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Online Community Platforms: Why they Should Move Up the Priority Ladder

by Gary Survis

In August, Insight Onsite launched our GO Network, a content and community platform for the 150+ companies that Insight has invested in. The goal is for company leaders to access resources and share information – one tip, one vendor, one best practice can have a ripple effect across a large community if we have a place to seek them and share them.

Our beta launch is with marketing leaders and we’re expanding to other disciplines throughout Q3. As with any product development, we’ve started with core capabilities, and will expand as we see how users engage with the platform.

Our MVP includes:

  • A central place to connect with your tribe of leaders (marketing, sales, product etc.)
  • A library of tactical reports and resources
  • A calendar of industry events and Insight-hosted webinars/ roundtables
  • Peer reviews of service providers across all verticals
  • A place to crowdsource answers to your challenges

After more than a dozen years, Onsite is finally using digital to engage companies. We've built a community platform, GO Network– better late than never!

All kidding aside, as Insight’s number of portfolio investments grows, we continue to look for ways to provide value at scale. We have quickly learned that it is difficult to build an active community of portfolio companies at scale when prior interactions have always been one-to-one, or perhaps one-to-many in the case of a webinar or book club. Conferences and roundtables are a great way for us to facilitate many-to-many interactions between companies or customers, but they’re expensive to plan and host and don’t provide a persistent forum for discussion and connectivity.

GO Network’s launch has had to contend with other priorities. There are always websites to be built, company-specific challenges to resolve, and other initiatives.  The lowly user community seems so 1990.  In building our MVP, we’ve realized that our reality is similar for all tech companies i.e., creating a community of users and a forum for regular dialogue is invaluable and warrants higher prioritization for several key reasons:

  • Today, more than ever, our personal relationships are online. Why should it be different for business?
  • As an organization grows, it becomes critical to be able to share information in a repeatable way that is searchable and easy to access. Community today is the knowledge base of yesterday.
  • Team size is limited.  As your customer base grows, it is economically infeasible to hire enough people to answer all the questions that users have about your product(s).
  • Connecting with peers is a natural motion.  Customers trust their peers.   You can’t always answer all customer questions, but the peer community has a broader experience base and legitimacy to inform a wider array of issues.

These reasons to create an online community are compelling.  And, for a reasonable sum, it is possible to bring a community platform to life.  The real challenge, though, is how to drive engagement.  While it is still early days for Insight Onsite, we have four ideas about how to avoid launching a ghost town.

  1. Create a reason to visit the community: Research shows that it takes close to two months to form a habit. If you don’t provide people with a compelling reason to visit your community, then it is unlikely that a habit will be formed. To discover “your compelling reason”, start by thinking about a common question you receive from customers. For us, our team received countless emails with questions about vendor experiences and recommendations. We started with vendor reviews.  
  2. Don’t go too big, too quickly: As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day…nor will your community be alive and vibrant immediately.  You should start small.  Focus on your most active user demographic and target them.  We focused on marketers, who by their very nature are social and likely to interact with peers. We can then build from strength. This isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Create a deliberate expansion plan that gives you time to learn what works and iterate.
  3. Populate with great content: If your content is lousy, don’t expect people to come back for more. Invest in quality content that provides real value for your target users.  This point is another reason why going too big, too quickly is difficult.  It is hard to create enough quality content at scale. Start with some great resources that are immediately useful. We chose some useful research and tactical plans that our marketing users can immediately apply. Also, try to leverage your partners to provide you with valuable resources. It’s free content for you and free branding for them.
  4. Use guerilla tactics: You probably know who your influencers are in your community already. Reach out to them directly, get them on your community platform first and help them understand that they are stakeholders in this initiative and that their contributions determine the success of the community.  We chose companies where we knew the marketers personally and we knew they would engage with our platform. 

Scaling engagement is a challenge for all growing companies. A well-managed online community is a value-creating approach. In the end, either launching or revitalizing your community platform should probably move up the priority list. The potential ROI can be strong and the benefits to your user community and your organization are clear. 

If you are an Insight portfolio company and interested in getting access to our GO Network, reach out to community@insightpartners.com for more information. We would like your feedback.

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Gary Survis

Venture Partner

Gary Survis joined Insight in 2016 as a Venture Partner. Gary focuses on driving operational strategies and improvements within Insight and its portfolio companies. He leverages his experience to assist organizations in accelerating solutions in strategy, marketing, talent management, and sales…

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