Over 40% of business technology decision-makers indicate that support forums, discussion forums, and professional social networks influence them throughout their online journey. Yet many marketers overlook the impact of the conversations that occur within these networks.

Chances are your company has an online community that requires your attention. Whether you have a support forum on your corporate website, a company page on LinkedIn, or a brand page on Facebook, somewhere there is a community of customers, partners, and influencers that is talking about your brand.

It is up to you to take advantage of this opportunity to interact with your community members, but it requires a new marketing mindset. It requires a shift from traditional media creation to social capital creation. It requires an ability to engage and motivate influencers. It also requires time, energy, and commitment from you and the stakeholders within your organization.

It is difficult to ignore the impact that community interactions have on decision-makers. But why do online communities often fail? We speak to many clients who struggle with establishing their communities and found five common mistakes:

1.       Choosing the wrong approach. Communities are not a “one size fits all” strategy for customer engagement. Companies must understand how and where their customers and prospects prefer to engage online and the types of activities that will drive member participation.

2.      Prioritizing technology selection over strategy. Many companies skip the critical steps of carefully planning a community strategy and go straight to choosing the technology platform or application. Technology may facilitate the administration of the community, but it will not help with establishing the right interactions and content to keep members coming back.

3.      Disregarding customers’ evolving needs. The online community you launched more than five years ago may no longer provide maximum value to your customers today. As preferences change and technology improves, your customers may have different expectations for what they want to get out of your community.

4.      Assuming the community is self-sustaining. “Build it and they will come” is the wrong mantra when it comes to online communities. You must provide consistent, timely, and relevant interactions to sustain the health of the community.

5.       Failing to align internal resources. It takes a village to launch and maintain a community; in some cases, even a cultural shift within your organization to prioritize community efforts is necessary. In addition, your marketing team should not manage community efforts in a silo. Your community initiative requires a cross-functional team and executive support to sustain healthy growth and activity.

Despite these challenges, it is never too late to jump-start your community efforts. By taking a structured approach that optimizes community interactions and maximizes members’ social capital, you can transform your community into a vibrant member network that can lead to energized advocates, loyal customers, lower support costs, and increased sales opportunities. Forrester’s B2B Online Community Playbook provides you with this structured approach. It is a comprehensive guide for building, launching, and optimizing a vibrant online community. It will help you:

·         Discover the value of online communities for customer engagement. We provide insight on how and why communities are an effective social marketing approach for B2B companies. Using Forrester’s Social Technographics® for BT decision-makers, we present data on the online behaviors of business technology buyers to help you determine the right community approach to engage with your customers. Using Forrester’s Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) methodology, we give you a business case that will help you get internal approval on your community initiative.

·         Plan how to create a community strategy. We guide you through the steps of setting your community strategy. Assess the current state of your community strategy by using our framework and tool. Using our community strategy matrix, determine which community approach is the best fit for your company. We also introduce CLICK, Forrester's new design framework for online communities, to help you successfully plan your community. Advance your community strategy by following our road map, which will help you socialize your strategy to internal organizations.

·         Act using tools that ensure community health. As you begin to execute your community strategy, identify the key stakeholders and teams within your organization that will play a role in the management of the community. Identify the processes and best practices that need to be put in place to maintain your community. Using our market overview and the Forrester Wave™ on community platforms, determine the best technologies and tools that facilitate the administration of your community.

·         Optimize through ongoing performance management and benchmarks. We provide you with industry and competitive benchmarks gathered from other companies that have launched communities so you know how to set your goals. In addition, Forrester's CLICK measurement framework provides you with a tool to assess, monitor, and measure the health of your community to ensure that it is delivering optimal results.

The B2B Online Community Playbook is a dynamic and living collection of research. We will frequently post new content that addresses the relevant challenges at each stage to launch a community. If you have unique challenges that are better addressed through a personalized discussion, Forrester Consulting provides customized advisory workshops and consulting projects that are aligned to each playbook chapter of Discover, Plan, Act, and Optimize.

Get started by reading the Executive Overview: "Design Your B2B Community For Maximum Engagement" and then dive into the playbook modules that are most relevant to you. If you like what you see, or want to see more, please send your feedback to me and my colleagues, Zachary Reiss-Davis and Peter O'Neill so we can continue to provide you with the research and tools that will help you achieve your business goals and objectives.