Part of what makes someone an exceptional online community manager is the ability to pinpoint exactly what resonates with members and pivot when you’re not offering what they’re looking for.
Webroot, a Carbonite company, works to protect businesses and individuals against cyber threats through the power of the cloud and artificial intelligence. They launched the “Luminaries” community in 2017, with the primary intention of driving referrals through their business audience.
Since its launch, the community has evolved far beyond its original use case, now involved in nearly every aspect of the business’ operations. Luminaries has been particularly valuable in generating more product reviews on G2 Crowd and supporting Webroot’s education team, who focus on increasing customers’ knowledge of the product, in turn helping them communicate the value of the platform to their larger team.
In the two years since it launched, Luminaries has helped generate over 300 third-party reviews and saw a 54% increase in engaged users within the community year over year.
But, the road to getting these promising numbers wasn’t easy. After learning from customers why they were a part of Luminaries, Drew and his team knew they needed to shift their program goals. Then they had the tricky task of educating the entire company on the value of the Luminaries community.
Read on to learn how Drew was able to pinpoint what challenges the online community was experiencing, right the course, and get the internal buy-in needed to ensure Luminaries’ success.
Reevaluating and iterating on your online community
One of the main value props in any customer advocacy program are referrals. It seems that many build their entire program around sourcing more of them, but referrals aren’t always as simple as you might think.
“I feel like we did all of the right things to get the referral program off the ground in our first year,” says Drew. “First, we focused on building strong relationships with our Luminaries before asking them to do anything for us. There’s no point in making ‘an ask’ if you don’t have an established level of trust. We also made sure that our Luminaries knew exactly how the process would work and what they could expect.”
“It was important that we made the experience as painless as possible and laid out clear expectations well in advance. However, after doing all of this, our referrals were only trickling in slowly. After a few months, we felt like it was time to pivot,” he says.
Drew and his team went back to the drawing board and asked the Luminaries what they wanted most out of the community, and realized that they wanted to learn more about how to use Webroot. With this new focus, Drew’s team partnered with the Education department at Webroot, who were able to create some incredible courses for the program.
The courses had two tracks: Technical and Sales. “The technical track really took off for us,” says Drew. “We were able to gamify the experience so that after you passed your Webroot technical exam, you became Webroot Certified. Once certified, you would receive a Webroot badge that you could add to your profile and email signature. We even saw a few appear on LinkedIn! This is when we felt like we were onto something. Moving forward, we’re looking to work with our Education team again to create additional in-depth technical courses.”
It’s not possible for an online community to fulfill 100% of the customers’ desires or 100% of the brand’s. In order for the program to succeed, you have to find the sweet spot between member and business objectives, and align the community’s value proposition accordingly.
Making your community indispensable
An online community survives and thrives when it becomes indispensable to its members—“the kind of communities that offer value impossible to capture anywhere else,” as FeverBee’s founder, Richard Millington, writes in his book The Indispensable Community. In B2B, this means your colleagues at your organization can’t do their jobs to the fullest without the insights, connections, and capabilities the community provides—and neither can your customers, for that matter.
Drew and his team have effectively managed to do just that. “Two years ago when we launched Luminaries there was a lot of internal education we had to do to get everyone on board with our vision,” says Drew.
“There was initially some apprehension since this was something we had never done before. But over the last few years, the tone has completely changed to ‘Oh, we need to get Luminaries in on that.’ It’s just part of our process now to make sure that the team behind Luminaries is involved in everything from support, to sales, marketing, product development, and customer success,” he says.
The Luminaries’ support of Webroot’s education initiatives was definitely a point worth highlighting to the rest of the company. The community helped solve two issues:
- Members were starving for information on how to use the product
- Webroot’s Education team was creating great certification courses, but faced challenges with getting their content in front of the right audience
After Drew’s team promoted the education initiative in Luminaries and awarded points to members upon their completion of the courses, engagement exploded. The increase in expertise driven by the certification even contributed to a 16% decrease in support requests from that audience.
This was also a win for Drew’s team, since customers who engaged with the courses before entering the Luminaries community were then invited to join it.
This feeling of necessity for the community can also be said of the Webroot customers who are part of it. “At the end of the day,” says Drew, “we take the stance of trying to help our customers as best we can—not just with using our product, but with their jobs. Beyond the educational content we offer, we also use the community to inform members of the latest threats in the cybersecurity space, so that they can let their own end users know.”
“This kind of goodwill towards your customers really strengthens their emotional connection to you as a business. Our customers feel like we’re in the trenches with them, helping them get their jobs done better, faster, and smarter,” Drew says.
Securing support from your team
The success of a brand’s online community often hinges on whether the company at large believes in its value. It’s especially vital to get one or more executives at the VP or C-Suite level to champion the community’s cause, which is no easy feat.
Drew and his team learned that accomplishing this task was a matter of earning trust and leading with concrete results.
“Seeing is believing. That’s why when we met with various internal stakeholders, we would focus on showing tangible results,” says Drew.
“When you see what others in your position are doing (in Influitive’s own customer community for example), it’s tempting to want to do X, Y, and Z too. I would advise others who are getting started with their online community to start small and make sure that whatever you do out of the gate is a success, so that you can build on it, and of course brag about that success to others within your company,” he says.
Backing up your claims with real numbers through a tool like Influitive’s ROI feature, for example, also helps with securing that internal buy-in.
“In a previous role running customer advocacy initiatives at a cloud communications company, my team always had a hard time putting a dollar amount to everything we were doing,” says Drew. “Now in my current role, and since the Influitive release of the ROI feature, I’m able to instantly show execs who know passingly about Luminaries exactly how beneficial the community is—down to the penny.”
Once you’re sold on the value of a customer community, it’s difficult to see how your organization could go without one—at least that’s how Drew sees it. “I view customer advocacy as the thing companies should be doing right now, to avoid falling behind in the long run,” says Drew.
“Where customer communities are for businesses now is comparable to where social media marketing was maybe 10 or 12 years ago. In this modern age, customers really do expect to have a seat at the table—and you can’t really do this with hundreds of thousands of customers unless you have a scalable platform that caters to them.”
Doubling down on customer advocacy can lead to considerable career growth
Drew has spent the last four years within roles surrounding customer advocacy, his title shifting from Customer Marketing Manager, Community and Advocacy Manager, and ultimately to Senior Communications Manager.
“The biggest difference from where I started and where I am now is the level of responsibility I’ve been given,” says Drew. “I’ve been able to grow into a leadership role, manage a team, and create my own goals.”
“I realized this one day when I was putting a deck together for our upcoming quarterly objectives, and it was up to me to fill it out for all things community and advocacy. I think the future for advocate marketing or customer marketing—whatever you’d like to call it—is massive. There are more and more career opportunities out there for people who are interested in this line of work than ever before. It’s gone from a niche role to a position that is vital for the success of the business. I’m really excited and bullish on where this will go in the future.”
What should you take note of?
Here’s what you can take away from Drew’s experience and apply to your own online community:
- Think critically about whether your goals for your community align with where you’re seeing the most valuable engagement from customers
- Iterate on your program so that you can get to a place where the community is indispensable to both your team and customers
- Pay attention to what your customers want and build trust by showing you’re genuinely invested in their personal and professional growth
- When starting out, focus on doing one thing exceptionally well that you can confidently share with executives
Want to read more success stories just like Drew’s? Find out how Kenna Security, a cybersecurity and vulnerability management platform, created a new approach to security through the use of discussion boards, training, and by allowing members to build personal connections.