Zapnito's CEO and co-founder, Charles Thiede, recently met with other business leaders in London to discuss how businesses can continue to grow during economic uncertainty using online communities.
The room was buzzing when the group gathered together at a pivotal point for many of their organizations, to discuss how growth can be fuelled through communities. These like-minded people, who share many of the same goals and challenges, took part in an open discussion around how communities can fuel business growth, during economic downturns.
Experts from a range of sectors
The attendees represented a wide range of industries, highlighting how critical communities are to many sectors including investment banking, financial press, publishing, events, technology, and professional associations.
Sharing their experiences and insights were speaker Richard O’Connor, CEO of B2B Marketing, and mediator Karien Stroucken, Director of Strategy Partnerships at Zapnito; plus a variety of attendees, including Victoria Hart, community manager at the Mark Allen Group, Laura Bineviciute, head of content and community at Data Leaders, CMO advisor Neil Morgan, and advisor and investor Mark Allin, alongside other leaders from the British Medical Association, Sage Publishing, Cambridge University Press and more.
Charles kicked things off by discussing the challenge of ‘community’ being a somewhat nebulous term in business. As he explained, “The problem with the word community in some ways is that it is slightly nebulous. And so we want to kind of demystify that a little bit and talk about what really matters, which is growth, retention, and loyalty.”
But community is moving from being solely a marketing initiative into a venture that impacts so much more of the business, including sales, operations, and product. Which makes it an ideal investment as businesses navigate a recession.
With this in mind, he set out his goal from the event, which was to demystify community and talk about what really matters: growth, retention, and loyalty. Exploring how communities can help organizations improve those metrics is one of the key ways that online communities can help businesses thrive in the wake of economic uncertainty.
Which is very much the elephant in the room facing all of the senior leaders at the event — and all businesses across the world. Tackling this will be one of the major challenges of 2022 and, more than likely, 2023.
Re-invent or die
It’s something on everyone’s mind as the event’s speaker, Richard O’Connor took the group through his tactics for Propolis, B2B Marketing’s online community. The organization faced a pivotal moment at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. As he explained, “The business really was in a bit of an existential crisis. It was re-invent or die, and that’s where we turned to the community. It was a pretty brave thing to do, it took investment and time, but not to the degree that you’d expect. Our roll of the dice paid off, and we attracted over a thousand members in 18 months.”
As an 18-year old brand, it was frightening for the B2B Marketing team to pivot suddenly from established business models (events, awards, marketing services and webinars) to the unknown model of an online community. But it was necessary given the brand’s event’s revenue halved in the wake of the pandemic.
The silver lining amongst disruption, as Charles pointed out, is that it creates innovation. “As long as,” he explained, “ businesses are actually agile and have a digital presence where they can bring their customers through an experience.”
Strategy is your starting point
And the room was in complete agreement. Mark Allin shared his experiences in past downturns, advising that leaders ask themselves a critical first question: what’s the opportunity? As he elaborated, “Do some ‘what if?’ thinking, so you can find the opportunity to do something better than a competitor or support a customer through their own difficulties. Think of their problems first. Because your margin will, in the end, be the outcome. Good choices will help you through the recession.”
Close alignment between a community strategy and business strategy (and goals) is also required if the community is going to add tangible value to the business. Indeed, the Propolis community is completely at the heart of B2B Marketing. “Everything else kind of radiates around Propolis. Cause if you've got a 365-day-year community, you've got your customers hooked. They're involved, you stay relevant,” Richard stated.
Moving a community from being solely a marketing channel, to impact every other aspect of the business, is a valuable exercise during economic uncertainty as it shows tangible, bottom and top-line value across the organization. Involving the board in your community plans also ensures success is aligned with what the business needs, and therefore, proven easily when reporting performance.
Intelligence as a value prop
Before this clarity, there wasn’t much cohesion, and its something that can undo all of the hard work put into a community. Richard explained about ‘community intelligence’ B2B Marketing’s way of placing Propolis and its members exactly at the center of everything happening with the brand, from events, to awards and content. It’s helping to move the brand away from legacy publishing, and really struck a positive note with the group.
As Laura Bineviciute shared, Data Leaders has a similar offering that they call peer-to-peer advisory. Ultimately, people want to learn and build their profiles, and an online community is the perfect place to achieve this. It’s a core part of the value proposition for both Data Leaders and B2B Marketing.
Karen Stroucken inferred why this approach is so valuable to members, stating, “I think the value that you are creating is that people can share their personal story, be open which is what's been lost in the kind of bigger social media platforms where it's more public content that you're publishing, but not really what's going on and what you're struggling with, and that's the trusted space that you still provide and that you want to nourish.”
A goldmine of community data
Early on in the day, Charles had underlined his passion for community data as a key driver of value for the business. Especially in an era where it’s getting harder to gather accurate first-party data on behaviour and needs. B2B Marketing was able to gather some interesting intel from Propolis, such as the fact that CMOs only log into the community around four times a year. Using this, the team understood that those interactions for CMOs needed to be highly relevant, contextual and practical for them because they just haven’t got much time in their day.
Part of this lies in developing content that hits the right note, at the right time, as Neil Morgan pointed out. Early on in a community’s journey, this will require some legwork from the community management team to develop and post this content.
But as Phil Clark from the British Medical Association added, members can be an invaluable resource in content creation too. He said, “What we tried to do in our communities was find the people who would create their own content, and connect them with others. If you can identify those people, then you can build a healthy, sustainable community.”
The secret, of course, is in focusing your resources to engage and enable those members. He added, “I rely on a model, the 1-9-90 model that says you’ve got 1% of members who create content, 9% of your members who’ll engage with content, and 90% who aren’t engaged. And what we did in our communities was find the nines and the ones, and connect them together. Instead of solely trying to engage the 90% who are ignoring our messages.”
“Focusing your resources on the ones and nines builds a healthy, sustainable community with a degree of longevity. It’s really about what engages people and how you measure that. In my experience, that’s what drives success. Focus your resources on the people who add to your community,” he finished.
This idea of engaging those who’ll have the highest community impact really struck a note with the group. Instead of engagement-fits-all, honing in on your ones and nines can improve community performance with fewer resources wasted on those who are ignoring you. It’s some timely advice during a belt-tightening period for many organizations.
Many takeaways were shared by the group, on their experiences in growing and maintaining a community today. They were in agreement about the vital role of a community strategy in setting a direction and goals for the community, alongside the importance of collective community intelligence and content.
Feedback from the event has highlighted how valuable it was to meet senior and community leaders in the same boat. The intimate nature of the roundtable created an engaging and insightful atmosphere. Attendees left the event inspired by what a community could achieve for their business, and ready to start their community journey.
To learn more about how online communities can support your business in all economic climates, speak to an expert at Zapnito now.
We look forward to welcoming you to our next event. Keep an eye out for what we have planned.