How To Turn A Sleepy B2B Support Portal Into A Thriving Advocate Community

The role of B2B communities is shifting. In the past, they tended to devolve into quiet support portals (or, at worst, ghost towns). However, as customer engagement and retention become increasingly important in a subscription-based world, marketers and community managers are focusing on leveraging communities to impact these metrics instead.

This focus on customer experience is leading to a transition towards advocate communities. According to the 2017 Community Metrics and Values Report, out of communities whose business value has shifted throughout their lifecycle, ‘Advocacy & Acquisition’ was the most popular value to select at 27%.

What is an advocate community? It’s a thriving online network of individuals connected by their love for a brand or product, who are passionate about increasing and sharing their knowledge with others. They’re also happy to act as vocal evangelists for the brand. The benefits of building an advocate community are two-fold: the company deepens their relationship with current customers (which impacts loyalty) and drives positive word-of-mouth through its most vocal community members (which impacts acquisition).

Deena Zenyk, head of the Advocate Marketing Center of Excellence at Influitive, Brooke Leslie, Senior Marketing Manager, Community, at AlienVault, and David Spinks, co-founder and CEO of CMX, recently came together to discuss how companies can derive value from an advocate community, and the most important discoveries from the 2017 Community Metrics and Values Report.

Watch the full webinar below, or read on for our recap of the discussion, which covers:

  • Determining the business value of your community
  • How to switch your focus and create a strong advocate community
  • How community managers can get support from the rest of their organization

How to generate massive ROI with your brand advocates, with David Spinks

So, what does it mean for a business to be community-driven? Essentially, it’s when a business looks for opportunities to empower people, and create a sense of community and belonging amongst their customers and their advocates. They’re able to scale different parts of their business in exponential ways that were never possible before technology allowed us to connect people at the scale we can today.

Gartner has said that by 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator. We see this huge trend in companies becoming more customer-centric and trying to focus on the customer experience. They’re using their customer experience as their main differentiator. It’s not just about community experience; actual business models are all shifting to become more collaborative and more community-driven today.

So, we took a look at the top 50 startups in the world, and over 60% either employ a community team and/or community and collaboration is central to their business model. This isn’t just a marketing trend. We’re seeing business at its core fundamentally shifting to become more community-driven, more decentralized.

The 2017 Community Value and Metrics Report
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CMX community survey results

We had 533 companies fill out this survey, which is the largest study that we’ve seen in the industry to date. 66% of the companies who participated were less than 200 employees, and about 34% were greater than 200 employees. As far as industries go, there were a lot of technology companies. We also had education companies and non-profits.

We broke the types of communities into six types for our study, which is the SPACE-I model:

  • S is for support and customer success. That’s where a community is built to help your customers to help each other answer questions and become more successful.
  • P is for product innovation, ideation, and feedback. This is where you’re collecting ideas and feedback from your community in order to improve your product and fuel innovation and organization.
  • A is for acquisition and advocacy. This is where community is driving growth, acquisition, and traffic.
  • C is for content and programming. That’s where the product itself is a community, so a platform like Duolingo where everybody’s creating the courses, or Wikipedia. It can also be open-source—anywhere you’re empowering people to contribute to the product itself.
  • E is for engagement. We broke it into two for this study. External engagement is for customers. You’re engaging them to fuel retention and customer loyalty.
  • I is for internal engagement. You’re creating an educational or a community program in order to engage employees. Hopefully they’re retained for a longer time, and hopefully they’re happier, allowing you to become a more successful business.

In this study, customer support and success was the most popular one, which makes sense. That’s the traditional community model that’s been around the longest.

However, a lot of people are switching from that to some of the newer things like product ideation, innovation, and feedback, which was tied in fourth place. Acquisition and advocacy was the number two most popular reason for businesses to invest in community, based on this study. It’s definitely a growing, highly popular area of community, and you can use that as a data point if you’re making a case internally for your business.

The case for switching community values

A lot of companies switch values. So, we’re going to look at the stats around switching to advocacy communities.

What we found was that approximately one-third of companies end up changing their value. You might need to start with support, for example, because there’s already buy-in. Then, over time, once you prove the value of community in the support area, it’s easier to get buy in for advocacy.

So, make sure not to waste resources, and don’t rush too quickly into large measurement products. Make sure not to invest too heavily into one thing until you’ve validated that it’s the value you’re moving forward with.

In customer support and success, 85% of companies have always had this business value—which makes sense, since it’s been around for a long time. Only 15% switched to this business value later.

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Acquisition and advocacy is actually the second most popular area of community to switch to. 60% have always had that value, and about 40% switched to it. Product ideation, innovation, and feedback was the most popular one to switch to, which makes sense. If you have a community where people are interacting, they’re going to start sharing feedback and ideas and ways to improve your product, and you might recognize that opportunity over time.

