By now, most business leaders appreciate the importance of social media and online communities in branding and marketing. In fact, it’s safe to say that if you don’t have a community, you don’t have a business. Much like your website is the centrepiece of your wider digital marketing strategy, your community is the hub of your content and social media marketing. It’s one of your most valuable marketing assets.
Aside from being a hotbed of discussion where brand advocates and influencers are born, your company-owned online community also serves as a go-to informational resource for your customers. People will make a beeline for your forums in search of onboarding tips, advice for your product or service and quick, peer-to-peer support.
To that end, your community benefits the whole business – from marketing to customer support to research and development.
What Are the Unique Aspects of Moderating a B2B Community?
Although there are many things that B2B enterprises can learn from their cousins in B2C, matters are very different when it comes to community moderation. B2B customers rely on your business for their own success, so you simply can’t afford to let them down. If your community grows to become a venue that allows anyone to join and talk about anything they want, it will quickly lose its relevance .
One of the most important differences of a B2B community is its tailored approach towards professional audiences with specific needs and challenges. In most cases, they’ll engage with your community as part of their working routines – not for entertainment or purchase advice. It’s this businesslike atmosphere that lends to higher quality and more relevant content.
Moderating B2B communities must be done with care. On the one hand, you mustn’t handle educated professionals with kid gloves. On the other, it’s imperative to steer the conversation in the right direction to keep your community-created content useful and relevant to its target audience.
Your customers will turn to your community for prompt support and advice. They won’t have the time nor the patience to wade through useless posts and irrelevant banter. At the same time, they certainly won’t want to feel patronized. After all, a B2B customer is less a client than a business partner.
It’s better not to think of the process as moderation at all. Instead, imagine your moderators as thought leaders dedicated to bringing clearly defined groups of professionals together into one place. Instead of forums, think focus groups consisting of members who share common goals and challenges. Remember, moderators aren’t meant to ‘police’ a B2B community – they’re more like mentors who inspire a loyal following and encourage relevant and constructive conversation.
It’s also important to understand why people want to join your B2B community in the first place. Just because they’re your customers doesn’t mean they’ll automatically start interacting with your community. They need to know what’s in it for them, whether that’s tips get more out of their investments or seek peer-to-peer support from a database of tribal knowledge.
These priorities have given rise to many B2B communities, as busy professionals turn away from large, public social communities to enjoy the exclusivity that Facebook, Twitter or Reddit can never hope to provide.
Segment Your Audience to Maintain Content Relevancy
Content relevancy is important in any community, but in B2B communities it must be your number-one priority. Time is money, so B2B customers want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Odds are, they won’t have time to scroll through too many forum posts. This means the performance of their business depends heavily on how organized your community forums are, as well as the availability of relevant content.
Many B2B communities are gated for precisely this reason. Aside from helping you create a more exclusive experience for your customers, gating your community will help you maintain a consistently high level of content quality and relevancy. Keeping your community forums password-protected and out of the reach of search engines will also discourage spammers, trolls and others who bring nothing of value.
Deciding whether or not to gate your community isn’t easy. Usually the best solution is to keep parts of it open to the public. This gives potential customers an opportunity to get a feel for your community and the product behind it before deciding to work with you. At the same time, you can have a gated section of your community for paying customers. These gated sections tend to be better for handling peer-to-peer support requests and providing exclusive access to pre-release versions of products or services.
Aside from the question of gating your community, you must also consider your audience segments. Unless you offer a niche product or service to a specific audience, you must segment your community forums so that posts end up in the right place. For example, if you offer a technology platform to law firms, healthcare providers and manufacturing companies, you’ll probably want to have separate forum sections for each industry. After all, every industry faces its own set of challenges and operational priorities that need to be catered to individually.
For the most part, the way you segment your community forums will be consistent with the way you segment your customer personas. However, you must also have separate community resources for different products and services you offer. If you offer multiple tiers for a product or service, you could also have forum sections for each tier. For example, a cloud service provider might offer its top-tier members access to an exclusive space for beta product testing and feedback.
There are many options available to you, so be sure to choose a setup that aligns with your corporate goals.
Using Gamification to Enable Peer-to-Peer Moderation
Using elements of game design to drive constructive conversation in B2B community forums may sound like an odd mix, but it’s a tried and tested approach which most people now expect.
