Why B2B Brands Should Host Virtual Communities

Right now, supporting each other is going to be the best way to move forward. Getting together and pooling knowledge will help folks thrive, or at least survive, in difficult marketplaces like this one. So how do you encourage this? Build a community.

Goodwill is a powerful tool, and B2B brands that facilitate support groups find it is also good for generating demand. As marketing guru Drew Neisser explains in a recent special report on B2B Demand Generation, “if you really want new customers, focus on your current ones.”  There are a few ways to do this well, but most successful iterations will identify one or a few core challenges in their industry, create a space for a discussion, and be the one to spark said discussion. Let’s take a closer look at one company that’s absolutely nailed this: Red Hat.

In his interview on the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, CMO Tim Yeaton noted that marketing has been a major driver of success in building this $4 billion company. It is worth noting, Red Hat is an open-source software company that “sells” free software and generates (a lot) of revenue from additional subscriptions and support services. One thing the company is especially proud of is its ability to form user communities.

Tim refers to their community building as their ‘too hot’ model. Red Hat creates product-agnostic content (see earlier section on accessing partially idled subject matter experts to hear more about that), uses it to bring customers and prospects into the discussion, and doesn’t push sales content in front of people engaging with the strictly educational content (the non-product content). Red Hat really creates a space where developers who use Red Hat’s, or similar software can go to learn and discuss their challenges without having a product pushed on them. Red Hat has multiple communities they help nurture with content—some are web developers sharing best practices, some are just hobbyists playing around with Red Hat’s open-source software. As Yeaton says, “[Red Hat is] trying to create watering holes for people with like interests, and then hopefully we’ve created enough interest in content or topics that [prospects and customers] will opt-in on their own.” In these communities, the product/host is relatively in the background.

So, in essence, build a space where the users of your solution can discuss the challenges and all share as industry peers. It keeps your brand close to the conversation and establishes your brand as one that is dedicated to helping customers thrive in whatever they do, not just a brand that tries to get customers to use its offering. This also creates a veritable idea mill—a community of your target demographic discussing challenges and best practices can and should inform the development of your product and strategy. After all, the whole point is to create ways for your customers to succeed. 

When building virtual communities be sure to make sure a moderator or facilitator is on hand to spark conversation, make introductions, and do whatever else it takes to get the ball rolling. Virtual communities rarely succeed without someone to encourage interaction and nurture involvement. Once the group is established, it may require less care and feeding but don’t count on it. People get distracted easily. A moderator can help keep the group engaged and on topic.