Bettermode recently spoke with community-expert Pramod Rao to discuss his strategies for building a successful, community-led company. Pramod is the co-founder and CEO of Threado, the command center for community management. Threado helps community builders automate workflow, collect insights, and help them retain more community members. Previously, Pramod spent a decade at Zomato as the VP of Marketing, where he got introduced to community building and its impact on business growth.
Community building is no simple task, but Pramod believes a highly-engaged community is the backbone of any successful company. According to CMXHub, 66% of professionals say that their online community has positively impacted customer retention and 55% say that they have seen increased sales.
Even though developing a community requires a strong commitment to strategy, Pramod says the reward is worth the effort.
When starting a brand community, patience and a strong value proposition are essential. It could take six to eighteen months to get a community off the ground and start growing it organically.
So, what’s the secret to a highly successful brand community? According to Pramod, the network effect is the key to success. Growth from network effect stems from the idea that the more active your platform's users are, the higher your platform's value. The higher platform value attracts even more users to your brand. Network effects have been proven to drive 70% of the value in the tech space.
To ultimately achieve the network effect, community builders need better tools and strategies to ignite sustainable community growth. Bettermode asked Pramod to break down his best tips and tricks for building a highly-engaged community for community-led brands.
Why community-led growth matters
Traditional marketing methods have made it harder and harder for brands to stand out. Pramod explained that the 2010s initiated a new social media frontier, and now organizations are fighting for real estate, which costs more as time progresses. According to the 2019 Bondcap report, the cost per customer acquisition has increased by over 50% in the last three years.
This is where the community comes in. A community flips the traditional marketing approach on its head by shifting from one-to-many to many-to-many interactions. Pramod believes it can drive stickiness, lower acquisition costs, and is the most sustainable way to build a company.
Community-led growth means your consumer base drives the growth of your company. This means that community-led growth is a strategy that makes fostering a strong, engaged, enthusiastic community the primary element (or, in some cases, THE key component) to your product’s growth. Today’s customers want to feel like they’re part of your brand and no longer see the value in a traditional transactional relationship.
How to generate community-led growth by harnessing the network effect
The network effect occurs when the community engages with itself. It increases customer retention, generates organic word-of-mouth, lowers churn, and creates a higher lifetime value. The network effect initiates an organic flywheel for your company.
At Zomato, Pramod shared that their community had built-in mechanisms and features that naturally produced the network effect. Zomato is a social network platform for restaurant discovery that connects foodies with other restaurant enthusiasts. Members could post restaurant reviews, discover menu listings, and follow other foodies. Here is an example of their flywheel, which was responsible for their long-term network effect.
Pramod shared another example of community-led growth–the SaaS company, Notion. Notion takes a bottom-up approach by empowering their community and allowing them to grow from themselves. They have an ambassador program, which enables members to take leadership roles within the community.
Notion has a few tactics for increasing community-led growth, like simplifying its onboarding process or celebrating members who contribute valuable content (e.g., templates). All these user-generated resources and content add value to the community and attracts more customers into the company’s ecosystem.
How do you ignite community-led growth?
Pramod shared his five-step framework to ignite community-led growth. He cautioned that growing a thriving community might take six to eighteen months.
Phase one: define your community member persona
Who are you building your community for? Once community builders identify their ideal members, they’ll fully understand their community’s purpose.
First, find out where your members hang out online. Go explore social media sites, subreddits, slacks, and discords to see what type of content and conversations are taking place. Then, contribute to those communities and add intrinsic value without selling your community or products.
Pramod emphasized that you shouldn’t steal members from other platforms to your community. Instead, you want to drive members to your community organically, through your natural participation on other platforms.
When you eventually start your brand community, start with a small group. According to Pramod, building personal connections with each member can go far in the long run. During his time at Zomato, the brand devised unique tactics to engage with its members, like meeting select members in person.
It’s a different approach but adds a personal, human touch by giving the brand a persona. It shows that brands can become human, which is a long way from what most brands do today. One meeting may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it builds up over time.
Phase two: adding value
You want your members to have a great community experience. Pramod likened a bad community experience to being alone at a party: “If you’re going to a party and no one welcomes you or guides you, it’s hard to feel accepted and know what your next steps are.”
Personalize the onboarding process
The onboarding process is where you’ll lose members the fastest. Pramod recommends personalizing the onboarding process for each member. If you know your customers’ pain points, then you can onboard them properly.
The community moderator or manager should acknowledge every member’s post. It shows the community is alive and not an empty box. This is particularly important if it's a post from a first-timer. The first posting experience has a long-term impact on retention.
Content is critical, especially in the early stages of community building. Managers should brainstorm curated content for their members. Like, collecting relevant resources, and tips, or creating a curated list for your members.
