At Forum One's energized gathering of online community professionals at the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View last week, there was great interest in B2B online communities compared to last year's conference (marketers are starting to realize that B2B companies need social media too). Mike Rowland of Impact Interactions, a community consulting group, led a well-attended session on B2B communities and their characteristics based on his six years of experience helping major B2B companies such as Cisco, Intel, and SAP establish relationships with their customers and prospects using online communities and other social media.
Here are Mike Rowland's six key takeaways for building B2B online communities:
1) Building B2B online communities takes more than copying B2C practices
Clearly defined objectives and a focus on driving business results are the hallmarks of more successful B2B online community efforts. You can't get there by simply adopting B2C community practices without reference to whether these make sense for your business or target audience.
2) Question the 90-9-1 participation ratio
B2C community managers typically expect that 90% of visitors will be lurkers, 9% will be intermittent participants and 1% will be active participants (90-9-1). In the B2B space, according to Rowland, the typical ratio is closer to 99-0.9-0.1 - B2B online communities will have about 1/10th the active participants of a B2C community at comparable traffic volumes - but participation rates are all over the map. In support communities where people can ask a quick question and get a quick response, the 0.9% intermittent participant rate expands.
3. Don't confuse traffic and behavior with value
Its easy to get excited about traffic to your B2B online community, or from seeing members interact to address issues or challenges. However, don't confuse traffic and behavior with value to your business. Is your B2B online community generating more revenue for your business? More leads? Lowering support costs? Raising awareness? Providing key insights into your customer base? Understand the business reasons for creating your community in the first place and keep your eye on those metrics.
4. B2B online community participants are buyers
Survey research from multiple B2B online communities shows that 60+% of members say that something they read or saw in the community influenced them to buy. This is a theme Forrester's Laura Ramos also mentioned in our B2B social media with her.
5. Use Twitter and Facebook to direct traffic to specific landing pages
Give B2B social media and community participants a clear call to action and take traffic to specific landing pages. Keeping track of traffic, leads, revenue, etc. from each third party application is also critical.
6. Young B2B communities take significant work to build
B2B communities don't just emerge in the field of dreams sense - if you build it, they will come. Given the community participation ratios above, B2B communities are much harder to build than B2C communities. Companies must to be prepared to work to build relationships and grow the community over time. While you will put in more work at first, and an active B2B online community will require somewhat less effort over time, don't expect to just sit back and watch as your community grows astronomically. It takes work, but the business value derived may be well worth the effort.