At a point where online communities are becoming essential to the marketing mix, Zapnito’s CEO Charles Thiede joined David Rowlands, Head of Content at B2B Marketing, to discuss how B2B businesses can leverage online communities. Here’s a snapshot of everything they spoke about.
Cutting through the noise
Charles began the discussion by setting out the need for a community platform like Zapnito. “Nowadays, content has reached a level of saturation, but you still have trusted sources of information that people turn to like the Wall Street Journal. However, it’s a lot harder for people these days to find expertise, because of the noise of social media, tens of thousands of bloggers, Twitter trolls, and so on,” he explained.
Community marketing is a way for brands to connect with audiences more deeply and offer a source of information that they know they can trust.
Creating a hub
Part of this relies on creating a central hub for all communications, interactions, and opportunities to connect with a business (like events). The most successful Zapnito customers see their online community as a hub, not just another marketing channel. By putting everything in one place, engagement is much higher as prospects and customers know where to go for information, connections, conversations, events and more.
Success ultimately boils down to your strategy and its execution. “You get back what you put in” Charles stated, “And you need someone accountable, who lives and breathes the community. Who is able to connect people to each other both internally and externally and who really drives the community growth.”
He added that Propolis (B2B Marketing’s community) is a great example of this in action. With the team leveraging the connections, people insights, and customer advocates to grow and evolve the community.
“Community is a space for two-way conversations to happen between B2B brands and their customers, and vice versa,” Charles said, “The connections happen in the community. There’s no more pushing sales messages and whitepapers, interactions are more dynamic.”
An effective way to create these spaces for community members to connect with one another is by providing rooms dedicated to exclusive customer groups (for example, customer advocates, senior executives, or beta testers) or for co-collaboration around a specific challenge.
“It’s also important to note that not everyone will want to contribute to the community. Instead, it may turn into experts in the community having that advocacy voice and others tuning in to learn, take masterclasses, and read discussions,” Charles added.
Community and the funnel
The conversation then turned to where an online community sits within the sales funnel. Charles answered, “I see community as more of a circle, not a funnel. You have your top-of-funnel members, who, if they don’t buy from you will likely stop engaging with the community. That leaves your converted members, where you have a chance to upsell and cross-sell them. Or they become customer advocates to help convert more leads. That more bottom-of-the-funnel stuff. But it all comes back around and the majority of the value comes post-acquisition of a lead.”
On the role of community marketer/manager
Returning to the advice that there needs to be a single person responsible for the community’s performance, Charles pointed out that “Community” is one of the fastest-growing job titles he’s seen on LinkedIn. It’s becoming essential, not just an afterthought, to have a Head of Community.
The great news is that community marketing and management are roles that you can learn by doing. It’s all about caring about the people and the knowledge your community can disseminate. Using members’ data and insights is critical when shaping your community, current members can weigh in on what is and isn’t working. The role of a community manager is more intense at the start when it’s more work to start discussions and connect members. Over time, however, the community will become self-sustaining.
As for tips on getting started, Charles recommended an iterative approach. “Don’t try to make it perfect when you launch,” he advised, “Don’t be afraid to experiment and change over time. Start with a core group of friendly customers, who will advocate for your community. And make sure you have a great community manager in place.”
Listen to our CEO Charles Thiede discuss these topics in more depth in his B2B Marketing Podcast interview now.