This week we have teamed up with Suresh Sambandam, CEO and founder of Kissflow.
Last year, more than 1.8 billion people used Facebook Groups every month. There are over 70 million admins and moderators running active Facebook groups. As I am writing this, a new Facebook group or a community is born somewhere on the internet. Since the stone age, humans have had an innate need to gather together.
In this digital age, we’re not just local tribes. We’re living in a global village. With the expanded boundaries, we have the opportunity to connect, interact, and establish a relationship with people who share a common objective. For instance, SaaSBoomi, a community I co-founded, is a volunteer-driven community enabling SaaS founders and product leaders to connect, share, and learn from each other.
Being a SaaS founder, it is important to build a community around your product and keep it alive and engaging with the help of a community platform. A community platform helps you with multiple facets of your business. You can conduct surveys and find ways to evolve your product to meet the dynamic needs of your customers. Your users start advocating your product (and brand) as you engage and interact with them. They give pieces of advice to each other to accomplish certain tasks that they have difficulty in executing.
In many ways, the community has become the new moat for B2B SaaS businesses. It’s not the product features, the sales techniques, or even the support that keep customers loyal to your product. It’s the community around it. How do you keep your community alive and engaging?
1. Create an Identity
You know your product and your customers. Choose the customers that believe in your idea, share the common goal, and envision an identity for the community. Identify 10 users who share your vision and kickstart your community. They will take care of the personality of your community.
2. Make it Feel Personal
With just 10 members, you don’t have a self-sustaining community, and everything is dependent on you. The advantage of a small group is that you can be extremely personal. Try inviting them for an individual discussion over a coffee, connect with them, know whether they would be interested in attending an event with other people interested in this topic, and ask questions. When they’re all hooked up, they will care about the community’s success.
3. Encourage Participation
Now that you have 10 members who trust you, it’s time for you to build trust between the members. It’s faster for people to build trust while meeting in person than online. Host a brunch or dinner and see how things shape up. But if you can’t do it in person, do it online. The more lively and interactive the session is, the better. Eventually, their trust in you will translate to trust in each other.
4. Reward and Value Members
Rewarding your users doesn’t have to be materialistic. It can be as simple as taking time out to talk to your users and get their opinions/feedback. This gesture lets your users understand you value their opinions. It increases the chances of your users coming back again and keeps the community alive and thriving.
5. Repeat Steps 1-4
It’s time to lay a strong foundation with 10 loyal community members. Invite new members and allow others to invite someone new to the community. At this stage of your community-building journey, you’re not asking for a favor from your members. You’re encouraging them to take the opportunity and give someone else value by inviting them to your community. In a way, it gives them a responsibility to invite like-minded people that will further enhance the quality of the community.
Phase 2: Move to a Scalable Online Platform
Now you have a foundation and a group of like-minded people who feel a sense of belonging. All you need to do is to offer them a scalable online platform to converse. With the help of technology, you can foster a continuous chain of meaningful conversations in an efficient manner.
6. Identify the Right Founding Members
Choose the right set of people to get started for your online community. It is very important for your community to choose the first 10 members because they set examples and guidelines for your community. Since communities grow with daily conversations, select the most motivated core members for your community.
7. Keep Up the Momentum
Since you don’t have a platform for your community, your members would be skeptical about the platform bringing any value to them. But, they trust you and other members already. Take the lead, reach out to your members and get their feedback. Ensure you make them feel invested in the community’s success. It will keep them motivated and they will be ready to pitch in.
8. Encourage Online Participation
It’s time to kick start your platform. Bring in all the founding members to the platform that you got buy-in from. Plan your content prior to bringing them in so that you will be the one posting the first content and setting an example of how to use the platform. Now you have got a platform and the right founding members. All you need to do is facilitate conversations among them.
Building an engaging community is no magic. So, conversations don’t happen organically at first. If you’re going to be idle, nothing is going to happen. Take charge and email members to ask questions or get started with a post. Now, email other members to respond to the questions. You have to make interactions happen during the initial stages. Drive the community in the right direction and set an example for your members.
9. Rewards and Values
Since you made the members use the platform, ensure your members are getting value out of it. It is very important because, if they are not getting rewards, they won’t be motivated to participate in the community activities. Only if they feel rewarded, there will be a habit loop that will keep them coming back.
Depending on the frequency of conversations, you can identify an ideal period to ask for feedback. Just make sure you give them enough time to get some value out of your platform before asking for feedback. If your members are not getting value out of your community, then experiment with different formats and questions to provide value to your members.
10. Grow and Retain
Don’t keep on bringing in new members to your community as it may adversely affect the quality of your community. Allow the first 10 members to have some time together and create a bond. Later, gradually bring in new members in batches without disturbing the vibe in your community. Another tip is to host events at regular intervals. Events will continue to drive trust into your online community.
Create Your Moat by Building a Thriving Community
It’s not as easy as it looks. At times, it may feel like the community isn’t going anywhere, and nothing is working. It takes a lot of hard work and patience to fight the awkward silences. Awkward silences include scenarios where no one shows up or your posts go unnoticed. You have to collect yourself up and be consistent in what you do.
Communities are becoming the lighthouse of different businesses and this human-centric approach is leading us to a new era. But remember, consistency is the key to a successful community.