Since the dawn of time, humans have organized themselves into groups to get things done. In complex societies, we are likely members of multiple communities organized along family, professional, local, and vocational interests. And of course, on the Internet, an individual’s membership in communities, online and off, can grow exponentially.
So into this environment of limitless interaction comes your bid to build a B2B community. Where do you start? How do you attract people, engage them and foster connections not only with your brand but each other?
Start with existing communities. Go to where people already are: social networking sites, professional associations, popular industry blogs, and forums or Q&A sites. Promote your own community (with a link on your profile and well-timed mentions), but really participate by sharing your knowledge and listening.
Define what’s in it for them. Is it ideas for getting more out of your product? Help and support? Membership perks such as invitations and special offers? Opportunities to network with peers? A successful community responds to the needs of its members, whether for information, connections, saving time and money, or good old prestige.
Define what’s in it for you. Creating an online community is a long-term commitment for your organization, so gut-check your culture. What level of engagement are you comfortable with and how much time can you spend managing it? Are you open to feedback? A B2B community of professional users could be assumed to be, well, more professional than generalized B2C communities, but don’t expect that people will join your community just to sing your praises.
Choose your gathering places. Decide where you and your customers should or could meet: over existing social networks or in a dedicated online space including such things as discussion forums, wikis, support Q&As, company blogs and webinars. Ideally, it’s an interactive space where they can respond to content created by you and by other members, as well as contributing their content.
It’s about conversation. Set policies for healthy dialogue and constructive engagement, and empower your members. You may need to post a lot of the content to get the ball rolling, but your goal should be to get them talking. To each other. Collaborating, helping each other and even meeting in real life—enjoying spending time in a positive, interactive online community.
It’s an ongoing effort once you’re up and running, but with any luck, it will pay off in fans rallying around your brand, SEO-boosting social activity and lots of positive word-of-mouth. We’ll explore more about the role of community managers in an upcoming post.