SaaS Customer Connection to the Cloud: Building Community
POSTED : June 20, 2013
BY : Miz Nakajima

During the month of May, PK’s Lisa Morris-Wolff was invited to speak at the SaaS University Conference in Bellevue, Washington. Cloud computing leaders from around the world traveled to Bellevue for three days of networking and education comprised of keynotes, workshops, and roundtable discussions.  Lisa shared her thoughts on building community in the cloud.

Community in the cloud

As companies contemplate a transition from traditional software to cloud-based offerings, numerous benefits come to mind which seem too good to pass up: scalability, security, flexibility, fewer operational issues, and reduced costs. Although the cloud clearly offers an appealing value proposition, SaaS companies must be thoughtful about how to maintain technical and financial benefits while retaining customer engagement as the associated changes are significant. For example, cloud customers can now interact with your product on a 24/7/365 basis. There is an increasing expectation and demand for instant customer support and rapid feature changes. In addition, customers are not afraid to share their opinions about your product with the world. A community platform will be able to meet these customer needs as well as provide a forum for members to give feedback in a way that is valuable for both the customer and the company. Making the investment to build a community platform for your SaaS product will not only ensure your business objectives are met, but will also drive customer loyalty, retention and accelerate your sales cycles for new customer acquisition. Below are the top 3 takeaways for building community in the Cloud.

Community is more than social—community means business

Companies often make the mistake of confusing community platforms with social media alone. Your community page is not a marketing campaign and should be considered to be a tool to achieve business objectives. Top objectives of community platforms are:

  • Building Trusted Relationships: Generating word of mouth, improving PR effectiveness, increasing brand awareness and customer loyalty
  • Increasing Speed of Innovation: Crowdsourcing ideas and feedback from community members to add new product features
  • Reducing Costs: Reducing external market research costs and reducing customer support costs

With this in mind, companies should invest proper time and resources into building and maintaining community platforms in order to see desired results. If it is an afterthought, it runs the risk of becoming neglected like many stagnant company Facebook pages.

Find the right community platform for your individual goals

People will talk about your product and share their opinion on whether you have a managed community or not. Depending on your product, industry, and business objectives, it is critical to build a community platform that has the right balance between control and reach. 100% managed communities (for gated in-product features particular to only active members) which companies can easily control serve different goals than unmanaged communities (such as classic social media communities) which are harder to control but have a broader reach. An analysis of your customer segments, competition, engagement strategy, resources available and business objectives will allow you to determine the best solution to pursue. Smartly managed communities curate their content to elevate key messages or promote key concepts.

Challenges and success

Despite the benefits community provides to businesses and customers, creating a community platform from scratch is not easy and comes with a unique set of challenges. Knowing how to navigate topics such as managing negative feedback on your own site and attracting a critical mass of users for a meaningful community will allow community platforms to succeed quickly. The investment in resources will pay off and can easily be seen through the example of eBay. A study published in Marketing Science tracked the activity of users who were engaged in the community versus those who were not members or participants and the results were staggering. Members who were active community members spent up to 54% more money in total, listed 4 times as many items and first-time sellers were 10 times more likely to sell on eBay after joining the community. This shows that engaged customers are more valuable customers and a community platform can directly enable this engagement.

Needless to say, creating the right type of community for your SaaS product can be a difficult task. PK has developed a framework that will ensure the best approach is taken for your individual business. We focus on business and community objectives that will shape your community strategies and community structure, all reinforced with measurable KPIs. By applying this framework when working with our clients, we are able to drive meaningful results and achieve success together.

Lastly, building a community platform is just one aspect of cloud marketing and sales that companies should think about when transitioning to a SaaS offering. We look forward to Lisa and other members of the PK team sharing insights at other upcoming events about various complex challenges the cloud brings to organizations and how companies can succeed.