This is the third in our series on CBM (community-based marketing) - the first answered the question 1. What is community-based marketing (CBM)? and the second 2. Where does community-based marketing fit in the sales and marketing funnel?. Now some thoughts on what is needed for CBM to succeed..

1. Your community needs a clear purpose

The prospective members of your group need to know why they should join. Particularly in B2B, professionals’ time and attention is precious so want to invest in things that are worthwhile.

Equally you only want members in your community who are relevant, interested and engaged. So you must be very clear about what the community is for and why it exists. You must communicate this to members and you must stick to your purpose. This is why in Guild every group must have a stated purpose.

2. Small is good

Some people feel they have to chase big numbers to show success. This is a dangerous route, particularly in B2B where it is more about value than volume, where quality counts more than quantity.

In fact, communities can weaken, fragment or drift if they get too large. Professor Robin Dunbar, who sits on the Guild Advisory Board, is famous for the ‘Dunbar number’, of ~150, showing we cannot truly know more people than that.

Communities for B2B marketing are likely to be 10s, 100s, possibly 1,000s but not more. Guild’s model for professional networking in the digital age suggests group sizes between 15-1,500 are likely optimal. Too many LinkedIn groups or Slack communities are overwhelmingly large, impersonal, or noisy so don’t add real value or create meaningful connections.

3. The importance of a community leader

Whatever the role is called – group host, community leader, admin, group / community manager etc – it is vital to have someone who is the ‘face’ of the group, the ‘go to’ person for any member of the group. Otherwise it is like having a dinner party with no host, or an event with no-one to lead it.

In B2B this host should be a suitably senior, influential and credible figure, not a junior marketing or sales exec for example, because it sends the signal that you care about the members and are putting your personal and organisational reputation at stake to make the community worthwhile.

This community leader should have expertise in the special interest areas of the group, should lead by example in how she/he engages with the community, and should be supportive, welcoming and encouraging, particularly to new joiners.

4. Curate, not dictate

Recognise also that the most successful communities feel like they are ‘owned’ by the community itself. To the point that really strong communities, just like other groups and tribes, will police and defend themselves both internally and to outsiders.

To create this dynamic, you cannot dictate to the group, you cannot dominate the conversation, and it is not an opportunity for broadcast/one-way communications. Yes, you must be engaged and lead by example, but your job is to create the right environment, with the right people, for the community’s members to step forwards and volunteer their own ideas, information, questions and advice.

5. Choose the right technology platform

In truth, a great community leader is much important than any technology you choose. Successful communities can run off an email list still. But choosing the right platform for your professional community increases your chances of success just as choosing the wrong one can make it hard. And switching platforms is never easy.

As a technology platform ourselves, at Guild we have strong opinions in this area. Controversially for the many Slack aficionados, for example, we think Slack is not designed for communities, and believe WhatsApp is a very risky choice for B2B.

If you are a writer and want to monetise your newsletter then Substack is popular; if you are a (semi-)professional artist or creative then Patreon might be for you; if you are a business with professional expertise to share then obviously you should use Guild ;).

6. Trust

You need trust for a community to thrive. You have to earn trust over time and it can quickly be lost. At Guild we believe identity, with individuals being present as themselves with professional profiles, is important to create trust – many messaging apps are moving towards secrecy and anonymity which can encourage disrespectful and unkind behaviours.

You should have guidelines for your group to set expectations around permitted behaviours and you should be seen to enforce these guidelines. You need to act with integrity and speak with authenticity.

7. Consistency

The good news is that running a community does not have to take up too much time or direct cost. However, you do need to be consistent. A little but often works best. Sudden surges of activity, or prolonged periods of inactivity, suggest to members of your group that perhaps this is something only occasionally on your mind rather than central to what you do. At Guild, as a guideline, we suggest that group hosts set aside 10-15mins a day for their group(s).

8. Persistency

All the most powerful aspects of a community – a sense of belonging, trust, reciprocity, stored knowledge and wisdom, valuable and responsive connections – take time to build. It is extremely hard to create a vibrant community overnight if it doesn’t already exist.

It can take a while, months, for any group to ‘warm up’ and ‘open up’ and this can be particularly true in B2B where individuals represent their employing organisations and have their personal professional reputation to consider and protect.

You need to be prepared to invest in any community over the medium-long term to build it into something truly valuable for you and its members.

9. Core, not peripheral

If you think of ‘community’ as a kind of project, or initiative, or campaign, then it will likely fail. A bit like ‘culture’ at work, community works best when it is felt, lived and breathed by an organisation, particularly its leaders. It needs to be embedded across the business and infuse all aspects of it.

Community exists in-person and digitally – a combination of the two is best. Ultimately community, in the context of B2B marketing, is about wanting to stay close to your market and customers. Surely that is not only central to any marketer’s role but is what those leading the business should care most about?

10. Community building is an (undervalued) skill

As you can perhaps tell from the above, whilst community building and management is not *that* hard or expensive, it would also be unfair to those who are really good at it not to recognise it as an area of distinct skill and expertise.

There are plenty of great editorial folk who are no good at community management, there are sales and marketing professionals who you’d think would be good but aren’t, there are passionate business leaders who think they should be able to do it but just don’t ‘get it’.

Great community builders are an unusual mixture of social, psychological, editorial, communication, commercial and sales skills. Despite this it is widely acknowledged that community management is historically not something that businesses have wanted to pay for. It isn’t a standard line in the budget. But with the rise of CBM let’s hope that changes!

Previously in the series we covered: What is community-based marketing (CBM)? and Where community-based marketing fits in the marketing funnel

Next in the series we will cover:  The business case for community-based marketing; Examples of CBM in B2B marketing.

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