How SaaS Companies Can Build Online Communities
In the current technical landscape, SaaS businesses are rapidly growing and we don't see this slow down anytime soon. It has already become a critical part of how modern businesses operate and according to a study by Kahootz - 73% of companies will be running on SaaS by 2020. Also, note that the SaaS market is reaching a higher revenue size than both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) combined. Here is a forecast for public cloud service revenue for a better perspective:
However, just like any other industry, the competition in the SaaS industry is also growing swiftly. Research shows that the number of competitors for SaaS firms starting around 2012 was less than three on average and the ones found in 2016 were up against close to nine providers.
With this paradigm shift, it has become critical for SaaS companies to drive substantial product innovation, engage with customers, co-create by collaborating, establish thought leadership, and above all build their community. An online community can easily integrate with the whole spectrum of organizational departments and processes — be it customer support, product, or marketing.
Not only does it allow you to deflect the support tickets via peer-to-peer help, self-service, and knowledge delivery also allows you to build an acquisition channel powered by user-generated content and cultivate loyalty via stronger networks.
However, this is easier said than done, so we are going to discuss the strategy for building an online community for SaaS companies in a step-by-step guide. Before we move further, you might also want to check out this post on building an online community organically.
Step 1: Get internal buy-in
Your organization and all the stakeholders should completely buy into the idea of community and are ready to dedicate resources for a longer period. Look for ways to streamline community between departments and remove any avenue for miscommunication. Once that is sorted and you know the problems that the community intends to solve, show off early positive signs and the quick wins.
Then they would be further motivated to help the community succeed. Apart from this ensure that you have a great reporting system that addresses the metrics for several teams.
Keep your company updated with those lovely numbers regularly and draw their focus to investing in the ongoing growth of the community.
Step 2: Set up KPIs based on the SMART framework
KPI aka Key Performance Indicator is the quantified numbers about any process, person, team, or performance of any activity performed inside the company. Overall, given below are the key characteristics of KPI based on the SMART criteria:
- The objective of the KPI must be Specific
- It must be Measurable for progress towards the goal
- The goal associated with the KPI must be Attainable
- Relevant to the larger organizational goal
- Clear Time-frame for achieving the goal.
This means is that KPIs should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant to the organizational goal, and must be achievable within a clear time frame. Check out this post to learn more about the key metrics for an online community.
Step 3: Distribute the tasks for accountability
There are several different moving pieces in an online community just like a product. Especially a customer-facing community makes things sensitive, so clearly define the roles and assign the tasks to your team. This ensures accountability and keeps the community launch plan as smooth as possible. For example, who will take care of moderating the content and users, who will seed the community with content, who will facilitate engagement, who will come up with gamification, content organization, etc.
Step 4: Start with a highly focused goal
Sure, your community can ultimately cater to multiple goals. And we broadly see the following targets when SaaS companies launch online communities:
- Customer support
- Customer acquisition (powered by user-generated content and referral)
- Customer retention and loyalty
- Customer insights and research
- Brand advocacy
Step 5: Finalize the community launch plan
Now it is time for you to document the community launch plan -- it must cover everything from the goals, KPI, and the community platform to content seeding, SEO, and engagement. For example, embedding community components inside your website so users can directly sign up from the website and interact with others, running email campaigns, or inviting social media followers are some of the commonly used tactics.
Finally, when you have the members join your community, you should deploy your community engagement plans to keep them active.
Step 6: Create a blueprint for moderation
It is great to offer the members a place to express themselves, however, there should be control on what people can post and cannot post. That’s when your community and content guidelines come into the picture. Each community has its own set of content policies and engagement rules. However, the moderators should not be rigidly forcing the rules and rely more on common sense.
For instance, trust your community members to take care of the community guidelines. If it doesn’t work, moderators can message privately and then, take appropriate action. Also, it is time to put the community at the center. So, when a member posts something and it is useful, then it certainly makes sense to allow the content (even though it might be self-promotion or not).
The yardstick here should be about value delivery to the community instead of putting a blanket ban on something. Ideally, the community space should invoke a sense of confidence in the members — their contribution is valued and they can truly post anything valuable without worrying about getting punished.
Step 7: Onboard the new members
The right onboarding program is not a one-shoe-fits-all type of program. It varies depending on the type of community, the goals associated with the onboarding process, and a certain level of expectations with which members join. Managing those expectations with the right expertise and specialization is what makes the onboarding process efficient. The right onboarding process will have the following characteristics:
- Simple, precise, and valuable information
- Must have a mechanism to drive member engagement
- Introduce the community and content guidelines along with the culture
- Provide standardized and personalized onboarding instructions
There are several ways for onboarding new community members — from introduction threads and email sequences to guided tours, buddy programs, and welcome videos.
Step 8: Integrate the community inside the product and processes
Integrating the community in your product and company processes makes it incredibly valuable. For example, you can easily convert the community discussions into support tickets and provide additional contextual information to the support agent. Similarly, you can log the community member activity inside the CRM and eventually compare to see if the customers engaged in the community drive more sales.
With Bettermode, you can build a central knowledge hub where your team can build help docs and also allow the members to answer the support questions asked by other members. This helps keep the knowledge base updated and dynamic.
Apart from that if your community platform supports embeddable widgets, you can bring in the power of the community into the product and showcase community content for specific features. Here is an example that shows how Bettermode has deep integration with Top Hat's education software where the authors and subject matter experts can discuss, gather feedback, and share knowledge around different chapters in the community.
It allows the discussions and comments inside the education software to be posted in the community and vice versa. This two-way integration helps in having elaborate discussions in the community, based on an idea or observation made in the software for the book.
Another example is Appjobs community -- this marketplace company for gig workers has deep integration of the community with their website via widgets. They have embedded the discussion component of the community inside different categories available on the site which allows them to convert the website visitors into community members.
Step 9: Facilitate engagement and implement gamification
It is a general notion that community engagement requires the initial effort in terms of content seeding and activities driven by community managers. Eventually, depending on the lifecycle of the community, the bulk of the engagement is organic.
However, this is far from the practical scenario — community engagement requires continuous effort, meticulous planning, and grit. The conversations around a brand community never sustain organically and rarely originates naturally. As a community manager, you are the captain of the ship and the onus is on you to move the community towards healthy engagement by building authentic connections with the members.
Considering that each community is unique, the engagement tactics also vary and are specifically crafted to serve the lifecycle stage of the community. Learn more here - top community engagement tactics.
Step 10: Execute the advocacy program
With authentic people, their recommendations, and positive views, a product can sell itself. The reliability of the words of the public builds up the trust and reputation of the brand among others who are not a part of the brand’s community. A bad image can only be avoided by the positive reaction of people and response towards your product. The community collectively works towards establishing the brand as an upstanding product with a stellar performance and something to count on.
Most of these people who act as advocates of the brand are loyal customers of that brand. The reason why they are enthusiastic about the growth of the brand is that they had a wonderful experience with the products and they want the brand to expand because of its good performance.
Your goal here is to recruit your community and product superusers to leverage their knowledge and channel that to help other new members. Ultimately, your superusers would turn brand advocates given you have a solid response and reward system.
Time to build an online community for your SaaS company
This covers the ten steps for the community building strategy for SaaS companies -- now it's time for you to put these into action and get cracking. When you start building community and gain traction or get small wins, make sure that you are conveying the same to your leadership team and communicating with other departments to keep everyone motivated.
With time, you would be reporting the critical metrics preferably by building a dashboard.