Business results and community needs often seem at odds with one another. While business leaders are asking for community ROI, your members may ask for a better community experience. However, the two don't have to be in conflict.
It's possible to work alongside your members to deliver business results while improving your community. Let’s explore how to do that from start to finish — from finding the community-market fit to building a community that will deliver value for both business and your members.
Marketers and business owners may understand product-market fit, but they usually need to learn what that means from a community perspective. It's important to keep this in mind when you're tasked with building a community. You need to speak a very similar language with leadership and draw parallels between what they know and what you're trying to communicate.
Much like product-market fit, these are four things you'll need to know to find community-market fit:
Now you may be wondering how you can strategize alongside your community at this stage. That's the catch: strategizing with your community starts long before you've established it. It begins with your personas or the potential people joining your community.
If you don't have your prospective community member's voice incorporated at this stage, you're basing all you think you know on assumptions.
Think about the last time you saw someone who thought they had an excellent idea for a product, and as soon as they put it out to market it failed miserably. It's because they didn't do the research to actually validate that it was a needed product and that it hit the price and value point necessary for someone to want to be able to give them money for that. It works the same way when finding community-market fit.
👉 Actionable tip
Find out how you can interview people who fit your personas and make them feel involved. Ask them why they would want to be a part of your community, if at all. What would make them want to return, and how do they see their needs evolving over time?
That last question is the most complex because no one knows how they will change over time. You're not the same person you were before 2020; similarly, that person who joined your community two years ago might have a new job or changed their entire career.
Although they might still want to be part of that community, what they want to do there and what will make them feel valuable can shift significantly.
You'll need to be able to tap into that to see how things shifted. You can do this through:
Interviews: Ask a few members to go on one-on-one calls and ask them how they feel about being a part of the community.
Surveys: These should have a mixture of quantitative and qualitative questions so you can gather valuable data on your community.
So what should you be asking in these interviews and surveys?
Ask if they’re still gaining value from the community. Find out if there are opportunities to be more valuable to them and what that looks like, especially as we are all building more and more communities.
The community space is no longer a blue ocean. It is very much red, and there are sharks everywhere, so you need to understand your members and your core percentage of groups. That will ultimately become your strategic advantage and will help you stay relevant to your community members.
Sadly, this year we've seen several Community teams get laid off — even at companies that were big on community. What was once a buzzword is now something that didn't work out the way businesses thought it would — and one of the reasons isn't the fallibility of communities but the lack of business alignment.
In cases where your leadership doesn't have a community background, you need to make sure your community and business align.
Again, how do we bring the community into this process? I challenge you to equate the needs of your community as highly and as equal to your stakeholders in your business. To do this, you'll need to build in parallel.
You need the business to see the value. But no one will be in that community unless you're taking care of them too. So you need to balance both of these core needs and figure out where they can feed each other. The example below shows exactly where you can serve both business and your community simultaneously.
I talk a lot about this with my team at HubSpot, especially when they're trying to figure out how they can work with advocacy and HubFans (our advocates). I always encourage them to find what internal needs can be turned into external opportunities.
A great example of this is INBOUND (HubSpot’s annual event for marketing professionals). I created the INBOUND Correspondents program last year, and it's become an opportunity for us to highlight our amazing customers and partners at HubSpot.
We give our correspondents (who are already involved in INBOUND) a chance to show that they're subject matter experts in their field. They get free tickets to INBOUND events and get social cards to show their involvement. At these events, they get on social media and create TikToks, Reels, or Tweets about INBOUND and share their knowledge with their followers or anyone who comes across their content.
It showcases their brilliance and knowledge about what they know and how they're showcasing it at INBOUND and shows that HubSpot trusts them. In return, it's creating a lot of word-of-mouth for us. This is how we made something fun and interactive for our community members while achieving business results.
If you struggle to figure out alignment, ask yourself where an internal need can be turned into an external opportunity. If you can figure that out, your business and community members can feed each other. Everyone wins.
The following framework is based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but I've replaced some needs to explain the hierarchy of delight in community.
Self-actualization: Make your community members the experts. Give them opportunities to shine. Give them resources to improve their knowledge.
Esteem: Elite care that feels exclusive. Behind the scenes access, meetings with leadership, VIPs, beta test/ or focus groups.
Love/belonging: Give your members love or swag, and acknowledge positive word of mouth on social. Create belonging by connecting customers to one another.
Safety: Customer support is your front line. Continue to build trust as customers experience problems.
Survival: You meet expectations. You provide what they've paid you for. If you can't nail this, you can't scale delight.
When thinking about your community, holistically look at how you're taking care of them and consider that you might be doing the bare minimum if you are in survival mode.
Yes, you're meeting expectations, but be careful not to give them the bare minimum.
Getting your community to collaborate and strategize with you starts when members feel successful and play a core role in your community. That's going to give them a sense of not only belonging but also ownership, and that ownership and pride will make them be the loudest ambassador for you — it's what's going to make them love you.
Now, leadership isn't necessarily going to want to hear all of this as love. But when you're giving your loudest and proudest members a voice, they will want to help you improve processes and provide feedback that the business can work with to enhance products and strategies that will turn into business results.