keys to community success

DJ Khaled isn’t the only one who holds the keys to success. You can get your own set of keys for your community, backed by research.

At the end of last year, we teamed up with Leader Networks to conduct an extensive research study sponsored by Salesforce, Jive, and Vanilla Forums. The research combined the experience of over 400 community builders like you.

After spending weeks breaking down the data, segmenting the numbers, and analyzing the meaning of it all, we arrived at a handful of similarities that successful communities shared. So what do all these successful communities have in common?

1. View your community as a competitive advantage.

Keys2_revThe data gathered in our research indicated that 57% of organizations launched a community in order to fuel customer satisfaction and retention and 47% launched one to gather new product ideas.

In other words, organizations have begun to see community as a competitive advantage rather than a cost that is never recouped. Community can be a true driver of customer value and innovation — more than half of the organizations who invest in community launches do so because they believe this to be true.

Community builders who look at their communities as a competitive advantage may have an easier time getting buy-in.

Or you can take this a step further as you work to gather resources for your community to thrive. As one of our CMX members recently declared, “Community isn’t just a competitive advantage. It’s a competitive necessity.”

2. Develop a clear business case for your community alongside an executive sponsor. 


When launching or revising your community strategy, you need to carve out a clear business value for your community and understand where it fits in your organization. This is easier than it sounds: pick one business case and optimize towards it until you are ready to expand your community efforts.

But that’s not all you need. Successful communities have internal advocates. Successful community builders have sponsors who help them make their case and gather resources.

Your executive sponsor will champion the community alongside you, ensuring that you get constructive feedback, alignment, and can set attainable goals that prove the community’s impact on the business at large.

3. Get the timing right.


“Communities do not create trust. They cement it.”

Building a community will not solve your product problems. Your community does not simply blossom into your magical customer support channel over night.

Communities only work when they are built upon mutual trust and respect.

If you don’t trust your customers and your customers don’t trust you, don’t launch a community. Build that trust by building relationships first.

As with anything, timing is an important factor in the launches of successful communities. Don’t just dive in; be deliberate.

4. Measure growth, but know that it’s not the end goal. 


Very successful communities report that onboarding all customers  or employees and refer-a-peer programs lead to the highest rate of community member conversion. This should be obvious: Automatically onboarding people is effective (though can be annoying from the user’s perspective). People trust their peers’ recommendations, and measuring the conversion on “refer-a-peer” programs can be far easier than any other type of growth marketing program.

This is valuable information to know, but it’s also misleading. Why? Growth for growth’s sake is not what leads to community success.

Focus on creating value first. Growth is a natural by-product of creating something that actually matters to your members.

5. Define metrics that actually matter to the business.


If growth is not the end goal, then what is the end goal?

The end goal is to define metrics that matter to your business or to your organization’s ultimate mission and vision. As a community builder, it’s important to have a pulse on the community’s health and activity, but your organization is going to care how that community health moves the needle on meaningful business goals.

Our research showed that over half of respondents valued “user-generated content” and almost half cared about “number of members”, both community health metrics that don’t actually map back to the ultimate business priorities that the community ultimately serves. This should be a wakeup call: keep measuring those types of metrics, but tie them to something more meaningful as well.

Want to know how to begin to define metrics that matter? Companies like Moz are paving the way.

6. Expend a high level of effort researching your community platform. 


The platform selection process can feel elusive. Many community builders are handed down legacy systems or pick a platform in a rush. Our research indicated that only 1 in 4 organizations expended a “high” level of effort doing platform research.

This is a precedent we need to break. Many resources now exist to help you through this process. Here are just a few:

– The CMX Guide to Community Platforms

– The Forrester Wave Social Depth Platforms Report

– The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Platform for your Community by Maria Ogneva

– Picking a Community Platform? Do Your Legwork by Carrie Melissa Jones

Don’t go it alone and don’t pick a platform without careful deliberation. It’s a costly mistake, not just for your organization but also for your dissatisfied members.

7. Hire a dedicated community manager.


This is a no-brainer for most of us. But now you have the data to back up what you know is true: nine out of 10 communities have dedicated community managers. That’s not a coincidence or an accident.

The data from our research indicated that 31% of communities fail due to lack of resources and support, and community professionals are integral to ensuring that organizations dedicate necessary energy to creating value for members.

The most successful and the largest communities have one or more community managers on staff.

When launching a community, it can be tempting to “wait and see” what kind of resources you need to dedicate to its management, but this data suggests that the answer is nearly always the same: to achieve success, you need to dedicate at least one team member to the community’s strategy and management.

Cover Photo Credit: José Pestana via Compfight cc

Carrie Melissa Jones

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