When you’re building a SaaS, building a community along with it can be critical. Creating a private, users-only group where engaged, loyal, and advocating users can get information, ask questions, give you feedback, and support you and one another can be one of the most important and supportive things you can do.
Building a community requires getting out in front of people, answering questions, being honest with yourself and with your users and talking to be people regularly. This kind of regular interaction informs you more about your product and what people think about it than almost anything else you can do. It also decreases attrition in a lot of ways, and remember, it can cost as much as 80% less to retain a customer than to gain a new one!
Increases value for your users and customers
Enables you to ask the hard questions and get real answers from engaged users.
Creates advocates and brand ambassadors
There are a few different places to put a private community, and you can add your community to any or all of these places. Each has pros and cons, so choose carefully when you’re getting started!
Facebook, LinkedIn, and other major social platforms
This is where I have by far the most experience. It has tons of pre-built features to help you get started, other communities to draw from, easy ways for people to find you, and powerful moderation tools. The obvious problem is that if someone or especially if your target personas are not using Facebook, a presence here is not going to be very helpful. Also, with these platforms, you don’t have access to people’s email addresses directly. So it is a bit more difficult to make sure you can always connect with people the way you want.
Easy to get started
Very large existing user pool
Easy to find your group
If your users are not on the system, getting them to sign up probably isn’t going to happen.
Don’t have easy access to email addresses
Can’t see a lot of user statistics that you could on your own system.
I am a part of a few different communities on Slack. It is a bit more fluid than Facebook, but not as consistent. People more easily forget about their Slack groups, and because Slack only sends you a notification if someone has directly mentioned you, it’s easier to forget about this system. However, if you have a large community, Slack is a great place to run temporary groups, communicate quickly with more information, and get people on the same page faster.
More fluid and thorough communication
More powerful person to person to person communication tools than Facebook
Built more for business
Better for shorter term or very large groups that need communication on a specific topic, event, or region.
Because of the way this is built, people sometimes don’t want more communication through this channel
Long-term groups tend to lose users through this system (not always, but has been my general experience)
A private forum or system is the most powerful system in the way of user management, analytics, and deliver of information. But on the flip side, it is also a more difficult place to get people to use regularly. My experience is that groups will start on another tool such as Facebook, then eventually move to a true private forum.
Full access to user information
Powerful tools for user management
Full access to user analytics
Can start new subgroups, areas, etc. as needed for different purposes without pulling users away from main group.
More costly to set up
No existing users
Needs to rank on search engines in order for users to find the area
Requires more management
Requires ongoing maintenance for upgrades, security, etc.
Since you SaaS community is built on your users, there are a few simple ways of getting new users that work fairly well.
The first and easiest way is just to push the invite out from all of your email systems and campaigns. Do this by adding an invite to your private group to every email that goes out to paying customers. Add the invite to your transactional emails for bills, for welcomes, for payments, etc. Then, make sure to add the invite to all of your campaigns that go out to your paying users for everything else as well.
If you’ve got your user information linked up to your chatbot, you can also send out messages with this system to invite paying users to the system. For every new user that logs in that hasn’t clicked on the invite for the private group in your emails, you can send the link through the chatbot. Make sure to give people a good reason to sign up though! Messages like “Connect with other [YOUR PRODUCT] users”, “Get help from other [YOUR PRODUCT] users”, etc. can be a good way to get people to sign up.
If you’re out doing videos or podcasts about your product, push the invite there as well! Users seeing your face and hearing you personally invite them to your group can make a huge difference. Remember, when people see you, they have a stronger connection and so that personal invite goes a long way even if it is just an old recording of you!
For a system where a LTD works, gaining your initial users through this system is a great place to start. When you’re doing your webinars for the LTD unveil, make sure to invite all the listeners to the webinar and offer a freebie for joining. If you’re an engaging speaker, and sometimes even if you’re not, you’ll be surprised how many people will jump into the group!
If you’re really struggling to bring people in, you can always go the ad route. I think your money is better spent on selling your product if you have one to sell. But if you don’t and you are looking for feedback on the system as your are building it, running some ads to drive users to a group can be very effective as well.
Inviting influencers can make a huge difference. When people see that influencers are a part of your group, it makes a difference in how they perceive you and your product. Not to mention the fact that an engaged influencer can add a lot of users to your group fast! Depending on your product and the influencer it may be more beneficial to do some personal sales to get them in. Send over a gift basket to their office with a personal invite to your group. You’d be amazed how much of a difference this can make!
When starting up a new community, you and your team need to prime the engine with information for your users that helps them accomplish their goal. Engaging your users on a one-to-one basis, but still publicly, shows everyone that you and your team are involved.
A great way to be private and public at the same time is to do a private call with a user to ask them what they think about the product and how you can help them. During the call, make sure to ask if you can record the call or video conference, then post the video to the group, with your user’s permission of course.
If you have regular conversations with your users outside of the group, which you should be doing anyway, then ask those users if they would be willing to post a quick review of your chat in the group. This public thanks or review of how you helped makes a huge difference in how the group as a whole thinks of you and your team. After you’ve amassed a number thanks and recommendations, the group as a whole is more likely to support you and your product.
Make sure to keep posting! It’s easy at first, but after a few months it can get hard, especially if your sales are doing well or if you are in the middle of new development. Groups will fall apart and people will stop looking if there isn’t ongoing communication. If you started building a group and then just let it die, you’re throwing your money away. So don’t do that!
Don’t forget to post the rules! No matter what kind of group you’re running, you’re going to get the bad apples in there sometimes and you need to make sure to have rules to govern the group. Different groups have different rules for different reasons, so I can’t really tell you which rules are best for you.
Here are a set of rules you may want to start with. This was taken and modified from a couple different Facebook Groups I am a member of:
This group is open for any member to publish a post. We’d like to keep it that way and we are counting on you to make it possible.
Are you new here? Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are, where you're from, and talk about your business. Don’t be salesy. Intros are good, launch posts are not. The first tend to be super friendly and introduce members, the latter tend to be promotional (come on... you know what we mean).
Ask for very specific feedback (more on that in a second). Give advice. Start a discussion. This is a place for you to learn from other industry specialists.
Don’t be mean. Be kind. Or we will remove you quickly.
NO LINKS to articles, blogs, posts, videos. Link posts will be deleted and offenders will be warned. Two warns = banned. If you post a link to an article and say: "Cool tips about XYZ here, check it out" the post will be deleted. INSTEAD, read the article and post the highlights from the article and any insights you gained as a native Facebook post. You CAN post an article in the comments though in response to a question.
SHORT LINKS ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOWED. They will get you booted from the group.
Self-promotion is allowed, but you must provide value FIRST. Value can be in the form of a Method Post (a step by step post for how you did something) sharing insights, tips, etc. Best practice: PM me or one of the mods first to approve your post. Asking for “feedback” as a veiled promotion will cost you a stern warning. Please, don’t try to game the system ;) Blatant self-promotion will get you banned and blocked.
Recommended reading: https://sumo.com/stories/online-community-from-scratch