Higher Logic Blog

Why is Building Community Online Essential to Inbound Marketing

Written by Joshua Paul | September 15, 2015 at 12:15 PM

What does it mean when you get nine hours of sleep over three days and you still wake up excited about your job? Yes. You are correct. It means that you just attended the INBOUND conference, one of the world's largest gatherings of growth-oriented marketing, sales, product, and support professionals.

Out team recently returned from INBOUND and we are still wired. You may be wondering why we'd send a significant portion of our company to a conference geared largely to marketing and sales people. You may be thinking, Wait a minute! Higher Logic is an online community software company. What does creating an online customer or user community have to do with inbound marketing?

Well, this is where the conference of over 14,000 attendees made news. Though community-building strategies were on the periphery of inbound practices for many years, 2015 is the year that the two converged.

It was clear at #INBOUND15 that creating online communities is actually at the very center of inbound marketing, sales, and customer care. Of the over 225 hours of education, there was not a single session on modern growth strategies that did not bring up the role of community in growing a business.

In the opening keynote, Seth Godin referenced the fact that Harley Davidson is a not the best product on the market. However, they continue to win the market because that have brought together a group of people who care about the company, their products, and how they are using their motorcycles. They win because they have built the strongest community.

In fact, the role of community in inbound marketing is so prominent that HubSpot, the conference's organizers and the people that coined the term "inbound marketing" almost a decade ago (and have fueled the movement ever since), feature their community on their primary marketing asset - their new website's homepage.

Why Are Online Communities an Important Part of the Inbound Methodology?

Growing your business using inbound marketing, sales, and customer relationship strategies is predicated on delighting your target audience. Rather than using traditional marketing and sales tactics, like cold calling and mass advertising (known as outbound), to interrupt your prospects and customers, companies that follow the inbound model attract business by being helpful, educating their market, and connecting with people on a human level.

Traditional outbound approaches, that are still in use and often effective today, rely on identifying your target customer and finding a way to get in front of them with your message. Inbound marketers and sales people create something that prospects and customers want and that answers their questions to build a relationship that can eventually turn into a transaction when the prospective customers are in need of solution to a problem.

That is where community comes in. One of the things that both customers and prospective customers get value from is their peers - people in their shoes now or who have been in their shoes in the past. Providing a community of customers, partners, and employees who are willing on help customers become more successful with your products or services clearly falls on the side of helpful, informative inbound marketing.

In her session, Rachel Happe, of The Community Roundtable, highlighted how building relationships in your online community can make the cost of identifying, nurturing, and conducting sales transactions with your target audience much more cost effective for companies that would traditionally invest in outbound sales hunters and expensive brand advertising.

When you already have history, trust, and familiarity with the people in your target audience, the following happens:

  • They look to you for advice and expertise.
  • More of your messages are read.
  • You see a higher conversion rate on offers – from free webinars to new product demos.
  • You remain much more top-of-mind.
  • People in your community support and recommend you.

These are only a few examples of what happens when you engage your community.

The Core Principle of Inbound Apply to Online Communities

In the same way that inbound marketing must provide helpful, educational content to attract and retain attention, your activity in your customer community MUST put the benefits to your community members first.

If they sense that your intentions are the slightest bit self-serving, your audience won't engage with you. More importantly, draining the trust out of the community may cause community members to leave and spend their precious time elsewhere. What's worse is that this will deprive you of opportunities to re-engage them with helpful information and discussions later.

Create Love, Not Spam

For years, the mantra of inbound marketing has been to create marketing and sales that people love. The goals is always to understand what each prospect needs at their point in the buying process and engaging them like people with a problem that they need solved, rather than prey to feed your profit goals.

Focusing on delighting people is a much more enjoyable process for both your company and its customers. It is also increasingly more effective than traditional high-dollar interruptive sales and marketing.

Online communities are the ultimate test of the inbound marketing values. If your prospects and customers don't find the people, content, and conversations in your community helpful, they will not participate. They are busy and they have a choice. Unlikely, blogs – one of the primary tools of inbound marketers – where you might not know if your content is resonating with people, you'll know early on after engaging people in your online community whether they find it valuable.

Consider your online community platform, where you engage your prospective customers, partners, and current customers, your inbound litmus test.

Online Communities in Inbound Takeaway

When it comes to marketing and sales, your online community is one of your most valuable and flexible assets. The inbound marketing methodology uses insightful content, helpful experts, and useful tools to attract people online and nurture them through the buying process.

Giving prospects and customers a way to have authentic conversations with their peers, experts from your company, and thought-leaders in your market adds a two-way dynamic to your inound marketing strategy. 

Providing a social space where people feel safe asking questions and helping each other on a variety of topics creates the stickiness that inbound marketing professionals dream about.

The online activity associated with that engagement and affinity are the foundation for a deeper understanding of community members' priorities, challenges, and motivations. This gives you the core data that enables your marketing, sales, and customer support teams to generate revenue in an inbound-y way.