Guest Blog Post
Congratulations on launching your B2B community! If you’re like most organizations that have made this strategic decision, there are many questions still lurking in the background to prove that your decision was smart for the long-term benefit of the company and the community itself.
• How do I grow my community membership with the right people?
• Once they are there, how do I keep them coming back for more?
• How do I best manage the content and dialogue within the community?
• Are there ways to generate revenue from my community?
Lots of question, but one that faces a large enterprise is: “How do I afford to keep the community alive?” Keeping a community solvent is critical in your success plan. But even the biggest communities you know like Facebook and LinkedIn have struggled to determine what the best path is to secure revenue. So, what are the options and how do you decide?
As more and more corporations launch and manage their own community for customers, partners, distributors and vendors, the options are plentiful; from premium membership fees, gated community content, and even special corporate events online. Consider the possibilities when your mission is to make your strategic partners and alliances as successful as you have become…because it is clear that a successful partner or distributor/channel partner of your products and services makes the marketplace even bigger and stronger for your community.
Executives ask: “Where is the ROI on this community?” There has certainly been a great deal written on this topic lately…do a simple Google search and get pages of results: some I really like.
The answer can be simple by using the intelligence of your organization and coupling it with sponsorship programs from your partners who desperately want to reach your members inside the community. Enterprise organizations like Microsoft, SAP and Dell have huge investments in community content and audience. By allowing their partners to tap into the vast audiences that visit and collect information about solutions, they derive revenue from their partners by creating sponsorship programs to align the partner with the corporation, and eventually providing solutions that work for the customer. That’s ROI at its best because it couples not only the primary solution of the corporation, but also the expanded services and solutions that work in tandem.
The dreaded “advertising banners” makes some community managers cringe. However, everyone online is familiar with the concept and accepting of the fact that, as visitors, THEY control the success by choosing to click or not. But when solutions are needed to solve business problems, sometimes a series of coordinated products and services is needed. By creating sponsorship opportunities for your partners and distributors to align their solutions with yours makes it easier and better for customers.
OK…I hear executives tell me: “I get the ROI” but where is the ROTI? Return on TIME Invested is becoming another financial decision for communities.
• Why should I spend TIME on your community?
• How much TIME must I devote to web surfing to find a complex solution?
• How do I know if the TIME I invest in complex solutions are aligned with the core products and services I need?
For your customers, making your community strategically aligned with not only YOUR solution, but those of your partners, alliances, distributors et al is going to provide people with the ROTI they seek. Time well spent on a community that incorporates combined solutions from a variety of products and services is actually time saved from having to do multiple searches, unproductive visits to non-related websites, and the advantage of peer analysis and review rather than just the vendor POV.
SAP, the global enterprise software company is a great example. http://www.sdn.sap.com has created multiple ways to find the solutions that will solve your problems, then helps you decide which partner’s solutions will work best with your decision.
But with millions of pages of content, and over 2 million members in their community, it’s difficult as a partner to highlight YOUR solution. So, SAP has created multiple ways for a partner to bring visitors directly to their solutions through a variety of sponsorship programs. AND, in SAP’s case, they have created programs that guarantee ROI on the investment you place in those sponsorships.
Now SAP is clearly not going to increase their stock value with these programs, but they will increase the value of their stock, their sales, partner sales and reseller sales by creating the total environment in which customers can interact with everyone involved in their potential solution.
So as you consider a community of your very own, or if you already have one and wonder “what if” options that keep you awake at night, think carefully about the value you offer your membership by making it more inclusive with not only your company’s solutions, but also those of other companies whose products and services work along-side your own. And if you think it doesn’t work, consider your experience on sites that suggest other products to buy, feature reviews and discussions on how to best solve your problem. They create the right ROI for investment and the right ROTI for the time and energy you invest in audience, content and marketing development.
About Doug Johnson Since the mid-90’s Doug has lead Internet content businesses like VerticalNet and Business.com and has helped evolve companies in social media like Toolbox.com and the SAP Community Network and EcoHub.
His passion lies with helping companies understand how to take the beginnings of great ideas in social media and making them into strong businesses that support growth and content for the memberships.
In his previous roles, Doug has lead sales, marketing and operations efforts for publishing companies as well as advertising and marketing firms in the Philadelphia area. Doug has been a guest on CNN and featured in industry journals with articles and commentary that have generated lots of interest in his points of view. Currently, he is the CEO of ERPKonnect, a social media services and development company.