11 vital tools for a modern B2B community manager

B2B community marketing is an effective technique for promoting your business and products among a defined community.

The idea is that prospects, customers, partners and suppliers have as much to learn from each other as they do from you. They will value being part of a B2B community that you host.

You don’t need lots of resources to  build a B2B community around your business. A community nowadays doesn’t have to be just physical (like running a large annual conference) – there are  several digital tools that are great for building modern B2B communities:

I’ve identified 11 key tools that every B2B community needs below.

When planning your next B2B community, it’s worth considering how you will offer all these features to your community:

  1. Vision and GoalsSlideshare.net

Every organised community has a common purpose, almost by definition. Often it is never stated formally but is ‘assumed’ in response to a particular name. If I created the ‘Google Glass Community’ you’d assume that this was a community to further our shared understanding and promotion of the Google Glass technology product.

Defining vision and goals is worth doing though, I think the best tool to do this on the web is as a slideshare presentation. This allows you to ‘present’ the vision and goals to your community, much as a CEO might present a company’s vision to its customers, shareholders and employees.

Usefully, Slideshare offers a comment facility, a download facility (so other leaders in your community can include vision slides in their own presentations) as well as the ability to upload a new version if the vision changes.

  1. Conversations – yammer

Communities need a place for individuals to talk to one another. Several tools offer peer-to-peer conversation formats varying from the centralised (discussion forums such as Vbulletin, social networks such as Yahoo, LinkedIn Groups, Google and Facebook Groups, bespoke social networks such as Yammer and Ning.

The main purpose of a conversation space is to create peer to peer relationships.  By providing a place to personally reflect on the wider community conversations and to consolidate the community’s shared understanding of a particular topic.

  1. Knowledge Base  – Wiki

While conversations are unstructured,  it is the archivist’s role within a community to convert unstructured knowledge into structured articles for future community members to learn from.

There are a number of ways to do this ranging from a better archive of unstructured conversations (‘pinned’ discussion topics, a Quora Q&A forum) to a dedicated structured body of knowledge such as a Wiki, FAQ or Documentation.

I’d be interested in your suggestions on the best tool for Wiki’s as I’ve only ever used the centrally controlled knowledge base tools such as uservoice which don’t offer much ability for community members to edit articles.

  1. Photo scrapbookPinterest

People love visuals. Any community loves to keep scrap books and a photo albums. There’s lots of fun in searching an old photo archive to see old photos of years gone by. It’s also a way for newcomers to get a feel for the community quickly.

Tools to maintain the photo scrapbook are Flickr, Facebook photos and Pinterest – all focused on the visual aspect of a community.

  1. Events – Meetup

Communities thrive on events that bring everyone together physically, even if it’s just one or two people in a cafe. Meetup offers a great tool as it embeds the idea of meeting regularly,  a crucial component of a healthy community.

Not all communities need a physical gathering however so consider using webinar tools such as Brighttalk, Join Me and Google Hangouts offer ways to gather virtually at a specific time.

  1. Breaking NewsTwitter

Communities need a source of breaking news – where can they go to get the latest news for that community? Blogs and micro blogs like Twitter are ideal for this purpose. If you’d like to let any member of the community break news then focus your marketing on a hashtag instead of a specific Twitter account.

Flipboard offers a way to create a weekly digest
Flipboard offers a way to create a weekly digest

7. Weekly news digestFlipboard

Not everyone in the community is interested enough or able to tune in to breaking news as it happens. There is a need for a slower digest of what’s been going on, that’s where tools like Flipboard and Storify come in which allow members to curate the most important breaking news articles and blogs into a magazine style content into a digest format.

  1. Scorekeeping – Rise

Communities need a way of keeping score, to track their progress towards both personal  and shared goals.

What you keep score of will be up to you – perhaps you want your community to reach a particular target in terms of use of social media, overall sales of your product or to hit a particular fundraising goal. One thing is for sure, sharing the score is a great way of getting everyone in your community focused on what matters. Rise offers a fantastic platform to share the score whether that’s personally or collectively.

  1. CommerceStripe

Healthy communities do business among themselves. Even communities where everyone is in the same profession you’ll see commercial transactions (for instance where one plumber takes on too big a job for him to handle alone) between community members.

You can providesa way to facilitate commercial transactions between your members.  This might be  done with PayPal and a buy and sell group/tag/discussion topic on your conversation network, or with a more sophisticated trading platform, such as Yniche’s teacher/student B2B learning exchange that leverages each individual member’s Stripe account.

  1. Agendas, minutes and actionsAsana

Formal meetings are a natural part of any B2B community. As communities mature,  small groups are coopted to ‘steer’ the community and maintain direction towards the vision. This committee will often spin out teams and sub-committees with particular remit.

Managing working groups and committees used to be like herding cats but putting in place good tools for managing minutes and actions among a distributed community are now available. The leaders are Trello and Asana.

  1. Member directoryRise
Rise offer
Rise offers an interesting take on the traditional member directory.

Last but not least, every community needs a members directory, a list of who is included in that community. Existing and prospective members often want to search and browse the others in a community.

Most community tools offer a members list of some sort, it’s your job to decide which is the primary list and share it in a way that others can see it. Since this is my blog I’ll pick Rise as the primary place to share the member directory, as I believe alphabetical lists are no longer of use in our Google age. 🙂 But this could be a CRM tool such as Nimble, Pipeliner or Pipedrive,  a  social media list (Twitter List, Facebook or LinkedIn Group) or a community forum (Meetup, Yammer or Ning).

So there you go, a whistle stop tour of my preferred tools available for creating, activating and engaging your online community.

What have I missed? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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