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Phases of community growth
Dec 21st, 2022

Phases of community growth

Communities, like the people in them, are diverse and can include users, customers, developers, prospects, and more. Therefore, growing a community looks different from one organization to the next.

However, here at Common Room, we know that while communities are unique, most grow across the same community maturity curve and go through three phases of community growth.

  • Phase 1: seeding your community
  • Phase 2: cultivating and growing a healthy community
  • Phase 3: demonstrating community impact on business outcomes

It’s important to know where you are in your community maturity curve because:

  • It will help you focus your efforts to best benefit and grow your community,
  • It will inform the metrics you look at to gauge success,
  • It will help you build your community technology stack as you scale.

Keep reading to learn more about each phase of community growth and how to intelligently grow your community. To learn from community leaders who span these phases, join the discussion in the Uncommon Community Slack.

Why building and activating your community is a must

Building a robust and healthy community can help you achieve your business goals. Think about it: the more you can support your members and help these users overcome challenges, the more likely they will stick with you and or your product.

Some of the specific benefits of nurturing a strong community include:

  • Improved customer loyalty: By fostering a sense of belonging and providing a platform for discussion and collaboration, a well-managed community can help to drive end-user and customer loyalty. Members who feel connected to the community are more likely to continue using the your products and services.
  • Better product development: Since it includes your biggest power users, your community gives you direct access to valuable feedback and ideas for product development. Members can provide insights and suggestions for improving products and services—including identifying bugs or suggesting new features and UI improvements—which can help the company to stay competitive in fast-moving markets.
  • Cost savings: Building and maintaining a community can also help to reduce costs for your business. For example, through a community, users can self-serve support resources and help answer each other’s questions, which reduces the workload for customer support teams.
  • Increased sales and revenue: A strong and engaged community can help to drive customer acquisition and retention through community-led growth (CLG). Members who are engaged in your community are more likely to be happy users of your products and services, which means they are more likely to continue using them—and may also recommend them to others. Additionally, a community can help to increase brand awareness and generate leads, which can result in increased sales.

Bottom line: Whether you are a community of practice or a community of product, growing and activating a healthy community can help your reach your growth goals faster.

Understanding the community maturity curve

Community growth happens across a maturity curve with three phases: seeding, cultivating, and measuring.

  • Seeding your community: In the first phase, you are laser-focused on building relationships and reacting immediately to the needs of your members. In this phase, you are primarily providing product support and helping your initial set of community members find success.
  • Cultivating growth: You start to transitioning from reactive support to proactive relationship building in the second phase. You focus on cultivating growth by putting new programs into place that will set you up for sustained engagement with your community as you scale.
  • Showing business impact: In the most mature phase, your program is humming along and you’re now focused on quantifying the relationship between community engagement, product adoption, and revenue. While you’ll have KPIs and goals throughout your program’s growth, in this stage you’ll find ways to speak more directly to the community’s impact on key business metrics.

At each stage, your community will have unique needs, challenges to overcome, and specific metrics to track success.

Phase 1: Seeding the community

As you get your community off the ground, your sole focus should be ensuring your members are getting the help and resources they need to be successful.

For example, if you have an open source community, providing live and real-time support to help community members when they run into a challenge implementing or (even better) committing code.

What to focus on

The seed phase is mostly support-based, reactive, and temporary, meaning you will be doing things that are not sustainable long-term but necessary to get your community going (e.g., 1:1 product help or customer service, small group feedback sessions).

This phase is all about building those initial relationships with your end users and establishing your community as a place where members can find support. Nurturing these early relationships will bear future fruit in the form of community and product champions.

What to track

At seed, your community is predominantly support-based, so you want to ensure you’re responsive to member needs. You should also track key community health metrics to ensure your community is growing as your move towards the next phase.

  • Member growth: Collecting metrics on membership across your community channels lets you see if and how fast your community is growing.
  • Engagement: As your community grows, you want to ensure members are engaging with you and each other. From the total number of posts across channels to the ratio of active participants to observers, engagement metrics give you insight into how interested and engaged your members are in your community and the programs and resources it provides.
  • Sentiment: Tracking the overall sentiment of your community goes beyond engagement to help you understand if members’ experience in the community is positive. You can also dig into sentiment on a specific topic, tool, or event to get a better sense of what’s working (or not).
  • Community responsiveness: Tracking community responsiveness allows you to ensure all member’s questions are being answered—and in a timely manner—which builds trust and confidence in your community. You can also see when members are starting to answer each other’s questions, which is a key indicator of a self-sustaining community and a sign that you're maturing into the next stage.

Phase 2: Cultivating growth

As your community matures, community teams will facilitate more ways for members to interact with the product, the company, and each other, to cultivate the community's growth. This includes both additional programs as well as new community channels.

In this phase, you’ll also start to identify and activate your most engaged, enthusiastic, and influential community contributors.

What to focus on

As an increasing number of members join and engage with your community, you’ll be looking for opportunities to scale the work your doing. A great way to do this is through the top champions and contributors in your community: your superfans.

