By Maria Geokezas, Chief Operating Officer at Heinz Marketing

Online communities exploded in recent years with millions of active members, and it’s no mystery why. Instead of going it alone, a community of like-minded individuals becomes a sounding board for ideas and questions.

The community boom demonstrates our desire to move beyond isolated content and toward collaboration.  And when a company steps up to create an active community, it signals that they value their audience’s experience beyond the product or service they offer.

While SaaS companies may be the most popular examples of B2B communities, you don’t need to have a technology product to build a thriving community. You just need the right levers in place to fuel community-led growth.

4 Ways to Trigger Community-Led Growth

With new ideas and tools for managing your community popping up daily, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the wrong things that don’t produce meaningful results. Here, we cut through the noise and look at four strategic actions you can take to activate community-led growth.

1.    Refine Your Acquisition Targets

Remember when Facebook started? Its central selling point was how quickly it added new members to the platform. And not just any new members, but primarily college-aged users.

It narrowed its acquisition targets to a specific group in the early days. Then, once you joined, it showed you other people you may know to pull you in further and extend the network effect.

The more connected people you can enlist, the more appealing it becomes to others that share similar characteristics.

One of the simplest ways to acquire “lookalike” members at the lowest cost is to establish community influencers — or members who will spread the word about your community in their circle. Sometimes influencers appear organically, but you might also offer a referral program or other incentive to encourage more members to spread the word.

Ideal influencers are well-connected within your target audience, and their promotion of your group is a form of valuable PR. Influencers are most often found within your closest orbit.

2.    Plan for Progression

If you’re unfamiliar with the orbit model, the basis is that your community has a gravity that pulls members into its orbit. The orbit model looks at the member’s commitment to the community and the frequency of their engagement to determine where they land.

The new members and the lurkers are in the outermost orbit – coined Explorers. Then, there are Participants and Contributors. Finally, you have your Leaders, which orbit closest to the community.

The orbit model helps communities identify how to pull members closer to the center until they’ve become strong community leaders and advocates. So, what can you add to your community that creates a stronger pull?

The communities with the strongest gravity pull members in the fastest – are highly active, with established community leaders who engage with new members immediately and escort them until they’re comfortable enough to contribute independently.

Until your community has matured to have enough leaders naturally, you may need to enlist people in your organization to usher in new members.

3.    Designate a Manager

In addition to leading members, every group needs a respected guide. That’s where a community manager comes in. A manager’s job isn’t to dictate a group but guide it toward its natural strengths.

With one-third of online communities having more than 10,000 members, the community will inevitably veer off course from time to time. A designated manager is in place to watch for those pivotal moments and jump in.

Managers know the group inside and out, so they can quickly rally key contributors to spark new ideas and discussions if things get a little stale.

Plus, your community manager can point members to helpful content or products when it’s a good fit. Although, be wary of your manager coming off as promotional. Make sure they’re engaging organically without only promoting company products and content, or you risk your community manager appearing purely transactional.

4.    Design a Feedback Loop

A community manager keeps the group progressing, but you want to create an unbiased feedback loop to identify unspoken areas of need or concern. Your feedback loop could be a public forum or a private survey, whichever you believe would elicit the largest amount of honest feedback.

Why do communities need a designated feedback loop?

Sometimes when a community gains traction, the individual members may feel like their contributions no longer matter as much. Unfortunately, this comes with the illusion of transparency — or when we assume those around us already know how we feel.

The illusion of transparency can result in community members becoming less active or leaving altogether without voicing their needs or concerns because they assume it’s obvious.

A feedback loop counters the issue, so the community continues growing with its members. Because, ultimately, a community is only as successful as the people involved.

Measuring the Impact of Community on Loyalty and Revenue

When it comes time to prove the worth of your community, there are two ways to determine the impact. You want to measure both the increase in revenue and the decrease in costs — the combined effects showcasing the actual ROI.

The most common measures of boosted revenue include:

  • Increases in new customers
  • Increases in purchase frequency
  • Higher average order values
  • Higher customer lifetime value
  • Increased customer lifetime retention

On the other hand, cost reductions may be:

  • Reductions in customer acquisition costs
  • Reductions in research and development costs
  • Reductions in customer support costs

We create communities to connect and engage with our audience, but that takes resources. If the community isn’t improving the bottom line, it’s difficult to justify.

It’s vital to determine, are there specific actions community members take that ultimately boost their long-term loyalty? Is there a way to guide other community members down the same path?

If you aren’t tracking engagement at the individual level, you should, at minimum, monitor the trending correlations, such as the lifetime value of community members vs. non-members. As the resources committed to sustaining your growing community increase, you must find a way to track the impact or risk losing the asset you’ve worked so hard to build.