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How to Build and Run a Successful B2B Online Community

Initially presented at Social Media Strategies Summit 2020, this talk features best practices on how to get your first signups, increase engagement, and grow your community. Included here are dozens of tips from nearly 20 community leaders and experts, with lots of resources and links to great communities and tools. Presented by Serial Marketers community founder David Berkowitz; request access at

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How to Build and Run a Successful B2B Online Community

  1. 1. 1 How to Build and Run a Successful B2B Community David Berkowitz Founder, Serial Marketers (join us: @dberkowitz |
  2. 2. What we’ll cover today • Why launch a community • Steps to launching one • Highs and lows of building a community • Brilliance from 15 community masters 2
  3. 3. 3 What’s your desired outcome?
  4. 4. Steps to launching your community 1. Start with why 2. Determine the ideal member 3. Decide on the business model 4. Figure out the main channel(s)/platform(s) 5. Build the guts of it 6. Send the first invites 7. Optimize around feedback 8. Announce/spread the word 9. Optimize around desired scale 4
  5. 5. The typical order 1. Come up with idea 2. Decide on channel (maybe at same time as step 1) 3. Create it 4. Launch it 5. Pray, celebrate, cry – likely all at once 5
  6. 6. Choose your approach (but at least try a few steps from the right) 1. Come up with idea 2. Decide on channel (maybe at same time as step 1) 3. Create it 4. Launch it 5. Pray, celebrate, cry – likely all at once 6 1. Start with why 2. Determine the ideal member 3. Decide on the business model 4. Figure out the main channel(s)/platform(s) 5. Build the guts of it 6. Send the first invites 7. Optimize around feedback 8. Announce/spread the word 9. Optimize around desired scale 10. Pray, celebrate, cry (this all happens no matter what)
  7. 7. Community shortens cycles “For decades, B2B software sales has been positioned as a just-the-facts, logic-led endeavor. As adoption cycles have sped up to meet emerging business needs, and global events like COVID have cut red tape in record time… some of these processes no longer apply. B2B software business development teams are creating ways to steward relationships between purchase cycles, and one of these is online community.” Perry Hewitt Colechurch Consulting
  8. 8. Moments of Victory 8
  9. 9. Gauging interest 9
  10. 10. First signups
  11. 11. $5 design (thanks, Fiverr) 11
  12. 12. Early catalysts 12
  13. 13. 1,000 members 13
  14. 14. Moving beyond Slack 14
  15. 15. Moments of Frustration 15
  16. 16. Keeping up with the Joneses 16
  17. 17. Constant feeling of winging it 17
  18. 18. The tightrope: a founder and member 18
  19. 19. Tips from Community Leaders 19
  20. 20. Starting the community
  21. 21. Pay intention “When starting your community, invite customers and prospects intentionally. Start with people you know to be thoughtful problem solvers, and provide incentives (free product training sessions, exclusive offline events) for them to join.” Perry Hewitt Colechurch Consulting
  22. 22. Earn your degrees “Start with friends, and then if they like it, ask them to recommend one person and on and on, and quickly you'll have a few degrees removed.” Alex Taub Upstream
  23. 23. Build with your members “Be very specific in what you're offering in the community, but at the same time transparent about the fact that the community is in its early stages. The members will be more forgiving and flexible, and the best community is in fact one that is built with members, not for them. They'll be excited to take on the challenge and be part of the early stages of your community!” Danielle Letayf Badassery
  24. 24. Orient members around the mission “As it relates to getting the actual members, be vocal about the mission of the community that you're starting, the types of people you're looking for and how it will benefit them specifically (and how your community is different from the millions of others out there). I always opt for starting with my own network or asking people I know for their recommendations of people who would be a good fit to maintain quality in the early stages. If that's not an option, feel free to promote across your social channels, but make sure to create a process to vet for quality for the initial cohort.” Danielle Letayf Badassery
  25. 25. Why are you here? “Use profiles and introductions to create context. Encourage new members to add something about why they are here in the community when introducing themselves.” Charlene Li Quantum Networks
  26. 26. Out with the old “Go to relevant communities that are on dead platforms. It's a great time to convert people from forums to Slack communities now.” David Markovich Online Geniuses
  27. 27. Keep on farming “Build incrementally: If you have a big vision, starting with a Slack channel or an email list is a great way to begin to cultivate traction.” Geoff Bruskin White Tiger Connections
  28. 28. Say what you mean “Clever doesn't always work. I love a play on words and watched as my confused community members not understand a feature I was providing them. It's sometimes better to call a job board a job board and not something clever.” Rob Beeler AdOpsOnline
  29. 29. Use surveys to source advocates “The first step is I send an email with a short five- question survey. Questions should be relevant to the company but somethings I have asked in the past are, ‘What events do you attend?’ and, ‘What blogs or trade publications do you read?" I always include one or two silly questions like, ‘What is your favorite comfort food?’ Say you send this to 100 people. Maybe 30 open the email and 11 respond. Those 11 people are the ones I start with to build the community and give them a white glove approach to make them feel loved. Give them the tools to lay the foundation of your community and have them bring their like-minded friends, so when you start opening this up, you have a real base of passionate people who will welcome the new people as they come in.” Saul Colt The Idea Integration Company
  30. 30. Plan with purpose “Make sure that the goals of the community focus on the needs of the community and/or higher social needs. To this end, it helps if a brand is purpose-driven. Getting the early members requires a lot of time and outreach. Don’t expect this to be an easy-to-accomplish and quick-hit project.” Heidi Cohen Actionable Marketing Guide
