Three Ways Your Community Can Generate Sales Leads

Online communities are often seen as simply the price of doing business. An entry on a ledger somewhere reads “Community Budget”, because it seems that Everyone Is Doing It. As great as online communities are for engaging your customers and cutting support costs, your CFO might still see your community as a cost centre. In fact, the ability for communities to generate leads can make them a great source of new revenue. If you’re looking to improve your community’s status on the balance sheet, here are are few suggestions for where to start:

1. Train your community managers to identify upgrade and upsell opportunities

Too many companies treat their community managers as glorified janitors, but the role has a lot of potential. Rather than simply asking them to clean up spam and ban trolls, ask your community managers and moderators to keep an eye out for customers who might want to upgrade their service, purchase add-ons or update to a premium product. Your community team should be in the trenches already, and they’re in a prime position to see what customers want and guide them towards a new purchase.

The training part is important however. Your CMs will need guidance on how to upsell without seeming manipulative or greedy. You don’t want a team who answer every question with “Perhaps you should consider the Premium Upgrade for only $17.99! What a deal!!!”. Consumers know when they’re being sold to. When you have a great product and your team are aware of its best qualities, they should be able to extol its virtues without seeming like shark-eyed sales drones.

2. Integrate your community into your CRM

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is fast becoming a necessity for any company that wants to build a strong customer base. If you don’t have your CRM plumbed into your large community, you’re missing a trick. An integrated CRM (e.g Salesforce) can allow your moderators and community managers to identify sales leads and then escalate them to the sales team with the click of a button.

Using your community team to generate leads has side benefits aside from the obvious revenue potential. It gives your community team a solid, useful metric to follow. It allows them to be more involved with revenue generation, rather than being a nebulous side team. The more leads your team generates, the easier it will be to justify spending resources on your community. This will make your customers feel valued, and help the community to grow. As the community grows, more leads develop, and you edge ever closer to the critical mass where your forum will grow and improve organically without further spending.

3. Allow your existing customers to sell your product for you

It’s common for companies to try and keep their communities to existing customers only, to foster a feeling of exclusivity. While this certainly has its merits, it also means you’re missing out on free lead generation. When your customers are enthusiastic about your product, letting non-customers mingle with them is a great, low-effort way to create interest in your product. It’s also completely organic, so customers who are sold to in this way don’t feel like they fell for some clever bit of marketing. They feel like they took a recommendation from a friend.

This can also be useful for upselling existing customers. Someone who is considering whether to buy a premium version of your product (e.g a higher capacity smart phone) will be more responsive to the opinions of existing users than to your marketing material. Not only will they not consider another customer to be a stakeholder (and therefore untrustworthy), they may also feel that familiar pang of jealousy that comes from seeing someone with a slightly cooler version of a product that they covet. Best of all? This interaction didn’t cost you any time or money.

Friday Theme Tip: Customizing Multilingual

If you have the Multilingual plugin enabled, by default the links to the locales enabled will appear in your footer, just below the Vanilla Forums logo (as you can see below).


Please note: This helps users see the community menu items in their local language, the content itself is not translated.

Changing Default Look

As you can see, the default CSS for the language switcher is meant to fit easily into any theme. Nevertheless, you may want to make things a bit more apparent to users that a language option exists. Below is some CSS to do just that:

/*color and location of the option box*/
div.LocaleOptions {
background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% #FFFFCC !important;
border: solid 1px !important;
color: #000000 !important;
float: right;
padding: 10px !important;
width: 25% !important;

/* link color */
div.LocaleOptions a {
color: #3F3F3F !important;
padding: 4px !important;

/* link color hover*/
div.LocaleOptions a:hover {
color: #7e7e7e !important;

The above CSS will result in the language box appearing as follows:


Change the colors, as you need. You can use this handy website to choose different color options for your theme.

Please note: The language option will only show once users sign in, so the preference can be set for them.

We hope this post has given you some ideas to make multilingual stick out. Check back next Friday for another tip. In the meantime, check out the earlier tips or get a copy of our theme guide.

Introducing Multi-Forum Management

Today, we are introducing two new features that will improve Vanilla deployments where  customers are better served by dividing the forum into smaller sections or many multiple forums. The first is called Sub-communities which lets you divide one community into smaller sub-communities, the other is called Vanilla Hub and allows for the rapid creation of multiple separate forum instances (forums are not to be confused with categories).
multi-forum Continue reading

How Micromanagement Can Damage Your Community


One of my main responsibilities as a Professional Internet (Editor’s Note: no it’s not a typo – it says that on Patrick’s business cards – long story) is to consult with clients about best practises and methods for running their community. These meetings are rarely with the moderators of the forum, but are normally with the project managers who are responsible for the oversight of the project. Needless to say, they aren’t in the trenches of the community themselves, but I can normally tell a lot about them from the way they speak about their moderators, and the tools that they use to manage them.

It’s not uncommon for a manager to want the specifics of how to remove as much power from moderators as they can. Specifically, they want to ensure that moderators can’t delete posts, edit content or ban users. They also want to use analytics to monitor exactly how much each moderator is doing, to ensure that they’re pulling their weight. The frequency of these requests raises three questions for me. Firstly; if a moderator can’t ban a user or edit content, what specific use does the manager expect to get from them? Secondly; if the people you’ve chosen as moderators are so untrustworthy that they can’t be trusted with this functionality, what made you choose them for the role? Thirdly; since moderation is invariably an unpaid position, why would a moderator want to volunteer to be on a team where they aren’t trusted?

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Friday Theme Tip: Customize Discussion Appearance

3-types of vanilla discussions

As noted in the above graphic, there are some different types of discussions you will encounter in Vanilla Forums:

  • New: These are discussions you have seen, but new comments have been added since you last looked. By default, it will also have a little yellow indicator with a count of how many comments were added.
  • Brand New: These are discussions which you have not read.
  • None New: You have read these discussions, and no one has commented on them since your last visit.
  • None New & Participated: Not in the image above, these are message you have commented on in the past, but has no new responses since your last visit.

Each of these types can be modified with CSS: Continue reading