If you’re a community manager with a branded B2B community, chances are product ideation is an important part of your roadmap. It’s also likely you’re experiencing at least some of the common challenges faced by this type of community – challenges that create virtual ghost towns if not carefully managed.
Business (not) as Usual.
The times they are a-changin’. Over the past 5 to 10 years, we’ve seen a dynamic shift in the way brands develop and market their products and services. As social media rose to the top, brands soon realised its limits beyond brand awareness. The social media market soon flooded, and all this became white noise.
Smart companies now look to the power of engaged online communities to develop products through the specific, direct feedback they provide.
The Inner Circle
Think of the business you’re developing as a product for a feedback partner. Businesses interested in investing in a company-wide service or product generally look for two key qualities:
- That they understand the product (and it’s fit for purpose).
- That it’s been used successfully by others (social proof).
When you invite customers into your online community, it gives them the opportunity to build trust and help shape your product or service in a useful way. You’re essentially getting on-the-ground, live feedback to ensure you’re building a valuable outcome.
In addition, bringing your clients into the inner circle builds trust and repositions them as not just a consumer, but as an invested partner.
Online communities also give companies the opportunity to see user-generated content (UGC) from other organisations to help shape the future of the product. UGC containing a brand earned 6.9x higher engagement than brand-generated posts according to a report by Mavrck.
While the B2B sector is often associated with higher spend, companies are still understandably cautious about getting stuck with the wrong outcome – whether that’s for a company-wide CMS system, an overhaul of the computer setup or any other big ticket investment.
So how do you avoid the worst? Engage and ask questions. Provide feedback to shape your product and learn about other organisations’ challenges, experiences and success stories. The bottom line is, there’s no better way to accomplish these tasks than through an online community.
The Concern of Secrecy
It’s common for online community managers to ask whether businesses will really be comfortable sharing their experiences (good and bad) with other businesses. This is particularly true when the product is in development.
But rest easy. CMX’s 2017 Community Value and Metrics Report examined some of the key challenges for B2B branded communities and discovered that 66% of respondents’ community members develop both online and offline relationships with each other via the online community experience.
In other words, two thirds of their clients are actually benefiting from being active and engaged members of their online community.
This also plays into another key benefit:
Loyalty and Advocacy
When you actively involve your business clients in the process, feedback loop, product lifecycle and outcomes through your online community, you move them from final destinations to brand ambassadors. Dale Carnegie’s “How to make friends and influence people” makes this point – one which is as valuable today as when it was first published in 1936:
Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Treat your community members as important, listen and be sincere, and you will gain their trust and loyalty; positioning them as advocates of your brand.
This has a number of tertiary benefits, namely;
- Word-of-mouth recommendation to others: the most cost-effective form of marketing.
- They become your problem solvers, answering questions in the community for others.
- Product defect reporting as an input vector for product improvement.
- Genuinely good feedback and experiences create a better product for everyone.
- New products and services are more likely to be considered and purchased due to brand trust.
Online communities belong at the heart of any smart-branded B2B dedicated to building better products and services. Purchasing decisions are painful and obstacle-ridden, but when you involve your clients in the process and connect them with other real-world organisations on a similar journey, you’re able to alleviate concerns, build better products or services, and offer value that sets your company apart in even notoriously competitive sectors.