At HubSpot’s INBOUND22 Conference, we heard of a shiny, exciting new concept: Community Led Growth.
And if you’re like many in the room (or on the screen), your immediate question is… how in the world can we make that happen?
From conception to connection to… CRM connection, this is our approach to helping you connect smarter so you can grow smarter.
Table of Contents
Find Your Why
The idea of “why” may not be a big, shiny, sexy new-new, but to flourish, a community needs a why. Why are you building a connection point? Why are you the best place for that connection? This clear vision for your community is essential.
Remember, we just learned that communities don’t need to be huge to be successful - but they do need to be purposeful.
You know you want to build connections. You have ideas. Your team has ideas. And you think your customers have ideas. How can you refine those ideas into a big why?
We recommend starting with a brainstorm.
It may be wise to bring in a facilitator for this exercise, but you can also run it independently.
For your brainstorm, whether in person or virtually, start with a simple question: Why would you participate in our community?
From there, leave the door open. Brainstorms are for ideation, not evaluation!
Time box your session (45 minutes is likely all you need) then take your whiteboard internally and write up those draft “why” statements. When it feels right, you’ve gotten it!
Build Your Who
Your community, of course, can’t thrive without… itself. Your community isn’t a billboard to promote your own content: it’s a space for conversation and connection.
Define Your Circle
You’ve defined why your community exists - that probably means you have an idea of who you are building for. But just as you’d build buyer personas for your products or services, you likely need community personas for those around you. As you define and grow your circle, consider:
- Who are your most vocal partners, customers, and employees? Who do they need help connecting with? What topics do they care about? How can your community be a connection point?
- Of your circle, who are the learners? Who are the teachers? How can you showcase your teachers’ expertise or reward inquisitive customers for sparking conversation?
- What topics are core trends?
Need help defining your circle? Have your HubSpot portal help: Review your contacts database to consider which contacts have read the most blog posts, who has frequented your help center, which companies have the most engaged contacts, which industries send in the most support tickets, documents and references your sales team shares the most often… use the data that you already have to understand who might be craving a community and how they will use it.
At this point, you’ve put some time and energy into your community… and you haven’t even started the conversation yet! This is the perfect time to tell your audience about your why. Some ideas:
- Publish your research - did you know you were researching? You were! This is the moment to compile that legwork for your community - a doc, an infographic, a website page… share that why.
- Make a Splash - Announce your initiative with a little flair: an early access group, a beta, a happy hour…
- Seed content - Get started with a little bit of content ready to go: FAQs, customer topics you discovered through your research, trends, questions for your customers to answer - get the party started before it arrives.
How it Happens
Okay, there’s some technical stuff coming up. Not nerdy code-y things (we’ve got developers for that), but some decisions you need to make as part of your initial community setup. Because, of course, your community needs to live somewhere.
Best practices for your community:
When we think about building a community and introducing tech to facilitate connections, we consider:
Interactions & Content Ownership
Do the interactions and content of your community live as part of your own website? Is it on a third-party platform, whether that’s forum software or social media? One of the benefits of self-hosting your community is that you retain ownership of the content and interactions that your community members generate.
We have way more on this below… but how do you connect your community members with your organization’s data? CRM connection could be your key (hint hint) - with CRM connection, you’re able to aggregate community post content and understand how often questions are asked, which companies or contacts have the most questions, who might be great beta users… the opportunities are nearly endless.
Maximize Existing Resources
With the average company using 242 SaaS apps, bringing another tool into your tech stack might not be the answer. Look for ways to use what you have to #growsmarter. In fact, your existing HubSpot portal might be the perfect fit for building your community management platform.
Choose Your Channel
Choosing a platform for your community can be fun and exciting… and it’s probably the first thing you thought of when you started considering building a community. But waiting until you’ve solidified the rest of your plans often leads to an even better experience.
Get to SaaS hunting with your community people in mind and the specific qualifications you need your platform to meet to give the most dazzling and aligned user experience.
Here are some of the most common options for community management platforms and ways to evaluate the viability of that channel and to make sure you land in the right spot:
Live Event-based Community
Building a community based on live events, whether in-person or online, takes special channels for attracting registrants and tracking who actually attends. When choosing your channels for Event-based communities, ask yourself these questions to uncover your functional requirements:
- Do my community members and leaders need/want us to facilitate events for them to connect and collaborate?
- Do we want community members to be able to create their own cohorts and events?
- How are we able to give options for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events to maximize participation and accessibility of our community?
- How do we want to facilitate and participate in convos and information sharing outside of events?
- How can we tie event participation and engagement data to other activities and CRM data?
For live event-based communities, some kind of data-based calendar is an essential component–the idea of “meeting up” is all about when that meet-up happens. Want to continue the connections? You may still need additional channels to make sure the conversations that start at your event(s) have a place to continue after closing time.
