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How to Make the Business Case for an Online Community

You’re confident that an online community is the next step for your goals, department, or company. You’ve read the articles, heard the presentations, and spoken to peers with online communities. You know your customers would love it. The only thing standing in your way is convincing stakeholders and leadership to feel the same way.

Making a business case will help you present your argument for an online community investment in an organized, comprehensive, and appealing way. It’s not something you should skip or skimp on—a business case helps you compete at an executive level for finite company resources.

In this article, we’ll lay out the must-have components of an online community business case, along with sample content you can borrow for your own business case.

  • Begin with a pitch.
  • Communicate the pains.
  • Illustrate key online community use cases.
  • Showcase business impacts with real stories.
  • Share your plan for value realization.

The most important theme of your business case: alignment with company goals.

When building your business case, you need to demonstrate alignment and advancement of company goals. Consider your organization’s overarching goals for the year, like generating new sales pipeline, expanding the customer base, improving retention numbers, or breaking into new markets. These are the targets your executives are laser-focused on and are ultimately accountable for. Use your presentation to connect how your community initiatives will drive progress toward these goals.

Begin with a pitch.

Make your 30-second elevator pitch for an online community, including a brief definition of an online community. Keep it short and sweet so that your audience doesn’t get focused on the details before you’ve had time to present.

Sample pitch:

Thanks for joining me today. In the next X minutes, I’d like to make the case for our company to invest in an online community, which is a digital place for our customers to connect with each other and with us. I’ll demonstrate current pain points, the use cases a community addresses, the business impact, and how a community will advance our company goals. I’ll also provide examples of companies who are currently seeing success with those use cases, and finish with recommendations for realizing value.

Communicate the pains.

To make the case for something new, you should provide reasons the status quo isn’t working. You know your team or department’s pains well, but Gartner points out that 83% of software buyers make decisions as part of a buying committee, so we recommend including pain points that other departments may face. Consider creating a “problem statement” that you can use to communicate the problem succinctly.

Here are some pains companies can solve with an online community:

  • Poor customer support. Customers can’t self-serve, they have to wait in support queues to get simple questions answered, and agents spend a lot of time answering questions that would be better answered by peers.
  • Limited data. You’re lacking information about customers’ needs and pain points, and it makes your products and marketing less potent.
  • Invisible advocates. You only have a small advocate or brand ambassador pool and you’re not sure where to find more.
  • High churn rate. You have disengaged, disinterested customers who churn, only buy from you once, or don’t expand.
  • Customers can’t talk to each other. Customers can’t network with each other beyond in-person events, and/or they’ve expressed a desire to or would benefit from swapping ideas.


  1. Organize the presentation according to the priorities of the person or group you’ll be addressing. If you’re presenting to the chief customer officer, emphasize the pain points, impacts, and goals they’ll care about most, e.g. faster support ticket resolution via community. If it’s a VP of marketing, speak to their priorities, e.g., describe how a community can get more free trial sign-ups or lead to more qualified sales conversations.
  2. Mention other solutions you’ve explored and why they won’t work. As you make your case, leaders will want to know why community is your first choice over other solutions that might be free or cheaper, like building a community on Slack or social media (this article can help you formulate an answer) or hiring more customer support agents. Discussing the alternatives shows you’ve thought through your plan completely.

Looking to launch or revive a customer community? The Community Playbook has everything you need. 

Define key online community use cases.

You’ve already caught the attention of your leadership team by highlighting the pain points and what ignoring them could cost. Now, let’s get them excited about the solution.

In this section of your business case, explain the ways communities can be used. Don’t forget to connect these online community benefits back to company goals.

3 sample online community use cases.

This section walks through possible use cases to highlight in your business case.

1. Build a self-service customer hub for a more sustainable support system.

Self-service empowers customers take care of their own needs efficiently, and online communities are key to making that work. By tapping into how people naturally behave, what they like, and how they interact, online communities offer a way for customers to find support that feels intuitive and easy to use.

This setup helps cut down on support costs by letting customers help each other with common issues and it frees up your team to address more complex problems. Plus, as the community grows and continuously adds new user-generated content, it also helps increase product adoption.

Here are a few ways customers can use community to get self-service support:

  • Search a rich FAQ library. Every day, your support and customer success teams get bombarded with the same questions over and over. That’s a lot of time they could be spending on bigger things. Since they usually talk to customers one-on-one, they end up handling a ton of duplicate requests, and the helpful tips they share don’t get beyond those conversations. But with a community, customers can swap workarounds and suggest fresh ideas or clever ways to use your product. As the community grows, you’ll end up with a knowledge base of customer-generated resources.
  • Crowdsource support and advice. Customer communities bring together experienced users with others who can learn from their insights, encouraging them to develop their own solutions. While your support reps and CSMs have valuable perspectives, they aren’t using your product every day like your customers are. A customer community provides a wealth of diverse viewpoints from actual users, offering advice that’s both relatable and trusted. This enriches your company’s product expertise with real-world knowledge.
  • Access support and CS resources in a single place. Imagine having the ability to search through every aspect of your support ecosystem—forums, blogs, events, release notes—with just one query. Federated search allows community members to perform a single search across your various data sources, delivering a unified set of results. Moreover, you can enhance the functionality of your community by integrating it with other tools, such as ticketing systems for case escalation, streamlining the support process even further.

