The B2B online community may be the forgotten partner of the glitzy, headline and spotlight-grabbing B2C communities at the center of the social media revolution. In social media land, there is nothing more eye-catching than a community for a popular TV show, a cool consumer-facing site for coffee lovers or a sports team. Not to mention the tantalizing sound of the word “monetization!”
OK, the B2C communities are big, often flashy and backed by recognizable brand names. They’re fun to talk about, as compared to the ho-hum business of building communities that help customers find solutions to core business issues in areas like technology, manufacturing or insurance. But let’s look at this a little more closely.
There are three primary models used to build both kinds of online communities based on three kinds of member needs:
1) Information Dissemination
2) Shop Talk
3) Professional Collaboration
B2C consumer communities and B2B communities share overlapping models, but the foundations are different. Most B2C communities are based on models 1 and 2, rarely professional collaboration. On the other hand, the B2B community exists to solve the business and professional needs of its members. Information sharing and shop talk are part of this, but the overarching activity is professional collaboration for mutual benefit, between the company and the members, and between members themselves.
Indeed, the size of B2C communities often works against the collaboration model — the community is too big, too diffuse. B2B communities tend to be much smaller, the needs of the members more focused and intense around specific product, service or problem-solving scenarios. B2B communities may also have a more-restrictive registration or membership process — they are gated communities to keep a sharp focus on member needs.
While B2B communities may be overlooked, they tend to be better examples of mature communities of practice than their consumer counterparts. In addition, the B2B community can often have a more powerful impact on the organization, thanks to the direct input from key outside stakeholders on core operations such as customer service, marketing, product development, product groups and sales. Not surprisingly, we are starting to see more of these B2B communities.
Through our research and experience, we have discovered 6 reasons companies create customer communities online:
- To get control of the social media conversations about their company or brands
- To help customers get more value from products and services
- To improve the company’s process for enhancing products and services
- To develop better new products and services
- To reduce the cost of post-sale service
- To market and sell more effectively, often through thought leadership content
There are many examples of successful and thriving B2B customer communities on the Web. Companies like Cisco, Taleo, SAP, Palladium Group, LexisNexis, EMC, Mathworks and Cognizant have all demonstrated a commitment to serving their customers by building relationships using online communities.
Contribute to the B2B Community List
But many are difficult to find. I know — we have been creating a database of B2B customer communities to build awareness and best practice centers for practitioners. We have a sizable list generated through primary research, and we seek your help identifying additional candidates. If you sponsor, run or just participate in a successful B2B customer community, please tell us about it so we can include it in the research. We’ll be releasing the list soon, and if you’d like to see it, you can request more info at the end of this questionnaire.