The Importance and Power of an External Community

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Community is the most important thing we can be part of.

For as long as life has existed, people have sought and formed communities. Moreover, as humanity grows and becomes more and more connected, those Community structures and interactions start to span outside of our houses, towns, cities, and countries, in order to connect people from around the world.

Over the last few years, the community industry has noticed the advent of smaller, more discreet communities versus the massive scale of the social media giants. Those same giants are acknowledging this shift and are re-investing in smaller private groups.

So, what does this mean for businesses? Now, more than ever, the community industry is going through a renaissance. People are migrating to smaller group interactions for their personal and professional lives.

The time to start investing (or re-investing) in community is now! Click to Tweet

What Community Means to Me

I am a community leader, so the importance of community will always make sense to me. I have been using communities for a long time (pre-broadband–so a really long time). The message boards of old power communities have reached me throughout every major moment in my life, the highs and the not so highs.

Having been a part of communities in business for the last decade across many industries has given me the opportunity to see that power of community touch so many people. From support in retail and telecommunications to healthcare and technology communities, it is the power of connections that still astounds me. People helping people is the easiest and most impactful thing we can do for each other, no matter how big or small, and that is what community is all about. That’s why I do this, that is why I build community.

Making a Business Case for Community

The idea that people need connections and need a community is certainly not a stretch, but as a business, funding a community requires a purpose, a goal, an ROI—right?

Well, yes. Kind of.

I am reminded of a quote by Gary Vaynerchuk, who when grilled about the ROI of social media retorted with “what’s the ROI of your mother?” Vaynerchuk wasn’t being funny, but rather trying to make the point that social media will prove its value.

Similar to social media you can measure the value of a community in a number of ways and with increasing degrees of complexity, but it is rarely an apples to apples comparison from one community to another. Due to this, it can be difficult when leaders often look for performance against a benchmark.

The mechanics to measure success are already there, and you can work towards metric after metric to prove an ROI for your community. However, in order to measure the success of your community, you need to know what success looks like for you and your business.iStock-989210062.jpg

What if I told you the ROI is not the value of a community?

The value for a community is different to each and every member in your community. Bare with me as I dig myself out of this seemingly ever-deepening hole of “fluffy metrics.”

The value of a community (whilst easy to measure in the numbers) is the community itself. The connections, conversations, contributions, and engagement that is happening in your community gives you more than the goals and metrics you drive. It gives you the unsolicited voice of your customers.

However, gaining access to the voice of the customer is not as easy as giving them a space and hoping they respond. Many businesses see building a community as a checkbox item; they see the allure of engagement, marketing, and support deflection. The problem is that a community cannot be “launched and left.” You cannot simply throw a forum online and hope people will interact, sell the product to one another, and solve each other’s support issues.

So, whilst I believe the unsolicited voice of the customer to be the most powerful feedback a business can receive, it still needs to be nurtured. There are three components to nurturing and growing your community to help give your customers a stronger voice:

  • Build Value: You need to create programs to encourage your community members to participate. They need to be rewarding on the surface but have enough value beyond the initial reward.
  • Create and Curate Content: The biggest part of your community content strategy should be your user-generated content. Making it easy and rewarding to contribute is key to nurturing content from your members.
  • Develop Habits: Making your community a “habit” will yield a massive payoff. Triggering a need and a want in your members to visit and engage regularly gives you a bankable engagement base to build on.

The Anaplan Community

Anaplan has developed a great community made possible by our incredible Customers, Partners, and Employees. The team I have the pleasure of leading are the creative enablers of our members, through the content they produce, the programs they launch/run, the habits they’ve helped to form, and the platform they have built.

I know we all like the big-ticket numbers too, so here are some from 2018! (we already see a 40% increase year-over-year in 2019).

In 2018:

  • We added over 7,000 new members
  • Our members spent over 1,750,000 minutes in the Community
  • There were over 2,250,000 page views and over 550,000 visits to the Community

I really enjoyed sharing my passion with you and would love to hear about your experiences with communities below.

Fran_Headshot.pngFrancis Murphy is the Director of Community at Anaplan a position he has held since 2017. Prior to Anaplan, he built the Social Customer Care and Community strategy at Optum. A dedicated multi-channel leader with proven success in driving change across Retail, Healthcare, Telecommunication and Tech industries in the UK and US. Known as an innovator and strategic thinker with expertise in building sustainable change in the customer experience to deliver against business objectives.