How to Build a Successful Customer Community 

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    More About Customer Relationship

    Building lasting relationships with customers is paramount for any business to succeed. One of the best ways for businesses to build meaningful customer relationships is by creating a dedicated customer community. 

    An effective customer community enables companies to do more than just facilitate conversations between customers and staff. For customers, it creates a sense of belonging and connection among members, offers valuable resources, and allows customers to provide feedback on products or services they purchase. For organizations, it can provide valuable user insights and real tangible results across product, marketing, sales, success and support teams that we’ll dive into a bit later.

    There are many questions when it comes to building a customer community. When considering the creation of a customer community, you probably ask yourself:

    • How do you get started?
    • Will it work for my business model?
    • Will it even be worth it?

    If you find yourself asking these or similar questions, you’re not alone.
    Let’s talk about it. 

    Why Build a Customer Community?

    There are four main reasons you should consider building a customer community. Let’s break them down:

    Build Trust

    A community allows you and your team to meet your customers where they are at in their unique customer journeys and collaborate with them. The goal of this is not only to humanize your business, but also to encourage your customers to engage in collaborative activities, such as asking questions and sharing value. All of which builds greater trust and credibility in your business

    Mutual Help

    Similar to the first point, providing a space where you and your team can collaborate with your customers can improve business outcomes when done right. An effective community is also a place where the community members (your customers) can talk with each other about things like product feature inquiries, innovative ideas, and industry trends. 

    Word-of-Mouth Effect

    If your community is encouraging a culture of trust and mutual help, customers will be inclined to recommend your product. This is due to the Word-of-Mouth effect. This effect is when your customers have such an invested interest in your product that it becomes part of their consistent conversations. Disney is a perfect example of this. The community of fans they have created has brought the Disney brand into the vernacular of millions of people around the world. 

    Gain Valuable Insights

    And finally, you can gain amazing insights from your customers by seeing what they are discussing amongst themselves in your community. Your customers can contribute to your product, customer success, marketing, and sales teams’ creativity by sharing their challenges, feature suggestions, and how they are using the product.Also,your customer needs will evolve as time and economies evolve. A thriving community can enable your company to adapt your product in sync with these changes and proactively plan for the future. 

    B2B Customer Community vs B2C Customer Community

    As businesses continue to shift towards the subscription-based model for their software and services, the importance of Customer Success has become paramount. While both B2B and B2C customer communities prioritize fostering strong relationships with their customers to achieve retention and advocacy, there are significant differences in the way they operate. 

    In B2B communities, companies typically operate within a larger ecosystem, with many stakeholders involved in the purchasing decision and ongoing success of their investment. As a result, B2B communities tend to be more closely curated and tailored to the specific needs and challenges faced by different job functions. 

    B2C communities are generally much more user-driven, with a focus on self-service and enabling customers to solve their own problems. 

    Regardless of the specific approach, the key to success in both B2B and B2C customer communities lies in building trust, fostering engagement, and delivering value at every touchpoint.

    Laying The Foundation for Successful Customer Community Building

    Company culture and strategic planning are integral factors contributing to the success of your customer community efforts, and they are closely intertwined. Establishing a clear strategic plan is crucial for defining the framework for a successful community within your organization. This plan should outline what success looks like, identify the necessary personnel to execute the vision, and establish metrics for measuring success. It is key that this plan is shared with, agreed upon, and adopted by all relevant leadership teams because a customer community has the potential to benefit multiple teams and departments. For instance:

    • Product Team: Can leverage the community to gather new ideas, innovations, and insights from discussions on feature requests, challenges, and use cases. It also facilitates quicker identification and resolution of bugs.
    • Support Team: If executed effectively, the community can reduce the number of support requests as customers find answers to their queries through community discussions or a repository of questions and answers.
    • Customer Success: The community becomes a platform for engaging customers, reducing churn, fostering product adoption, and enabling peer-to-peer learning.
    • Sales and Marketing: Customer communities can help generate new leads, provide valuable customer insights for more targeted and effective future messaging, offer a source for case studies.

    Setting clear objectives upfront and identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) is key for evaluating success. Metrics should include participation metrics like tracking the growth in active users, posts, comments, and conversations. You also could choose to evaluate the business impact by looking at metrics like and changes in support inquiries, customer churn, and product adoption, etc.

    Having a customer first culture and mindset are paramount for your success. As the saying goes, “Happy customers are the best strategy of all.” This is true in the world of community building as well. Focusing on customer success enhances participation and creates loyalty, leading to organic promotion and recommendations of your brand. Word-of-mouth marketing driven by satisfied customers, is a highly effective strategy. Collecting VoC (voice of customer) (VoC) data is instrumental in refining products and messaging, emphasizing the importance of valuing customer opinions. By giving your customers space to be heard, you show that their opinions and thoughts matter to you. This can go a long way in building a positive Customer Experience (CX) and driving community growth.

    Bottom Line: A Customer-First mindset, coupled with strategic planning, is the golden ticket to creating an effective community that works for your business and your customers. 

    The Top 5 Tips for an Active Customer Community 

    Now that we’ve discussed the groundwork, here are the top five tips to grow active participation:

    1. Drive content to the right topics – Once you know what your most burning topics are, work with your best advocates to comment and provide value to the feedback and questions being raised. Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party. You wouldn’t serve sushi to folks who love Italian, right? In your customer community, focus on curating content that aligns with their interests and challenges. This approach not only creates meaningful conversations but also positions your platform as the go-to spot for relevant, engaging discussions. Your customers will notice and as they engage more, the credibility of your community will continue to grow and expand. 

