Community marketing is simply engaging customers (and prospects) in conversation, to find out what they want from you, and to build a sense of community. We believe it has significant opportunity for B2B marketers. Here’s why:

Community marketing is a relatively cheap option – With social media, it is not hard (or expensive) to make contact with customers. The point is to develop relationships with them by listening to what they want, and then providing it. By staying close to customers, it is cheap to find out what they think about new ideas, which problems they face, and how you can help.

Community marketing can build strong loyalty. This initiative focuses on bringing people together and starting conversations. By definition, it therefore builds and fosters relationships and communities. This fulfils a genuine human need: to belong (and if you doubt how important this is, have a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Addressing this need can build very high loyalty.

It can also help brands remain relevant and innovative. Being close to your customers brings one very powerful benefit. It means that you know what they want. And this, of course, helps you to deliver that, because you will know immediately when they want something new, and can innovate to deliver it. It doesn’t matter whether they want a different channel, such as mobile, or a new product or service. You can also use your community as a sounding board to test new ideas.

Community marketing fits with what you are already doing, and makes it better. Every company has at least one community already: its existing customers. Whatever you are doing, and whoever your customers, you can always afford to build stronger relationships with them, and do things better.

There is a difference between nurturing a community, and exploiting it. This is the difference between marketing and community building. Marketing is about generating leads, raising awareness, and generally getting potential customers through the door. Community building is about what happens once they are there: the customer experience. Exploit your customers, and try to sell to them too aggressively, and they won’t hang about for long.

Community marketing is a process, and the process is all-important. It is not about events. Instead, community marketers are building a common culture, and a shared understanding.  This takes time and a lot of effort across a wide range of activities, including creating a vision and purpose, providing content that builds relationships, and interacting with individuals within the community. Most of all, it is about co-creation of value, and that is all about process.

There is increasing overlap between content marketing and community. In many ways, some have argued, content marketing is the new community marketing. Providing great content that fills a need for your customers is at the heart of both. Both are about conversations and interactions, not just broadcasting, and a recognition that you need to know your audience. And crucially, both are about engagement, not active selling.

As with any activity, you need to focus on the areas that add most value. You cannot do everything. Everyone’s resources are limited. And therefore it makes sense to focus on the things that add most value—for you, and for your customers. This, of course, means that you need to know which those areas are. And that comes back to the importance of knowing what your customers want. Strategy is key.

There are good ways to measure the impact of community marketing, and it is vital to do so. It is easy to count activity, and assume that ‘more posts = good’. But more posts may not be more effective. Instead, it is better to spend some time doing a bit of analysis, and work out what actually works against your targets, whether those are customer retention or satisfaction levels. It is worth discovering exactly which activities are more useful, and you can then focus on what matters most, and has most effect.

Make what you have work for you. It is always tempting to add shiny new tools to the toolkit, in the hope of improving employee activity or customer communication. But it is worth remembering that you may well have everything that you need. The problem may be that nobody can find it. Making sure that everyone can find useful shared content could be a whole lot more productive than any new tools.

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