The following is a guest post by Ernan Roman, President of ERDM and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. It is based on research from his ebook, which provides 8 actionable requirements for achieving effective online BtoB and BtoC Communities.

Ernan will be hosting a webinar with Gilt on a similar topic as part of DMA’s Customer Engagement & Loyalty Community on Wednesday, February 17th at 1:00pm ET. Learn more and register today!

Are you leveraging the power of your Community? How many of the following 8 requirements for achieving effective Communities are you using?

Communities have emerged as exceptionally high value and high ROI strategies for BtoB and BtoC marketers. They are the epitome of deep customer engagement and the power of peer-to-peer influence.

The following 8 requirements are based on thousands of hours of VoC research conducted by our firm for clients including IBM, MassMutual, Gilt, QVC, HP, Microsoft and Norton AntiVirus.

Per the research, please keep in mind that the following requirements are equally important for BtoB executives and BtoC decision makers.

Consider the implications on your business of the following VoC research-based definitions of Community;

  • A Community is a group of people united through a common interest to share information and exchange conversation.
  • Communities are exceptional ways for marketers to demonstrate a brand’s consumer commitment and interest.
  • A community needs to be a place of collaboration, not a place of advertising.
  • It needs to be a platform based on value that is derived from relevance and appreciation of time spent by members.

1. Tangible Value

When it comes to value, both BtoB and BtoC consumers stated that communities must offer tangible value to make it worth visiting or contributing.

BtoB decision makers expect communities to provide information that enables them to:

  • Stay up to date on issues that affect their jobs/roles and peers.
  • Learn about new solutions.
  • Collaborate and offer opinions.
  • Grow their professional network.


BtoC value is driven by the ability to make better decisions:

  • BtoC buyers want to learn about products from experts and aspirational influencers (i.e., Oprah) but rely on peer networks and online reviews for feedback on the practical application/usage and efficacy of the product.
  • BtoC decision-makers stated that communities enable them to make “more informed decisions.”


As a result, communities that revolve around reviews are especially valuable. Industry research has identified that:

92% of consumers read online reviews
40% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews
Only 13% of consumers consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating.

2. Safe Space

For both BtoB and BtoC, it was surprising how often the following was cited; the need for community participants to feel they can express themselves because they are in a “safe and supportive environment”.

Here’s a representative research comment from a CIO:


Some consumers articulated it this way:


Research participants stated that one of the primary ways to ensure a feeling of safety for community members was to have community managers who monitor conversations to prevent “out of line” comments.

3. Background and Credentials of Contributors

Both BtoB and BtoC buyers agreed that additional trust and credibility was given to reviews that had associated profiles to determine the reviewer’s “credentials and credibility”. The assurance that the poster was knowledgeable and “trustworthy” made the review even more valuable.



4. Provide Compelling Reason to Contribute

For BtoB and BtoC, the quality of value provided by the community will motivate some to pay it forward by contributing input when they have something useful to share.


5. Contributors Want to Feel Valued

The factor that separates a successful community from an overlooked community is the ongoing commitment to interact with, and acknowledge, those who take the time to actively participate in posting. These are the people who give the blog “life” and value.

Here are some representative BtoB and BtoC insights:



Online community powerhouse, reddit has over 200 million unique monthly visitors in over 10,000 active communities. Erik Martin, reddit’s General Manager and original Community Manager, had this advice when thinking about community members;

“You’re not as smart as your users collectively. Just listen more and trust that the people who are passionate about the subject matter are going to do interesting and unexpected and amazing things with control you give them…. If you have customers who really want to talk about a certain subject, want do something with your product or show off something they’ve done with your product, you’re a fool not to embrace that.”


6. Company Hosting the Community Cannot Blatantly Sell

Brands need to understand that communities are a place to disseminate information — not marketing materials. A community must be a safe place for participants to seek and share stories, experiences, opinions and facts. It is an avenue for brands to demonstrate their commitment to helping consumers versus trying to sell them.

This comment from the research should be the gold standard by which brands build their communities:


7. Impact on Perception of the Hosting Company

Research findings were surprisingly consistent about the fact that people want to work with companies they perceive as “doing good things”, such as providing valuable information.


8. Context is Critical

Overwhelmingly, the concept of relevance came up again and again in the VoC research. If the posts are not relevant and “relate-able” to the BtoB or BtoC audience, the information loses credibility and value.


In Summary

To recap, following are the 8 requirements to help ensure that you deliver powerful community experience.

  • Tangible Value
  • Safe Space
  • Background and Credentials of Contributors
  • Provide Compelling Reason to Contribute
  • Contributors Want to Feel Valued
  • Company Hosting the Community Cannot Blatantly Sell
  • Impact on Perception of the Hosting Company
  • Context is Critical

About the Author

ernan roman

Ernan Roman (President, ERDM) was inducted into the DMA Hall of Fame based on the results companies achieve with ERDM’s VoC research-based CX strategies. His influential blog Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices appears in Forbes, Huffington Post,, CustomerThink and Business 2 Community. Ernan’s latest book is titled Voice of the Customer Marketing. For more on Ernan and ERDM, click here.