The same is true with acquisition and advocacy. If you have an engagement community, you might see people who want to be ambassadors. Many companies who plan to use their community for content creation end up identifying key ambassadors and advocates who add value when given more structure and power from the brand.

The most popular area of community that business switch from in order to get to advocacy was content. A lot of companies who have people contributing content in a collaborative platform end up identifying key ambassadors and advocates through their program and switch or add an advocate program to their community. So, if you’re building a content-specific community, there’s a good chance you’re going to start to identify ambassadors and advocates based on this data.

Why metrics matter—and which ones you should be measuring

30% of communities that fail do so because of a lack of internal support and resources. You might think that communities fail because they didn’t see enough engagement, but that was actually less common than lack of internal support and resources.

It’s very common that a business will launch a community, but not properly staff it, set aside a budget for it, or give it the right attention and support. A large reason we initiated this specific study was because we wanted to learn how businesses are fueling that value and how they’re proving it so we can help community professionals who aren’t getting enough support and resources.

In the study, we asked those who were able to measure the value of their community what kind of effect that had. 93% said that measuring their community’s value lead to an increased interest in other departments, and 90% reported that they saw increased support from their leadership. The biggest problem is that you can’t get internal support, but if you’re measuring ROI, it has a huge effect on you getting that internal support and interest from other departments.

This is the solution. If you’re not getting the right buy-in, you need to be defining the value of your community upfront, and then reporting on that and improving it over time. That will help you get the resources and the support that’ll allow you to do so much more with your community.

When we looked at which metric all types of community were using, 54% said that retention was the most popular. When we talk about community, we talk about engaging our customers and maintaining our customers.

The most important but also most challenging metric to measure is change in sales revenue. So, we asked what was the most important metric was, and change in sales revenue was in the top three. When we asked what they were actually measuring, change in sales revenue went way down because it’s really hard to correlate that.

Some businesses have been able to do this really well. Sephora’s a good example. They know the members in their community spend two times more than their average customer and their power users spend 10 times more than their average customer. They were able to connect that data and show the change in sales revenue. Be aware you’re going to need to have access to data and development resources and to able to efficiently measure this, if you hope to use this as your metric to prove business value.

Something that really surprised me was the percentage of people who don’t define their metrics before they launch a community versus afterward or within six months. We know that it’s hard to define metrics, we know that not everyone’s always able to do it, but there’s just such an extremely low number that define metrics before they launch.

It speaks to the new nature of the industry and how there’s still a lack of certainty around how to define it. A lot of companies envision this idea of community and they’re really excited by it but don’t hold themselves accountable to a definition.

It also speaks to the way in which community can be a cultural value. For example, “We believe in community as a company, we take care of people and we help our community.”

This is important, but very different from a practical, tactical application of community that says, “We are going to invest money in people and time and resources into launching a platform, what’s the value we can expect out of it?”

Which metrics advocacy communities are tracking

Number one was new members and new users. Is the program actually driving new sign ups? Two was retention. How are we retaining our customers? Are they staying loyal and staying around for a long time? Three was new customers, so it’s related to acquisition.

Four and five were a little bit different. Number four was NPS, or net promoter score, which measures how likely people are to recommend your products. Generally it’s a way of understanding how happy people are with your product and with your brand.

Number five was reach. If you have ambassadors who are tweeting about you or promoting you or hosting events for you or doing anything like that, reach becomes a really important metric to track for advocacy communities. This helps you understand how are they actually helping you improve your reach compared to how it was before.

We did interviews with a lot of the companies who took the study. This quote is from Annemarie Dooling from Racked, and she’s describing how they arrived at their metrics. She said, “Three of us sat in a room figuring out the equivalents to industry standards so we could show meaningful metrics.”

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Those three people weren’t all in the community team. They were people from the executive team and from the product team as well. It’s really important that you’re not doing this in isolation, but instead bringing in other members of your team to define those metrics. This way, they’ll have been bought in from the beginning. Make sure to get them involved because you might identify metrics that you didn’t know were important.

It comes down to understanding why other people in your organization should care about advocacy. The reason other stakeholders will care about advocacy is if it helps them achieve or exceed their goals. Understanding the goals of those other leaders and other departments is crucial. Then, coming into a situation and being able to speak to how your advocacy program can help their department meet or exceed their goals is how you’re going to interest them.

This is also true of your community if you’re switching values. Hopefully you’re switching because you saw some signals already that there’s an opportunity there, and this is a way that your members are interested in contributing and participating—so you’re supporting something they want to do, you’re not trying to force something new upon them.

