As innovation and growth consultants in the startup industry, we have seen several trends over the years. We have experimented with many growth strategies for our company too. 

Undoubtedly, the rise of online communities is the most recent and significant trend in the digital revolution.

We have built a successful online community ourselves.
Growth Marketing Pros is a Slack community with over 9100 members. Product owners, entrepreneurs, and growth marketers exchange relevant examples and ideas while sharing their best practices on growth tactics.

Furthermore, we have witnessed a rise in demand for our community-building service from our clients.

So, we conducted internal research and wrote a series of blog articles to answer our clients’ and readers’ burning questions regarding the whys and hows of online community building.

In the first article, our founder Ivan answers all of your questions on why you should create an online community for your startup.

 

Let’s start with the first things first. 

 

What exactly is an online community?

An online community is a structured group of people who use the internet to share mutual interests, values, information, and experiences regarding a specific topic or product. Depending on their purpose and target audience, these communities can range from small discussion forums to large-scale social networks.

Businesses can establish a powerful platform for customers to connect and engage with their brand by leveraging digital technologies, allowing them to generate long-term relationships and high levels of loyalty.

 

Why is building a community important for startups?

Building a community has lots of benefits. First, it can help the company connect with people who share an interest in their products or are interested in the problem that they’re solving. This can lead to a lot of valuable discussions and sharing of ideas. Also, one of the best things you can do as a startup is to get feedback from your customers, even before they become customers. The community is one place where you can facilitate that. Consequently, startups can improve the product even before building it; once they have customer feedback, they can build a better product.

 

What is the purpose of online communities for startups?

We live in the age of consumers, meaning that customers have a say in how businesses are run and what products are successful. This makes community building more important than ever, especially for startups.

Online communities offer startups an incredible opportunity to produce a high return on investment (ROI) while developing long-term customer relationships.

Some of the benefits are:

  • Boosting your brand awareness
  • Inspiring dynamic relationships
  • Creating a higher level of customer support
  • Cultivating brand loyalty

To achieve this, consider your primary purpose for the community. For example, is it to increase brand awareness? Boost consumer loyalty? Increase sales? All of that information will help you create an efficient strategy.

Knowing your primary goal can help you define your target audience and select what type of content to provide and what topics to address and help you correctly determine and focus your efforts.

 

What types of online communities are there?

Companies increasingly realize that their audiences, customers, and clients are their most valuable assets and use online communities to attract, retain, and reward them.

However, one size does not fit all. There are many options for tailoring an online community to your brand. Here are five significant community types to consider for business growth:

  1. Knowledge and learning communities
  2. Expert networks and advisory communities
  3. Event communities
  4. Membership communities
  5. Brand communities.

Different online communities may be suitable for your startup; however, remember to choose the right community style for your brand and goal.

Let’s dive deeper and understand how communities work to help you make a more human-centered decision.

 

Why do people join online communities?

Remember that we are social animals with physical, mental, and emotional needs. Even today, we depend on our tribes to feel safe, meaningful, and included. Yet, we also want to follow our interests and goals. Luckily, communities can both encourage individuality and bring people together. 

The HubSpot Blog’s Consumer Trends Report polled over 1000 people to find out why they participate in online communities. The top reasons were for fun, sharing similar interests with others, and keeping connected with their communities.

Other reasons are learning something new, seeking support, being inspired, gaining exclusive access, etc. 

Keeping in mind why your target people join communities will help you give them lots of consistent reasons to join and stay.

Remember that no matter what made someone sign up in the first place, they will only keep coming back and participating if the community meets a human need. They want to learn, share, grow, get perks, be entertained, and feel like they have been heard and are important. People will return for more if your community is useful, fun, and enjoyable.

“Most of the reasons why people join communities are personal. And I think the way to build great communities is to connect personally with your audience.” Ivan, the Founder of Solveo.

 

At what stage of business should startups build a community?

A powerful online community can be a vital asset at any stage of the journey. Still, we recommend starting as soon as possible since building a community takes time.

Having a community before launching can make the first few months of growth easier and help you make a profit immediately. 

For example, Basecamp, a cloud-based SaaS startup, had up to 50,000 followers on their blog “Signal vs. Noise” before launching. This built-in community helped Basecamp’s successful launch. According to Forbes, the startup is now worth roughly $25 million.

Launching an online community and building a sustainable edge over the competition is never too late.

 

What are the pros & cons of community building as a brand strategy for a startup?

There are many advantages online communities can bring to a business and, of course, some disadvantages. Here we list some based on our consultant’s experience.

Pros: 

  • If done right, the ROI is huge;
  • Builds credibility;
  • The easiest way to convert users to customers is through the community;
  • Real-time feedback gathering from your current and potential users.

Cons: 

  • It takes specific skills and knowledge to keep a thriving community;
  • It takes a lot of time to build it up from zero;
  • It requires additional resources to maintain the community.
  • It costs money.

Our client’s key worries are the costs of creating and sustaining the online community. So let’s now determine how to assess whether this investment is viable.

 

What’s the typical ROI of building a community? 

That’s a tricky question to answer.

We can all agree that there is a significant value, with approximately 80% of big companies managing an online community. However, it is not always simple to quantify this value and account for the financial impact communities can have on a business. And this is important for startups. 

Community building requires an investment in human labor, event management, and other potentially costly activities. This is especially true during the first 12 months of the community when there will be a lot to do, build, and change. 

The ROI depends on the community model you implement, whether self-managed or hiring outsourced community managers. 

Still, a few community-specific indicators can be directly linked to community activities, even if the community will undoubtedly contribute to overall company goals. 

Here are a few examples of KPIs to help you track the ROI:

  • Increased customer engagement (KPI = community accounts for 10% of usage or upsells; average NPS from customers in community > customers not in the community)
  • Pipeline generation (KPI = 10% of leads, or $$ of pipeline generated by community)
  • Content contributions (KPI = 25% increase in user-generated content y/y)
  • Brand awareness (KPI = # social mentions; # of customer referrals from community)
  • Product adoption (KPI = 20% higher among community members vs. non-members).

You can take any core business KPIs and compare your community members’ average performance on these metrics vs. non-members.

 

Conclusion 

Building an online community is a long-term process; it takes at least a year to build a strong online community with meaningful interaction. You should test various strategies to raise community involvement.

Our advice on building a community is to find your audience, see where they hang out, and talk to them directly. Then, create something that offers value before inviting them to your community. That’s the main thing that many people overlook. 

You must build something that offers value before people come to the community because people will come for “the what.” So they should have something for free from the beginning, and then once you have an active community, people will stay and become engaged. 

From there, it grows on its own; through word of mouth, a lot of internal connections, and people recommending the community, which is the ultimate goal.

Elena Zisovska