In its most basic form, community gamification may allow for the upvoting or downvoting of posts and replies. This is a quick and easy way to enable peer-to-peer moderation and automate a good portion of your content quality control By implementing a voting system, the most helpful posts will end up with the most visibility. Conversely, those consistently voted unhelpful will end up at the bottom of the pile and greyed out or flagged for manual review.
Gamification will do much more than help you keep the trolls and spammers at bay – it also encourages knowledge exchange by adding some fun to the mix and motivating members to post constructively. That’s a lot better in a B2B community than having a team of patronizing moderators trying to play the role of policemen among a group of educated professionals!
For example, you can assign forum ranks and badges to members who have the most upvotes – a member with a thousand upvotes may receive a rank of ‘Community Guru’, while a member who has reached ten-thousand votes may be identified as a ‘Community Superstar’ and so forth. It’s entirely up to you how many ranks you have and what you call them.
To further encourage the exchange of knowledge, you can offer tangible rewards to your most valuable members. For example, you may tie in the ability to include links in posts to a particular rank, while rewarding high-ranking members with the ability to add signatures to their posts. Again, your imagination is the only limit.
Another aspect of gamification is to bring some competition into the equation. Think leaderboards and high scores that reward your best members with recognition. It’s rather like the digital equivalent to the ubiquitous ‘employee of the month’ plaques found in offices all over the world. This approach may not work for every B2B audience, but it’s a good fit for many. Just make sure that the gamification features you choose don’t get in the way of the experience. Remember, gamification isn’t a standalone system – it’s a tool to complement your community-building efforts.
Be Consistently Visible to Your Community Members
With useful tools like gamification and peer-to-peer moderation at your disposal, you may be tempted to think you can just leave your community to look after itself. But beware – that’s a recipe for disaster.
Automation is a great help, but it’s no substitute for meaningful interaction from the brand behind it. If you’re not consistently visible to your members, they will wonder whether you’ve gone bust. Once that happens, it won’t be long before your community becomes a virtual post-apocalyptic wasteland. An abandoned community is a big liability which harms your reputation.
While you can rely on peer-to-peer modification to automate the more repetitive work involved with looking after a community, you still need representatives from your own team to maintain a constructive presence on your forums. You must also make it obvious that they’re your employees. You can do this by assigning them unique profile badges and ranks or by giving greater visibility to their posts and replies (think unique font or text color). After all, members expect regular participation from the brand behind the community, so you must make your involvement as obvious as possible.
The employees tasked with direct participation in your community forums are much more than just moderators. A more accurate job description would be community outreach coordinator, manager, director or assistant. Far from just policing your forums, they’re there to support knowledge exchange and encourage others to be visible online. While you’ll always have some community members who prefer to watch from the sidelines, it’s important to encourage your members to play a more active role.
Encouraging others to participate begins with a healthy community, but there are some opportunities that you may not have considered
For example, when onboarding new customers, be sure to welcome them to your community and encourage them to come back whenever they’re seeking help or leaving feedback. Another option is to reach out to previously active members who have become dormant with a ‘we miss you’ email. More often than not, people appreciate the attention, particularly when it comes directly from those behind the brand.
Enabling Easy Access to Informational Resources
Successful B2B communities come in different sizes, from vast networks like Microsoft’s MSDN to small and exclusive communities with only a few hundred members. What they all have in common is the ability to provide easy access to useful content, and a skill for engaging their members. They’re a go-to informational resource for professionals within your sphere of influence which means they have a solid infrastructure that brings useful information together.
Make sure that all the most important information is immediately accessible from the community homepage. This includes an overview of the rules, introductory information to help onboard new members, a list of frequently asked questions and links to each forum section. In short, visitors to your homepage must know the purpose of your community and where to find their desired information right off the bat. This will help reduce frustration, improve customer satisfaction and encourage the creation of value-adding user-generated content.
A B2B community should be a place where a group of experts can assemble to share best practices and offer each other help in meeting common goals. It’s a virtual hangout that educates, connects, involves and rewards members – and increases loyalty to your brand. It’s where brand advocates are born.
With the right mix of thought leadership, consistent brand involvement and peer-to-peer moderation, you’ll have the infrastructure in place to create a major marketing and brand asset, as well as a fully automated support community that your customers can depend on.