Want to build community? Here’s how over 150 startups did it

What do over 60 percent of startups valued at over $1 billion have in common? Community. They either employ a community team, or collaboration is fundamental to their business model. Think Airbnb, Lyft, Xiaomi, Pinterest, Dropbox, DocuSign, Instacart—the list goes on. They all invest in community.

Why? Because community is disruptive, and it’s how many startups are breaking through. But how do you make a smart investment in it? Let’s break down some recent research we’ve gathered at CMX of over 150 startups that reveals how companies are making it work. Here are six ways you can get started.

1. Build community for its marketing value

The most common reason startups build community is because it has scalable, marketing value. When you’re the new kid on the block, having a community can help your brand spread, utilizing word of mouth influence. MongoDB, The Skimm, and Hustlecon are a few companies that have had great success with this and it’s catapulted them to the next level.

Communities can also help build up thought leadership, give power to customer advocates, and, most importantly, even drive referrals. 25 percent of the startups surveyed say they build community to drive either marketing or support value.

2. If marketing doesn’t fit, start with support

If you’re more concerned with getting your existing customers the help they need (i.e. you’re having retention problems), support may be a more urgent place to start.

Quantifying the ROI of support community is pretty simple, and that should bring some comfort to cash-strapped startups. You can compare your support costs before and after launch, and compare the time your in-house team spends answering questions with that answered by the community. Examples of companies doing this right are Teachable, Salesforce, or Box.

3. Be flexible

Humans demand flexibility, and because communities are built on human connection, your approach to community must be agile and constantly evolve. As Socratic founder Chris Pedregal so eloquently put it, “You build community in human time” not in “internet time.”

4. Build confidence

About 76 percent of startups said that they don’t feel that they have the right metrics in place to measure their community’s impact.

However, there are ways you can build confidence and get on the right track: Create a business case document your team can turn to, align community with your core values, and read up on best practices with resources from industry leaders.

5. Measure retention

If you’re not sure where to start measuring your community’s value, start with customer retention. It’s the most popular metric that companies use to measure community success. Choosing the wrong metric can be disastrous, but retention is flexible, and always going to be a good benchmark.

6. Hire a community manager

71 percent of communities have a dedicated community manager. For startups, it’s 78 percent and for tech startups, that number dramatically increases to 88 percent. Dedicate someone to owning and growing your community. It will pay off down the road because it satisfies one of the very most fundamental of human needs: the need to belong to something larger than ourselves.

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