2. Create a branded community to drive organic growth and advocacy.

Online communities provide a host of benefits to reduce your marketing budget and customer acquisition costs, and help you understand your customers better. Here are a few angles you could highlight:

  • Acquire new customers. Prospects want to know details, advantages, and risks of their purchases before they put money down, and they don’t want your marketing materials to be the sole source of that information. With the right community strategy, customers will build an environment where prospects can see honest, useful feedback about your products, creating cheap, reliable marketing. Communities also encourage customer account expansion or repeat purchases as customers see how others are using new products or add-ons.
  • Find new advocates. An engaged online community helps you identify new customer advocates or brand ambassadors. You can observe who is a power user and who really likes your new product release. Then, you can tap this new pool of customers for advocacy activities.
  • Identify new use cases. As customers discuss the product with each other, you can see new ways they’re using it and other problems they’re solving with it. You can use this market intelligence to expand into new areas or market your product to a new segment.
  • Discover real-life pain points and needs. Customers will explain their pains and needs in their own words in your online community, and every marketer benefits from knowing their customers better. When it’s not possible to get every marketing team member on the phone with a customer, an online community gives them a window into a customer’s day in the life.
  • Get content ideas. Any piece of content can be informed by community conversations. If customers are asking each other about a certain product use case, your marketing team can turn that into a helpful piece of content to improve product adoption. Or, you can see what topics this segment of your industry is discussing, helping you to produce highly-relevant prospect content.
  • Get organic exposure via SEO. Public-facing portions of an online community creates indexable content for search engines, increasing the amount of content you can rank for and the likelihood of being discovered by new prospects.

5. Build a product community to innovate faster.

With an engaged customer community, you’re right in the mix, hearing directly from your customers about what they think of your products and their latest updates. This kind of feedback can shape your product roadmap and future releases, ensuring they align more closely with customer needs.

You might already be picking up insights through one-on-one calls or from your brand enthusiasts, but what about the rest of your customers? Building an online community gives you a more natural way to hear from all your customers, ensuring you get the full spectrum of feedback to guide your decisions.

  • Host product ideation. Gather feedback on your roadmap by allowing customers to submit and vote on ideas. Organize all this feedback directly in your product management tool with a community integration.
  • Share product enablement resources. Provide customers with helpful content, like implementation documentation, and keep them in the loop with the latest updates through release notes. This way, you can communicate with many customers at once, keeping everyone informed about new products and features.
  • Set up dedicated spaces for user groups: Create specific, private areas within your online community for different user groups. These could be segmented by user role, industry, product, usage level, or other relevant criteria. Offer user groups exclusive access to content such as early release notes, beta testing opportunities, and advanced training materials.

Showcase business impacts with real stories.

Here, you’ll want to connect use cases back to your goals, and tie them to business impact.

Communities can create a wide range of benefits for customers and your company, but it’s not always easy to conduct solid ROI calculations, especially pre-launch. We recommend using examples of companies like yours who have an online community and have seen great results. If you’re looking at specific online community software vendors, they’ll be able to point you toward relevant stories. We list a few examples below to get you started, with links to learn more:

Customer engagement, retention, and satisfaction.

  • Bitdefender switched community providers and increased activity by 121% and new users by 78%.
  • Quicken saw a 10% increase in NPS because of a better community experience and more helpful content.

Customer acquisition and marketing.

  • F-Secure discovered that 47% of their customers intend to purchase because of the community.
  • 1Password saw a 108% increase in SEO with the help of their new community and content.

Customer support.

  • OnShape encouraged customers to use the community for support and reduced ticket submissions by 20%.
  • Cireson saw a 90% decrease in support tickets when customers had the ability to self-serve using the community.
  • Smartsheet sees 80% of questions answered by members.

Putting together a request for proposals from online community software vendors? Try our editable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to get you started. Download the template.

Share your plan for value realization.

In this final section, you’ll describe the essentials you would need to realize the value you’ve discussed. Make recommendations in each of the three areas below:

  • Budget. How much money will you need to purchase the community software, train your staff, and promote the new community?
  • Staff. Who will manage your online community to get existing and new customers engaged? (Get additional community management tips.)
  • Time. If approved, will you need to prioritize more of your own and your team’s time on the community initiative over other projects? Will you need time from other departments?

You’ll also want to address any risks or issues you may face, and present a plan to avoid these obstacles —this is another way to show you’ve thought through the entire strategy.

Once you’ve presented your online community business case, be prepared for questions like these:

  • Why can’t we do X, Y, or Z alternative?
  • How long will it take before we start seeing ROI on this investment?
  • How much time does it take to get a community up and running?
  • How do we know if the community is successful?

These answers may depend on the vendor you select, so work with vendors on your shortlist to help you answer these questions.

Additional resources for building your business case.

If you need additional resources, talking points, or quotes to build your business case, the resources below can help provide data and quotes:

We’ll leave you with these final words from Forrester Research:

“To find, keep, and grow your customers, you must know your customers. To know your customers, you must listen to what they say and observe what they do. Part of the arsenal of tools that can help you accomplish this: online communities.”

Ready to build a complete customer community? Alation’s Deb Seys and Diane Yuen share how to transform your community into an engaging, cross-functional asset. Watch the Webinar