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Community-led growth is one of the latest SaaS buzzwords, and for a good reason.
•Published: Oct 26, 2022
Companies realize that investing in their community can deliver huge benefits --- since 2020, there's been a 22% increase in organizations with a dedicated Community team.
Building a thriving SaaS community takes a significant investment of time and resources --- especially for startups, which will have fewer resources to invest than SaaS scale-ups. So follow these steps and expert tips from experienced SaaS leaders to build a community around your product.
Define the Goals for Your Community
Before you set up a community for your SaaS business, everyone in the company needs to be clear on why you're doing it. There are several common goals for starting a SaaS community, such as:
Enabling networking between your users
Encouraging knowledge-sharing to help customers use your product
Increasing customer loyalty
Increasing brand awareness
You'll likely want to see all these, but which is most important? Asma Afreen, Brand Marketer at Mailmodo, said, "Within the larger business goal of increasing brand loyalty and customer retention, clear, immediate goals need to be defined." She added, "These can be related to driving conversations around a particular domain, creating a knowledge pool, and enabling mentorship and networking."
It's essential to define the goals for your community, as that informs the type of content you share in it, the types of people who can be members, and the functionality you need to have within it. You also need to understand the business benefits of investing time and resources in building the community, as well as the benefits it offers your customers and members. Once you've defined the goals, you need to share them with your company so that everyone understands the community's vision and purpose.
According to HubSpot, the purpose of its online community is for users to "Connect with peers, maximize your HubSpot knowledge, and learn how to grow better with HubSpot."
It uses its community to create a customer-sourced knowledge base that teaches members how to use its tools more effectively. It has thousands of conversations in categories related to different parts of its products --- CRM, Sales, or Marketing --- and a dedicated space for sharing tips, tricks, and best practices.
Lay the Foundations by Building Your Audience
Most SaaS communities involve bringing together users and fans in one place, often a platform of your choosing. Before you do that, start building genuine relationships and connections with your users in the channels they're already using. For example, engage with them on social media, respond to their emails, let them know if you've implemented product changes based on their feedback, and thank them for leaving reviews.
Corey Haines, co-founder of SwipeWell, said, "Start with building an audience first. Think of an audience as a one-to-many relationship and a community as many-to-many relationships. If you start with an audience, you can more easily turn that audience into a community by helping the audience interact with one another."
Engagement is the key to a successful community, so get in the habit of connecting with your customers before trying to build a formalized community. Regularly engaging with your customers will make them feel heard and valued, making them more likely to follow you when you set up a dedicated community elsewhere.
Choose the Right Platform
The best platform for your community depends on the tools your members regularly use to communicate and the type of conversations and content you want to have in your community. Common choices for SaaS companies include:
Social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn
Messaging apps like Slack or Discord
Choose tools your customers are already familiar with and regularly use the tools to make it as easy as possible for customers to engage with the community. For example, Postaga co-founder Andy Cabasso said, "Conversations on Slack and Discord are very ephemeral, so they may not make sense for a community where members only check in a few times a week rather than hourly or daily. But platforms like Facebook allow you to create specific posts and conversations that won't be irrelevant in just a few hours."
The wrong platform will stifle community growth and limit member engagement, so take time to consider how members will use it.
Examples: Lattice and Notion
Different platforms are better suited to different use cases and audiences. For example, Lattice's Resources for Humans is a Slack community. Its members are People Ops and HR professionals, and it's a dedicated space for sharing advice and asking HR-related questions in real time. These will all be work-related, which makes Slack the perfect platform for this community. Many will likely use Slack at work, so they can easily jump in and out of the community during their workday as needed.
Conversely, Notion has a dedicated subreddit where users can connect, share their setups and templates, and get tips from other power users. A product like Notion has huge numbers of use cases, so a public platform like Reddit is a better fit for its community as it reaches a wider audience.
Commit Internal Resources to Managing the Community
Building and managing a SaaS community is time-consuming work. Hire a dedicated community manager early in the process of launching your community, or have someone on your team move into a full-time community management role. This will be more effective than hoping a few members of your existing team will be able to manage the community on an ad-hoc basis, as they'll prioritize their primary roles and responsibilities instead.
