Of all the buzzwords in Silicon Valley, “community” is probably the most underrated and misunderstood — especially for enterprise software products. Most businesses view community as a marketing strategy to help gain adoption or as a support strategy to help support their user base. However, as a 2009 Harvard Business Review article stated: “That is a mistake. For a brand community to yield maximum benefit, it must be framed as a high-level strategy supporting businesswide goals.”
Communities can increase user onboarding and adoption.
With any product, the biggest question is “How do we get people to use it?” In fact, traditional enterprise software usually has a very steep learning curve and is not widely adopted within the enterprise. Even if it is adopted, people often hate using it, and they only use it because their job requires it.
Communities like forums, user groups and so on are fundamental to flattening a product’s learning curve. These types of communities are centered around content and providing resources to make it much easier for total beginners to learn your product. Not only do they provide a self-help resource for users where they can offer solutions and advice to one another, but they are also a key part of a solid sales and support strategy. Sales reps can point to community resources during the sales process to alleviate a prospect’s concerns about learning a new product or receiving quick support.
Salesforce is perhaps the most cited example of how communities can support new users. Referred to as “Salesforce Ohana,” the community is comprised of customers, employees and partners. It offers a plethora of troubleshooting tips via online forums and FAQs, learning opportunities in the form of local user groups and meetups, inspiration from its World Tour and Dreamforce conferences and recognition in the form of its MVP designation. Salesforce successfully spreads the message that its users aren’t alone — that, by purchasing the CRM, they’re joining a vibrant family of diverse professionals who will welcome and support them (disclosure: Salesforce Ventures is an investory in Workato).
Today, many enterprise software companies offer forums and user groups. These communities are easy to justify because they drive user adoption and lower support cost.
What enterprise companies often take for granted is that community can go far beyond a forum or user group. A community also can provide a way for participants to leverage what others have done to build new things or improve what others have built, making contributions that go beyond content. This type of community opens up completely new opportunities for the company enabling this community.
GitHub is a great example of how this can work. Built around the simple concept of a version control system, it enables developers to easily collaborate and build software. The company created a revolutionary “hub” where developers can easily contribute their projects and network with like-minded people.
Today, software developers use GitHub to not just store their projects but also find other relevant projects, contribute to them, and work with developers around the world. This enables the entire software developer community to innovate at a much faster pace, as they don’t have to start every project from scratch. The proof is in GitHub’s explosive, exponential growth: In early 2013, it had 6 million repositories. As of July 2018, that number was reported to be as high at 85 million. That’s a lot of new projects, many of which build on previous work.
We emulated this model when we designed Workato, where I currently serve as VP of Growth. As a new generation of integration and automation platform, the only way we could cover all the integration and automation needs of a wide variety of businesses was to enable a community where users can easily contribute their automation, as well as clone and customize what others have done to suit their specific needs. Instead of always starting from scratch, our users can benefit from each other’s hard work, creative thinking and problem-solving expertise. This has enabled business users to start building automations — something that, in the past, they had always relied on technical people to do for them.
Community is a great strategy for any business, but it should be approached as a business strategy, not a marketing or support strategy. When you get community right, the benefits are undeniable. It can help increase customer adoption and customer loyalty, lower marketing and support costs and yield an influx of ideas — and sometimes, even products — to grow the business.