For many B2B companies -- that is companies that sell products, services, or information to other businesses vs. consumers -- building a sustainable community means providing access to content that is fine tuned to their needs. Which presupposes you know your customers.
You will also want to infuse the company values, associations, ideas, and perceptions you want to transmit customers as well as offers or rewards in your content.
First, figure out where you're going
Purpose has a way of focusing activities and interactions, until they provide business impact. Declaring your objective, attaching goals to it, and making them measurable, will get you there. While people are definitely in the spot light of community, unless you know where you want to go with it, you will have a hard time going from building to engaged.
This step presupposes that you've identified who your customers and prospective customers are.
Then, know thy customers
Many organizations have pockets of knowledge about customers in CRM systems and relationships in a few select support and sales teams. However, they may not have a consistent view of customers as individuals and observations on their past behaviors, which are predictors of future behaviors.
These are data points that will help you develop useful content for a community site.
Think of the site as a place where to connect people to each other as well. Knowing your behavioral mix provides additional insights on the dynamics you may need to support and encourage to achieve your goals. Individuals who behave the same way or similarly are your new segmentation.
Your level of awareness will serve the community well in a facilitating capacity.Define helpful
Now that you know your customers, you can use that information to develop content that is more relevant to them. What are they thinking about? Is the industry changing rapidly? Can you help them wade through those changes with you?
Once you figure out what is helpful to your community, you can package the content in any which way to test ease of use and resonance. Videos, blogs, "how to" tutorials, new product/service information, there are many ways to teach what you know and ways to learn from your customer preferences.
Whatever you do, build measurement into it. Find a way to track it, calculate its value towards outcomes, and incorporate it in what you do next.
Making an example
In a comment to my post about earned media and influence, where I talk about PR professionals being in a rare situation to be able to affect how information is analyzed, aggregated, and filtered, make it more digestible, and help people make sense of it better, Arik Hanson asks:
What about the professional services world (accounting, in particular). Couldn't one of the Big Four or second-tier firms create a community aimed at helping controllers and CFOs get quality content that can help them make more informed decision? Don't think that would have a halo effect for one of those firms?
Could they partner with an existing community? For example Intuit for small business. Or with a software company that provides enterprise services, like SAP? Starting from scratch many not make sense for them if their customers are already vested in an existing system.
Introducing them to further value via uncovering and curating might be enough in their case. Partnership may make sense. In my experience, firms in the service business (with some considerable IP investment, real or perceived) have a hard time sharing knowledge freely, even with customers.
They are also very focused on lead generation and any and all activities that could detract from that need a solid reason for time and resources investment that provide outcomes other than dollar signs.
Of course, the bigger reason may one day be one of the following:
- reputation issues
- a full blown crisis
- diminishing returns from lead gen activities
- a competitor is doing it
Opportunity can be found in challenging moments.
Wrap it up
When you create a content-driven community, don't forget to set measurable goals, establish meaningful benchmarks, evaluate results, and document what moves the needle for the business. Every business already has an organic community: its employees, partners, and, depending on its degree of involvement, its customers.
Does the business embrace those communities by communicating often, valuing and rewarding its members? Is having a place online to learn and discuss common issues going to strengthen and energize that community?
People buy why you do it -- the what serves as a proof of that.
[image by Dion Hinchcliffe]
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.