A couple weeks ago, someone asked a really good question in this post:
"[W]hat would you recommend to someone looking to convince solopreneurs, startups, and small businesses that they should invest in community? Is it as simple as a quick presentation to drive the point on how community can impact the business goals?"
This particular question is one that we see brought up often, and it is a tricky one to answer. All companies are different, and each community builder has had to approach this in different ways given their industry, community, and execs at their respective companies.
With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to pose this question to a handful of community builders to see what they had to say on the matter!
Shana Sumers kicks things off with the following approach:
There are multiple ways to convince startups/solo entrepreneurs and each are going to be based on the goals/mission that they have. That should 100% be your first question, and where they see the company going. Next you want to think about Impact and Accuracy for this project. How much of an impact will this project make on the company and will this project end up blocking anything? Break down how much of a lift it will be and maneuver between what you can do and how much time you need from dev/company/other teams.
As well, prepare for the conversation around $$$ - they are going to want to ask for a return on this project (if their mindset isn't already community focused). Give examples of competition who are utilizing community and how this will differentiate us from the competition. Your deck should have the person be able to have whoever is reading/listening to it understand that "we need to do this FIRST because it will drive XYZ which is critical to our success right now."
Fernando Jardim recently held a talk about this exact topic at Road 2 Websummit, but condensed his talk into the following:
Customers are usually the first community any company will have, and they need to be happy and satisfied with what you offer. Bain Company data has shown that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. It is way smarter for a company to have recurring revenue from customers who they already know (community members), than spending a lot of money on ads trying to find new customers and convincing them to buy from you.
Carter Gibson is notorious for sharing a lot of great thoughts about community, and recommends a slightly different approach:
Instead of trying to explain the concept of community management overall - an arduous, task with a complex, nuanced answer - focus on a simple problem with a simple solution your community is facing. Is the community having trouble with civility or are they not trusted to contribute respectively? All you need to sell your company on is moderation. Retention an issue? Explain how reward systems or ambassador cultivation can scale meaningful relationships. Your company doesn't need to know the ins and outs of CM work at the onset. They may just need to see progress on the straightforward issues CM solves to get curious.
Najva Sol recommends an approach that works at any stage a company is in:
There's no right company stage to build a community—so this one's tricky. Community, in general, is a long term play that requires significant investment… which can feel hard to do early on. To convince folks, I'd include case studies and value prop for similar businesses. A little social proof doesn't hurt either. 😉
I'd focus both on directly measurable value (marketing/sales) but also the less tangible, things like: retention, good will, faster product feedback loops, employee morale, and trust.
Perhaps more importantly, I'd make "community" feel doable. It doesn't need to be a complex strategy out of the gate. There's room to play, all it takes is beginning to shift the dynamic into something more connected. Virtually gathering beta testers, hosting a meetup, or creating opportunities for interaction in a product are all great starts.
Tessa Kriesel has talked about this in the past with regard to devrel, but her advice is applicable across any type of community setup:
I convince stakeholders to invest in community by ensuring that I am considering and helping to contribute to goals outside of the community teams goals. I vaguely discuss this in a recent blog post. If your work can contribute more cross-functionally to the entire team, it's a lot easier to get the approvals that you need. A great way to do this in your community work is through customer advocacy programs.
Finally, here's my own take:
This will be a conversation you have many, many times, and you need to try not to get discouraged because sometimes it just takes a while for people to get it. Community should always serve a purpose... in particular, a purpose that ladders up to company goals so you can actually derive and measure impact for the business. If you have the opportunity to talk to founders and entrepreneurs just as they're getting things off the ground, focus on how community can positively impact each and every team at the company, and that the sooner you start thinking about community the sooner these benefits will shape up and compound with each other.
How would you answer this question?