Communities have been around forever. Thousands of years ago people needed to live together in groups to survive. Each member had different skills and contributions but the intent and interest was the same – survival. A community is a group that feels connected with each other due to a overlaps of intent, identity, interest and experience (Source). Animals also have a better survival rate when they move around as part of a pack. This is also a community.
Types of Community
Today there are two types of communities – online and offline. These could be personal or professional; or technical or business focussed. People are a part of various communities whether they know it or not. I am on a mobile WhatsApp group with a few friends that meet every week to try new food and drinks. This is one type of community. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are all examples of online communities. Your family, your team at work, your religious groups are offline communities. An increasing number of communities use both, online as well as offline methods to interact . Meetups, User Conferences, Tradeshows are some examples of taking the conversation from online to offline. Whatever the medium, the end goal continues to be the same – to create connections and foster growth within a group that shares common values and interests.
The same applies in business. Companies can create communities using any proprietary collaboration tool or platforms such as Slack or LinkedIn. Customers and prospects can interact with each other as part of the community to provide recommendations, training and even support. For the customer this leads to a more informed decision. For the business this shortens the sales cycle and increases sales, while lowering the cost of advertising and support. (Source)
Benefits of Business Community
- Support – Members have access to a community of people interested in the same topic or product. People share their opinions and expertise with the expectation that when they have a question, others in the community will do the same. Companies that support or sell the technology or product that the community is based on can make sure their prospects get the information they need to make a purchasing decision. Since customers can get the answers they need from other community members, the company may not need to employ a huge staff of people to provide customer support.
- Sharing – A key principle of a community is not only to consume contributions by members but also to give back. For open source technical communities, members contribute new features, enhancements and bug fixes to make the product better. In professional communities people share ideas, frameworks and best practices to advance the profession. For a business, participating in this exchange can be a valuable way to get a pulse on what prospects and customer are looking for or struggling with. Incorporating this voice of the community into everything the company does and builds, will ensure they build superior products and deliver services that delight their customers.
- Learning – People love to learn from each other. Members can learn about new topics, best practices for existing topics and get inspired to do things better. From a company’s perspective, the more people know about a particular topic or business, the more likely they are to choose to work with it and also talk to others about it.
- Social interaction – Another key benefit for members is connecting with like minded people. For a community to succeed, people play different roles. Some just observe, others are vocal participants engaging members to keep the conversation going. Some aim to become subject matter experts and others want recognition. For a business, these engaged members become more likely to stay as customers and can end up becoming advocates of the product or service.
- Financial benefits – Sometimes communities provide their members with opportunities to get financial benefits. Members become experts, build an online brand for themselves and often find jobs building, supporting or providing services around the topic or product. Companies that are able to enable community members to achieve their financial goals could also get some financial benefits through this partnership.
The above benefits, apply to our personal lives too. The ideas of receiving support from friends and family, sharing with loved ones, learning and connecting, all make for happier individuals and lead to more fulfilled lives. A now-classic study of 6,928 adults living in Alameda County, Calif., conducted by Harvard researcher Lisa Berkman, PhD, and University of California, Berkeley, researcher S. Leonard Syme, PhD, found that people with few social ties were two to three times more likely to die of all causes than people with wider and closer relationships.
The role of the business is not to sell its products or services to the community. Rather, it’s to ensure success of its members; to make them feel like they belong and that they have a whole host of supporters to turn to in order to learn, to get support and to innovate. The company must understand who the members are and what they are looking to get out their membership…enabling them to achieve their objectives. This creates a community of evangelists that will lead to more people who are interested, leading to more customers who will buy and remain loyal the company.