B2B publishers and event organisers are discovering the value of a strong audience community. Even as advertising revenue falls, and in person events move online, business professionals in their audience still crave contacts, best practice and connections. Media businesses with a strong B2B community can keep their audience close and learn about their concerns.
But how do you build and nurture a B2B community when in person events and face to face meetings are a distant prospect?
Creating a strong B2B community
First, you need a purpose. Good professional communities are often founded in adversity, or by a group who feel like underdogs, maybe even slightly geeky. Members are keen to hear from others who have experienced similar problems and come up with solutions. Define the topics that are in scope, and the profile of those in the group.
Second, you need a community leader. They must be knowledgeable in the sector, even if not necessarily a member of the community – could easily be an editor or a thought leader or a great event chair. And they need to be prepared to invest some time, little and often, maybe 15 minutes a day, to post, reply and guide the group.
Third, you need time. Better to build up slowly from a small group of like-minded advocates than assemble a vast group who don’t know each other at all. This is a long-term project (think years not weeks).
Fourth, have some ground rules and be willing to enforce them (with a light touch). Gently guide your core group onto the main topics, ask some questions to get them started, and pull up anyone who is selling too hard, or going off topic.
Then just nudge regularly with useful content, thought provoking questions, and gradually invite other relevant, interesting people. Be prepared for the fact that the vast majority may simply lurk and observe. Don’t get obsessed with size. The best communities are numbered in hundreds, not thousands. If a significant topic seems to be dominating, maybe you need to create a sub-group.
Right now, your community may only exist online. Content is more important than technology platform but the tech has to be simple to use. Mobile friendly access is a real benefit. But if you can at least create group video meetings or small group in person gatherings, that will hasten more personal connections.
Incorporating networking into virtual events
In the old world, businesspeople used in person events to catch up with acquaintances, share experiences and make new contacts. Virtual event platforms promise an online equivalent, but delegates find the features harder to use, it feels less personal and intuitive. The “random speed dating” concept is off-putting for many people, who fear being stranded with a salesperson or a bore.
Organisers need to invest time to plan and facilitate the impression of spontaneity. This might mean asking delegates to submit data or complete a survey in advance, so that a human concierge can set up one to one meetings. Or sharing delegate lists in advance so that individuals can choose who they might want to meet.
Creating topic-led small group discussions is another way to create a more intimate feel at a virtual event. The sweet spot is maybe 8-12 people. And the concept of a “closed virtual door” or the promise of Chatham house rules might prompt delegates to share more. You have to pick the right topics, and also well known, knowledgeable speakers with good moderating skills. Allow enough time for this in the agenda – at least 30-45 minutes – so everyone can be heard.
Get these small group discussions right, and virtual events can be a way for delegates to widen their personal network beyond their own city or region and hear from new voices. An edited summary of a small group discussion is a valuable takeaway for attendees.
And virtual events can create useful content to then share in an online community, encouraging those who didn’t attend to comment.
Monetising B2B communities
A thriving B2B community can deliver significant value back to a media or events business. Not only do you have a feel for the hot topics of discussion, you also have a ready-made set of advocates who will recommend your event or content to their own network.
Many media businesses are including membership of exclusive niche communities in subscription packages, and even if they don’t directly drive subs revenue, they are likely to enhance renewals and referrals.
And some can carefully include sponsors, allowing them to participate and share relevant content, or even host niche round-table events.
I have been running a small online community for owners and directors of independent publishers called the Speciall Media Group since January this year. We have over 70 members. It’s invite-only but get in touch if you’d like to request to join.
If you have developed a B2B community that is delivering value to your b2B media business, I’d be very interested to hear more. Or if you’d like to discuss your plans to nurture one, I’m happy to chat over a (virtual) coffee. Drop me a note.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.