If you’re a frequent social media user (especially a Twitter user) you’ve probably noticed the very peculiar way in which the fandoms of famous musicians participate in online conversations.
Sometimes, fans reply to unrelated conversations with gifs or videos of their favorite celebrity. Sometimes, they organize around hashtags and catchphrases, inviting users to pre-save or stream their favorite artist’s latest song.
Ever wondered what would happen if your power users promoted your product so enthusiastically? Having a passionate following could decrease your customer acquisition costs, significantly boost your brand awareness, and make customer retention issues a thing of the past. But, can you forge it?
In this post, we’ll dive into community-led growth.
- What’s community-led growth
- Why it’s worth investing in
- 6 strategic tips
Ready? Let’s dive in!
👀 Before we move forward: Please consider that this post is focused on the B2B SaaS space. However, some principles stand across sectors.
What’s Community-Led Growth?
Community-led growth is a business strategy in which the growth and success of a company are driven primarily by its community of users, customers, or advocates. Instead of relying heavily on traditional marketing and sales efforts, community-led growth harnesses the power of engaged and passionate community members.
Community-first companies leverage their community to:
- Promote the brand
- Attract new users
- Maximize client retention
- And more
At this point, you may be wondering what we’re defining as a “community” and how a community is built. Let’s explore those questions.
What’s a community?
Many teams think of “community-building” as getting tons of Instagram followers. But an audience is not a community. For the sake of clarity, we’ll define a strong, functional community through 4 traits:
- Valuable conversations that aren’t product-centric
- Sense of belonging
- Network effect
- Loyalty-building through interactivity
Notice that these traits go beyond mere audience numbers and instead focus on the depth of engagement, shared values, and a sense of ownership that members experience within the community.
Valuable conversations that aren’t product-centric
A robust community will unravel beyond its niche. This phenomenon occurs within circles of friends as well. The folks you work with shift from being just your work buddies to becoming close friends when your conversations extend beyond work-related matters.
In the context of your online community, discussions may initially revolve around your product, but they’ll gradually expand to cover broader topics. Group members are initially drawn in by the topic at hand, but they stick around for the shared experiences and positive “vibes”.
If your community is robust, your community members’ conversations should:
- Orbit closely but not exclusively around the product
- Occur within your brand's sphere of influence without being directly orchestrated
- Provide unique value
The last point is extremely important. Remember that a community isn't a pitching party.
Sense of belonging
Scaling a community isn't feasible if nobody wants to be part of it. Community members should have a sense of ownership.
Your community members should feel that they’re directly involved in the development of your brand and product. And in a sense, that should be true: You’re working for them. One of your main goals should be solving your users’ pain points and helping them get where they want to be.
Within your community, it's crucial that you emphasize this collaborative dynamic. Without a sense of belonging, your community won’t remain active for long.
If what you call a community could be of any size and have any activity level and it wouldn’t make a difference, you’re not on the path to community-led growth.
A community isn’t a feedback collection form with extra steps. Within a community, as the term implies, value creation is communal. This collaborative effort contributes positively to the brand's perception and user experience.
Loyalty-building through interactivity
Especially in B2B, where decision-making processes are long and usually involve different stakeholders, it’s very important for brands to build deep trust. In B2B, when a brand is trusted, it’s seen as the go-to partner to solve a deep pain that the company is facing and make the impact that the company needs to get to a better stage in its journey. And that’s a big deal.
Referrals and social proof are usually a great combination for addressing initial resistance and getting the chance to build trust. But when thought of as trust-building assets, community spaces are even more effective.
Within your community, your potential clients (especially, your potential advocates) can start building trust towards your brand through positive first-hand experiences. Your community can help users get a taste of:
- Your culture & commitment to creating value
- Your unique approach to the problem you’re addressing
- The post-purchase experience
- How your clients are making the most out of your product
At this point, you may be wondering why a community would be more effective than just producing content assets that cover these items and sharing them with potential clients. But it’s not the same. Your potential clients’ impressions of your community will feel more genuine, organic, and real than what they may accept as true when reading your marketing materials.
We call this “loyalty-building through interactivity”. But it’s nothing new. It’s well known that first-hand experiences are more impactful to customers than any marketing asset. We’ll dive a bit deeper when exploring community-led growth strategies.
