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Community-Led Growth: The Key to Acquisition and Retention?

Learn how you can leverage community-led growth as a powerful driver of customer acquisition, expansion, and retention.
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Last updated
October 23, 2023

At its core, community-led growth is about ensuring your customers keep coming back — not out of convenience or habit, but because their experience is valued and they feel connected to your brand on a deeper level. 

With this in mind, to implement a successful community-led growth strategy you’ll need to build, grow, and sustain a thriving community around your brand. 

In this blog post, we'll explore how community-led growth strengthens your market presence and highlight the best practices for building a community — along with the challenges. 

Let’s get started.

What is community-led growth?

Community-led growth is a GTM or go-to-market strategy in which companies build and nurture communities of enthusiastic customers. When done well, these communities add significant value to the product experience. This helps with customer acquisition, retention, and account expansion. It’s a powerful way to grow a business. 

But to implement a community led growth strategy successfully, you must create a community that contributes to both your goals and those of your users. To do this, you need to understand why people join communities. Typically this is either because the person supports the community’s cause or directly benefits from being a member. 

Why is community-led growth becoming increasingly popular?

Businesses have long benefited from communities of dedicated customers. But these communities haven’t always been central to growth — and up until a few years ago were often just a welcome side effect of a product-led strategy. 

That’s starting to change — a result of like-minded people having more options for connecting online than ever before. This lets businesses make communities central to their development and go-to-market strategy. 

But community-led isn’t the only growth strategy. It’s more of an evolution of those that came before. 

Examples of companies that implement community-led growth

Below are some examples of brands that implement a community-led growth strategy:

  • Peloton: Makes working out at home social by letting people connect and compete.
  • Moz: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool Moz helps its users (and future users) learn SEO best practices from industry leaders.
  • SAP: The SAP community is a vast user-generated resource detailing everything about the software: from customer support queries to new ideas about the software.
  • ConvertKit: The ConvertKit community empowers creators to learn from each other while enabling the company to share best practices as well.
  • Mindvalley: Mindvalley’s community spaces add a social element to its personal development courses.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb is only possible thanks to its community of hosts. The company has an online community that provides them with all the help they need to be successful.
  • Lululemon: The athletic wear company’s ambassador program helps local exercise leaders create exercise communities.
  • YouTube: YouTube has become a more community-focused model for growth recently thanks to features like comments and community posts.
  • Product Hunt: Product Hunt’s software discovery platform provides huge value to both makers — who get their products in front of a large audience, and users — who get access to new apps.
  • Klaus: Bettermode customer Klaus, a SaaS solution for customer support professionals is building a community for CX quality professionals. 

📖 Learn more from a case study on how Klaus is building brand leadership and educating customers in its community.

The benefits of community-led growth

Let’s take a look at the ways community led growth can benefit your business:

Build and sustain a powerful moat

Building a community brings a significant competitive advantage. They act as a substantial barrier to churn, a sign-up incentive to new users, and they protect you from new competitors. Peloton is a great example of a company with a powerful moat built with the community. While it’s theoretically easy to create a similar product to Peloton, the company’s existing user base means competing would be tough.

They create a growth flywheel effect

Community flywheel
Community flywheel

An active community takes your existing momentum and propels you further forward. In a traditional sales funnel, momentum ends when a prospect passes through the bottom and becomes a customer. 

Communities flip this model on its head. When customers buy your product, it’s actually the start of a new journey — one that’s committed to helping them achieve their goals and ultimately become enthusiastic advocates of your business. 

You can then use these advocates to boost all stages of the sales and post-sales process — by asking them to provide product recommendations, answer support queries to help onboard new users, and more. 

📖 You can read more about how the community flywheel works in our article on the topic.

They are a valuable source of real customer insights and feedback

Communities are a valuable and honest source of feedback on your product or service — and they provide insights into your customers’ needs and goals. Here’s how:

  • Discussions highlight what customers want from your product. This can influence future updates or features that need to be fixed. 
  • Discover which community members will make the best beta testers for new products and features from the content they post. This benefits all involved since your customer gets early access to features, while product teams get feedback on what works and what doesn't.

Ultimately, community led growth creates opportunities for greater engagement through the help of deeper insights. This enables your brand to make data-driven decisions that improve the customer experience.