Vartika Kashyap, CMO at ProofHub, said, "We have appointed a community outreach team to respond to questions, monitor the space, and help customers feel heard by the company." Having a person or team responsible for monitoring the community means you can respond to member queries more quickly and keep engagement levels high.
Committing internal resources to community management also improves accountability as you know who's responsible for what within the community. It signals the importance of the community to the rest of the business.
Put together an engagement plan as well as an internal team. Set out how often you'll post and the types of company or product-related content to share in the community. Samantha Anderl, co-founder of Harlow, said, "Too much self-promotion, especially early on, can negatively impact your community, what you're building, and people's perception of your brand."
As well as a content plan, provide guidelines for responding to comments and moderating posts from members. These will help your internal team engage consistently with your community members and encourage high-quality conversations rather than self-promotion in the community.
Invite Your First Members
The first members of your community should be vocal supporters of your product and company and ideally be well known online with enough influence to encourage others to join your community with them. Haines added, "Kickstarting a community is a lot like hosting a party. No one wants to show up to a party where they don't know anyone. So you have to curate the community by personally inviting members that are well-followed or well-networked who can be a foundation for new members to connect with."
Look for founding members who:
Are frequent users of your product
Recommend your product or company organically on social media or review sites
Regularly engage with the content your company shares online
Offer suggestions or feedback on your product
Are influencers or have a very engaged audience on social media
Your earliest members set the tone for your community. Take time to identify the best people to invite first, as they'll play a major role in shaping it for future members.
Keep the Conversations Going
New posts, questions, and content keep your members logging on to your community. Have your internal team prioritize replying to member queries and create a schedule for sharing brand content regularly (but not excessively).
Additionally, look for ways to incentivize member contributions, such as:
Creating profile badges for frequent posters
Provide product certifications to encourage questions and progress updates from community members
Give exclusive swag to your most active community members
Nathan Sanders, CEO of Plumbing Navigator, said, "Customer champions are more likely to be effective and successful at rallying a community around your product and making sure meaningful engagement remains high within this community."
Between your founding members and your internal team, you need to encourage frequent posting and positive engagement to give members a reason to keep coming back to your community. Your aim should be to create a welcoming space for all members. Read more about how Stream helped a women's online gaming community foster an inclusive, fun community for its members.
Zapier's community incentivizes its members to keep engagement high by awarding badges for best answers and when members hit milestones for the number of posts they've made. It also has a 'help others' section so members can easily filter posts and find people who need help using Zapier. This enables them to share their expertise with newer users and build up their reputation within the community.
Regularly Promote Your SaaS Community
To build your SaaS community, you need to grow your membership and keep existing members engaged. Promote your community to help new and existing customers find out about it. For example:
Invite new users to join your community during their onboarding process. This is the ideal time for them to join, as they can learn product tips and tricks from more experienced community members.
Link to your community from your website, so people can find it easily.
Add links to your community in other prominent places, such as within your product or from your help center.
Mention it on social media, such as by giving shout-outs to top community members or sharing popular questions and posts to encourage non-members to check it out.
Instrumentl's Head of Growth, Will Yang, said, "Make sure that as many people as possible know about your community. This can be accomplished through marketing and advertising, but also by making sure that people feel welcome when they join the community and feel like their contributions are valued." If people have a positive early experience with your community, they're more likely to mention it to their network and give your membership a boost through word-of-mouth recommendations, too.
Ahrefs promotes its Ahrefs Insider community on the home page of its website. The Facebook group is a private community, as you can only get access by providing the email address associated with your Ahrefs account. It positions its community as the best place to learn about SEO, "where you can bounce ideas and questions off 10,000 SEO-obsessed marketers who have seen it all."
While many companies link to their community on their website, it's most often in the menu or footer. It's far less common to see a company do what Ahrefs has done and mention it prominently within the flow of their website home page.
Time to Start Building a Community for Your SaaS
A loyal community of users and fans can turn a SaaS product from a helpful tool into a beloved brand. But the most important part of any community is its members. When building your SaaS community, don't think about what it can do for your business. Instead, start from what it can do for your customers.