Community can deliver value to a business in a myriad of ways. It’s a cross-functional force multiplier that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of teams and programs throughout a company. However, results are often long-term, indirect, and hard to measure leaving some to wonder, what’s the ROI of community?
Using real-world examples, this article steps through each function, outlining how companies have leveraged community to further their goals. Click on any of the logos to read a deep dive outlining how they did it.
One of the biggest returns community has to offer when creating a product is feedback. Many businesses may want to be customer-centric but often get less input from customers over time. You build something, they pay you for it, and unless something goes wrong, you don’t hear from them again. Community can turn this transactional relationship into one of co-creation.
Take HashiCorp, for example. It turned an open-source project into a portfolio of practitioner-friendly software that has now become an industry standard. They get an enormous amount of in-depth, actionable feedback from their community. Just when they think they’re getting close to achieving their vision for what the product should be, the community surfaces all sorts of use cases and considerations that hadn’t been thought about internally. This feedback has enabled them to go deeper and build more comprehensive solutions than any of its competitors.
While the community team at Salesforce lives within the Product organization, underlying its commitment to customer-focused product development. This is an area Salesforce has invested in to maximize the value they get from the incredible feedback they get from their community. The heart of product feedback for Salesforce is the IdeaExchange, with members submitting ideas and others voting on them. Salesforce then uses those votes to gauge demand, prioritizing ideas for inclusion in their roadmap based on the numbers and profiles of the accounts interested in a specific feature. The IdeaExchange averages 700,000 visitors a month and between 2006 and 2019 they logged over 65,000 ideas with a total of 1.9M votes cast.
To encourage feedback throughout the product development process. Atlassian, has an early access program, enabling them to benefit from the input of its 50,000 members. While UiPath’s Insider Program sees them demoing its latest innovations and seeing how end-users deploy its solutions.
Feedback doesn’t just have to be kept internally, though. You can productize it like Sephora has done, incorporating photos, feedback, and reviews from members into the product pages on its eCommerce site. Or you can include community discussions into product documentation, providing supplemental information to users like dbt Labs does.
Contribution, in the form of code, is common for open-source companies like dbt Labs. But end-users can also contribute to support resources, too, like documentation. Many communities support developers in contributing add-ons or extensions. Such is the case with the Atlassian and Salesforce marketplaces, while community is incorporated within the product itself via the Template store in Notion, and with plugins in Figma Community. Such efforts can also result in the acceleration of ecosystem development. For example, HashiCorp has built 30 of its providers, while over 1,200 have been created by its community. These integrations enable more users to work with its offerings and create a flywheel effect, resulting in greater Enterprise adoption.
The marketing benefits of community are often where thoughts land when considering the ROI of community. Awareness and advocacy are an important area that community can impact, either indirectly or through formalized programs, such as those run by Notion and Canva. Notion’s Ambassador program, for example, supports over 200 people who run 65+ in-person meetups in 40 cities worldwide and 30+ online groups promoting the Notion product across platforms including Discord, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and X. Collectively they reach over 700,000 people, who all spread awareness of Notion, sharing its content and driving its word-of-mouth engine. Word-of-mouth can have a huge downstream impact on growth. Canva accounts much of its growth to over 170M users to word-of-mouth and users creating and sharing content about its tool, all driven by its 850k community members and 150+ Canvassadors.
For Notion and Canva, content creation happens organically, but it’s something you can encourage within a community, such as at UiPath. They’ve sourced over 80 different articles from community members, resulting in 172,000 views and growing its keyword coverage for SEO too. Duolingo outsourced creation of courses on its language learning platform to 1,000 volunteers within its community. Each new course increased its total addressable market and improved the efficiency of its marketing efforts, meaning that community was its biggest growth driver in its early years. While Strava successfully connected disparate micro communities of athletes on its platform, driving growth through word-of-mouth within those existing networks.
For dbt Labs, content has been a core part of their category creation strategy. They forged the Analytics Engineering category through its Slack community and newsletter. Its content caught the attention of early adopters who rallied around their ideas and together they built a movement, sustained and scaled through community programs.
