Plan your Online B2B Community

The social Web has expanded into the workplace. According to Forrester Research’s recent study of business buyers, 91% of them use social technologies, and 69% use them for professional purposes. In this context, companies are increasingly discovering the benefits of online communities that target the B2B sector.

This trend is less obvious than that of the other social networks because B2B groups are usually aimed at a highly specialized population and can even be closed off to outsiders. A growing number of companies see their B2B community as a secret tool that gives them an edge in the marketplace.

What is an online community?

An online community is simply a website that allows users to publish content and build relationships. An online community is a great way to network, collaborate, and gather knowledge for B2B users.

Launching a B2B Community allows a company to engage in a continuous conversation with its users. This can have huge business benefits.

Specific Requirements for B2B Communities

It’s crucial to have a clear idea of your community goals and target audience before you begin creating an online community. The B2B community does not differ.

Your goals and users’ target groups for a B2B group will likely be different than those of a group aimed at consumers. These differences will influence everything you do, including the design of your website, the activities you offer, the communication style you use, the community management you need, and the strategic decisions you make about who you allow to join.

There are some special issues in B2B.

  • Recruitment Because a B2B group is often aimed at an extremely specific audience, you will need to develop a targeted recruitment strategy in order to attract the right people and enough of them to join.
  • Activity Level: Your potential user base is likely to be quite small if your B2B Community is limited to clients, partners, or industry-specific groups. To maintain an activity level and get more members involved, you may need to have a higher staff interaction level.
  • Member Support: Effective management of a community and the support for members are essential in any online community. However, they are especially important in B2B communities, where many of your members are also key clients or partners. A 20-year-old intern probably isn’t the best person to manage relationships with these members.
  • Control information: B2B communities are likely to engage in discussions about your business, including your clients, competitors, and partners. You will need to find a balance between the importance of sharing knowledge and ideas and transparency.

Benefits from a B2B community

B2B communities provide companies with insights into their customers, can attract new clients, or help strengthen relationships with current clients, partners, or suppliers.

The benefits of a B2B brand community are similar to the ones offered to consumers. However, they can be magnified because the reasons for customer decisions are often more difficult to determine, and trust is a key factor in making high-risk purchases.

According to Debi Kleiman of Communispace, who builds and manages customer communities for over 100 brands, brand communities are likely to generate sales even for B2B clients.

Kleiman says that these are customers who spend millions on services and products. It makes a big difference if you are able to engage with them and your products on a daily basis.

Getting Started

Your first step when launching a business-to-business community should be to outline your goals. Are your goals…

  • How can you increase your business’s brand awareness?
  • To gain market insights?
  • How can you co-innovate and innovate with your customers?
  • How do we attract new customers?
  • To improve client satisfaction?
  • How can you network with companies in the same sector as yours?
  • How do you build relationships with suppliers?

Decide who you want to be in your community based on your goals.

  • Are clients currently enrolled?
  • Partners?
  • Clients who are interested in becoming clients
  • Suppliers?
  • What other players are there in the industry?

All other decisions you make about your community should be made with your users in mind. Your community will not work without their participation. The best way to guarantee their continued participation is to make sure that your community fulfills a real need.

Study your target audience. You have an advantage if they work in the same industry as you do because you know the challenges facing your business. You can also use this opportunity to get your users interested in your project and strengthen your professional relationship. Send out a questionnaire; create a focus group.

Question and answer

  • What are the needs of your target audience?
  • What other resources are available (online and offline) to assist target users in their work?
  • What’s missing? What gaps can you fill in your community?
  • What tools can you provide for your target audience to assist them in their professional daily activities?

Answers to these questions will likely lead to a community concept. You can then start planning the details of what you’ll offer your members and the website where you will host those activities.

Case Studies

American Express launched ConneXion for Business Travel, a new community for the company’s professional travel services.

The community provides a variety of activities for B2B members. Business Travel ConneXion Members can participate in forum discussions, webinars, and live chats related to business travel. They can also form and join specific groups (e.g., “Green Travel Summit” and “Houston Travel Community”), add and view events on a shared schedule, vote in polls, and maintain blogs.

There are also fewer interactive features, such as whitepapers and articles on industry. These resources are valuable, but they shouldn’t replace activities that require member interaction and participation.

If you focus too much on the content that your organization generates, your website could end up being a knowledge center or online magazine instead of a community.

Sun Microsystems sponsors another interesting project: Openec. This website focuses on reducing greenhouse gases and sustainable business practices.

The website includes a discussion forum for the community with an internal messaging system. It also offers a variety of tools to calculate greenhouse gas emissions and compare their performance in terms of energy consumption and emissions with those of other organizations.

Openec, a community that focuses on providing tools to its members and is devoted to their professional development, should provide benefits that are not easily available elsewhere on the Web.

Calculators and currency converters are common tools that can be found elsewhere. But if you create a unique tool that your clients can use, whether it is a database ma, marketplace, or an application for technical purposes, your website will become a part of their professional lives.

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