The past 18 months have been tough for B2B marketers. While it may be easy to blame struggling marketing efforts on the pandemic, or the squeezed budgets that have resulted from it, the truth is that some tactics are becoming outdated, ineffective, and in need of a refresh.
Communities based marketing and forums have traditionally been seen as a B2C marketing tactic, providing a space for brand advocates and a way for customers to self-serve when they need support. But digital communities have seen a resurgence in recent months, and some of the most successful have been for a B2B audience, explains Ashley Friedlein, the CEO of Guild.
What is Community Based Marketing (CBM)?
Most marketers are familiar with Account Based Marketing (ABM), a focused approach where sales and marketing teams work in tandem to identify and nurture their customers. These tactics involve reaching prospects at all stages of the marketing funnel, and rely on delivering the right messages at the right time through numerous touchpoints.
B2B Community Based Marketing is all about building connections in a professional environment, much like networking. As individuals are drawn together by a collective practice or area of expertise, CBM can be used to leverage this to create closer, more valuable relationships with prospects and customers.
Why should B2B marketers be exploring CBM now?
No matter what industry you are in, you’ll be targeted with some form of Account Based Marketing on a daily basis. As the number of channels has increased, so has the amount of content we are exposed to. Companies are not only sending sales emails and invitations to connect via LinkedIn, they are sharing webinars, guides, whitepapers, podcasts, and blog posts, as well as their ads appearing on our social media feeds.
All of these tactics play an important part in the marketing mix, but they lack one vital element – listening.
Throughout the pandemic, where we experienced long periods of being distanced from one another, there was a need to feel connected. This was not just in a personal sense, but a professional one, too. Even now, with many employers adopting hybrid or WFH models, we no longer have as many opportunities to meet with colleagues, clients, peers, partners, and prospects in person.
Online communities are filling that void by providing somewhere to share ideas, ask questions, get support, and build relationships.
Making your Community Based Marketing strategy a success
Community Based Marketing fits well within the interest, consideration and desire stages of the marketing funnel. It’s an opportunity to showcase your expertise, authority and credibility within your target audience and further engage with prospects who have already proved their interest in your offering by providing advice and support.
There’s another opportunity to introduce CBM in the loyalty and advocacy stage too. Identifying your key accounts and providing ‘concierge’ levels of service and support can encourage clients to stick with you over longer periods of time, as well generating new leads via referrals.
B2C communities often have huge audiences. However, within B2B, those relationships are generally lower in volume, but higher in value. While groups need to have enough members to gather a natural momentum, you want to avoid them becoming too noisy or anonymous. This is a fate that has befallen many LinkedIn Groups, which without strict moderators have become nothing more than a place for people to post links to promote their own services, offering little to no value to its members.
The right platform
With so many community platforms out there, it can be difficult to select one that’s right for your business. Some of the factors you should take into consideration are your budget, industry sector, the size of your target audience, as well as the size of your organisation, and what kind of culture you’re trying to cultivate, before thinking about what features the platform should have. This can range from being able to customise the platform to tie in with your brand, to monetisation options, to integrations with other marketing software.
LinkedIn and Facebook Groups can feel anonymous and impersonal, as well as not being truly ‘owned’ by the brand, but if this is where your audience already is, it might make sense to build a community there. For smaller businesses and entrepreneurs, there are specialist platforms that provide a way to monetise a community, such as Substack for writers, or Patreon for creators. For those who want to start off small and then scale, there are a number of community platforms available, many of which are free up to a certain number of members, offering a risk-free and low entry cost option to get your B2B community off the ground.
The right person
The role of community manager encompasses many different disciplines, and it can be difficult to find the right person to act as the group host. This person will act as the voice of the brand, directly interacting with the community, so they need to be resilient and assertive, but also capable of showing a great deal of empathy.
Although it’s unlikely that someone C-suite will be responsible for running the community, in order to attract and retain the right people, as well as encourage the right kind of conversations, you’ll want to appoint someone who has a certain level of seniority and is influential within the business.
Not everyone is going to share the same opinions. While conversations should be moderated to keep its members safe, there’s a fine line between a lively back and forth, and posts that some may find upsetting or offensive. A good community manager knows when to step in, and when to step back. There should be a set of community guidelines that all members agree to follow to make it easy to eradicate bad behaviour without being challenged.
The most successful communities are those that feel like they are ‘owned’ by the community itself rather than the organisation hosting it, so while it’s fine to spark or steer conversation when it’s needed, never dominate the conversation.
Be consistent and persistent
Consistency with posting in a community works well, especially when you are first starting out, so a content calendar can be a great way of planning what to seed ahead of time. This can include selecting certain days of the week for specific posts, such as welcoming new members, or holding interviews or discussions to build momentum and keep members coming back. Huge gaps between posts may result in new members questioning the longevity of the group, whilst posting too frequently, or publishing lots of posts all at once can be overwhelming for busy professionals, making it difficult for them to stay on top of new messages.
Even with a robust content strategy in place, It can take a while to really get a group off the ground. It’s important not to give up, but to try different topics and most importantly, ask the community questions to build trust and get people comfortable and confident enough to engage with your brand, and each other. Community shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise, and it’s crucial that you invest the time and energy into building a space that offers something truly valuable for your organisation, and its members.
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Community based marketing can’t be treated as a quick fix, and it needs to be properly supported across departments with buy-in at a senior level in order to be a success. For organisations who get it right, they will reap the rewards from building stronger relationships with their prospects, clients, peers, and advocates.
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