The same way you have to get your team bought in when you’re launching a community, you need to get your community bought in when you’re making a big change. I would usually recommend reaching out to the core ten members in your group to start. Before you make the decision, you want to talk to them.

Even if you’ve made the decision already, make them feel like they’re part of that decision. If you come to them and you say, “Hey, we already made this decision, we just want your buy-in,” you won’t get it. You get buy-in by making them feel like they’re a part of the process.

The first steps to take with your community

Number one, determine your business goals and see if there’s an opportunity to switch to an advocacy-focused community program.

Two, define the metrics that will help you prove the value of your program over time. 16% of businesses defined their metrics before they launched a community. The majority, about 40%, did so within six months after launching their community, but it’s really important to define those metrics as soon as possible, even if they’re wrong.

You can have the wrong metrics when you launch your community, but you learn and can adapt. This way, you’re holding yourself accountable to something and you have some metrics and some value that you can communicate to your team to help you get buy-in.

Three, get full buy-in from your team before making those big investments. Talk to your other team members and have them involved in deciding which metrics to track. Make sure that they’re bought in, and they understand the value that community’s going to create.

How AlienVault defines and measures their community, with Brooke Leslie

At AlienVault, the goal is to foster relationships with community members. We have a variety of different community platforms. They include customers, partners, the users of our open-source product OSSIM, and even prospects. We hope to facilitate interaction to reinforce our brand and to cultivate brand advocates.

We aim to give them structure and empower them so that they can carry our message forward to their colleagues who we may be able to help. Ultimately, we hope it strengthens our position in the market as a trusted provider of IT security resources, and that we expand our reach and get more customers.

AlienVault’s shift to an advocate-driven community

Our definition of community is always evolving. We launched our AdvocateHub about six months ago, so we’re still testing and we’re still learning. We’ve always had roots in community, seeing as we started as an open-source project. Community is at the heart of AlienVault. Now, we have a platform where we can give people power to advocate for us.

I didn’t actually go out and look for a platform to help with community. This project was passed down to me from an executive. The management team heard about Influitive, thought it was a great idea, and then it bubbled down to the people who could do the tactical implementation. Ultimately, we brought Influitive in in order to ensure that our customers were being successful as they onboarded. We wanted to make documentation and support and training more accessible and easier to find.

Our advocate community is different than our other communities because of the rewards and benefits to the user for joining. It’s a little more fun and it’s not just a company thing—it’s a two way street. You’re in a partnership with your user or your customer. You can ask them for feedback and then you can give them rewards. They can volunteer for things or give you suggestions and you can implement them. It’s no different than the original social networks, like Twitter.

We still use our original communities, but in different ways. For example, AlienVault still collects feedback from our product forum, in addition to from the advocacy hub. With the AdvocateHub, though, we’re able to get quick information and it’s easier to target who we’re touching. So, because we have customers in there and we have them segmented a particular way and it’s all synced up on the back end, we’re better able to target people.

For example, if we have a pocket that’s only interested in cloud security, we can quickly get feedback in two days on a specific feature. If we run it in the product forum, it’s visible to everybody, even if we do target that cloud security group, and it takes a lot longer to get enough data to be relevant. It makes customer feedback a little more accessible for us.

Where the advocate community fit into AlienVault’s customer journey

We have the website and we have email, but our advocacy program gives us an interactive way to push these people down the path to make sure that they’re successful.

The second reason why we wanted to bring people in was to encourage amplification and acquisition.

Our advocacy program is part of our onboarding process. Customers receive an invitation 10 days into the customer journey. It’s reinforced by our account management, who tell them to get into the community. Then, they’re put into a series of sequential challenges that walk them down the steps we’d like them to complete in those first 30 days.

We also do a monthly challenge series—we share selected highlighted resources, typically stuff in our knowledge base that has been recently updated or new stuff that’s been added. That’s been a really great way to keep things fresh and keep people engaged. We also update our rewards catalog monthly, so we’re constantly rolling out cool new stuff that they can redeem points for.

We look at growth to both the advocate community as well as our different communities based on how we’re merchandising the advocacy program. We look at engagement, so challenges completed or new participations in other different communities where we’re using challenges in Influitive to push people to, for example, our product forum, to talk about a particular industry topic. We’re also looking at conversion. For example, it can be a member of our advocate hub becoming a member of our reference group. Or, it could be the number of customers contributing a testimonial to an analyst brief.

Ultimately, we’d like to focus more on acquisition as we roll this out to the non-customer communities. Then, we’ll be looking at metrics like how many opportunities we got in a given period of time, as well as whether or not those converted to revenue and how quickly.

More B2B advocate community resources: