Originally published as part of the Community Marketing report by Zapnito and B2B Marketing. Download the full report here.
With so many platforms and services competing for attention in the online marketplace, engaging customers can be a challenge. Attempting to connect with an audience across a fragmented set of social media channels is a struggle, leading to inconsistent messaging and an inability to reach relevant people with content.
Community marketing offers a solution to this problem. It is the practice of building a community around a brand, allowing customers to connect, share ideas and learn from one another. It is more than just content marketing. In a community, the content creates participation with a brand. From learning and knowledge-sharing, to interacting with content and peers, to collaboration and user-generated content. Turning the relationship between brands and their customers into a two-way street helps to make those customers feel valued, while also allowing brands to gain greater insight into the wants and needs of their audience.
Community marketing has become an increasingly popular marketing strategy in recent years, giving brands the ability to invite regular interaction from members. This allows for a more unified approach to marketing and makes it easier to ensure that material is reaching people with genuine use for it. With social media platforms charging brands money to advertise to their own followers, the community approach means less money is spent simply trying to cut through the noise.
Of course, the success B2B marketing activity lives and dies by is the quality and strength of its content. In community marketing, this rings especially true.
“The idea is to provide useful, practical resources that help a buyer in their research process. These could be clips from webinars, case studies, or even decision trees to work out what is the right product or service,” says Carolyn Morgan, managing consultant at Speciall Media. “Being a ‘good citizen’ in a professional community means sharing experiences, answering questions, and being transparent about past mistakes, all without the aggressive sales pitches. This is the best way to build up and retain trust.”
But, as Let’s Reset CEO Suki Thompson warns, B2B marketers must avoid the trap of creating content for content’s sake – a perennial issue that’s plagued the B2B scene for far too long now. “Too often, marketers jump on a trend or topic, without first questioning whether their content is actually relevant, or whether they’re talking to the right people.”
Creating the content, of course, is only one step. As marketers, we know how incredibly targeted across all activities we must be – and this is no different for community-based marketing. “Because there’s so much content out there, what people really crave is curated content,” Suki explains. “And communities represent the perfect host for curated content that can identify and solve specific challenges for its members.”
According to Suki, community marketers can also draw some important lessons from the influencer marketing world in this regard, which is often bogged down by both content overload and vanity metrics. “Influencers can boast hundreds of thousands of followers and churn out tonnes of content, but ultimately receive minimal interaction and engagement,” she explains. “The same rule applies to community marketing. You can build a large community, but unless you actually create meaningful content that inspires interaction and enables engagement, it’s all meaningless.”
One way to craft more meaningful, engaging content is to involve community members in its creation. As Shane observes, the most successful communities encourage and empower members to contribute to its growth. Being part of something bigger is, after all, one of the biggest draws of belonging to a community.
This could come in the form of developer communities contributing feedback and testing for new product launches, or B2B publishers and media coming together to craft collaborative thought leadership content. “It creates a sense of ownership and investment in the product or content being launched, enabling authentic communication within the community, rather than push marketing,” says Think Direct’s Shane Redding. “It’s also a safe space. A prime example is Deloitte’s customer members’ club in London, which you can visit to use their resources.” Interestingly, unless specifically invited by a member, Deloitte employees aren’t allowed to enter, meaning customers can share, network and learn with the assurance they won’t be sold or marketed to.
Where brands like Deloitte, Adobe and Salesforce build a community around their brand, populated by their own customers, Lisa Pantelli of Simply Communicate observes that communities built on a central theme or pillar also have a role to play in the growth of the industry. “The best communities, in my view, are those that are driven by a shared purpose rather than a brand,” she says.