Drive customer success

Communities offer a place for customers where they can interact, share tips, ask questions, and receive information from each other. This allows customers to support one another while creating a valuable hub of helpful questions and answers that users can use to solve their issues around the clock. This helps businesses drive customer success by reducing their support team’s workload. 

Increase industry exposure and authority

Community-led growth requires building a space where industry experts can grow their network under your brand, publish thought leadership content, and organize online and offline events for both members and non-members. . By engaging with their community in this manner — brands build a strong reputation for themselves among their target audiences — cementing their status as trusted leaders in their industry. 

Example: Hubspot hosts an annual event called Inbound, as well as various partner events around the world. These events benefit the community by helping members access the latest inbound marketing strategies. While doing so, they also help Hubspot position itself as a thought leader.

Sales-led vs. product-led vs. community-led growth: What’s the difference?

From sales-led and product-led to community-led growth‍
From sales-led and product-led to community-led growth

Ultimately, these three growth strategies complement each other, and your business model and customers will determine which of them you choose to implement. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.

Sales-led growth: For years, sales teams were the main drivers of growth for the biggest companies — think of industry giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. If you didn’t have money to invest in these areas, you were unlikely to find success — even if you had a better product.

Product-led growth: The last decade saw the explosion of product-led growth (PLG), driven by how easy it is for SaaS companies to distribute software online. Founders knew if they created products users preferred, they could compete with established brands at low cost. User-friendly UIs, free trials, helpful customer success, support teams, and content marketing are key to this type of growth.‍ Calendly, Slack, and Dropbox are good examples of products that benefited from a product-led growth strategy.

Community-led growth: The next step, community-led growth, doesn’t replace product-led or sales-led growth — but it complements these strategies by offering an excellent customer experience that gains enthusiastic fans. It builds on top of product-led growth by harnessing the power of existing customers and the natural desire we all have for the community.‍ Figma, Coda, and Notion are good examples of products that are amplifying growth with a community led strategy.

5 best practices for community-led growth

Successfully implementing a community-led growth strategy takes careful planning. You can’t just create a community and expect customers to join in. Instead, consider the following best practices:

Ask yourself the necessary questions

Why will people join your community?

Your community must have a clear purpose that aligns will your users' needs. To accomplish this, you’ll need to understand why people will want to join your community and what motivates them. Then, you can build a community that offers something your customers can't find elsewhere — and is useful enough for them to take the time to become a member and actively contribute.

How will you meet their goals?

Once you've identified why people will join your community, from there you can begin to focus on ways to engage members and keep them coming back. This means creating relevant events, Q&As, webinars, and more to help users meet their goals.

Where will your community thrive?

Where you choose to host your community is key to its success. You need to select the channel that is best suited to your community’s purpose. Many communities grow over multiple places. For example, people might:

  • Create and discuss tutorials and guides on YouTube
  • Use LinkedIn or Twitter to share opinions
  • Meet up with others at in-person events and conferences
  • Learn the latest innovations in webinars and courses
  • Collaborate and share work on GitHub
  • Keep up to date with newsletters

Analyze your current audience and then make a data-informed decision on where to host your community.

💡Pro Tip: Keep in mind that you may currently have an organic audience on Reddit or LinkedIn that your customers created on their own — and are already discussing the ideas and problems they face with your brand. If this is the case, it may be best to double down on using Reddit as a business tool and building your community from there.

Choose the right software

A community built on Bettermode
A community built on Bettermode

Use an all-in-one community growth platform like Bettermode to create branded communities that you own. It’s far easier and more cost-effective than developing your own community from scratch. This provides benefits such as:

  • You own the data generated by the community
  • Community pages can be indexed in search engines, potentially increasing traffic
  • You can integrate community content and discussions into your website
  • You have full control over moderation, and you create your terms and conditions
  • You can integrate your community with the other tools you use

📖 Use Bettermode’s 15-point Checklist and tool Community Scout to find the best community solution for your brand.

Additionally, you can use tools like Orbit or Common Room that generate community intelligence that shows what platforms your users use and how they contribute to each. This can include mentions, comments, and any other activity on your customer community hosted on community platforms such as Discourse. Your brand can use this data to analyze if your community strategy is working or needs improvement. 