How do brands build communities?
We already know which traits differentiate a community from an audience. But, how can you build a community to begin with? Although your community will probably have a home or hub, you won’t want it to be your only community space.
Instead, your community strategy should be spread across channels, with a balanced mix of retention-focused and acquisition-focused initiatives. Get started by working on 5 fronts:
- Create valuable content, frequently - and let your community members weigh in and guide your content strategy
- Create a referral program, connect with brand ambassadors, and appoint community leaders
- Invest in events & interactive initiatives, such as contests
- Level up your support channels
- Create personalized and exclusive content for your community members
We’ll take a closer look at some proven community-led growth strategies later in this guide. But something’s for sure: As with most organic strategies, community-led growth is a marathon. Although it’s far more sustainable than paid growth tactics, community-building favors those with low time preferences.
There isn’t an infallible formula for building a community. Instead, it’s about maintaining a combination of outreach, value generation, and great support for long enough.
Why Community-Led Growth Is Worth Investing in
Now you know:
- The basic traits of a functional community
- Some pointers on how to start building a community for your brand
But, is it worth it to begin with? Let’s explore this question.
Community-led growth stats
If you’re working to get company buy-in for your community-building project, the numbers are on your side. According to the 2022 Community Industry Report:
- 87% of survey respondents agree that community is critical to the company's mission.
- 79% believe their community has had a positive impact on their objectives.
- From 2021 to 2022, the number of tech companies with a dedicated Community department grew by 5%.
Community-building is something your competitors will probably start investing in soon - if they haven’t done so already. And you won’t want them to get the long-term benefits of an active community before you do.
Empowering your advocates
As we mentioned when discussing loyalty-building through interactivity, a community space can be insanely useful for making your advocates feel empowered.
But, who are your advocates? Let’s put our account-based marketing hat on.
Within your target companies, you’ll find several types of contacts, including:
Gatekeepers are your barrier to accessing decision-makers. Decision-makers are individuals with the power to assign funding to your proposed solution, they hold the final say.
Influencers are lower-ranking team members who have the power to advise and influence decision-makers. These team members will probably be your most accessible point of contact.
Chances are that someone in this position is feeling the pain that you’re aiming to solve more frequently/directly than the rest of the team. And if they see potential in your solution, they’re prone to becoming internal advocates.
Frequently, these advocates will see clear benefits in solving this issue, beyond easing the pain point. So your sales team should actively connect them to resources that can help them advocate for your solution internally.
Your online community can be a great way to create and support advocates.
Lowering your customer acquisition costs
Remember what we mentioned about the network effect? A community can be a lead-generation engine, with your community members taking the role of ambassadors and:
- Promoting your product organically
- Directly addressing your leads’ potential friction points
The result? Shorter sales cycles and lower ad spending.
This will especially be the case if your community includes creators who use your product to craft their own offers. We’ll further explore this dynamic when diving into Notion’s community-led growth strategy.
Having a community to “fall back on” can be key for preventing churn.
Your community should give users:
- A space to discuss what they’re creating/solving with your product
- Resources to maximize your solution’s impact
- Networking/learning opportunities that go beyond your product, but reflect on your brand positively
And in doing so, it’ll help your users to see value in your product early and remain engaged. A community isn’t a marketing gimmick. It complements your product and enriches your customer experience.
Additionally, your community can be a great source of qualitative, zero-party data. And part of that data can help you to:
- Identify segments with a high risk of churning
- Have a more detailed idea of the behavioral patterns that anticipate churning
6 Community-Led Growth Strategy Tips
A survey included in the 2022 Community Industry Report points out the top frustrations that community professionals share. It’s reported that:
- 46% of community professionals find it difficult to consistently engage members
- 38% find it hard to quantify the value of the community
- 34% complain about tedious manual work
- 27% report they struggle with understaffing
- 16% struggle with having no access to proper tools, due to a low budget
- 14% find it hard to get buy-in from leadership for their initiatives
- 9% find it difficult to maintain a consistent brand experience
Guided by these challenges, in this section, we’ll share 6 community-led growth strategy tips that will help you gain a competitive edge fast.
