Community-led growth has been called the future, the new frontier, and an accelerant for product-led growth. But what is it, and how do you execute a successful community-led growth strategy to support product-led growth efforts?
In this blog post, we’ll delineate the difference between an audience, a community, and the two different branches of communities that businesses generally choose between when launching their strategies. We’ll also run through tips for launching a good community-led growth initiative.
Community-led growth is a business strategy for driving customer acquisition and retention through (mostly) online community-building initiatives. Some companies also hold offline events as part of their community-led growth strategy, but most communities today start online: on Slack, Discord, Discourse, Twitch, email newsletters, and an abundance of other mediums.
It’s an integral piece of a larger go-to-market plan. When done well, community-led growth nurtures a growing base of avid brand loyalists while helping companies understand brand sentiment, solicit product feedback, source new leads, and improve lead qualification.
An audience is a passive group of viewers who are receiving content and other marketing collateral from businesses. The relationship between the audience and the business is not quite symbiotic: businesses want an audience to build brand awareness, but the audience doesn’t actually get anything of value from the business unless they choose to use their service.
A community, on the other hand, is much more mutually beneficial. Communities don’t interact primarily with the business—they interact with each other, member-to-member.
Both the business and the community members yield ongoing benefits from this dynamic: community members grow their knowledge, share best practices, get support, and form relationships with like-minded individuals. The business also wins by increasing brand awareness, customer acquisition, and customer retention.
Your community may include customers, prospects, developers, contributors, creators, and other influencers in your industry. As a business, it’s up to you to decide how exclusive your community will be. Slack can be invite-only, while other mediums, like Reddit or Discord, are open to any member.
Some communities are built to be specific: for role-specific or product-specific groups, you often need to either demonstrate that you have a current position within a certain function or that you are an active user of the product. Others are open to anyone who wants to learn something new or dive deeper into a product’s functionality.
Moderators and community managers curate the group and decide how focused or broad the membership will be. An exclusive group often has fewer but more engaged members, while a broader group garners more brand awareness but may be slightly less active.
Communities may form regardless of a company’s efforts to build one themselves. But by introducing and hosting a community on a specific channel, brands can guide the themes, activities, resources, and discussions shared and addressed within their community. It also enables a company to create a space for thought leadership and relationship-building.
Having a branded community—when done right—increases brand awareness, brand loyalty, and user retention to bolster existing product-led growth efforts.
If companies chose to host communities across multiple channels, it’s advisable to implement a community growth platform like Common Room to track and measure engagement across these community gathering places. This is helpful to surface trends that enrich sales conversations and product decisions, create more complete member profiles, and gauge the success of one channel or initiative over another.
There are two main categories of communities that brands primarily use to achieve their community-related KPIs: communities of product and communities of practice.
A community of product is centered on helping individuals build or use a certain product in a better, more creative, more efficient, or more innovative way.
Communities of product can include incentives for joining such as exclusive features, discounts on the product or upcoming events, opportunities for professional growth, advanced or priority support, merch, and career opportunities.
Salesforce’s “Trailblazers” community is a good example of a community of product. Trailblazers are professionals who use Salesforce in a particularly efficient or innovative way and help others to do the same. In turn, Salesforce gets valuable product feedback, access to superusers and advocates, and insights to help drive additional sales.
By contrast, a community of practice is built around people who come together to improve a skill, advance their knowledge base, or work towards a common goal.
Communities of practice often cater to professional aspirations and industries—like Superpath for content marketers or Stack Overflow for software developers. They can serve as a channel to educate, share knowledge, or consult with others for tips and advice.
Launching a community of practice positions brands as true subject matter experts and industry leaders within their space. It also provides a great opportunity to advance marketing strategies, distribute content, and share product updates to a captive audience—ultimately driving additional brand awareness and sales.
There are four reasons community-led growth is such a successful strategy for many businesses:
There are a few key considerations to keep in mind when laying the groundwork for a community-led growth strategy.
