A practical approach to community-led growth

Community-led growth is fast becoming a powerful and sought-after model for driving sustainable business growth. Yet a lot of what’s been shared about community growth has been theoretical. Based on feedback from our customers, partners and prospects, we recently held a practical community-led growth workshop in London. Here, we’ll discuss the main takeaways of the […]

A practical approach to community-led growth

Community-led growth is fast becoming a powerful and sought-after model for driving sustainable business growth. Yet a lot of what’s been shared about community growth has been theoretical. Based on feedback from our customers, partners and prospects, we recently held a practical community-led growth workshop in London.

Here, we’ll discuss the main takeaways of the event, plus help you start your own journey to community-led growth with brand new, exclusive templates that you can only get on the Zapnito community.

An exclusive event

Joining us in London, Zapnito CEO Charles Thiede, Laura Bineviciute, Head of Community and Engagement at Data Leaders, and Victoria Hart, Marketing Executive at the Mark Allen Group shared insights on community-led growth and the pathways towards it. Attendees came from all over, including B2B Marketing, Juro, the Laidlaw Foundation, ContentUK, Infopro Digital, and University World News.

The reality of community-led growth

There’s been a lot of talk about the need for community-led growth, but until the workshop, many attendees hadn’t really grasped the practical element of it. As Charles pointed out, community leaders face an opportunity of a lifetime with the adoption of communities today. The remote/hybrid work shift and Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the investment in online communities, and the priority for many business leaders is now on continuing this investment to drive tangible results across the business.

The answer to this challenge is community-led growth. A way of putting your community central to business growth.

“There were a lot of organisations that panic launched in the pandemic without a strategy. Now they are looking at new ways to harness it and that needs a strategy. It is as important as the tool you invest in,” explained Charles, “Luckily a community can be agile so you can continue running it while shifting gears to a new community-led growth strategy.”

The community-led growth cycle

The community-led growth flywheel introduces the four areas that a strong online community influences:

  1. Acquisition: when a customer first commits to your organisation and community. They are getting to know you.
  2. Adoption: this is when your customer is beginning to understand the value that your company and community brings them.
  3. Retention: this is when they feel loyal towards your brand and community and are more likely to stay.
  4. Advocacy: eventually those happy customers refer others to your brand and community, creating new growth opportunities.

Charles advised, “You cannot use a community just to drive leads leads because it simply becomes another marketing channel. Instead, once someone has become a customer your community needs to work on adoption. That happens through thought leadership, product education, updates, case studies and more. Then the customer moves into retention and advocacy, where they become your greatest sales channel.”

The great thing about community-led growth is that it is essentially a cycle that continues to grow upon itself. Making your community and business grow exponentially.

How do you build this? Zapnito has created an exclusive step-by-step methodology to guide your community members through each stage.

The four pathways driving community-led growth

Foundational work: defining your community members 

Before we dive into the community-led growth pathways, it’s worth taking a big step back to consider who your company regularly interacts with and who you want to invite to your community.

Ask yourself who your organisation needs in your community, who really brings value and growth?

It’s a question that Laura Bineviciute of Data Leaders found herself asking of her senior leadership when building their online community. The Data Leaders community is exclusively for Chief Data Officers and their teams. They don’t need to open it up to everyone as this dilutes the value it delivers.

“The success of our organisation relies on the satisfaction of the Chief Data Officer, our principal user,” explained Laura, “Our focus was on the number of members who get value from the community. It was vital that our first step was knowing who these people were and who we should not target.”

Once you understand your target audience for your community, you can better define your value proposition and the actions you want them to take in your community. The community overall will be much more aligned with their needs and aspirations.

Mapping to community pathways

After this essential groundwork, you can start mapping the pathways to guide your community members along each stage of the community growth cycle. At this stage, you won’t just know the actions you want to encourage, but also the measurements that’ll help you gauge how well your community is performing.

To kickstart this journey, Zapnito has created exclusive templates that focus on the pathways to each stage of this flywheel.