For more established companies, community can be a useful testing ground for ideas and in understanding demand. Atlassian, for instance, has Point A - a product accelerator where they co-create with customers to solve problems. In the program's first several months, they fielded 65 product ideas and funded a dozen of them, leading to the creation of five new product offerings. While community is a part of HashiCorp’s product development innovation engine. New projects are released to the community as open source projects without sales support. This enables them to gain feedback but also gauge market-readiness. Once they've reached a threshold of community growth, they transition to ‘emerging product’ status where they test willingness to pay through use of a specialist sales team. Successful products advance to become core products. Through this process, it de-risks its innovation efforts by testing adoption before going all-in.
Support is a common starting point for a lot of community efforts. Community’s ability to impact case deflection is well-established and easier to measure than other applications of community.
Many case-deflection solutions put business needs first and frustrate users rather than help them. With community, there's no such trade-off - the experience can be even better than that offered by internal support teams. Salesforce users ask 4,000+ questions each month, and 83% are answered by community members in its Trailblazer community. While this is impressive, case deflection is on the reactive side of support. Community’s real strength lies in its ability to enable you to get pro-active with support through product education.
Over time, Salesforce built an enormous library of community-created responses on its forum that gets 500k views a month mostly via search engines. Each one of these answers services around 20 people, helping it to save around $2 million each month in support costs. Atlassian has also been able to hire fewer support engineers as a result of its community-sourced support efforts. 90% of traffic to its forum comes from Google and 91% of questions asked are answered by one of its champions. One such champion, Nic Brough, for example, had 30% more accepted solutions in the community than the entire Atlassian community support team. While members of the UiPath community have created a use case repository in its forum - documenting an extensive list of use cases related to UiPath products and how they help.
Community can help drive sales. This is best done indirectly, though, resulting as a second-order effect from a great community experience. That might sound wishy-washy in theory but reality is anything but. People who are active in the Salesforce community spend, on average, 2x more than teams who aren’t. 80% of inbound leads for dbt Labs managed revenue motion comes from community. Both Figma and HashiCorp drive higher deal close rates and sales process efficiency by leveraging community members who become deal champions.
In the case of Figma, its sales team works with champions through its advocates to provide them with the data and the stories they need to make a case for Figma internally. While HashiCorp utilizes community as part of its hybrid sales model, leading with community to drive open source adoption that gives it sales team important insights on purchase readiness based on community engagement, product usage patterns, and time in the product. These signals are used to cherry-pick prospects and help Sales reps determine when to reach out for a call.
Post-sale, community is hugely helpful in driving expansion revenue. GitLab, Notion, Atlassian, and others all utilize community as part of their Land and Expand strategy. 93% of Salesforce Trailblazer community members, for instance, attribute community to helping them discover new products within the Salesforce portfolio. UiPath has used community efforts to help customers identify additional use cases, enabling sub-$100k contract customers to expand to $1M+ within a year, growing ARR 81x among its top 50 customers.
Community and Customer Success can form an impactful partnership within a business. Community-sourced content, educational material, documentation, and reviews, combine to improve product adoption. People who are active in the Salesforce community have a 33% higher adoption rate than non-community members and are 3x less likely to churn. While new Atlassian product users who visit the community in their first two weeks are 2-3 times less likely to churn too. Access to a network of product experts in the form of a community helps customers to increase the ROI of a product - they’re able to better understand product capabilities and can find help when solving specific problems.
For Sephora, community members sharing their experiences and creating product education materials helps shoppers make better purchases, reducing product returns that both cost Sephora money and frustrate consumers.
Gathering together all these knowledgeable folks within a community can create a great source for hiring talent. GitLab has hired all of the top 20 contributors who ended up in its Hall of Fame list. While HashiCorp sourced many of its early engineers from contributors to its code base. This is an area where it’s important to get the balance right - over-hiring from this pool can deplete your community of key figures who are integral to its success, but it can be a great source of skilled people who are passionate about your products.
For those seeking to turn an emerging category into a legitimate vocation or build an ecosystem around its products, enabling hiring from within the community can help you achieve these goals. Salesforce runs careers fairs for its community members, connecting customers hiring for roles with members. UiPath has created programs like the UiPath Academy and formed academic alliances to ensure hiring needs can be met using community both now and long into the future.
Community can work alongside multiple functions within an organization, helping them to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its programs. The strategic use of community initiatives can deliver a unique, sustainable competitive advantage.
Credit: This articles builds on a tweet by Holly Firestone, adding examples to outcomes where found in deep dives.