    2. Be present – Building an effective community isn’t about setting up the space and disappearing. It’s about being fully present by diving into the conversations. Respond to comments, ask questions, and share insights. Your active presence shows that you’re not just a name behind a screen, but a real person who cares. And you don’t have to do it alone. Recruit your best advocates and assign a dedicated person to open up conversations or become active in current ones.  The more present you and your advocates are, the more fulfilling of an experience your community will be for your customers. 

    3. Reward liberally – Reward your contributors. In your customer community, rewards will be a game-changer. Tokens of appreciation don’t have to break the bank; even simple gestures like exclusive content, badges, or shoutouts can make community contributors feel like VIPs. It’s about creating an environment where contributions are not just welcomed but celebrated. A little appreciation goes a long way in fostering a diverse and engaged community.

    4. Expand your community – Starting on the right foot is crucial to get your community’s momentum going. Start by sending your top customers and best advocates a VIP invite. When inviting them, provide guidance on getting started and encourage them to share their success stories or most pressing topics. After this initial phase, broaden your reach by sending invitations to the rest of your customer base. The best communities are using this same strategy, starting with the most engaged ones first. Expansion is much more than numbers; it’s about improving the community experience with diverse perspectives and fresh ideas.

    5. Build around shared values – While your company values are important, for a successful customer community, the community’s values must align with those of your customers. For example, developer communities are built around ideas of mutual help, efficiency, and innovation. Customer Success communities can be built around mutual help, personal development, empowerment, and mental health. When members see their values reflected in the community, it creates a powerful sense of belonging and loyalty. Shared values are the key that turns a group of individuals into a united, thriving community.

    What are your community values? 
    Examples to consider: 

    • Mutual help
    • Learn new skills
    • Personal growth
    • Make new connections
    • Gain inspiration (product ideation, other customer case studies)

    Communities That Are Doing it Right

    Founded: 2001

    Membership: 1.7 million +

    Brief Summary: The Topcoder community is global, attracting a wide range of talent from programmers and developers to designers and data scientists. Their worldwide membership makes them one of the world’s most diverse technology community. It offers a platform for members to showcase their skills, solve real-world problems, and connect with a diverse community of technology professionals.

    Why this community made our list:

    • Provides continuous learning and new skills development
    • Members can participate in challenges 
    • Multiple educational resources 
    • Built on a value of mutual help for their members 

    Founded: Early 2000’s

    Membership: 33 million +

    Brief Summary: This community is a user-driven platform where Adobe users can connect, share knowledge, and find support. It has product-specific forums for software like Photoshop and Illustrator, allowing for peer-to-peer support, expert advice, and resource sharing. The community is integral to Adobe, fostering collaboration and learning among a diverse, global user base.

    Why this community made our list:

    • It is for anyone who uses the Adobe product suite which encourages a vast and diverse array of conversations 
    • Offers forums where members can ask and answer questions
    • The community continues to expand as Adobe expands its product line and initiatives

    Founded: Mid-2000’s

    Membership: Nearly 1 million

    Brief Summary: The Autodesk community is a large network of enthusiasts centered around Autodesk’s extensive range of software products. It’s primarily known for their applications in architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, and entertainment. Autodesk offers a wealth of learning materials, including tutorials, training videos, and documentation, to help users of all levels improve their skills with Autodesk software.

    Why this community made our list:

    • Their community values, like shared engagement, reflect their company values 
    • They prioritize skill improvement for all their members 
    • Mutual help drives everything that is discussed within the community 

    Founded: 2004

    Membership: 500k +

    Brief Summary: Moz is a thriving community for online marketers. It’s centered around Moz, a company known for its SEO software and tools. This community is made up of SEO professionals, marketers, and business owners who use Moz’s tools and resources to improve their search engine optimization and online marketing strategies. The community was formed around the same time Moz was founded. 

    Why this community made our list:

    • They prioritize transparency and openness in all community interactions
    • Members are able to contribute to Moz’s blog and be featured in other initiatives

    Founded: 2005

    Membership: 400k +

    Brief Summary: The VMware Technology Network (VMTN) Communities are a set of forums and online spaces where users of VMware’s products and services share knowledge, exchange ideas, and find solutions to technical challenges. VMTN hosts numerous discussion forums covering different VMware products and solutions, such as vSphere, vSAN, VMware Workstation, and VMware Fusion. These forums are vital for troubleshooting, sharing best practices, and getting advice on VMware products.

    Why this community made our list:

    • They make their products easy to implement and navigate through open forums where questions can be answered 
    • Trust is built in the VMwarebrand by creating a community for open discussion 
    • More customers are drawn to the brand due to the success and growth of the community 

    Bringing it All Together

    While customer communities may not be for every business model, the idea of creating a space that thrives on communication and shared values is a winning strategy many businesses are seeing. 

    The best communities are built and grown by the customers, not the corporations.

    By working together on issues, customers are more likely to trust the brand when trying out new products and services. Providing helpful discussion points on topics such as user experience or product development, businesses can learn more about how their customers think and use this feedback to make decisions.

    In 2024, consider making this a key piece in your customer outreach and growth strategy. It’s worked for millions of businesses over the years, why not yours?