and how to measure it.
Improvement and innovation
Take advantage of the insights generated from conversations happening in your community to inform how you go about improving your product or service offering. Listening to and incorporating feedback reduces, if not eliminates, the need for emailed surveys to customers in order to know what they think. TechRepublic reinvests the benefit of member information back into the community by presenting each member with relevant content that aligns with their interests, providing a personalized user experience.
The community is also a goldmine for ideas about new problems to solve for your customers.
Let your customers do the talking within the community. As it grows, its members multiply the efforts of the finite number of employees in your sales, marketing, and customer success departments.
The purpose of the community is to build and maintain relationships. Cavadias points out that “relationship building between a company or brand and its members, users, and customers is at the core of building a brand that [they] will trust.” Giving your customers a space to learn more about your product and to connect with other users adds the human connection that keeps them loyal to your brand for the long term.
The “it” factor
Competitors can copy your product features, but they can’t copy your unique community atmosphere that draws members in. Through your community, your company becomes the go-to resource and trusted companion for followers. Community has the power to become your biggest competitive advantage in the industry.
Why Your Company Should Have a Community
In today’s B2B market, buyers don’t want to be sold to. The buyer wants control over most of the buying journey. They want to do their own research and talk with others before ever approaching sales representatives.
Community meets customers halfway as a human-centric component of a company’s existing sales and marketing strategy. It puts customers and their needs before the company’s bottom line. However, the community isn’t merely there for the sake of socializing; it must align with business goals. Invest time, money, and resources in your community to scale the efforts of in-house employees and yield long-term relationships.
Community is a largely untapped source of rich relationships with customers. Cavadias notes that “so many companies don’t engage with their users, members, and customers or don’t place any importance at all on community,” but “by not doing so, they are missing out on a huge opportunity…to drive up their revenue.”
Read next: How to Build an Online Community