Building Strong Relationships via User Communities (Christina Garnett)

Christina Garnett

The term “community” has been impossible to hide from, especially with the shifts in our world since early 2020. Though community is far from a new concept, the forced shift from in-person connection to online only meant people from around the world were no longer isolated by where they lived or worked. Just as work moved from the office to the home, connection existed…

Companies embrace the community narrative

User communities create a unique environment for companies to create a safe space for their customers. These communities, sometimes referred to as communities of product, offer opportunities to create a company-to-user as well as user-to-user or peer-to-peer relationship. These relationships are nurtured through engagement and learning opportunities, whether by answering user questions or offering beta testing opportunities. Whatever it looks like, user communities are an essential piece of added value for SaaS and other product companies who are wondering what community could look like for them.

For leadership wondering what this provides on a business impact level, these are a few of the benefits of user communities:

  1. User feedback and product improvement suggestions
  2. Increased brand loyalty and customer satisfaction
  3. User-generated content and advocacy
  4. Cost-effective support and troubleshooting
  5. Market research and understanding of customer needs

As “community” has become recognized as the next lever for businesses to pull for growth and revenue, it is set up for failure if there isn’t an alignment of how this is beneficial from the business AND member perspective. It has to be mutually beneficial. As soon as the business doesn’t see enough return, it’s usually sunset. As members stop seeing value, they tend to feel used and stop engaging. Either way, the community dies.

An engaged customer base that feels connected and appreciated by the business will drive innovation through feedback loops. Will help problem-solve with fellow customers to minimize support staffing costs, and will have a deeper connection to the business and their fellow customers. Connection minimizes churn. Connection unlocks levels of satisfaction and advocacy that not only help retention but can drive new revenue.

This approach, Community-Led Growth, highlights that the customers are where they should be, at the heart of what you do.

Let’s plan and execute

How do you create a user community? When creating these user communities is incredibly important to decide how you will decide who gets the door and who doesn’t?

What is the qualifier? It can be incredibly broad, where as long as you are a member of the customer base, that’s it. It could be based on your location, so it’s your user and another qualifying attribute. Whether it be where you work, where you live, your jobs to be done, your job title, if there is a niche-specific subgroup within the generalized customer community, this is your chance to access your customer base and determine what this looks like.

This initial transparency of qualification is paramount as your users join and determine if their self-identification aligns with yours. Being clear about this from the beginning will ensure that new members can join and/or determine what steps they need to take before joining.

Once you’ve deemed who makes up this group, you need to do customer interviews. As a company, you should be doing customer interviews anyway, but you want to do them in this case specifically to learn more about them from a community lens.

What are their motivations? What would make them want to engage? Why would they want to join a community? Is it support-focused? Is it? They work from home, and they just want to be able to connect with people. It could be that they use your product, and they are a one-person team, and because of that, they never really have anyone at their job that they can talk to when it comes to that specific product and need their own inner circle.

Whatever it looks like, you need to care and do these customer interviews to determine deep down inside what type and level of connection your different customers want to achieve. You need to be prepared for variables. Variables that you cannot control and that aren’t necessarily going to raise their hand and identify themselves to you. Once you understand the motivations of these user community members, you can start determining and finding what these variables could be. If you have a user community group that is in a specific location, then depending on what hours of the day that location is depending on local holidays, that could dictate how you’re engagement is different from one day to the next. It also could dictate if you need to make a specific head count so that you have community managers that speak a specific language or have a specific cultural knowledge so that they can acclimate and converse in a thoughtful and localized way with your community members.

What does this look like in practice?

Take it from Oscar Robles, Senior Marketing Manager, HUGs for HubSpot.
“Last year, our HubSpot user group (HUGs) program hosted hundreds of events across the world that reached nearly 24,000 people. There’s no way we’d be able to do that without our community of HUG Leaders. Not only do they support our goals around scale, but through this community-led approach, we’re able to make meaningful connections with our customers, connections that support their education of our product and services and education that inspires them to tackle and achieve over challenges within their business.”

It seems businesses understand partnerships when it involves pairing with other brands or influences when a contract is involved. There is an understanding that salespeople will have to make a certain number of touches until a sale occurs on average. Yet, we lack the same understanding for nurturing and fostering these relationships in a 1-to-many and 1-to-1 way. It all comes down to caring. It all comes down to being customer obsessed and taking the time to understand what makes them feel supported and appreciated.

When you are building a user community, you are tasked with building a home for someone else, knowing that your success comes because you unlocked it for them first. While it’s easy to track sales and calls, it’s the magic that community creates that feels impossible to track.

So much of the work you do will feel unseen, but over time, it triggers behaviors that can be tracked. Metrics that will provide the business impact that leadership is used to seeing.

Remember, it’s not “build it, and they will come.” It’s “build a place where they can safely help and be helped, and they’ll not only come, but they’ll return.”

Happy building.

Christina Garnett @christina.mgarnett
Award-winning community builder and advocacy strategist Christina Garnett uses audience intelligence and social listening to learn more about audiences and determine needs and behaviors. Her work serves to help brands better connect with their current customers, potential customers, and fans. Christina is featured in HubSpot Academy’s Social Media Certification course and social listening courses, Semrush Academy’s social listening course, and is a partner for On Deck’s Community Builder Program, teaching a module on advocacy as a community growth lever. She has been a speaker for events like the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (Hubilo-BizBash), INBOUND, Digital Summit, Social Fresh, Adapted Digital Media Summit, and MnSearch Summit. She is featured in HubSpot, Social Insider, and Talkwalker ebooks and articles in Adweek, and The Next Web.

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