Community pros know it’s challenging to balance the connections and conversations that members want with the Return on Investment execs demand — especially because there’s no formula in community to prove that $1 in results in $2 out. And if you’re met with skepticism and asked to prove your community’s value over and over again, you may struggle to foster the feel-good vibes needed to earn the trust and attention of your members.
Community Managers who run a Community of Practice — where the community is not explicitly tied to a product — might struggle to draw a line between the community and business objectives. While it may not be easy, there are some steps you can take to show stakeholders that your community strategy and business goals are in sync.
In an ideal world, you’ll have candid conversations about the business objectives with execs before launching the community. You’ll map out how different aspects of the community can positively impact these objectives, so you need accurate information to build the best strategy for your community and your company.
If you aim, for example, to run virtual events, make sure someone is dedicated to creating, running, and maintaining these events. These resources cost money and are a necessary part of the investment. Talk about it upfront to avoid being tasked with running a great community on a shoestring budget.
You also need to stay up-to-date on business objectives that may shift as the business grows. Make this a recurring conversation with your team lead or an exec so you can adapt your strategy to align with current business objectives.
The ‘right things’ for your community will depend on your business objectives. Some obvious — but important — advice: do not try to measure MQLs (marketing qualified leads) or pipeline value, at least not as you’re getting started. A community is an experience that people opt into and can leave anytime they want. It has to be good on its own merit.
There are great tools out there for this — CommsorOS being one of them. With integrations like Slack, Mailchimp, and Twitter, it helps connect the dots between everyone you reach through all the channels you use, and automatically filters out duplicates.
Communities are the best way I’ve ever found to learn from your target customers. You can observe people talking about your industry, their workflows, day-to-day challenges, tools, strategy, and more. You can even prompt discussions that lead to all kinds of anecdotal information that you can factor into your messaging and use to make product decisions. I often hear from SaaS companies that they monitor our #tools channel to see what people are saying about their (and their competitors’) products.
Even for execs skeptical of community, the ability to collect customers and prospects in one place, foster conversation, and then listen intently is an obvious win. I’d even recommend taking screenshots of the most interesting conversations and talking about them in your weekly marketing standup.
In the Superpath Slack group, we have a simple automation setup so that admins can add an emoji reaction to a conversation, which will trigger it to be saved in a private channel. (You can see the automation here. It’s one of 16 Zaps running in our community right now.) We can then discuss the thread privately. It gives us ideas for new content, better messaging, and events is an awesome way to keep a pulse on our industry.
You can also ask and get feedback directly from your community members through surveys and interviews.
Don’t be afraid to talk directly about your product. Yes, the last thing you want is for your community to become another sales channel, but that doesn’t mean avoiding all talk of your product if there’s an organic, helpful way to mention it in conversation. Always assume that people like tools and want to learn how to use them.
I’m part of a Slack community for trail runners — a far cry from B2B to be sure — but they’re doing some things that B2B communities can learn from. As an example, they have channels dedicated to conversation about the podcasts and content that they publish. This is their product, and it creates a forum for members to connect with each other, share their favorite bits of wisdom, and even suggest ideas for future content. The readers and listeners have become an active part of the company’s editorial calendar.
If you have an API, create a space where people can talk about it. If you have a marketing automation app, give people ideas on new ways to use it. If you have a fintech product, make sure people understand all its capabilities.
Treat your product as if it’s open-source. Ask people for feedback, talk about the product roadmap, and ask if any members would like to be interviewed by the Product team. The more you make members feel like part of the process, the easier it is to talk openly about the product itself. You don’t have to promote it, but you can use it to drive discussion.
Many SaaS communities are melting pots for product marketing, content marketing, sales, and support. I used to think this was a bad thing, that it meant the company had no clear community strategy. And while that is certainly true in some cases, a community can and should cross departmental borders. The core mission of a community is to connect people to one another, not to you, but it’s still an obvious way to gather teams from across the company to interact with and serve members.
Here are a few suggestions:
Making community a cross-functional effort will benefit the community and also make it easier to see the ROI of the time and money invested in it.
If you’re running marketing and demand-gen campaigns across multiple channels — email, chatbots, CRMs, SMS, etc. — then you’re probably already dabbling with a customer data platform. For the uninitiated, these are powerful tools that aggregate customer data across all your platforms so you can more easily track multi-channel customer journeys. There are a number of great tools out there, including Segment, Amplitude, Intercom, and Klaviyo.
Most marketing and sales tools are purpose-built to collect data and help you use it. Community platforms are not. Tools like CommsorOS help tie it all together and keep track of not only the members in your community platform of choice, but your broader ‘community’ as well — your Twitter followers, your Mailchimp subscribers, and more. You’ll get some great data on where and how your community members and audience live and interact with you to help you plan better community engagement and marketing outreach initiatives.
Community is and always will be about the people in it. But when done right, it can also mean good business sense. It’s a slow burn, but one that can create a deep moat around your brand and your product. Your job as a community professional is to show execs that community isn’t just a buzzword or a nice-to-have. It’s a powerful way to have an impact on other teams and on your business objectives too.