What 500 Community Managers Can Teach About Building a Community We've moved beyond seeing "community" as just a means to get fresh customers and leads in the door.

By Sujan Patel

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If your brand is lagging behind in its efforts to build an engaged community, you could be leaving your customers in the dark.

Related: How This Ice Cream Brand Built a Brand by Building Community

In today's consumer-led market, customers are looking for authentic ways to become a part of, and influence, a brand's story. And the brands that provide those experiences e are the ones that will thrive.

As Carrie Melissa Jones, COO of CMX, the community strategies hub, wrote, "Mass media is no longer the place to connect with your audience, as the 'one-to-many' message is dying. The 'many-to-many' messages inside of brand communities are the ones that are being received and acted upon."

You may understand the "why" of building a community, but how to actually build one isn't so simple. That's why you should look to the brands that have been there before you and are still actively building successful communities.

CMX created the 2017 Community Value and Metrics report, which offers valuable takeaways, insights and inspiration from more than 500 community manager respondents. Here's what they can teach you about building the community you need.

Brand communities foster relationships.

Sixty-six percent of those polled by CMX said they define a brand community in their organization by the online and offline relationships their members have with one other. While you can't force relationships in any group, you can give your own business community opportunities and reasons to connect.

Related: 5 Ways Niche Brands Can Build a Massive Community

Encourage the idea of relationship-building among your group's members by helping them engage in conversations and call on one other for help and insight. You can also kick-start relationship-building by singling out brand advocates to help answer questions and motivate members in return for recognition and access to VIP events.

Community is an important customer service hub.

It's tempting to think that the best way to offer amazing customer service is via social media. But while social media is certainly important, B2B companies may be overlooking the opportunity that exists within their own community.

For example, Salesforce leans on its passionate advocates to help keep a finger on the pulse of the community and offer support. As Erica Kuhl, VP of community at Salesforce, told CMX in a separate interview, "Our support team will tell you themselves that our community is faster than our in-house people at answering customer questions."

Today's customers expect plenty of self-service options. According to Higher Logic, 90 percent of customers in one survey said they expected an organization to offer a self-service customer-support portal.

You can similarly leverage your own community advocates to act as extended team members and help grow the customer service component of your hub. Just be sure that your members are answering questions thoughtfully, offering value and advice and resolving issues within your community.

Start with less and add as needed.

There are dozens of ways to measure and assess the value of your community. CMX asked companies how often they used various metrics -- from retention to changes in sales revenue -- to measure the value of brand community.

The flood of responses could easily have overwhelmed small business owners looking to grow their own communities. That may be why the report showed that most people plan to measure more than they actually do.

Take a step back to focus on the parts of your community that are already working. The best course of action is to focus on an overarching business goal like customer retention. From there you can expand into a handful of metrics like customer lifetime value, usage and retention, and chart the progress before diving into a longer list, such as the number of posts or product ideas generated from your community.

Consistent reporting helps show value.

One of the key internal challenges for companies is proving the value and ROI of community as a business tool. Ask your community manager to consistently report on metrics and community engagement as part of your overall community-building plan. This could be the only way to help colleagues and leadership see the value of community in your company -- and how they can leverage the benefits in their own departmental strategies.

Nicole Banks, former senior community manager at Imperva (she's now at Synopsys), said she shows the value of community to her company using this tactic. As she told CMX, "With consistent reporting, I'm able to present metrics that show how important and vital our community is. The idea of community is still brand new, but I've already had company leaders come to me and ask for community input and feedback on certain projects.

"I believe it will become more and more of a resource for the company when making product decisions."

You need a dedicated community manager.

Building an engaging community isn't something that can done as an afterthought. The majority of CMX respondents report having a dedicated community manager, who's either full-time, part-time or outsourced.

Brainstorm with your team to determine the needs of the community and what you can do together to meet those needs. For example, B2B companies that really want to understand their customers' pain points and needs on a deeper level could onboard a dedicated community manager to help dive deeper into their customer base.

Related: 4 Strategies for Building Your Community Instead of Just a Network

What the report from CMX really showed was that we've moved beyond seeing "community" as a means to get fresh customers and leads in the door. Instead, we've entered an era where communities are driving engagement across the customer lifecycle and shaping the brand's value. The real question is whether or not your business is ready to meet the demand.

Wavy Line
Sujan Patel

Entrepreneur and Marketer, Co-founder of Web Profits

In his 14-plus years as a marketer and entrepreneur, Sujan Patel has helped hundreds of companies boost online traffic and sales and strengthen their online brand reputation. Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits and Mailshake.

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