Reach new community members

​​The hardest part of any community-building process is establishing momentum. When you don’t already have a thriving community, it’s difficult to encourage new people to contribute. The best thing you can do is have a clear plan that provides significant value to early members. Look at your existing customers or network to find people interested in joining. Once your community starts to grow, you can take a less active role — and put in place a dedicated community growth manager instead.

Pro tip: Balance growth with value. It can be tempting to grow it at all costs in the early days of your community. But your main focus should be on providing immense value to those already involved — even If this means growing at a slower rate.

Encourage active contribution

People only stay active in your community when they feel they have a reason to do so. As the brand at the center, it is your job to encourage contributions and moderate the community to ensure it stays valuable. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Organize Q&As with industry leaders
  • Create roundtable discussions on topics related to your industry
  • Bring in experts to hold webinars on relevant topics
  • Start discussion threads
  • Incentivize participation through points (think upvotes on Reddit)
  • Create certification for top members

Pro tip: Look to your community for inspiration to see what people are discussing. Then create events and discussions based on what you know people find interesting.

📖 Learn about community engagement tactics that’ll keep members active in your community.

Show that you value your members’ input

Once your community is thriving, you need to show members that you value their contributions. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Reward top contributors with more powerful community roles
  • Use community contributions in your content
  • Bring guests on to share expertise through Q&As, webinars, podcasts, or events
  • Let community members test early versions of product updates
  • Highlight when a community discussion has led to changes at your company

Pro tip: Highlighting community contributions in your content also helps promote your community to new users — thus promoting and growing your community even more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of online communities?

No two communities are identical — but they can be sorted into different categories. Let’s explore three:

  • Product communities: Driven by your product, users meet to help each other and get the most from your solution. As a business, you can add value in several ways, like offering customer support and solving user questions, providing exclusive benefits, offering beta access to new features, sending to events or seminars, or distributing resources that help members learn and grow. 
  • Profession communities: Built around a particular profession or industry, profession communities are a group of people interested in networking with like-minded people. This is typically to expand their connections, collaborate with others on career-related tasks, increase their job performance, seek out new job opportunities, and more.
  • Topic communities: These types of communities are built around people that share a common interest and want to both teach and expand their knowledge in the area. The idea is to create a community where people can ask and answer questions about the same subject. The members are largely focused on the same goals and have the same reasons for belonging to the community.

📖 Get inspiration from these 11 brand community examples

What’s the difference between an audience and a community?

Community and audience are two distinct concepts that often get confused when discussing community led growth and how to implement it successfully. And when it comes to creating an impactful strategy and its elements for your business and platforms, it's important to distinguish between the two:

  • Audience: A group of people who consume your content, but they may not necessarily engage with it or with each other. It’s more transactional, with your business being at the center of the conversation.
  • Community: A group of people who share a common interest and actively participate in discussions and interactions related to their interests. It provides a sense of belonging, where people create content collaboratively, and derive a sense of identity from being part of something. 

While having a large audience can bring exposure to your brand, a community brings loyalty, support, and meaningful engagement. 

What are the challenges of building a community?

When building a community for your community-led growth strategy, you’ll face challenges that you need to solve. They can look like:

Not knowing what your community will offer

Creating a thriving community requires a clear understanding of what the members will gain from being a part of it. Without a solid understanding of what benefits the community will provide, it can be difficult to attract and retain members. 

To overcome this challenge, it's important to take the time to identify what unique value your community brings to the table and communicate it clearly to potential members. This will help to build excitement and generate interest in your community, while also establishing trust and setting expectations.

Getting buy-in from your stakeholders

It's crucial to convince key stakeholders that community building is essential for your organization's success and growth. Keep in mind that managers and executives may be skeptical at first and require solid metrics before they sign off on dedicating resources to a community growth strategy. 

In addition to proving the value, it's essential to generate excitement about the potential of creating a thriving community. 

Conclusion: Putting the focus on customers

Implementing a community led growth strategy can be a daunting task — but if done correctly it’ll increase your brand’s conversions, retention, and ultimately revenue. 

Of course, lots of factors play a role — so be sure to develop the perfect community growth strategies that fit your company’s needs and goals. Do this by understanding both the benefits and challenges of community-led growth and learning what type of community best suits your brand. That way, you’ll achieve long-term success.

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