A community is a group of people with a shared characteristic, such as working in the same industry, having similar responsibilities or pursuing the same interests. But beyond just people possessing a shared characteristic, for a group to become a community, they need to feel ownership of it.
A group of people who all just use the same product isn’t necessarily a customer community if that product doesn’t contribute to their identity. There’s a difference between a customer who intentionally seeks out a software because they believe in what it can accomplish and a customer who uses a software because their boss told them to.
“You don’t need to be a customer to be a member of a business’s community because it’s an identity,” Mike says. “And, not all of your customers will want to be a part of your community. They just might want what you sell. If you look at really good communities, they tend to blur these lines in really interesting ways. Take Salesforce: really, their community is driven by Salesforce developers and people who are building a business on top of it. It's not a traditional customer relationship, but those developers are the bedrock of that community, and their identity is synonymous with Salesforce.”
Tactics for Building a B2B Customer Community
Unify your customers around an opinion or an identity
“Part of what it takes to build a community is an opinion, an opinion that some people agree with and some people don’t,” Mike says. “The strongest communities have a sense of purpose and, often, an enemy. That construct is a hallmark of powerful communities and will cement being a community member as part of your customers’ identity.”
For example, HubSpot created a community around the concept of inbound. They promoted the idea that outbound was dead and inbound was a better way to do marketing, and people who agreed with them gravitated toward the HubSpot brand.
Alternatively, Adobe Creative Cloud really highlights the idea that their customers are creatives and masters of their crafts. People who strongly identify with that have become loyal members of Adobe’s customer community.
Pick a channel
B2B customer communities can have different formats. They can be public or private, online or offline and have member-to-member or company-to-customer communication.
“It’s entirely possible to feel an identity and an association to a community even if you don’t talk to another member,” Mike says. “A really good email newsletter can be a community even though it’s only one-way communication.”
Linkedin groups, Facebook groups, Slack workspaces, online forums, events, in-person clubs and customer newsletters are all examples of different community formats.
When deciding on the format of your B2B customer community, you need to make strategic decisions based on your customers’ preferences and your resources. If you can’t maintain a user forum on your website, that’s not the best option for your company. But, you also don’t want to build a community on a social media platform none of your customers use.
“You want to match your customer’s preferences for what channels they live on, and you want to match their security and privacy expectations too,” Mike says.
Having a visible LinkedIn group might make sense for a Martech company because your customers are all on that channel and won’t mind being publicly identified as a member of your community. A security software, on the other hand, will probably need a more private community because being identified as a user of that software could create security concerns for customers.
Guide the conversation
You shouldn’t just gather all your customers together, call it a community and then leave them to their own devices.
“You can’t just put everyone into a room together and expect it to be the best party ever. You probably want to get some food, set up the room and be a source of energy yourself. It’s the same for customer communities,” Mike says.
Initiate some engagements within your group. You don’t want the only activity to be when something is going wrong with your product or service. Host AMAs with members of your team, share discussion prompts, present exclusive content — take actions that get people excited to be part of your community.
Apply structure and moderation
“As communities get bigger, they have a lot of different types of conversations that happen in them,” Mike says. “If you’re a B2B software company, for example, you probably want to separate your conversations about feature requests from conversations centered about tips to help new customers get started.”
Depending on the format of your community, you can segment different conversation topics through threads, sub-channels or sub-groups.
Additionally, you don’t want the same questions to be asked over and over; it’s a better community experience to pre-empt common questions. Consider creating an FAQ section or linking out to a knowledge base so that asking and answering common questions doesn't become a frustrating experience to your members.
The Benefits of Building a B2B Customer Community
They contribute to your marketing efforts with user-generated content and increase the reach of your efforts by encouraging customers to engage with and promote your brand.
“Companies with strong communities are more likely to have stronger fan bases, and that can lead to better viral loops and better advocacy,” Mike says. “A better community and better sense of identity is also going to lead to a better retention rate.”
You’ll also have access to better product and service feedback because you have a designated place to collect it. What’s more, customers will be more likely to respond to you because your brand is part of their identity. They can give you ideas for developments and new products that improve your customer experience.
Additionally, customers within these communities will help each other out, which can reduce the support requirements from your business. They can answer each other’s questions, troubleshoot for one another and may even be able to offer support outside of the scope of what your business would provide.
All of this will improve your customers’ perception of your brand and the experience they have with your company, increasing the likelihood that they’ll remain customers and recommend your company to others.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.