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Building (and Sustaining) a Successful Online Community

Higher Logic recently teamed up with ChurnZero to host a conversation with Shauna McClemens as she shared her efforts to revive Higher Logic Vanilla’s online community as well as shared tactical strategies for getting internal teams and customers more engaged.

Community isn’t a one and done kind of thing. It takes time and it takes effort. As community builders ourselves, we know this firsthand. But let us tell you a secret… it doesn’t have to be hard!   

To get the tips of the trade, we teamed up with ChurnZero to host a conversation with Shauna McClemens, Community Strategist at Higher Logic, about the topic. During the discussion, Shauna talked about her efforts to revive Higher Logic Vanilla’s community and shared tactical strategies for getting internal teams and customers more engaged.  

If you want to listen to the conversation, you can view it here, or read part of our Q&A with Shauna below.   

What are some of your favorite online communities out there and why? 

I’m slightly biased, but Higher Logic’s Success Community is one of my favorites, not just because I’ve worked hard on improving it for our customers, but because it is full of rich content, and it is visually appealing as well. I also like what Oracle has done. Oracle is a global technology company, but they’ve built their community in a way that is very accessible. They’ve set up different sub-communities for different types of users, creating a more tailored experience for each group. Another is Smartsheet. When I’m looking for examples of how to implement a specific strategy, they’re often the go to! 

What are some of the best metrics to track to show that community is driving business outcomes? 

This really depends on what you are trying to achieve as well as what data you have access to. However, in general, I’d recommend looking at these areas to determine business impact: 

  • A reduction in support calls and tickets. Online communities can serve as a first line of defense when it comes to support, helping you reduce support costs. 
  • A decrease in acquisition costs. You can use the content generated by your community to drive SEO, exposing prospective customers to your products and your brand. 
  • Customer lifetime value: This can include increases in retention rates and purchases. Community offers a way to improve the customer experience and product adoption, driving stickiness. It also helps companies promote new products and engage customers in beta programs, which can lead to more upsells. 

What were your biggest lessons learned when you went about your year-long project to revive your community? 

  • Be genuine and authentic and have fun – the best communities have personality and having 1 post out of 10 with a typo is better than having 3 overly edited posts written in corporate speak.
  • Don’t be afraid to change gears if something isn’t working – it’s ok to try something and find out it doesn’t work, but don’t force it.  
  • Your day-to-day goal (especially if you have other roles in your org) should be to make community the hub. When working or collaborating on other projects, see how you can tie things back to community or leverage community to work smarter not harder.

We currently have a “team” that manages the community – would you suggest one dedicated person? We are struggling with ownership.  

The most successful communities I have seen generally have a central person or team (e.g., Community Manager, Scaled Program Manager or Customer Marketing Team) running them, but they have participation or involvement from across the organization. When determining an owner, think about the purpose of the community and the skill sets required to make it run best – community managers tend to have diverse skill sets as well as the ability to develop and maintain cross departmental relationships. 

I know you shared the departments you’d recommend having champions for the community internally, overall – who should be the “owner” of the community in your opinion? One department, an individual? C-Level exec.?  

More often than not, I see that CX orgs or Marketing teams own community. With that said, recently, I’ve seen it become more popular for Customer Success to own. I think it really depends on what you are using your community for, but as I mentioned above, I do think there needs to be a community owner with involvement from other departments.  

Any thoughts on how AI could enhance community management?   

We actually have a whole blog about this topic – I’ll save you some reading though. Tools like ChatGPT can be helpful in a number of ways, including creating community content, generating discussion topics, moderating posts, and more. While generative AI can be a time saver, I would like to see community AI tools that connect humans with human content, not necessarily create all the content.  

What platform(s) would you recommend for community? Facebook? Slack? LinkedIn? Discord? Something else? I know audience matters and it’s important to know what your community uses, but any that are generally successful?  

Facebook, Slack, or LinkedIn can all work for creating communities. However, if building a community is your goal, I’d recommend you look at a community-specific platform, like Higher Logic Vanilla. There are several on the market, so if you need help evaluating them, I’d check out our request for proposal template 

Have you ever seen communities created specifically for large enterprise clients? Like franchises, associations, etc? Where they only share within that specific network?  

Absolutely – typically these would be private communities that require some kind of log in (such as SSO) to restrict the community and keep it confidential. I’ve seen this done as a standalone community as well as a restricted space within a larger community. Depending on the use case and possibility of cross pollination, you might want to consider giving them a special space on a larger community that has other content that the specific enterprise client might find useful.  

Genny Gordon