An online community is any group, formal or informal, of individuals that have something in common or are joined by an interest in a particular kind of content. When applied to your ideal B2B customer profile, an online community is your purposeful effort to connect with the group of people who is most likely to use and love your products and services. In some online communities, they also connect with each other through comments and messages, while in others they connect by reading or listening to the same online content, helping them to be more informed in their industries and more prepared to use your product or service to the fullest. There are three main reasons why these communities are of value to B2B businesses.
- Rapport With Customers – There is something more casual about getting to drop into an online community and mention a solution in a thread of concerns that your customers have about a particular pain point their company faces. Solving problems in a social, conversational way establishes a helpful, friendly personality for your brand.
- Customers Answering Each Other’s Questions – Eventually, a robust online community saves you time in customer support because a loyal cadre of users want to share their expertise with your service/product with the new customers who are joining the community. Getting advice from a peer or a mentor is a great feeling, and it helps you build brand loyalty for both the person helping and the person who is helped!
- Shared Knowledge of Best Practices – For communities based on the content of videos, how-to articles, and podcasts, you deepen your customer’s knowledge of good ideas, both creating a clear need for your product or service but also helping them see its value once they are using it often.
How can I host an online community for my customers?
- How much customization/control do you want over the community?
- In what ways do you want the community of listeners/readers to interact with you and with each other?
- Are you going to charge for the community?
- How will you get in front of your community, i.e. through Push notifications, emails, or other measures?
Patreon is an online community created around the idea of being a “patron,” or someone who financially supports someone creating either creative work or other harder-to-monetize products. Patreon allows members to sign up for a small monthly fee in order to receive newsletters, exclusive web content, videos, and podcasts. Creating a Patreon community is a double-edged sword: yes, on one hand, you have a higher bar for entry if you create patron-only, paid-membership content. On the other hand, people often value what they pay for more: once a customer chooses to subscribe to your Patreon community, they visit often, consume all the content, and put that learning into practice. Patreon makes it very simple to cancel subscriptions too, so you don’t have to worry about disgruntled customers who didn’t expect or don’t want to continue an auto-draft.
A great example of a Patreon community formed around marketing professionals is Dave Gerhardt’s The A-List. This community costs $10 per month to be part of, but the community makes it clear from the beginning that it’s a no-commitment choice to join, since you can cancel at any time. The name of the podcast implies its exclusivity, The A-List, but the testimonials on Dave’s page quickly point out how fast people get their investment back in good advice from the podcasts included in the membership. With a backlog of many podcasts, new members can see a big benefit to getting access to the archives. Making a Patreon community can create a loyal following and also bring in some revenue for your business.
Slack is one of the world’s most versatile, organized instant-chat communities. When you create a Slack Workspace or smaller Channel, you can have direct messages between users, messages between small groups, and all-group messages organized by topics. When you know that your customers are eager to exchange ideas, help each other out, and get to know best practices for using your products and services, Slack may be the right path forward for you.
Controller Collective was the brainchild of the company Teampay, who wanted to create a community that would connect their ideal customers, those who are tracking and approving company spending. By creating private Slack spaces for these customers, these professionals were able to talk through the ins and outs of the Teampay product while also connecting with each other about how to optimize the work they do, since purchasing decisions can be complicated and require many layers of approval. The Slack channel proved successful and worked to draw in new sign-ups for their company!
For customers who are already actively networking, LinkedIn may be a good place to host your online community. This social networking site allows for LinkedIn Groups, which can be private or publicly accessible. Customers can ask questions to your company or ask questions to each other, all while getting to know each other professionally, possibly leading to valuable connections that move their businesses forward.
While each one is different, the way that HubSpot user groups in different geographic areas create community for local users of the same marketing software is a good example of how you can make LinkedIn into a place where your customers connect with each other by connecting with your brand. By knowing that they have a key common interest but otherwise letting the group network freely in conversations with each other, HubSpot offers a value-add while also keeping their product front-of-mind.
Facebook has a more casual, less professional air to it, but in some B2B contexts, it can be helpful to create a private Facebook group simply because of the ubiquity of Facebook profiles and how familiar many people are with the mechanics of the site. Offering similar functionality of being able to host a private group, open up conversations with fellow members and with your company, and share exclusive content with your most loyal customers.
The online design software Canva offers a Facebook group for users of their product that is publicly accessible called the Canva Design Circle. Despite offering a B2B service, Canva keeps its image bright and design-friendly, which fits well for the casual nature of Facebook. They let their many users (free and paid) showcase the designs they create with the software, sharing techniques with each other and helping their company to know what users want, as far as future functionality goes.
Email newsletters offer a simple-sign-up resource for your customers, and each newsletter can offer ways to engage with the company as well as valuable content to draw them in. A newsletter is a flexible choice since nearly everyone checks email; as your customer subscribers grow to trust you as a source of valuable content, your clickthrough rates will grow for the content you are offering. Newsletters are particularly useful when you know your customers are looking for B2B thought leadership more than a way to chat with other customers directly.
Our own podcast, Tech Qualified, has a well-read monthly newsletter. While some people opt to subscribe to the podcast through podcasting apps, putting a new episode in their queue automatically, others like to get a list of podcasts and pick and choose from the monthly podcast round-ups in their email. The newsletter is a great outlet for sharing insightful storytelling while offering the customer the maximum level of choice, as far as how much or little they engage. Either way, they get a reminder of how active and intentional we are with our B2B customer community every month, because it’s something that matters a lot to how we serve our customers.
Remember, your online community should be attuned to your own ideal customer profile: some will prefer the exclusivity of a Patreon or subscription-only customized group on your website. Others will want the monthly or weekly engagement of an email newsletter, while others will want to flit through the comments on a Facebook group, LinkedIn group, or Slack channel and respond to their favorite questions or concerns. Regardless of which direction you take, your customers will grow in their connection with you when you give them engaging content and meaningful connections.
Written by Tristan Pelligrino
Tristan Pelligrino is the Co-Founder of Motion. He’s a serial entrepreneur who started his career as a consultant with large IT companies such as PwC, IBM and Oracle. After getting his MBA, he started and grew one of the fastest video production companies in the country – which was listed on the Inc. 5000. Tristan now enjoys leading the content marketing strategies of some of the most innovative B2B technology companies in the country. You can find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.