Forums may be the first software solution that comes to mind when you think of building an online community. They allow topics, responses, replies, member profiles and more, and may be hosted on your website or domain or within independent software.
Stand-alone Forum Software
Community software that stands on its own is, of course, an option. These solutions are typically designed to live as their own platform and may not integrate with your CRM (or may not easily integrate with your CRM), which could mean you’re missing some major benefits. Some solutions are costly, but standalone software can be fast to deploy.
Are you Team Build or Team Buy? In the world of community, it’s possible to build your own platform - which may work well if you have an in-house development team but can be a challenge if you don’t. The benefit of custom development: you own all of your code and software and can build any feature and function you see fit. The challenge, of course, is that defining and executing this project can be quite difficult if it’s not your typical project—and you may be facing an extended time-to-live.
We have some bias with CRM-connected apps, but this approach allows you to deploy your forum quickly and connect it to your CRM. If you’re using HubSpot—an app that uses your CRM’s data dynamically to actually build your topics and replies—means your marketing, sales, and service teams can access user-generated data and content while they’re communicating with customers and prospects.
Social Media-based Community
“Oh, let’s start a Facebook group!” Is certainly one option in the community ecosystem. Same for LinkedIn, Twitter Chats, Slack Channels, Discord Servers… pick your poison. Starting your community in a social group makes it quick to deploy and mobile-friendly, but it puts you at the mercy of that third-party provider: if Facebook decides to shut down groups, you’re suddenly left without a platform and scrambling for a new solution. It also means the content that your community creates may be more difficult to get back to your team—are you able to listen, to automate, and to quantify the same way you can with sales, marketing, or customer success engagements?
Fun micro-moments for social-based communities
- Instagram polls for rebranding/logo brainstorming
- Twitter AMAs to inform product roadmaps
- Answer questions in Facebook groups with breakout rooms
Finding the Right Features
If you are serious about community led growth, you’ve got to make sure your tech isn’t standing in the way of the authentic connections between your brand and your community members.
Too many times we’ve heard, “well… we really want our community members to have more power and freedom to control the community and not depend on an admin to make real connections…”
Why are these tools locking down the users’ ability to show up and be themselves? Why would a community manager want to be a technical admin, rather than a relationship builder?
The features you can’t afford to skimp on to build a growth-minded and experience-driven community:
- Mobile Accessible.
- Activity and analytics data stored inside your CRM natively for topics and people alike.
- Connectivity/integration to other inbound/outbound messaging tools such as email marketing, SMS.
- Availability for cohorts and user-defined groups, public threads and topics, private and/or paid admin-defined groups (or all of the above in the same community).
Other features that can help you grow (and how):
- Multi-Language & Translation Functionality. HOW? Open your community to a much larger audience for worldwide information and idea sharing. Language can be the first thing holding you back from growth.
- Personalized Content Recommendations. HOW? Members sometimes need a little help finding their way or branching out or meeting new people, especially when they are new to your community. Helping your members grow is pretty important to your own growth.
- File Sharing, Multimedia Messages. HOW? Give members a richer experience. Remove limitations and restrictions and see how your community members communicate, the type of content they are interested in, and the way they consume information.
Always be Engaging
So, we’ve covered a lot here about setting a strong foundation for community led growth and the pieces you really need to have in place. That being said, your community will be a total cost center if you aren’t listening. Listen to the conversations. Listen to the loudest voices and the quietest voices and everything in between. Listen for the way people talk, the words they use, the sentiments they share, and the connections they make.
Now, listening does always have to be actually lending your ear. The Choose Your Channel exercise above had a few questions guiding you to consider your CRM in building out your community.
Listening can look like:
- Monitoring keywords in public messages… then using your community for keyword, messaging, and overall branding research and as a key driver of organic traffic for community growth.
- Tracking topic activity by volume, over time… then making sure the important topics are shared with your sales, marketing, and customer success teams, so they can participate in more meaningful conversations.
- Flagging champions who provide the most value in groups… the evangelists who answer the most questions, the problem solvers who work through complex issues, the “yes and” minded helpers… and invite them into the fold as official advocates. From there, ask them how you can provide value to them, the helpers, what do they need? How would that evolve your community? What would make their experience amazing? Use this opportunity for delight to create a partner and advocate for life.
- Directly asking questions to get to know your members, personas, and partners… then taking their feedback to iterate on your product/service/operations.
- Seeing what other sources are people sharing in conversations to track other sources your community loves… then getting to know them yourself.
Where HubSpot Fits In:
If HubSpot apps are a key component of the tech stack that supports your growth strategy, expanding HubSpot to community led growth is a logical step. While this guide outlined some practical exercises for you to follow to assess how your growth-driven community should be built, you’ll also need to supplement your tech stack to make that vision a reality. Whether you develop a fully-custom solution for HubSpot that uses custom objects and a fresh website portal or look to pre-made add-ons that can be deployed quickly for your team, starting with the tech you already have means you can focus less on shopping and more on…growing.