Community-led growth (CLG) and product-led growth (PLG) are not opposing go-to-market plans—they’re two strategies that reinforce and accelerate each other when executed in tandem.
Community-led growth and product-led growth work together to propel your business to the forefront of your category or market in two distinct ways. Product-led growth accelerates adoption by prospects and customers, while community-led growth connects them with each other and your internal teams to better get value from, share expertise about, and extend the reach of your product to others faster and more authentically.
In this post, we will:
An increasing number of organizations are embracing community-led growth as a strategy for user acquisition, user retention, upselling, content distribution, and building industry and brand awareness and affinity. Establishing and nurturing a healthy community helps a business grow by connecting the company and their product users, fans, and prospects.
Foundationally, the objective of a community-led growth strategy is the same as a product-led growth strategy: To grow the customer base by creating happier, more successful customers who understand and receive the value of your product.
Using a community-led growth strategy, companies can build and deepen authentic, ongoing relationships with their existing users and prospects within their target persona that can, eventually, also extend into new markets. Community managers can lay the foundation for a community-led growth strategy by
Community-led growth is a strategy for driving customer acquisition, retention, and value through online community-building initiatives and the network effect. Many companies sponsor in-person events as part of their community strategy, but most start and maintain daily community interaction through online channels: Slack, Discord, Discourse, Twitter, Reddit, GitHub, LinkedIn, Twitch, email newsletters, and others.
By contrast, a product-led growth strategy positions your product as the central force driving your go-to-market strategy—the product itself is the main draw attracting users. The idea is that, if your product sufficiently solves a user’s problem, they’ll onboard into your product, your customer base will grow, and you’ll have the opportunity to deepen their usage and move them to a paid plan with additional features and functionality later.
While both strategies reinforce each other, community-led growth and product-led growth have one important distinction: community-led growth centers on the customer, while product-led growth centers on the product solution.
Community-led growth accelerates the awareness and acquisition you’ve already garnered by offering a stellar product. Nurturing and growing your community generates a strong flywheel of user feedback, user awareness and acquisition, and brand affinity.
There are a few main ways community-led growth can supplement your product-led growth initiatives, including its ability to enable you to surface contextual and timely community insights, build stronger and more enduring relationships with users, inform product prioritization and development, and improve the customer experience for everyone.
If you’re leveraging a community-led growth platform as part of your CLG strategy, you’ll have access to insights and data about community engagement, community sentiment, community feedback, trending topics, and a host of other analytics that you can use to refine your product-led growth strategy.
For example, if your community-led growth strategy includes hosting your community across Slack, Discourse, and LinkedIn, an intelligent community-led growth platform can surface insights about trending conversations and topics that are important to your members and users.
Let’s say there’s a trending conversation happening about a new feature…and member sentiment is negative. Community managers—and other internal team members—can get immediate alerts about the negative sentiment, analyze the issue, quickly identify and triage the user’s problem (a bug, potentially), collaborate with their internal product and engineering team, and quickly respond to the member with a path to resolution.
Perhaps the most substantive value that nurturing a community generates is that it provides a place for connection.
Making it easy for members to reply, direct message, ask questions, and connect helps create a self-sustaining, engaged community as well as grow awareness and reach of your product or service. For some, their community can also function as a launchpad for product-specific education, feedback, and evangelism that helps further develop the product experience. When community members see organizations actively listen to and address their needs, they’re more likely to recommend you or highlight you across their networks. Earning this kind of brand affinity and trust serves as a boon to an existing product-led growth strategy.
In the same way that a product-led growth strategy focuses on creating a product that speaks for itself as users self-serve onto it, a community-led growth strategy creates a customer base that speaks for itself and encourages more members to join. Rather than solely promoting your product through paid channels, your community members become your best advocates and help to champion your product through organic (and more authentic) means.
Organizations often build one of two types of communities: A community of practice or a community of product.
In a community of practice, an organization brings members together around a common industry interest, job function, or subject area. Communities of practice focus on helping community members learn, grow, and network professionally.
In a community of product, an organization focuses on the product itself. These communities focus on sharing product-specific best practices and innovative product use cases, and they center on helping community members best use a product to address their needs and continue growing in their knowledge of how they might apply its use to solve other challenges.
A key component to running a community of product is soliciting, listening to, and responding to user feedback. Communities of product often allow users to make feature requests, test new features early, and provide feedback on existing features. This allows for real-time product development and creates a closed feedback loop between product teams and their users.
Building a community of product is a great way to inform product development and create a product that users truly love. By crowdsourcing product feedback directly from existing users, organizations can create and refine a product-led growth strategy that more acutely solves their users’ needs and helps them expand into new use cases.