  1. Acquisition to adoption
  2. Adoption to retention
  3. Retention to advocacy
  4. Advocacy to acquisition

This will help you see each stage of the journey through your members’ eyes. Ensuring that you send them the nudges through the community to travel through the cycle.

1. Acquisition to adoption:

Your first pathway is defining what happens once a new customer and member joins your community, to when they adopt your products effectively.

Some examples of your starting action might be to sign up to the community. Your ending action might be to have a product demo or sign up for a free trial.

Victoria Hart from the Mark Allen Group, which has four communities, shared an example of her pathway for the SEND Network. As a new community, it is very much still focusing on the first two parts of the community growth flywheel.

“The SEND Network community really allows the Mark Allen Group to extend its footprint in special needs education and engage this audience on a deeper level,” she explained, “so our focus initially was really to learn more about this audience to shape our content and events, and eventually open up new revenue streams.”

In practice, this meant that the acquisition to adoption pathway focused heavily on first attracting members and encouraging them to sign up. The first action, therefore, was registration. Middle actions were to complete the onboarding process (by uploading a profile image and filling out profiles) and then to begin reading content in the community.

2. Adoption to retention

This segues nicely to adoption, which, for the Mark Allen Group, means repeat sign-ins to the community. “When someone returns to our community and takes the time to sign-in, it means they’re engaged and we can begin getting a deeper understanding of their preferences and behaviour,” Victoria said.

This information is used to enhance the Mark Allen Group’s portfolio and event offerings.

Moving someone from adoption to retention, again, takes multiple stages. For a publishing group such as the Mark Allen Group, it might involve a member signing in and posting discussions for a set period of time, with a specific regularity. For SaaS businesses, this might involve asking and answering product questions or taking part in case studies. Each step is unique to each organisation’s community, and its members.

3. Retention to advocacy

Moving into the retention to advocacy pathway, the community at this stage is beginning to grow fast, mature, and deliver ROI to the wider organisation through feedback, data, content development, customer support, and more.

As Laura highlighted, some communities may decide to largely remain at this stage without moving onto the fourth pathway. “Retention for Data Leaders is an ongoing thing, it is never-ending. So we focus heavily on it,” she spelt out, “The activities that we encourage members to complete in the community is what drives retention. We want our members to exchange value, to continue conversations by contributing content, comments, and opening up discussions.”

As for measuring their success, Laura outlined a key metric for them, “We consistently track the number of active users per account. We were very careful in defining this, settling on it being someone who logs into the community at least four times a month, on a regular basis.”

4. Advocacy to acquisition

For the community leaders who choose to move onto this pathway, moving a member from advocacy to acquisition will largely rely on the opportunities and resources you offer them to refer others. In one organisation, customer advocates might be offered speaking opportunities in the community or at events. In another, this might involve giving advocates special referral links and codes.

Once a successful referral results in someone joining your community, the cycle begins again.

Feeling inspired? Download the pathway templates now to get started.

Who is going to own what pathway?

When setting up each pathway, keep in mind who will be accountable for that pathway’s success. It doesn’t just have to be marketing, everyone in the organisation can contribute to your community’s success. Your community covers the whole customer lifecycle, which involves more than just marketing. Plus, certain departments will be better suited to some pathways. Customer success and the adoption to retention pathway, for example, is an ideal match.

Start at the best pathway for your goals

Let’s finish with a final takeaway from this valuable event — you don’t have to do the pathways in order. Start with the best pathway for your immediate priorities. If your organisation is aiming to reduce churn this year, you can start with the retention to advocacy path. This approach will allow you to align resources with the pathways that will be your quick wins. Giving you quick, tangible results to show the value of your community to your wider organisation.

Build your community-led growth strategy and pathways out over time. Eventually, it’ll all come together.

This workshop was part of a series of events that Zapnito is holding in 2023 around community-led growth. Stay connected with us to get early access to these events and webinars throughout the year.