The Age of Online Communities: How to Create Branded Communities and Why You Should Bother

Henry Spitzer, VP of of Sales at Lusha

Henry Spitzer, VP of Sales at Lusha explains how community building is a powerful and cost-effective way to increase retention by creating a central destination for users to find support, advice and best practices.

The Bare Basics

Bailey Richardson, the legendary community builder for Instagram, defined an online community as “simply groups of people who keep coming together over what they care about. The most vibrant ones offer members a chance to act on their passions with each other.”

Richardson’s definition, while revolutionary for its day, has become commonplace in today’s customer-centric world and has made the move from residing purely on the side of B2C to encompassing the B2B sphere too. Gone are the days of static one-sided advertising that speaks at the customer. Today’s customers want to be spoken with and expect the brands they engage with to facilitate this conversation and engage them effectively.

But not only has the face of the customer evolved over time, so too has the shape of the business world. B2Bs in the SaaS space today strive for agile growth. Self-Serve, PLG and other business models grow databases by thousands of new users per month. While good for business, this exponential growth makes it difficult for companies to collect feedback and insights from individual users and fully hone in on their customer experience. Branded communities step in as an effective way to get around the too-many-to-listen-too barrier. They allow companies to “listen at scale”.

High engagement aids brand awareness and market positioning. It also replaces advertising with word-of-mouth growth. Communities furthermore, lower service costs and dramatically affect retention and upsell. Harvesting the user-generated content a community produces and analyzing it, is a powerful tool to monitor customer health, happiness and engagement levels. It may also predict churn potential.

But how do online communities work to affect bottom lines? How do users chatting to each other become revenue drivers?

The Mechanics of Online Communities

Ever heard the saying “if the product is free then you’re the product”?

More than a tongue-in-cheek jab at freemium products, this dictum describes a highly effective business model that utilizes the power of community, the content it generates and the eyeballs it offers, as an asset.

Online communities serve as content engines that follow a one-to-many principle. Every time a user generates new content; answers questions, leaves comments, uses queries, shares images or videos, it is seen by thousands of visitors. In such a way, the community both produces fresh content and generates exposure.

For SaaS companies, communities are a powerful engine for the creation, capture, discovery, and cultivation of traffic. They support marketing, customer service, and success initiatives by directing the spotlight to where the conversation is happening, allowing the company to stay on-target, relevant, and helpful to its users.

Communities as Revenue Drivers

Online communities make their value felt in several core areas of business, including marketing, customer service, customer success, and product development. In the most immediate and trackable sense, the impact of community engagement helps bottom lines by:

1. Growing Customer Retention

It is generally believed that engagement breeds brand awareness which breeds loyalty. In the world of business, loyalty translates into retention. But while retention is one of the foremost goals of all companies and one of the main objectives of CS teams, it is often a costly endeavor.

Community building with its emphasis on brand awareness and its capacity to inspire trust is a powerful and cost-effective way to increase retention at a fraction of the price.

2. Reducing Support Load

One of the defining features of the self-serve generation is that it doesn’t want to speak to a salesperson unless absolutely necessary. In much the same way, users who enjoy calling customer support are few and far between.

Communities, conversely, empower users to help themselves rather than have to turn to support.

Creating an online community and seeding it with support documentation, specs and pre-populated lists of questions and answers is a great resource that both cuts back on support costs and answers to the self-sufficient customer profile.

Creating a peer-to-peer support system is also a useful way to cut down on customer-facing support, while also being useful to other revenue-driving purposes such as loyalty-building and customer acquisition.

3. Impacting Customers’ Digital Journeys

A community creates a central destination for users to find support, advice, best practices, and also to offer their feedback.

Having all these engagement options in one hub makes for a cohesive, unified, customer journey and inspires trust in the brand.

4. Super-charging Customer Acquisition

Peer-to-peer feedback about the product inspires prospective users to trust the brand.

An active community that produces good quality user-generated content through discussion forums, comments, questions, and updates is also a great word-of-mouth tool to increase visibility.

5. The Long-Lasting Benefits of Communities

Growing active, engaged, and engaging communities does not happen overnight. It takes time, strategy, and precision. But it is a long-haul endeavor and one that will continue to yield its fruit for years to come.

Online communities are compelling because their outcomes are tied to complex business objectives like innovation, culture change, and becoming influencers in their field. These are some of the most aggressive challenges organizations face today, but when they are cracked and mastered the rewards far outweigh the hardships.

Ultimately, to build a community is to build an in-house PR agency and self-pollination system whereby users serve as acquisition agents and support reps, while themselves extracting the most value out of your product. This win-win situation is hard to pass up and will only grow in popularity in years to come.

About the Author

Henry Spitzer, is VP of of Sales at Lusha

As VP of Sales, Henry is on a mission to build a globally-aligned sales team that can scale in the face of Lusha’s impressive growth. With almost a decade of sales leadership experience, Henry was one of the first 20 employees at CarGurus (NASDAQ: CARG), rising the ranks in numerous leadership roles and ultimately leading a team of over 100 salespeople.   In his time at CarGurus, Henry was responsible for opening the company’s first international office in Dublin, scaling out the EMEA operation in the UK and Germany.. Henry holds a BA in History and Spanish from Northeastern University, graduating Summa Cum Laude.

Little known fact:

Henry worked for the Boston Red Sox for two seasons prior to entering tech in both scouting and player development, working with Latin American players as they transitioned to professional baseball.

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