- Leveraging automation
- Focusing on retention
- Actively promoting your community
- Organizing events AFK (away from keyboard)
- Making your members feel valued
- Empowering creators
- Tracking your community efforts through clear metrics
Humans should be in charge of running your community. This strategy is all about humanizing your brand and building meaningful connections. So no, you can’t GPT your way out of this.
But something’s for sure: If something can be automated without harming your members’ experience, it should be automated.
For instance, you’ll probably want to automate:
- Welcome messages
- Mass invitations to events
- Giving your members access to relevant platforms
- Segmenting community members based on previous activity
Aside from saving you time, automation can.
- Guarantee a consistent user experience
- Help you onboard new members faster and easier
- Minimize human error, keeping your community experience polished
- Help you add more value to your members’ experience, regardless of your community’s side
Focus on retention
Acquiring a new contact is always more expensive and cumbersome than maintaining your existing relationships. So go out of your way to measure and maximize retention.
While your community should be a branded space, aligned with your brand’s objectives, it can’t work without your members. Be consistent, be open to feedback, and be willing to co-create your community with your members.
We recommend you:
- Set a content calendar that guarantees that you offer value consistently
- If your community starts interesting conversations without your intervention, highlight them and join in
- Consider appointing qualified community members for leadership roles
- Surprise your community with unforeseen, spontaneous communication - for instance, you could connect two members with shared interests, or send a “thank you” DM to a valued member
Actively promote your community
Your community will probably grow through referrals. But don’t shy away from cold leads. Consider creating community initiatives that go beyond your community’s “home” (be it a Slack workspace, a Discord server, or an eLearning platform).
Use social media to share highlights from your community events and bring visibility to the benefits of being a community member. Additionally, you can collaborate with your community to create content that celebrates your members’ skills and traits.
To thrive globally, you first have to succeed locally. Don’t hesitate to organize events in real-life, and organize your community through local chapters.
Pro-tip: Whenever you can, attend trade shows and organize side events. These events can be great opportunities for local community members to engage with your brand, and they can also help you to give new community members a warm welcome.
Wondering if organizing live events is really worth it?
Research suggests that:
- 85% of customers are likely to buy after participating in a branded experience
- 41% of marketers regard live events as the most effective marketing channel
- A positive, in-person brand experience leads to an 85% increase in purchase intention
Can your product be used to create something new? Be it a project management template, generative art, or a beautiful interactive dashboard, you’ll want your community members to share it.
Empowering creators can be a great way to grow your community. Want an example?
Creators were Notion’s greatest vehicle for growth. These creators built personal brands that were Notion-adjacent, but that mostly focused on their own personal expertise. They used Notion as the foundation for building everything from time-saving templates to complex business management systems (known in the community as “Operating Systems”).
It is beyond our scope to determine whether Notion intentionally encouraged these creators or if they multiplied spontaneously due to the product's virtues. But something’s for sure: This ecosystem of Notion creators has been extremely beneficial to the brand. And any company that can replicate that is bound to unlock a growth loop.
According to Camille Rickets, Head of Marketing at Notion:
“Having a community that feels community-owned and run has allowed the conversation to be more robust and candid. Our biggest critics are the ones who love the product the most.”
Track your community efforts through clear metrics
What kind of impact do you want your community to have? Which goals are a priority? Which goals are achievable in the short and long term? Ask yourself (and your team) these questions, and tie your answers to trackable metrics.
For instance, if you’re looking to primarily impact lead generation, your north star metric should be MQLs. But your community could also decrease the number of support tickets you get. This could also be measured and tracked.
When choosing which metrics to use as KPIs, remember that it’s easy to mistake movement for progress. Beware of vanity metrics.
Active members can be a great metric for tracking your community’s growth. And it can be your main metric at an early stage. But start thinking about how the community can impact multiple areas of your business as soon as you can. The community can be a product and a valuable asset in itself. But at the end of the day, it’s a means to an end.
Content + Community = Sustainable, Long-Term Growth
In this post, we explored how building a community can help you overcome your growth and retention challenges. As we mentioned earlier, one of the key staples of a solid community is a positive feedback loop that, among other aspects, guides your content strategy.
Without great content, your community may starve for value and become inactive. But creating quality content consistently can be very time-consuming. And without in-house content expertise, the results may not even match your expectations.
Looking for a content partner that specializes in SaaS startups? You’re in the right place. Book a free consulting call today.