Over time, a smaller cohort of community members will reveal themselves to be enthusiastic product champions, active community contributors and exemplar community leaders, or superusers with a ton of great feedback and ideas for how the product can further help them and their organizations achieve their goals.
This cohort will be more likely to deliver nuanced product feedback, uncover bugs, share content and ideas with other members, collaborate on go-to-market initiatives, and amplify your solution and organization across their networks, both digitally and in person. This cohort of members is key to taking your community, product, and customer base to the next level, so do what you can to acknowledge their contributions.
To do this, ask them what makes them feel celebrated and recognized—it may be early access to beta features, opportunities to highlight their expertise through events or content collaborations, or fun badges, certifications, or swag.
Delivering a positive user experience is an integral part of any product-led growth strategy. Reinforcing your product-led growth strategy with a community-led growth strategy can help your organization create memorably delightful customer experiences beyond the confines of your application or user interface.
While delivering an excellent user experience focuses on building a simple and intuitive user interface and application, delivering an excellent customer experience focuses on meeting the customer where they are across their entire journey, from product evaluation and onboarding to frequent product usage and consistent community engagement.
By nurturing an active, engaged community, organizations can meet their customers at every stage of their journey. Community leaders, official managers, and everyday members can illustrate product utility through personal use cases, answer prospects’ questions, and help forge connections that extend a customer’s network and industry understanding.
As a complement to these daily types of conversations, community managers can bring members together through events, host AMAs, co-create community programs, highlight helpful member contributions, send swag, and publicly recognize particularly active members to build trust and enthusiasm within their community and create a welcoming and enduring place that prospects are excited to be a part of.
Some allstar organizations that leverage both product and community-led growth strategies in tandem to achieve success include Figma, Asana, and dbt Labs. Each takes a unique approach to combining its product-led growth strategy with an engaging community-led growth strategy.
Figma, the leading collaborative application for interface design, integrated community-led growth into its go-to-market strategy early on. The team leveraged a bottom-up growth strategy and built a vibrant community while the product was still in stealth mode.
The company’s Senior Director of Marketing, Claire Butler, began developing individual relationships with people in design communities that existed before Figma’s first product was even released. Claire spent months conducting informal discovery chats and deeply interacting with people who would become future prospects and customers. When the company came out of stealth mode, Figma launched as a closed beta that required sign-up. Claire helped Figma gain a large number of waitlist sign-ups through her early work and the conversations she nurtured across channels that Figma’s target customers were already interacting on, like Twitter.
Figma’s community-led growth strategy helped the organization build a healthy pipeline of early adopters and product evangelists, invite those evangelists closer to the product and the internal teams building it, and create a flywheel of community activity, engagement, education, reach, and enthusiasm.
In 2019, Asana, the leading work management and productivity platform, launched a three-pronged community program that cemented the company as one that values and prioritizes community health and engagement as much as it does marketing and product initiatives.
Launched in 2019, the Asana Together program is comprised of three branches:
This three-pronged approach demonstrates a clear connection between healthy community engagement and product-led growth. Through their active community, Asana creates, maintains, and grows enthusiastic product champions who derive so much value from the product and organization that they’re willing to advocate for the brand on their own.
dbt Labs, the pioneering analytics engineering company, leveraged its community and product-led growth initiatives to triple its customer base in 2021.
The dbt Slack community connects more than 25,000 data professionals and hosts over 12 dbt Meetup groups across eight countries. dbt Labs’ successful community-led growth strategy centers on the goals of their community members—analytics engineers—not the discrete goals of the company.
To make sure they prioritize the right product initiatives at the right time, dbt Labs actively uses the community as a first-principle source for product feedback, which also fuels its product-led growth strategy as new users get to experience more refined features and more powerful, applicable use cases when they onboard onto the product.
The success of both the dbt community and dbt Labs’ product-led growth strategies is a testament to the importance of creating a trusted feedback loop between community members and the companies and teams that build for them.
Common Room offers organizations real-time community intelligence and insights that enable community-led growth strategies, power community engagement, and drive business impact.
With Common Room, you can:
If you’re building or managing a community across multiple channels, spending most of your time manually tracking member sentiment, needs, and requests, or thinking about implementing or leveling up your community-led growth strategy, now’s the time to get started with an intelligent community growth platform.
Try Common Room for free today or request a demo. Looking for more about building a community-led growth strategy? Check out our other posts on topic and join our Uncommon community, where you can connect with 1000+ community and DevRel leaders to share expertise and ask questions.