Community-Led Growth: The Product-Led Growth Expansion Pack

So Why Now?

Like many aspects of technology, COVID has acted as an accelerant for Community-Led Growth as people more than ever feel the need to find a sense of belonging online. However, Community-Led Growth has been a long time coming: in this world of SaaS fragmentation, users are overwhelmed by choice, and look to influencers to choose tools; meanwhile the number of communication and sharing channels has also increased. Long gone are the days where a buyer shows up to the sales call not knowing what they’re looking for: buyers are coming to the table with a much clearer opinion on the tools available.

  • In the sales-driven world, you have to trust the salesperson.
  • In a Product-Led Growth world, you trust yourself to choose the best product.
  • In a Community-Led Growth world, buyers turn to their community of friends and peers for guidance.

Why Every Founder Should Think About Community-Led Growth

1. Create a Symbiotic Relationship With Users: Community-Led Growth allows you to create something more aspirational for your users — a movement that they can be a part of that revolves around topics of interest to them. In doing so, you’re delivering value beyond your own product, and naturally start building what will become a symbiotic relationship with your users.

The Community-Led Growth Playbook

Communities are typically started by bringing users together on a Community Platform, and over time expanding the ecosystem through multiple community channels (events, job boards, newsletters etc). No matter the size, a well-engaged community needs to be actively managed — it takes time, 1x1 conversations, personalization, and leadership. The role of Head of Community will grow in relevance as the community ecosystem expands.

1. Start by creating a Community of Practice

This is where most of the community ‘lives’, the central hub to get a view of most members and content (both company, and user-generated). While Slack has been an obvious starting place to create a community, the world of community-enabling SaaS is growing exponentially. Community platforms are becoming more niche and function-specific to the type of community and mode of interaction you’re optimizing for: whether that be open-source developer focused, membership-driven, voice, events, chat focused, etc.

  • Community of Product: Built around your product specifically, this primarily serves as a space for users to ask questions about your product, share insights with each other, and stay connected with the company.
  • Community of Practice: The idea of a community of practice was coined by Anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in their book Situated Learning. A community of practice ties together members who share the common goal of learning about a specific field. Applied to the tech world, we’ve started seeing communities of practice grow significantly.
    Companies are embracing the idea of building something that spans larger than their own product, and instead aims to include all people within a role or space. For example, Funl created the RevOps Co-Op where anyone with a rev ops role can join; while being able to also learn about Funl’s GTM product specifically designed for those users. Similarly, Twine created a community for all CPOs, while selling CPO-specific software. This leads to a much larger community that is initially less focused on your specific product: it’s up to the community manager and sales team to elegantly make sure to engage about your product use cases and reach out to potential users directly when appropriate.

2. Reward Your Best Champions with Acknowledgment

Some businesses have successfully created a “Certification” program as an incentive for community members to contribute content, and in turn become a proponent of your product. In the most highly effective of cases, you’ve created a ‘free’ salesperson, a radical believer in your product, who in return receives personal professional validation that can be career-defining (and for example, they would display the certification proudly on their resume or LinkedIn). The certification program is not easy to execute, as it relies on a balance between not diluting the value of it, while creating enough interest and buzz to attract top talent.

3. Include Your Stakeholders in Company Content

Content marketing isn’t new to anyone, but what is changing is the role that users have in creating and participating in the content. This has a double impact: first is the opportunity to “educate” your users on the market you’re operating in, or the many use cases your tool has; the second is the network effect created by expanding your circle of ‘creators’. The two primary mediums are:

4. Facilitate User-Generated Templates and Tutorials

Lastly, engaging your community often includes giving them the instructions, ideas, and templates to succeed at the product. However, at a certain scale the amount of content that needs to be created outpaces the velocity at which you can generate it. With enough product love, your users might come to the rescue and start sharing these tutorials themselves (that’s a great sign). If people are posting DIY YouTube videos on how to use your product (e.g. Zapier), you should probably build a community around this! Creating a space for them to publicly share these insights not only encourages them to create more, but centralizes a ‘repository’ for your prospects. Some examples of successful case studies:

With Great Community Comes Great Responsibility

The wave of companies that enable Community-Led Growth are going to come from:

  1. Next Gen Community Platforms: New community platforms (Slack 2.0) with differentiated use cases, higher functionality around content sharing, knowledge repositories, event planning, user onboarding, segmentation, Q&A, and much more. Meanwhile, large existing platforms will seek to expand their audience even inorganically, as we have seen Discord do with their acquisitions of two smaller startups Byte (video-focused communities) and Zyper (brand-centered communities).
  2. Community Data Analytics: Insight-mining, platform-agnostic software that integrates with all your community end points, and drives actionable workflows for your sales, success, support teams, product teams, etc. Mining for community data is a non-trivial problem, as there are dozens of sources to pull from, each with a large scale of data points, and where each user goes by a different name, has different types of behavior, and in many cases doesn’t communicate complete information. However it’s also a critical part of getting value from your community. The metrics you start tracking through these tools will be invaluable as you grow these channels. New tools like Common Room, which came out of stealth at the end of March, have come onto the market to enable organizations to see, understand, and analyze insights from their community data across channels, so they can deepen relationships with the people in their communities in relevant, personal ways — and manage their communities more effectively — across platforms like Twitter, Slack, GitHub, Intercom, Discourse, Discord, and more.

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Corinne Marie Riley

Corinne Marie Riley

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Focused on early stage B2B enterprise companies, looking to partner with founders and operators who want to build the future @CorinneMRiley