Most marketers are doing communities wrong. A bold statement I know, but it’s true.

When you hear about B2B Communities, right, all you ever hear about are Customer Support communities, Partner communities and Employee communities. Google these community categories – you’ll get literally trillions of results. Take a look at three of the biggest community platforms in the world, Jive, Lithium and Salesforce:


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Almost every community platform out there is focusing on building better relationships with existing customers – an admirable feat! We all know that it costs more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one – the exact figures varying from three times to seven, ten, or even thirty times more, depending on who you listen to. I understand why the big boys are focusing on existing customers, I really do.

Except, it’s short-sighted. There’s a huge, gaping hole in the market.

Traditionally, acquisition marketing and relationship marketing are seen as the two sides of the coin – one’s for acquisition (the clue’s in the name), and one’s for retention. It’s natural, then, that these companies decide they’re going to ‘do’ relationship marketing, that’s seen as a customer retention strategy. That’s the way it’s always been done, and it’s called the status quo because it works, right?

Except, there’s a reason acquisition is so much more expensive than retention, and that’s because retention strategies – relationship marketing – work better than acquisition strategies. So why don’t we apply the retention strategy to acquisition?

What if relationship marketing was acquisition marketing? What if we build B2B Communities that are focused on building relationships with your prospects, instead of your existing customers?

That was the premise we built The Social Effect on nearly 5 years ago, so I can tell you exactly what will happen:

  • Your customer acquisition costs will plummet
  • Your lead conversion rate will skyrocket
  • Your lead volume will skyrocket

The answer to customer acquisition isn’t to keep shouting louder, boosting more content and sending more emails. That’s what every Tom, Dick and Harry marketer is doing, and it simply isn’t working. It’s not cost-effective. Prospects are drowning in acquisition marketing strategies, and your pleas fall on deaf ears.

There’s another way: Building B2B Communities can, and should, be a customer acquisition strategy.

So what does this hallowed B2B Prospect Community look like?

1 – Almost Brand Neutral

Your prospects aren’t interested in joining yet another group or community that is overtly branded and self-serving. If they did, they’d already be following you on Facebook or Twitter.

Keep your branding to a minimum and focus the community value on what your members will get out of it. A little bit of branding is advisable though – this community will be a sales and marketing goldmine, so you do want your members knowing who’s providing this invaluable resource!

2 – Positioned To Help & Add Value

We have a community positioning mantra: ‘For the members, by the members’.
In other words, before you start thinking about starting a community, you need to have a clear grasp of what your target audience really wants from a community.

Make this a community that focuses on delivering REAL value to your members. It’s not difficult – before you launch a community, survey your potential target audience to find out what their challenges and aspirations are, which conferences they attend and why, which social platforms they favour, who they consider thought-leaders, and where they go for industry news.

Digging deep at this stage is the foundation for a well positioned and therefore thriving, B2B prospect community.

3 – The Right Members

Getting the right members in your community can be a little chicken and egg. Critical mass helps, but building a community, one member at a time, is the only way to look at this.

You’ve done the hard bit already. If you’ve put time into positioning your community so it will genuinely add value to your members – it’s likely to start slowly, but growth will come. It’s a snowball effect: your potential members will join a lot faster when they start to see their peers in your community.

You never want to grow a community too fast – (people are wary of it; it goes against popular perception) – but successful communities do need to have a smart community growth plan, bringing together a steady flow of new, targeted members from within your vertical/niche industry area.

Pro Tip: Poach highly engaged contributors from competing communities, luring them away with promises of fame and fortune (and, you know, really interesting, valuable content).

4 – A Great Community Manager

A great Community Manager is like a conductor, taking centre stage and pulling the orchestra together to make sweet, sweet music.

Source: ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Fantasia, 1940
(Source: ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Fantasia, 1940)

The Community Manager is the community leader. If the CM is doing a good job, members will respect and admire the community, rewarding it with their passion, time and intellect.

Traditionally speaking, marketers are pretty faceless (an anonymous email, an automated tweet) but Community Manager 2.0 needs to be more like a salesperson, loud and proud, personality-led. The personality of the Community Manager is the face that pulls your community together. It is their generosity, their ability to connect, to challenge and elevate members that is so critical.

A great Community Manager is the glue that holds your community together, not only building one-on-one relationships with members but  helping members to develop relationships with each other, too.

5 – Content Your Members WANT

There is a causal relationship between the content you post and the members you attract – getting the right customers into your business, the right members into your community, and in turn the right leads into your sales team, rests on posting content those members will find interesting. When it comes to communities, good content is king.

It comes back to our mantra: ‘by the members, for the members’. The best people to tell you what your community members want are your community members – so your content strategy should focus on member generated or member inspired content (discussions, resources, posts, questions and so on). We use an 80/20 rule – 80% member generated, and 20% targeted, branded content.

Be careful though – when I say branded content, I still don’t mean shouty, me-me-me content. Keep it subtle, educational and helpful, please. Remember, it might take 3 months to build trust between a Community Manager and a member – and only a second for that trust to wither and die if the members get a whiff of hollow self-promotion.

6 – High Engagement Rates

With the best will in the world, not all posts will get engagement – but at least 80% of all posts should.

Ideally, it’s what we call ‘organic engagement’, where members have discovered content and are motivated to add their insight, thoughts and comments. However, in some cases, the Community Manager can proactively drive engagement themselves. For example, if the CM feels a post is of a particularly good quality but engagement is low, they might approach specific members and encourage them to read it and add their comments.

Nothing turns a member away from a community more than having posted and not seeing any engagement. Members reward engagement with engagement too, so that initial push might come from the CM, but the effects will snowball. Typically, you’d expect a healthy community to see a minimum of 7% of the members engaging over the course of a month – but in some cases this can be as high as 25%.

7 – The Right Platform

Online Community purists tout the difference between Groups on social networks – the likes of LinkedIn or Facebook – as opposed to the Communities you build on social platform providers – the likes of Lithium or Jive.

That’s bollocks. I’m completely platform agnostic. A great community depends on the strength of the relationships you’re building, not where you build them. Saying that, it’s important to find the right platform for your community, which will depend on the types of members you’re hoping to attract. If your initial positioning strategy revealed that your members overwhelmingly use Facebook to discover news, for example, you might do well to consider building a Facebook community.

And finally….


Hamster Community


Call it what you will – community spirit, a real sense of community, whatever. It’s something you can’t quite put your finger on, but you’ll know when you’ve got it right. It’s what happens when all of the above points come together; when those screeching violins and crashing drums suddenly start sounding like Mozart. It’s when the community members have a real sense of belonging, a sense of connection to other members and loyalty to the group. It’s when the community starts to feel like home. You can’t manufacture community spirit – it’s achieved by getting the principle of community right.

In fact, that sums up the overarching principle of doing B2B communities well – it cannot be manufactured, full stop. If you approach it as a thinly veiled branding exercise, if you’re superficial or inauthentic – it simply won’t work. The real key to building a B2B prospect community that delivers ROI is to stop pretending to add value and concentrate on really adding value. Once you’ve got that right, the leads, relationships and customers will come.

Eric Louw

Some people are just destined to market B2B events. Eric is one of those people. It’s not because he’s passionate about B2B events (that’s a given), it’s because he’s passionate about helping B2B event organisers maximise their marketing budget with digital marketing tactics.