In 2015, Chris Dixon said, “Come for the tool, stay for the network.” Over half a decade later, the sentiment is truer than ever.

Dixon was referring to a growth strategy embraced by bootstrapped tech startups, whereby a user is initially attracted by the tool itself, but ends up staying over time because of the community created by other users. An obvious and commonly-referenced example is Instagram. Originally, users signed up to the app for the retro photo filters, but converted into loyal, lifelong users because of the vast and incredibly active community of users who constantly engage with one another.

Even if your product isn’t as obviously peer-to-peer oriented as Instagram, modern tech companies can still benefit hugely from the decision to build online communities of highly engaged users.

Five reasons why tech companies should build online communities.

1. Enthusiastic online communities drive community-led growth.

Community members who love your product – and the community of users around it – do the selling for you. A big community of passionate users acts as social proof to new prospects, and hearing good things about your business and product from an actual customer is much more convincing than hearing it from a salesperson.

2. Your community members up-sell and cross-sell to each other.

“I had the same problem, and the new XYZ feature solved it for me. Give it a go.”

“Can’t wait for the new XYZ feature to launch next month!”

“I use Product 1 for ABC but I need to achieve XYZ. Is there another product in the suite that I could try?”

These kinds of conversations between community members are nothing less than super-effective cross-selling and up-selling.

3. User-to-user support takes pressure off your in-house support team.

Every time an experienced user helps a new user with a problem or issue, it’s one less ticket for your in-house support team to deal with.

4. A passionate community creates a cult following that differentiates your brand.

A growing community of passionate, engaged users goes a long way to differentiating your organisation or product from your competitors. If two tools or products appear largely the same, it makes sense to go with the tool that everyone online seems to love.

5. Your community provides valuable data and insights for product development

An active, engaged community of users generates useful insights and feedback that your team can use to inform bug fixes, new features, product development, pricing models, privacy policies, marketing strategies, and so on.

Make ‘community’ a central part of your business mindset.

Hal Koss talks about how more and more tech companies are making the conscious decision to build online communities in this article. According to Koss, one of the most important things to keep in mind when building online communities is to find a way to make users feel less like ‘customers’ and more like ‘members’. To achieve this, you need to put the idea of community at the forefront of everything you do. As Mac Reddin, co-founder and CEO of Commsor, says, “It’s a difference of valuing community as a core piece of your business, versus just bolting a forum on your product and calling it a community”.

Find the right balance of involvement in user and support forums.

While you can’t just set up a public user forum and call it a day, active user forums and support forums can and do form an integral part of many online communities. The key here is to find the right balance of company involvement, whether the forum exists in a dedicated framework or on a platform like Slack or Facebook. While it’s certainly important to create a forum space and engage with your community, micro-managing conversations or using the space to push sales agendas is a sure-fire way to kill any organic user engagement.

Expect ROI when you build online communities – but only in the long run.

Reddin goes on to mention another key aspect of creating and nurturing a thriving online community: don’t expect to be able to measure any concrete ROI for a good while. Organizational buy-in is crucial for the creation of a strong online community, but that buy-in has to be secured on something other than proof of immediate ROI, as community-led growth can be difficult to measure, especially at the outset. Continue investing in and nurturing your precious online community, however, and you’ll eventually reap the rewards.

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