Specifically, it’s important to have a clear idea of your goals for the community, balance efforts to foster the community and also market your product, and tangibly measure the results of your efforts to support future community management initiatives.
The first step to building a community is to identify why you’re building it, what you hope community members get from the group, and what your business hopes to get from the group.
If you’re building a community of practice, the goals of your target users may be to learn the latest industry best practices, network with other peers in their community, or upskill. Conversely, if you’re building a community of product, your customers hope to learn new, innovative, and efficient ways to leverage your product to benefit them and their work.
Regardless of what kind of community you build or where you host it, the goals of your business probably include gathering and nurturing a large group within your target persona who would be in a position to view your content, receive product updates, and discuss ways to best use your platform or offerings. Increasing the number of members in your community, the reach of product education materials, and overall product usage may be a few of the goals you have for your community.
Your business has specific KPIs it hopes to hit. But remember, communities are mutually beneficial. The focus of your community-led growth initiative should be on helping your community members meet their goals which, in turn, will help your business meet its goals.
Think about how you approach a company blog—your blog content gives users free resources and information in exchange for brand awareness. In the same vein, community management offers a vibrant community of like-minded people with similar goals in exchange for brand promotion.
The focus of your community should be the community members themselves: their aspirations, their interests, their concerns, and their professional goals. Of course, your community will be focused on a theme related to your product, but keep the community's goals top of mind—whether you have a community of practice or a community or product.
Structure your community in a way that tracks back to your goals for the community members and your business, and allows you to maintain that focus on community participation. These things ideally should impact the way in which you organize conversation threads within the community, manage permissions, implement automated messages, and facilitate conversations.
Community managers need to think about how involved the brand will be in generating conversations and content, leading group discussions, holding events, or organizing activities. Some brands prefer a hands-off approach, while others host AMAs, hold contests, or promote in-person meet-ups.
Other considerations community managers should make involve engagement requirements and member activities and rewards. Are members required to post a certain number of messages within a specified time frame in order to maintain their membership status? Or will they be allowed to “lurk”? Are there any activities, like leveraging the product to create a custom template, that moderators reward with flair, badges, or swag?
Again: people join communities of any kind because they want connection.
Community managers function as supervisors, moderators, and facilitators. But the majority of the conversation should be user-generated. Making it easy for members to reply, direct message, and ask questions to each other is key to creating a self-sustaining community that stays afloat from its own momentum.
Adding a layer of intelligence across your community channels to measure the success of your community is also imperative for building a successful community-led growth strategy. Community Growth Platforms bring together data and insights across a variety of community-hosting channels—including Discord, Slack, Discourse, LinkedIn, and others—to ensure you can adjust or double-down on initiatives depending on which ones show tangible success against KPIs.
Platforms like Common Room can track engagement and help companies understand and analyze community data across channels to build a strategy that helps them hit KPIs related to referrals, user acquisition, and user retention. Common Room has a suite of analytics capabilities that enable community managers to identify product champions and engage with community members at scale. For go-to-market leaders, insights help source new leads, improve lead qualification, and enhance account-based marketing performance.
Common Room gives brands real-time intelligence, context, workflow automation, and data insights to accelerate community growth against measurable goals.
The platform pairs machine learning-powered insights with engagement and reporting tools to help community managers build, manage, and measure fast-growing communities, and help go-to-market leaders identify prospects, prioritize leads, and better understand the user journey.
Leverage automated workflows to deliver messages to specific users at the right time, customize automated reporting to keep track of your community’s health and identify areas for growth, and track the topics, discussions, and activities that are most impactful in your community and to your business’ bottom line.
If you’re looking to multiply the success of your community-led or product-led growth strategy with a self-sustaining community of brand evangelists, it’s a good idea to start by outlining the goals of your brand and your community to see which platform best suits your needs.
To intelligently engage and grow your community, try Common Room for free today. Looking for more about building a community-led growth strategy? Check out our post on how to build the future of community-led growth and connect with 1000+ community and DevRel leaders to share expertise and ask questions in the Uncommon community Slack.