B2B online communities have seen a resurgence due to factors such as a shift towards remote working, the rise of creator and passion economies, and the emergence of Web 3.0. However, launching a community strategy is not as simple as setting one up, and expecting members to do the rest.
Some communities will grow organically, but for a community to launch, grow and thrive, it’s crucial that time and resources are put into developing a community strategy.
B2B communities are centred around building connections and valuable interactions in a professional environment, much like networking. As individuals are drawn together by a collective practice, interest or area of expertise, brands and businesses can leverage this to create closer, more valuable relationships with prospects and customers.
What are B2B online communities - and why is now the right time for them?
A B2B online community is essentially any digital space where professionals come together around a shared interest, skill or profession. These groups exist in forums, social media platforms, messaging apps, and increasingly, custom-built community platforms.
In the past two years, many of us have experienced long periods of being apart from one another, creating a need to feel more connected. This was not just in a personal sense, but a professional one, too. With restrictions lifted, many employers have opted for hybrid or WFH models, leaving us with fewer opportunities to meet with colleagues, clients, peers, partners, and prospects face-to-face.
B2B online communities help fill the void by providing somewhere to share ideas, ask questions, get support, and build professional relationships.
But there are other factors at play.
You’ve probably heard of Account Based Marketing (ABM) but if you’ve not heard of Community Based Marketing (CBM), then you should be aware of one of the biggest trends in B2B marketing.
It’s hard to cut through in existing B2B marketing channels. So many webinars, ebooks, white papers, email newsletters, events, podcasts, blogs and more.
Response rates are declining and the cost of customer acquisition is generally rising in B2B. And so more marketers are turning to creating and growing thought leadership communities to create proximity, a more emotional bond, and some reciprocity with their prospects and customers.
At a time when most B2B marketers are following the same playbook, Community Based Marketing (CBM) is boosting brand building and lead generation in B2B amongst the early adopters.
How to plan a community strategy for B2B businesses
There are many different elements that make up a community strategy.
When in the early stages of planning your community, it’s important to define the type of space you want to create, as this impacts everything from the type of individuals you’re targeting, to how you will measure performance.
There are several different types of communities relevant to a B2B audience:
Depending on your business goals, your community may span across multiple community types, or you may need to create multiple communities.
For example, a SaaS provider may have a support community where members can troubleshoot technical issues, a product community where members can request new features and provide feedback, and a networking community, a high-touch, ‘concierge-type’ community for its top global clients to gather.
While social media networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook may appear to be the perfect place to bring people together, growing a community is made more difficult when you’re up against algorithms and ads, not to mention the constant distractions and noise in feeds.
Additionally, you have less control over your community when it is hosted on a social media platform that can retire useful features, such as moderation tools, without any warning.
There are a number of purpose-built online community platforms available, such as:
Depending on the goals of your community, your budget, and other factors like the features you want to offer members, some community platforms may be more suitable than others.
It’s important to draw up a list of must-have features, and consider whether the platform you choose will continue to be viable as your community grows.
Community engagement techniques
Communities should not just be set up and forgotten about - they need constant nurturing to keep members engaged. Testing different content formats in a community helps to inform future strategies. Some common methods that can be used to engage include:
Community member potential motivations
Keeping your members happy is the key to recruitment, retention, engagement and growth.
There are a number of potential motivations and reasons why people join professional communities, including:
When planning a community strategy, think about these motivations that individuals have, and the types of discussions and content that can be shared with the community to meet their expectations.
Defining goals and KPIs to track the progress of your community is important if you want to be able to calculate its return on investment (ROI).
Goals can span a range of areas:
Community management roles
From the very beginning, a community needs someone with the right skill set to manage it.
The role of community manager encompasses many different disciplines, acting as the ‘voice’ of the brand. This means directly interacting with the community, so they need to be resilient and assertive without dominating the conversation, while also being capable of showing a great deal of empathy. They also need to be attuned to reputational issues.
As a community grows, these responsibilities may be too much for one person to manage alone. In addition to community managers, roles that may be required to support them include:
Community membership roles
When it comes to understanding the members that make up your community, it can be helpful to segment and identify key members.
Making sure that new members feel welcome, and rewarding community experts who contribute on a regular basis helps to build trust and inclusivity.
In the early days of launching a community, BETA testers and VIPs can be invited to provide feedback, helping to refine your offering, with the added bonus of them later becoming brand advocates or community elders, who can then offer support to newer members as they settle in.
Community governance checklist
Communities need to be governed to ensure they fit with a brand’s values, rules, and guidelines, as well as legal business requirements. This means being aware of:
Whether you’re building a new B2B community from scratch, or have an established member base already, it’s important to remember that a community should never be treated as a ‘quick fix’, and it needs to be properly supported across departments in order to be a success.
For businesses that get it right, B2B communities have the potential to build stronger, long-term relationships with their prospects, clients, partners and advocates.
About the author
Michelle Goodall is CMO at Guild, a platform for professional communities and networking. She has 25 years of marketing and comms experience in a mix of agency/consultancy/client side roles, including at Econsultancy, Lexis PR and Access Intelligence.
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