  31. 31. Heal the pain “The most successful communities are those who are most intimately familiar with their community members' pain points, who most directly address these pain points while fostering a sense of unity and connection around the shared pain.” Gesche Haas Dreamers//Doers
  32. 32. Quick breather – you good?
  33. 33. Building engagement
  34. 34. Up close and personal “Many people hear B2B and think corporate. But people are seeing your ads, people are reading your content, and people are making the decision to work with you. It's never not personal.” Lindsay Kaplan Chief
  35. 35. Use your ears “Invest in listening – it's time- consuming to engage with the community, but hearing conversations among your customers can introduce a host of new ideas for everything from marketing copy to sales differentiators to product feature development.” Perry Hewitt Colechurch Consulting
  36. 36. Make it your problem “Once they arrive, ensure there's quality content available to them. Sure, this can include product updates and how-tos, but you should focus on business problems.” Perry Hewitt Colechurch Consulting
  37. 37. Foster relationships “The most successful B2B communities on Fishbowl allow for social interactions between members beyond transactional business opportunities. Do not treat a B2B community as only a place where members come for economic benefit. Instead, you should allow discussion around topics that, while still professionally relevant, allow members to build relationships with each other. For this reason, the early members need to seed the community with the right kind of content, which might even include icebreakers.” Loren Appin Fishbowl
  38. 38. Engineer serendipity “Encourage people to connect with each other, and if needed, engineer the serendipity. Have workshop sessions around specific interest areas and set up discussion areas so that the conversation can continue.” Charlene Li Quantum Networks
  39. 39. Foster needs & leads “Foster needs and leads conversations. It's hard to ‘ask’ the community for help because it feels like you are imposing on the entire community. Having dedicated ‘needs and leads’ protocols makes it easier for people to ask and to share.” Charlene Li Quantum Networks
  40. 40. Operation: Community ”When running a community, don't underestimate the operational effort that goes into the back-end. The sooner you address this and the smoother you can make the experience for your community members, the better you'll be able to scale and provide seamless value to your community.” Gesche Haas Dreamers//Doers
  41. 41. Gratitude is the right attitude “One of the rules of the Orchestrated Connecting Community, comprised of the most super-connected people on the planet, focuses on always following up with gratitude after you receive help. Gratitude without an additional ask subtext reinforces your role in this person’s life and creates a long- lasting imprint.” David Homan Orchestrated Connecting
  42. 42. Elementary, my dear Watson “When it comes to the first members, my tip is to start with solving their problem. Become their problem solver and they’ll begin to come.” A. Walton Smith We Are Rosie
  43. 43. Breadth first, depth later ”Light lots of fires and see what catches. Explore the expanse of your creativity, start with breadth. Once you see what's resonating within your industry, or culture at large, you'll have an idea of where to focus. Then, you'll want to turn the breadth into depth.” Rosie Yakob School of Stolen Genius
  44. 44. Growing the audience
  45. 45. Sport authorities ”Make people an authority in the group. They’ll be the ones selling your brand.” Jason Berkowitz Break the Web
  46. 46. Reap what you farm “Find 2-3 channels for farming new community members. Shapr is great for this. Lead with the value- add: your value proposition should be clear, concise, and center-field in your outreach message. Be consistent: spend at least 10 minutes every day reaching out to a certain number of people. Over time, your community will grow.” Geoff Bruskin White Tiger Connections
  47. 47. Cultivate authentic evangelism “Genuinely great customer success leads to evangelical customers that authentically want to promote your brand. That type of evangelism is the perfect tent poles for building a lasting community of engaged users that interact with each other.” Michael Cole Everflow
  48. 48. Relationships first, revenue second ”Focus on the places (groups, conversations, people, etc.) where you can bring the most value, rather than figuring out which ones are most likely to lead to money directly for you. Building relationships and a reputation will do you more good than focusing on direct transactional return, because that is how you earn referrals from people who are trusted by others, which will do far more for your business's longevity than going for the quick, easy wins.” Christine Gritmon Christine Gritmon, Inc
  49. 49. Guest contributors’ communities & firms• Actionable Marketing Guide (Heidi Cohen) • AdOpsOnline (Rob Beeler) • Badassery (Danielle Letayf) • Break the Web (Jason Berkowitz) (no relation) • Chief (Lindsay Kaplan) • Christine Gritmon, Inc (Christine Gritmon) • Colechurch Consulting (Perry Hewitt) • The Community Roundtable (research via Rachel Happe) • Dreamers//Doers (Gesche Haas) • The Idea Integration Company (Saul Colt) • Everflow (Michael Cole) • Fishbowl (Loren Appin) • Online Geniuses (David Markovich) • Orchestrated Connecting (David Homan) • Quantum Networks (Charlene Li) • School of Stolen Genius (Rosie Yakob) • Upstream (Alex Taub) • We Are Rosie (A. Walton Smith) • White Tiger Connections (Geoff Bruskin) 49
  50. 50. List of resources • 100+ tool recommendations: via Serial Marketer • Canva: design tools • Depositphotos: high-quality images • Fiverr: find affordable talent for quick projects • LaunchPass: quickly launch subscription businesses • Lunch Club: meet a high-value new contact virtually once a week • Membee: member management • quiz maker • Shapr: make professional connections (better for some fields than others) • Tools for remote teams: via Collaboration Superpowers • Paid Communities report 50
  51. 51. Further reading from Serial Marketer • A Grand Milestone for Serial Marketers: reflections on reaching the 1,000-member mark • How to Build Online Communities: a recap of my spring 2020 panel • Berky’s Marketing English: 100+ marketing concepts explained 51
  52. 52. Thank you ! Questions? Comments? Want to discuss this further? Reach out! LinkedIn // Twitter Are you a Serial Marketer? Join the community! 52