Amplify any resources these members are already creating, like blog posts, presentations, meetups, and more, and partner with these members to fill existing gaps in your content. Community generated content is great because it both takes some of the creation burden off of your team and also it is often perceived as more trustworthy by community members and prospects who are considering your offering.

You want to make it easy (and enticing) for these community superfans to share their expertise through things like champion or nurture programs. Be sure you’re recognizing and rewarding these members for their valuable contributions based on their individual motivations.

Building a thriving community also involves multiple channels of communication, engagement, and education. You’ve likely started with chat and social channels like Slack, Discord, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but will see the need to grow into additional dedicated channels for education, support, and collaboration.

In phase two, organizations typically interact with their community on at least four channels. Many community tech stacks start to look like this in the cultivating growth phase.

  • Chat-based community on Slack or Discord
  • Engagement on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Introduction of a searchable forum like Discourse or Stack Overflow
  • Collaboration in a code repository (e.g. GitHub)
  • Dedicated support channels via tools like Intercom

What to track

While you should still keep an eye on the health metrics from the seed stage, in phase two, it becomes important to differentiate between engagement and impact. Use metrics to determine which members, actions, activities, and content are most impactful.

  • Community responsiveness: Continue to track community responsiveness to ensure member’s questions are being answered as your community grows in size and across multiple channels. You should also pay closer attention to how often members are jumping into answer each other’s questions as this is a sign your community is becoming more self-sustaining, which is critical in this phase. Also note these members who are jumping in to provide expertise and support as they’ll be great candidates for new champion programs.
  • Community champions and superfans: Start programitizing how you engage with your top community contributors and superfans via champion and nurture programs. Use engagement metrics and sentiment to understand the success of these cohorts and the tactics you’re using to engage them. You can also track the number of members who qualify as product champions using measures like impact points. Having an increasing number of members who are deeply engaged in your community and qualifying as champions is a great sign that they’re finding value and motivated to give back.
  • Trending topics: Keeping a pulse on trending topics in your community is key to knowing what subjects and types of content will resonate most with your members. This insight helps inform what activities and content you develop for the biggest impact.

As your community grows and proliferates across channels, using an intelligent community growth platform can give you a unified view and help you determine who your key contributors, champions, and advocates are as you continue along your community growth journey.

Phase 3: Showing business impact

In the impact phase, phase three, it is critical for community leaders to understand and showcase how community engagement correlates to product adoption and revenue.

Measuring and demonstrating impact or proving your community’s ROI is critical to earn buy-in from stakeholders and set your community up for enduring success past the seed and scale stages. For your members, demonstrating the value of community to the business secures future and further investment in them—the members.

What to focus on

You know you are in phase 3 because you have attained a high level of maturity and are prepared to demonstrate bottom-line company impact by tying community to key business metrics like:

  • Annual recurring revenue
  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Customer retention rate

In phase three, you bring together the tools, processes, and people to be able to articulate the impact of community to the C-suite. You will likely still be working on growing your community (phase 2) even as you start to report on its impact on the business—this is a great sign and should accelerate your growth efforts.

Asana is a great example of an organization with a mature community program that can tie its work to business goals. They look at business metrics like event-driven product adoption and community-attributed revenue to measure the success of their community-led growth efforts.

Many companies, like Asana and Ecosystems, have come to realize that community can drive business results in parallel with GTM strategies like product-led growth and often faster than traditional sales and marketing approaches.

What to track

Combining community engagement with product usage and revenue data unlocks a whole new set of metrics to demonstrate the impact of your program on the business and gives you insight into how you can accelerate community-led growth.

  • Customer acquisition: Thriving communities allow prospects to engage with product advocates and help them get questions/objections addressed quickly. Understanding how community engagement impacts product adoption and revenue is critical in articulating community’s impact on the business and will inform your future programming.
  • Retention: When customers have access to information, use cases, and templates, they can get the most value from your product and are more likely to remain loyal to your community and tool.
  • Community-attributed revenue: Revenue from members engaged in the community (before they appeared in your CRM or marketing automation system) is one of the best ways to demonstrate the impact community has on your business.

With aggregated data from across your community channels, social sites, and CRM, you can get a holistic view of your members and how organizations are engaging with your business. These insights are invaluable to proving the power of your community program.

Next steps: Common Room can help you accelerate growth

It’s important to recongize that maturing from phase to phase and scaling your community without friction can be aided with support of community tooling. Be thoughtful in building your community technology stack based on the needs of your community in each phase.

Yet each of these new tools brings with it a new set of metrics to measure. Using a community growth platform like Common Room allows you to see all of the members, activities, and organizations in your community in one place, so you can understand your community at a glance and take action to better engage your members.

Regardless of which stage you’re in, integrating data across your systems and tools is critical in scaling your community efforts. With Common Room you can bring together your community engagement across all channels—including revenue data and product usage—to unlock the metrics key in each phase that will help you accelerate both your community and business growth.

Ready to intelligently engage and grow your community? Try Common Room for free today or request a demo.