Gain Grow Retain just celebrated its 3rd birthday.
This anniversary got me thinking and reflecting on what we've learned about building and running a community.
GGR (as we've come to abbreviate it) is what you would consider a "thought leadership" community for customer success leaders.
But the principles that allowed us to attract over 20,000+ members worldwide (and growing) are similar to those that any company can use to start a community for its customers.
Customer communities revolve around a product. Users have needs that the community fulfills—support, enablement, training, and networking with other users.
For GGR, the community is the product. So, from the start, it was crucial that the community offer value to its members at every turn.
If our members don't find value, they don't return.
If they don't return, the rest of the community loses out on their experience, insights, and contributions.
Here are a few things we learned while growing GGR that might help you, too.
Focus on authentic and valuable content
Since its inception, the goal of GGR was to add value to the lives of customer success leaders who choose to give us their attention.
The relentless pursuit of member value impacts the content we publish, how we run our live events, and even how we incorporate GGR Supporters (aka, sponsors).
Advertising is kept to an absolute minimum. We moderate self-promoters out of our online community. We vet all podcast guests and ensure they have something of value to offer our audience.
A big part of a community's value proposition comes down to the content it offers. This is why there's usually tight alignment with marketing teams responsible for content generation.
Our content includes podcasts, blogs, email newsletters, digests from the community, discussion forums, and live events.
GGR members guide the evolution of these content programs at every step. After each event we run, we ask for feedback. We use it to evolve formats and make them more valuable for our members.
Ideally, a community will have a handful of dedicated champions. For GGR, this was Jeff and me. We were the outspoken leaders—the facilitators.
For your company, it could be an internal evangelist, an industry analyst, or a customer that has bought your product multiple times at different companies (customer for life!).
As SaaS and customer success consultants (at the time), we had deep exposure to the market. We were able to see and distill key trends, opportunities, and challenges that the customer success community faced.
Ideally, communities have industry leaders who understand the landscape. They form a nucleus around which other industry leaders lean in.
An army of champions
As we transitioned from a weekly Zoom call to a full-blown online community, we organized an official launch of the community.
As part of that launch, we enlisted GGR members and followers to become "Founding Members."
If you visit the GGR company page on LinkedIn, you'll see that there are nearly 200 members who have added this to their LinkedIn profile:
These members were early adopters of the online community and helped us seed it with content.
They also helped us "take over" LinkedIn for several days when we launched. They posted on our behalf and shared with their networks. This campaign netted us thousands of members.
Credit to Jeff who masterfully organized that campaign.
Today, Heather leverages our ambassadors to help welcome new members, generate content, and promote events.
We often describe the community's goal to be "the DJ, not the talent."
The power of GGR comes from the collective experiences, insights, and talents of its members. They openly share their learnings from running CS organizations.
These ambassadors help us grow and engage the community.
A multi-channel strategy
We started GGR with nothing more than LinkedIn and a weekly, live Zoom call. But we quickly saw the benefit of having a multi-channel strategy.
A community is about people; for any community to thrive, it must go where its people are.
The key here was providing value directly in each channel we participated in. For example, we didn't use LinkedIn to promote blogs on our website. We actually published the content right on our LinkedIn posts.
This is something that many marketers get wrong today.
They are focused on generating leads. And they miss the opportunity to capture the hearts of their target audience by freely giving them value where they already are. They promote their blog posts and ebooks, hoping for email signups on their website.
We learned a lot by following Chris Walker's guidance on what modern marketing should look like. We prioritized providing value over capturing email addresses or signups.
We did this by openly sharing anything of value directly in the channel. This approach cemented us as trusted thought leaders.
We continue to use multiple channels to drive engagement in the community.
Each channel reinforces the others, and we feed traffic and activity between channels.
Everyone associated with the community receives value however they prefer, and they don't need to share one shred of their personal information with us to get it.
This is why we consider our community much larger than just those enrolled signed up on gaingrowretainl.com. Tens of thousands of people consume our content each month.
Most of what we initially built was on others' platforms, e.g., LinkedIn.
Now we use Higher Logic Vanilla as our online community platform. This is where discussions occur. It's also the central hub for community members.
They can access all the content, events, discussions, and networking opportunities we offer.
We use ActiveCampaign behind the scenes as our email engine and CRM. Although Higher Logic owns GGR, we operate it independently and intentionally firewall it from Higher Logic's prospect and customer database.
We use Zapier to integrate Higher Logic Vanilla and ActiveCampaign, as well as any other tools we need to engage members.
We use Luma for event landing pages and registration. It allows us to track Zoom meeting attendance and send event reminders to boost attendance and follow-up surveys. We love this product.
Start small and build
This is getting long... so to wrap it up, don't let the breadth of an existing community like GGR deter you.
Getting a community off the ground is surprisingly easy. But it does take focus and a little grit.
LinkedIn allowed us to build a small but mighty tribe of customer success people who would eventually join us on our community-building journey.
If you have questions about how a community could help you scale customer success, simply reply to this email. I'd be happy to connect with you to dive deeper.
As always, thank you for reading, and have a great week ahead.