Looking forward: Planning your B2B community for the year ahead

Why do people use your B2B community? Is it a nice to have – a place to browse content and dip into conversations when they (rarely) have a spare moment at work? Or is it a must-have – a go-to source of knowledge, support and peer-to-peer advice that makes their job that bit easier? A […]

Looking forward: Planning your B2B community for the year ahead

Why do people use your B2B community? Is it a nice to have – a place to browse content and dip into conversations when they (rarely) have a spare moment at work? Or is it a must-have – a go-to source of knowledge, support and peer-to-peer advice that makes their job that bit easier?

A solid plan for the year ahead can go a long way to achieving the latter: it gives you a structured framework to build community activity, creating themes and topical conversations that reflect the challenges and opportunities your members are experiencing in their day-to-day working lives. Yet for your community to feel authentic, you also need to be ready to react to changes and trends in real time.

Here, we share our tips to planning your B2B community for the year ahead, helping you to strike the right balance between forward planning and reacting quickly through content and conversations – creating a better, more useful experience for your members.

What does a year in the life of your members look like?

The best communities relate to the life or work schedules of their members. They offer content at just the right time, or start a conversation that perfectly coincides with something their members are thinking about. To do this, you need to step into your members’ shoes and approach your community plan with their plans in mind. Are there any major industry events or occasions taking place? Are there any particularly challenging seasons, like Christmas for retail or logistics companies? Are there parts of the business calendar where your community can provide support, like the close of the financial year? Plan your content around your members and you will become a go-to source of information and discussion: the more your community calendar reflects their own, the more your members will regularly check in. By relating to their members through their online community, Sova Assessment were able to increase their reach and engagement.

As Emma Foote, Head of Campaigns & Community at Sova Assessment, explains, “the community has allowed us an opportunity to reach more people and offer them guidance and a place to connect in a way we couldn’t before.”

Understand your business goals

What is your business trying to achieve in the goal ahead – and how does your community fit into those plans? If your goal is to increase engagement with existing subscribers or members, your strategy will be very different compared to an objective to build your pipeline. Your objectives will impact everything from the content you produce to the way you manage your conversations (for instance, lots of tailored, small conversations or bigger, broader discussions that feature lots of people). An online community can fulfill a lot of purposes for B2B brands, but if you focus on one or two objectives at a time and tailor your approach over the course of the year, you are more likely to see tangible, measurable results.

Map your prospect journey 

Once you know your business goal, how can your community shape a prospect journey that helps to deliver it? Understand the role your community should play in that journey: is it awareness, through content and thought leadership? Is it engagement, through thriving community discussions and support? Is it acquisition, listening and reacting to your community’s feedback on commercial ventures? Or is it all three, with members naturally becoming advocates for your brand? At Zapnito we call it the flywheel: a continuous process that guides prospects and members through a cycle of awareness, engagement, acquisition and advocacy to forge stronger connections with your clients and achieve a better return on your online community investment.

Create a 12-month schedule…

A community should feel off the cuff and authentic to members – but it’s impossible to keep up momentum by actually taking an ‘free and easy’ approach. A content schedule is essential to: ensure that well thought out content is regularly uploaded; approach and confirm authors in a timely manner; make sure that key themes and topics are covered; tie your content to events, seasonal periods and time-sensitive challenges, and; generate excitement for upcoming content, discussions, webinars and virtual community meet-ups. Your 12-month plan will act as a framework for your community that will enable community managers to keep building on exciting new projects and looking to long-term development, rather than scrambling to fill the schedule and focussing on short-term goals.

…but be prepared to be flexible

If you follow your plan too rigidly, you risk missing opportunities in the moment. As a result, your community can feel staged and inauthentic, failing to reflect the issues that are impacting your members in the real world. Take the UK’s financial turmoil in October 2022, for instance. Continuing with scheduled content, instead of deviating to include topical advice, blogs or conversations, wouldn’t only be a missed chance to engage your members: it can switch them off completely, reducing your usefulness as a community and driving your members to find support and information elsewhere. The role of a community is to be available when people within that community need it the most: stay up-to-date with your B2B industry’s news cycle, trends and keep track of the conversations that are taking place. If you combine this approach with your carefully structured schedule, you’ll have more freedom to explore these topics when they arise.

Break your plan down into monthly and weekly themes (with deadlines)

Your planning doesn’t need to go into micro-details for the full 12 months. A more achievable approach to content management is to map the year by monthly themes, drilling into weekly and then daily plans as they draw closer. This gives you more time to approach authors, research upcoming topics and create content that feels timely and relatable for your members. Set clear deadlines for community managers to complete their more detailed weekly schedules by, so that filling in specific content is never left to the last minute.

Look at last year’s KPIs for guidance

If you already have an online community, take time to review the previous year’s KPIs before you set hard and fast plans for the year ahead. What worked, what didn’t, what needed a different approach? If you’re in the process of building your community and don’t have a full year of activity to review, review your editorial or blog content performance instead: it will help to highlight topics that were well-received, or could have been approached differently, and give some inclination to seasonal trends.

Define tangible goals for the year ahead

What do you really want your community to achieve this year? Drill into the purpose your community should be fulfilling for your brand and set objectives based on this. For instance, if your online community should be building your pipeline, what metrics can you measure to support this? Once you’ve defined this, set short term goals with clear, achievable actions (e.g., we will make sure that ‘X’ amount of content I uploaded to the community every month). Then, set long term goals attached to KPIs – such as, ‘X’ number of leads generated by December 2023). Your community is an investment: measuring ROI should always be on the agenda. It will help you to both get the full commercial benefit of your platform and keep critiquing and developing the content you produce for your members.

With a platform like Zapnito, planning the year ahead for your community is simple. Integrations, community management functions and analytics help you to constantly build on your community’s purpose and performance, making sure that you always engage with your members. If you want more tips and practical advice on using Zapnito to host and plan your B2B community in 2023, join the conversation over at our community post: Four ROI myths on community marketing that need busting