There is a lot of hype on the internet about the importance of building B2B communities with some marketers arguing that social “pages” are all you need to create and maintain one. A real community however is not simply a group of users but an engaged, passionate and active group of users – conversing together in the pursuit of a common interest.

You may put out some great content within your social media channels but how much real interaction have you actually had with your followers? How much interaction have they had with each other? The problem is that many online communities follow the model in diagram 1 where they establish themselves on a social channel and have gathered a group around it through various means. The business is using the channel to amplify their content with limited interaction with the actual users. A thriving community looks more like diagram 2 – the company takes a far less central role and sometimes isn’t even the biggest voice within the community. This model encourages multi way conversations between users and the provision of influencers. A far more authentic and credible information source for your buyers.

 

Why do I need a B2B Community?

Your own business community gives you a huge opportunity to build deeper relationships with customers without the noise of competitors. Providing a space where your buyer personas can discuss issues, have access to exclusive content and advice not only builds your brands authenticity but also helps you understand their needs better.

An unbranded community positions you as a thought leader and tangibly, access to more customer data that can be used for inbound campaigns and event invitations. The more unbranded content and information you put out there, the more genuine interest you’ll get when you do send branded content out because you’ll be seen as an expert in the field rather than a salesperson.

The other benefits include saving a heap of money on your marketing spend as you’ll be running the publication where your content is being published and shared. Successful communities eventually become one stop shops for buyers (if its managed well) and result in the ability to leave competitors out in the cold.

Here are four tips on how to build a successful B2B community:

1) Set clear objectives

All marketing activity should primarily be focused on commercial objectives and the time and resource required to build a B2B community is certainly heavy. However, if aligned to specific revenue generation activities, it can be easier to manage and measure. You could use the community to reach out to existing customers in order to gather feedback or warm up for cross selling opportunities. Alternatively you could draw in new customers by providing a resource that helps solve many of their day to day problems and allows them to network. You could also view the community as a cost saving initiative by providing a ready made customer service function. Either way – goals need to be clearly identified.

On the other hand, what do you want your customers or prospects to get from the community? Research what sort of publications and communities they are already regularly subscribed to and see if you can fill in any gaps. The value your users get from the community will help define content and activiites.

2) Use your C-levels as sponsors

For your community to be effective – active involvement from executives themselves within discussions and community activities sends a strong message of commitment to your customers/prospects.

3) Spread the word about the community

There is a lot of work that will need to be done in driving traffic to your community as well as encouraging users to actively participate. Email marketing is the best strategy here – reminding them to log in and letting them know about featured content and upcoming active discussions. It will take time though so don’t worry about starting small. Personally invite friendly customers to launch the community and use that time to gather feedback and include them on topic discussion ideas. You can then think about incentives for them to share the community with their networks.

4) Measure Measure MEASURE

Have you achieved your objectives? The only way to ensure continued funding and sponsorship is to demonstrate that it’s been a success and is delivering some sort of ROI. Has it helped you sell more, has it significantly reduced costs? Has customer satisfaction increased by using the community?

…. And here are 3 B2Bs who are already reaping the benefits of their communities

Cisco

With personal development in mind, The 800k members of the Cisco Learning Network can access IT training resources for all Cisco certifications, IT certification study tools, and CCNA practice tests. The Network also provides career development tools such as access to IT salaries, and job postings. This is great at encouraging engineers to expand their knowledge of Cisco as well as offering a great place for them to find suitable roles.

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Oracle

Oracle has a huge global community, including OTN, OPN, and OracleUser Groups—as well as newer fast-growing communities all from this index. Communities and groups exist in multiple languages, including Korean, Chinese, Russian and Japanese. They have also added an element of gamification in order to encourage users to move up the ranks in terms of their usage.

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NetApp

Members can talk about NetApp products and solutions. Ask questions, exchange ideas, and get feedback from other Community members.

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