Are you considering creating a community of professionals to share insights, ask for advice, and develop new ideas? Your SaaS company may be the perfect platform for gathering this group.
We’re doing this at Quala, and it’s been hugely helpful for both our members and our company to be able to reach out and connect with one another on a regular basis. We love serving as a support—and a bullhorn—for other Customer Success communities in our ecosystem.
If you’re thinking of starting a community for your customers or colleagues, here are some details on different ways to bring people together, what events and resources to consider, and how to attract members to your group.
Why Build a Community Around Your SaaS Brand?
Building a community is not an easy project, so you need to have some very good reasons before launching into it.
Customer communities boost loyalty.
Brand-building is no longer about a one-to-many approach, with you blasting out communications and your customers passively taking them in. Your customers want to engage with the brands they do business with, and a community is a purpose-built platform that fulfills that desire.
“Brands have become more human, real and adaptable, and in some cases are being co-created with consumers acting more like constituents,” says Joy Panos Stauber, president of Stauber Brand Studio, in an article on the American Express website. “The fact is that building community builds human connections.”
According to The State of Community Management Report 2020 from Higher Logic, 77% of advanced community programs impact customer loyalty—and the top business outcome connected to external communities is customer retention.
Customer communities help you build a better product.
We’re all about balancing quantitative and qualitative data here at Quala, and a customer community can help you create that balance in your market research.
Surveys get you the hard numbers about what your customers are looking for in your product—and a community platform lets you gather more qualitative intel from your customers’ interactions with one another. For example, your customers might start a conversation around an issue they’re having that sparks an idea for a new feature you can build into your product.
Customer communities reduce calls to your helpdesk.
With you providing self-help resources as part of your community, and your customers helping one another by offering their experiences and advice, there will be less of a need to reach out to the helpdesk with issues.
Industry-based communities help you innovate.
A group of peers can offer ideas and insights you might not get in the bubble of your own business. A community “exposes people to new ideas […] and rapidly surfaces shifting needs,” according to The State of Community Management Report 2020.
Launching Your Community
If you’re convinced that you want to start a community around your SaaS brand, here’s how to make it happen.
1. Define your audience.
You want your community to be laser focused on exactly the right people. Don’t try to be everything to everyone—it’s easier to start small and scale up than to start off with every possible prospect and then try to corral the chaos.
Take a look at your mission statement to see if that helps you narrow down your prospects, since you want people who fit in with your mission and values. You might even create a mission statement just for the community; for example, part of our mission for Humans of CS is to foster a human-first approach to community, rather than the forum-style of networking that can be so impersonal. So we know to look for members who resonate with our human-centric, #givefirst philosophy.
You can also try creating (small) barriers to entry to attract members who are serious and ready to engage, such as only allowing people who have purchased your product to join or asking prospective members to complete a challenge.
2. Outline your offerings.
What features will be included in your community? Some sort of communication and engagement platform is a given, but you might also consider:
- Member-only content.
- A FAQ that you add to as you grow your membership and get more questions.
- Expert moderators to answer questions or offer feedback.
- Webinars with industry experts.
- Regular community calls (which is something we do at Quala).
Get creative to figure out what goodies would really resonate with your people.
3. Set your standards.
Community members want to feel safe, seen, and welcome. Be sure to build these considerations into your community by developing terms of conduct, determining who will enforce them, and making sure they are consistently followed. This is another reason to limit your membership, at least at first.
To create this welcoming environment, Greg Tinkler, owner of the marketing and branding agency Cre8tive Group, also recommends encouraging inside jokes and memes and offering benefits like special badges to the most-engaged members. Having higher-level execs from your company jump in occasionally to engage and offer advice can also help build confidence, according to CMNTY, a video platform for market researchers.
4. Pick your platform.
The options for where to host your community can be overwhelming. But you don’t need to invest a lot of money in a special platform with every bell and whistle you could ever dream of. Instead, you might want to start off in a simple forum, a LinkedIn Group, or Slack, and then expand as your group grows and you have a better idea of what you need.
When you’re ready, check out this list of the top community platforms from Capterra; you can quickly see which features each of them offers, read detailed reviews from users, and click through to their websites. Look for a platform that matches your budget, your technical ability, how your members like to interact, and the features you need.
At Quala, we use helpful.io, a community enablement platform for distributed organizations that “activates helpfulness and deeper connections for members and managers”—which fits in perfectly with our mission! (Learn more about Humans of CS and join here.)
5. Reach out to prospective members.
You’ve got your platform, you know what you’re offering, you have terms of conduct all set up, and you know what kind of people you’d like to have in your group. Now it’s time to start building up your membership list.
First, reach out directly to the people you know you’d love to have on board. To keep things manageable, you can then divide the remaining prospects into groups (phase 1, phase 2, etc.) and invite one tier at a time.
When you’re ready to add even more members, reach out to your email newsletter subscribers and social media followers, and ask influencers in your industry or in your customer base—who were likely in your initial invite group—to send an invitation to people they think would be a good fit.
6. Grow your group.
Once your community is moving along, you may want to grow it. Richard Millington, founder of the community consultancy FeverBee, says that there are four stages to building a community, with different actions for each—from inception to “mitosis.”
After your community is established, you may be spending time creating content, encouraging engagement, fixing problems, and resolving disputes. At this point, you can also collect and analyze data to not only figure out the next best steps for the group, but also to put any customer insights to work for your SaaS company.
At later stages, it’s all about optimizing the community, growing its influence, and creating sub-groups.
Don’t feel pressured to grow, though—if you like the size of your group as it is and your members are happy, you’re all set. But do take stock occasionally to see if there’s anything you might improve, fix, or add for your members.
A well-run community can help your members, your industry, and your business. If you’d like to see a real-life example of a community that works, please join Quala’s Humans of CS Community.