Pramod explained that once engagement comes in, you can create high-quality introductions between members. At Zomato, they created shared experiences for members with similar interests. For example, they curated and shared lists about fine dining experiences or pub crawls with members of similar interests.
Make sure your community is designed so members can easily search and find other members. Don’t bottleneck potential high-quality connections.
Support is essential, especially in the early stages of a community. So, respond back within minutes and solve issues immediately to build trust between members and the community. Your members will then feel comfortable posting, which will encourage other members to respond and interact. This helps produce the network effect.
Phase three: enable connections
Ensuring your members have a great community experience includes fostering quality connections in your community. You need a community platform designed to enable connections easily.
Designing a space where members can connect
Choosing the right community platform depends on what value you want to offer your members. For example, Slack works best for working and learning professionals, while Discord is best for gamer enthusiasts. Bettermode's platform helps members quickly discover valuable content and has excellent community-building support.
Also, Pramod advises researching specific community features. Features like community channels, categories, prompts, and the ability to make one-on-one connections. Connections happen by intention and design, so your community platform needs to work for you and your members.
Phase four: driving participation
Pramod acknowledges that driving participation is the key problem community builders face. Here are his six tactics for driving participation and increasing engagement.
Respond to every message
Community managers should respond to every single message as quickly as possible, showing that your community works. The initial stages of a community may feel like a ghost town, so make it easy for members to post. Encourage private DMs to be posted within the community to get the ball rolling.
Organize your content
Your members shouldn’t have to think hard about where they should post their content. So, create spaces for different conversations to take place in various forums. For example, one forum could be a fun space to send memes, and another spot could be for expressing gratitude, etc.
Celebrate your super-users
Another way to drive participation is by highlighting the behaviors you want to see. So, spotlight and celebrate your most active contributors and encourage similar behavior from other members. If your super-users take on more ownership in the community, it’s less leg work for the community manager.
Initiate community-led events
Give your members the ownership to lead events in the community. This tactic adds value for those members and encourages high-quality connections. Allow your members the freedom to be themselves, but obviously, do not tolerate any inappropriate behavior.
Moderation and governance
If there is inappropriate behavior or bullying in the community, members may be discouraged from posting. Your community members should feel comfortable, so moderation is super important.
Community rituals can help drive participation. So, consider adding weekly wrap-ups, check-ins, fireside chats, or some bite-sized learning that can take place every day. It could be as simple as a short tweet, but create a ritual that the community can follow.
Phase five: empowering members
Pramod referred to this phase as the beginning of your next group of engagement steps. Phase one through four gets the ball rolling, but phase five kicks your community growth into high gear.
Pramod recommends community builders take a page from Notion’s book and set up a formal ambassador program.
Notion’s ambassador program is described as “passionate, volunteer enthusiasts who teach and share Notion with others. They lead local communities, organize online and offline events, produce courses and tutorials, create templates, share translations, and much more.”
Through a formal ambassador program, you’ll designate experts to help inform your brand’s products and services. It also creates a community ritual by meeting with your ambassadors regularly, and your ambassadors can receive recognition from the community.
Empowering and championing your members is as simple as putting systems in place and letting go of control. Allow your members to take on responsibilities like hosting webinars for the community. If you guide your empowered members, you’ll soon see tremendous community growth and the network effect in full force.
Measuring your community impact
As Pramod put it, what you don’t measure, you can’t grow. So, you should routinely measure your retention rates and the effect of engagement tactics. However, if you don’t see results immediately, don’t get too discouraged. Community builders can finetune their engagement tactics and personally check in with their members. It’s okay to experiment, so don’t be afraid to try out different tactics until you find the ones that work.
Takeaways from "Trends for Community-led Brands"
To drive community-led growth, you’ll need to harness the network effect. In order to do that, you’ll need to implement various strategies and tools to create the most value for your members.
Follow Pramod’s five steps for creating a highly-engaged community:
Decide how your community will add value for your members
Create and implement a welcoming community experience
Foster and build connections between members
Drive participation in the community through engagement tactics
Empower your members to take on leadership roles
Even though building a successful community takes time and dedication, you’ll end up with long-term and sustainable company growth. Don’t get discouraged, but instead get intentional and dive head first into community-building work.
Please continue to join Bettermode for future industry-expert webinars about building successful communities through strategy and engagement. You can check out our future webinars at Bettermode Community, and send us any feedback, so we can curate content that fits your community-building needs.
Bettermode is a customizable community platform that doesn't require any coding and is embedded seamlessly into your website and apps. Speak to an expert from Bettermode today to see how you can build stronger customer relationships with a community.
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