Is building customer communities hard?

In the late 1980s, Harley-Davidson, a famous American motorcycle manufacturer, was facing a financial collapse. With continuously decreasing demands for their products, the company faced some really tough times. But, here’s where it all changed. The company started the complicated task of reinventing itself and reviving the brand. The new strategy included building the Harley-Davidson community. And the rest is history.

A decade later — the company had completely turned its fortunes around, becoming a top-50 global brand valued at more than $7.8 billion

How’d they done it? By investing in building a customer community. I was reading an interview with their Community Manager, where he talks about why did they even think of building a customer community in first place:

We wanted to get to know our customers and build long-lasting relationships with them. Our primary goal is always to stay connected, engage, motivate, and keep the dream alive for our customers. If I had to sum up our approach, I'd say it's: "Let's give them what they came to the brand for, keep that dream alive, and they'll give it back to us tenfold."

So yeah, you don’t have to look far to understand the motive here. Communities have always existed in some form or another, and now, we are noticing more and more companies investing in customer communities where their customers get a space to interact with each other, and not just with them or their brands.

In today’s edition of The Community Assemble, we look at the customer communities and ask — Is it hard to build one?

Customer Community won’t come easy

Building a thriving community around your product or company won’t come easy, as it needs some really strong dedication and enough time to foster. But yes, the long slog to grow, nurture, and develop your community will have compounded benefits for a long time to come.

For B2B companies, the precise value of a strong customer community might be difficult to calculate, but it’s a powerful way to break down the barriers and encourage bonds between customers, build trust around your product and increase its stickiness.

While it may look overwhelming at the front, there are few considerations that you can look at to make this journey fun and easy:

Adopt a customer-first approach

Customers care more about finding a sense of belonging. They are not just buying a product from you, they are trusting you and looking forward to building a long-lasting relationship with you and your product. Your job is to match the needs of these customers. In the end, your community won’t be successful if you don’t inspire them. 

Companies like Figma, Notion, and many others create a space where people see themselves as members and not just as customers looking to ask a product-related query. They allow their customers to create their profiles, follow one another, and talk about stuff that they are passionate about.

Give customers a say

B2B products that give their customers a say, a reason to initiate a conversation in a community always have an edge over those that don’t. This holds for products that allow for user-generated contributions - saving templates, uploading an image, downloading reports, etc. This will automatically lead to an active and engaged customer community that always has a consistent flow of high-quality user-generated content. We can call this a Community of Product as it revolves around a specific product.

For B2B companies, whose product can’t be amended to produce a good amount of user-generated content, it adapts itself to a community of discussions of best practices and thought leadership. Here, the trick is to encourage customers to share tips and hacks that naturally strike other users to start a conversation about a generalized concept or interest. We can call this a Community of Practice as it unites customers with a shared specialization or interest.

Actively participate 

The time has gone when people see the community just as a medium for offering support. In fact, Mac Reddin, co-founder and CEO of Commsor, and organizer of the community-led pledge told Built-In, “Community used to be the bastard child of support.”

Well, this is not surprising. The intention with which companies are making the community the focal point of their go-to-market strategies has changed. Lately, companies relying on the community want to create a highly engaging and intimate space for their customers, rather than just bolting a forum on their product. And this can only happen when you become the driving force behind conversations within your community.

Of course, as your community grows and there is enough user-generated content, you would want your customers to build relationships themselves without your intervention. However, this doesn’t happen overnight. In the early days, you are responsible for initiating discussions, responding to queries, sharing tips and tricks about using your product. Make your customers feel that they are a part of the product development process. And in return, you will get some valuable feedback that you can use to improve your product more quickly.

Glynk’s take

This might sound familiar to you, especially marketers. You invest your time and energy for months planning your business strategy, researching the market size, finding your target audience, achieving product-market fit, and what not! It seems like a never-ending process, especially in this age of cut-throat competition. And if you give it a thought, the ROI just doesn’t seem to materialize quite often. While leadership is trusting you to make the desired impact, you are simply overwhelmed. No one wants to be in this situation — at least I know I wouldn’t! Here’s where community-driven marketing can help. New age customers are tired of superficial connections— what they care about is the vibe, true connection with real people.

Companies that embrace community-driven growth and make the best use of customer communities, will be the ones to crush their business goals - be it acquiring customers, activating, or even retaining them. So don’t worry about building word-of-mouth marketing for your company. Worry about building a thriving community. If you nail the community, you'll have your word-of-mouth already!

If you are one of these persons, you can get to me on Twitter or LinkedIn, or shoot me a question in the comments below. You can also write to me about what's driving you crazy in your community—engagement, control, metrics, visibility..anything. I’d love to chat. Thanks! See you next week.