January 10, 2023
Driving customer advocacy is an art. It requires monitoring shifts in advocate behavior and industry trends, as well as understanding the motivations of customer advocates to help your company create and refresh content that draws them to your community and keeps them engaged.
As a Client Marketing Manager, part of my role involves promoting BlackLine’s annual BeyondTheBlack event to our customers. Like many companies worldwide, we held the 2021 event online due to COVID-19, and that change required us to rethink our approach around our existing advocate program. The shift to virtual events has been challenging, but when we seized the opportunity to align our customer advocacy efforts with a virtual event, it actually boosted community engagement and interest from our internal stakeholders.
Capitalizing on Customer Excitement and Enthusiasm
BlackLine is a SaaS accounting solution provider, and our unified cloud-based platform centralizes, streamlines, and automates processes across the finance and accounting lifecycle, integrating with ERPs like SAP, Oracle, and NetSuite. We launched our online community in 2019 to capitalize on our users’ excitement and enthusiasm about our solutions. We then enhanced our user community by adding BlackLine Champion Rewards, which runs on Influitive, a leading advocacy platform that includes targeting, personalization, gamification, and rewards to attract and engage customers.
BlackLine customers work in every facet of finance and accounting and our Influitive program provides them with opportunities to save time, money, and effort by optimizing their BlackLine solutions.
We rely on BlackLine Champion Rewards to celebrate user success stories, gather information, and recruit customers for case studies and reference calls. We run challenges (a series of targeted asks) to collect third-party reviews, promote upcoming events, and point people toward informative blog posts, white papers, and our BlackLine Magazine. BlackLine Champion Rewards also includes a learning channel, BlackLine U, that offers tips and tricks, as well as videos from our support team.
But it’s not all business. We roll out seasonal challenges that tie into holidays and special events. We like to keep things light but professional—we want people to enjoy spending time in the community while empowering them to make the best of our solutions every day.
Applying Learnings from Our First Virtual Conference
BeyondTheBlack 2021 was our second annual online conference, and we applied our learnings from the first year to improve the event and its outcomes.
During in-person conferences, we typically have a Customer Connect booth where people can redeem BlackLine “bucks” that they’ve earned during the conference for swag. In 2020, we set up a separate virtual space for our conference, where we tried to replicate that in-person experience. Attendees could see information on the event and redeem rewards for the points they gained while popping in and out of sessions, but understandably, it didn’t quite compare to our Customer Connect booths of the past.
When it came time to plan BeyondTheBlack 2021, we wanted to leverage what was working for our customers to go beyond what we’d done for the 2020 conference. So, we turned to Influitive to reimagine our virtual Customer Connect booth using an existing tool from our tech stack.
Reimagining Our Existing Advocate Community
We had made a lot of headway with our BlackLine Champion Rewards program, so we decided to modify that space. This allowed our existing users to easily find conference-related material and new users to experience how Influitive works, motivating them to become BlackLine Champion Rewards users.
In the weeks leading up to BeyondTheBlack 2021, we worked with the Influitive team to temporarily transform BlackLine Champion Rewards into Customer Connect, using the booth name from our in-person events. For the duration of the conference, we rebranded the community with a new logo and channel titles to fit the conference theme.
We added 50 new challenges for conference attendees that reflected our most essential advocacy activities, information on BlackLine best practices, and surveys so customers could provide feedback on their experiences. One challenge introduced conference-goers to the concept of BlackLine Champion Rewards and gave them a taste of our advocacy program.
We also retooled our rewards program for the conference. Instead of our usual conference-bucks-for-swag approach, we awarded Influitive badges to attendees who completed five or more challenges and entered them into raffles for high-value prizes like AirPods, Bluetooth speakers, and dual monitor setups. We had very positive feedback, and the competition generated a lot of buzz.
Setting Goals and Celebrating Results
We set four goals for Customer Connect:
- Encourage more people to join and remain engaged with BlackLine Champion Rewards
- Boost the number of third-party reviews and customer references
- Direct attendees to our educational resources, including BlackLine U (our learning program), the BlackLine Community, and our product documentation portal
- Give customers a way to provide feedback on their experiences with BlackLine and our products, including replicating our Design Lab booth from the in-person conference
We met and then exceeded our goals for the conference, gaining hundreds of new advocates throughout the four-day event. 89% of those participants are still active within BlackLine Champion Rewards. We also re-engaged existing advocates who have updated their profiles and completed new challenges.
In total, our advocates completed 4,145 challenges and 4,220 acts of advocacy over the course of the event and posted 56 BlackLine reviews to external review sites. Twenty-two advocates volunteered to join reference calls with potential clients, and 25 agreed to speak at future BlackLine events or participate in case studies. We received 157 responses to our requests for feedback on the BlackLine Community and BlackLine U, and 1,173 completed Design Lab challenges. It was something to celebrate.
Working Around the Clock and Around the World
Launching BeyondTheBlack 2021 was an international effort. We had teams in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, along with our East and West Coast US teams, working on the event. We worked with our Influitive Customer Success Manager to get additional support from Influitive admins on the back end, supporting our communication efforts. Together, we worked around the clock with teams around the world. If something happened overnight, we’d have a solution—or at least an update—by the morning.
After the event, the Influitive team supported us and ensured a smooth transition from BlackLine Champion Rewards to Customer Connect so we could maintain our existing data and challenges.
Bringing Our Online Conference to Life
Influitive helped bring BeyondTheBlack 2021 to life. We leveraged existing content and created new material to engage our users during the conference and keep them active in our BlackLine Champion Rewards program after the proceedings were over.
Despite the absence of face-to-face communications, we leveraged Influitive to engage in meaningful dialogue, celebrate successes, share best practices, and envision the future.
BeyondTheBlack 2021 was a tremendous achievement, and I am looking forward to the next edition, knowing we can be successful in whatever form it might take.
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