Community-Led Growth: The Future of Product Success?

Featuring advice, observations, and insights of product and community experts from Roadmunk, Crossbeam, Typeform, Banzai, Elpha, and Chameleon

Nadja Bozovic
17 min read
Community-Led Growth: The Future of Product Success?

The impact of Product-Led Growth has reshaped the structure of product teams, leading towards user-centric, product-driven opportunities for growth. We’ve seen the demand for growth experts going up, and not without a reason. A strong growth team could drive a 20-33% increase in conversion from visitors to signups and free-to-paid plans. 

But that’s not all there is. Now we witness the rise of Community-Led Growth. Is this a new buzzword coming up to disrupt the product world? No, it’s not. It is a rock-solid strategy proven to help SaaS companies of all shapes and sizes grow exponentially.  

Here, you will:

✔ Learn directly from industry experts how Community-Led Growth can influence brand recognition, user retention, product development, and more

✔ Go through steps for creating an effective Community-Led Growth strategy for your organization, starting from scratch

What is Community-Led Growth?

Community-Led Growth is a go-to-market strategy that relies on the impact, influence, and inputs from a strong, supportive community as the main lever for product and business growth. 

In other words, the community of product enthusiasts (and raving fans, why not!) that you’ve been thoughtfully building and nurturing over time acts as the driving force for customer acquisition, activation, and retention.

Being thoughtful while creating such an impactful community is how it all starts, agrees Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO of Roadmunk

“To me, Community-Led Growth is about cross-pollination of your customers coming together to use the products and services you offer, in ways that may be unobvious even to the company itself. I think it really starts by thoughtfully creating a community – whether it's through content or sharing of information – that actually generates what the products and services of the future are. And that creates a cyclicality of ideas, an exchange between customers and the company.”

– Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO, Roadmunk

Having a strong community creates a win-win situation for both your users and your business.

While your customers get to dive into the nitty-gritty product details faster, find inspiration in examples, and learn from advanced users, you get to gain valuable insights from real-time customer feedback and implement those in roadmap iteration, feature prioritization, and conversion rate optimization. And that’s just to scratch the surface!

To Bob Moore, Co-Founder and CEO of Crossbeam, Community-Led Growth is an umbrella term for various marketing and growth disciplines that might have traditionally been called event marketing, field marketing, content marketing, word-of-mouth marketing. 

“It is any piece of your go-to-market strategy where the relationships that exist between people are an accelerant of growing awareness of your product and building success around the experiences that people have with your product once they're using it.”

– Bob Moore, Co-Founder and CEO, Crossbeam

Knowing that Product-Led Growth as a go-to-market strategy relies on the product to drive organizational KPIs, such as revenue, engagement, and reach, when we mix it up with Community-Led Growth, the question arises: Can these two strategies work together?

Are Product-Led and Community-Led approaches mutually exclusive?

Short answer: No. 

On the contrary, Product-Led Growth and Community-Led Growth go hand in hand, mutually influencing one another and – of course, product growth.

The way Latif Nanji sees it?

Each of these strategies provides a unique value to both users and product teams.

While Product-Led Growth leans on product usage and user experience to acquire new users, increase user retention rate, and boost customer lifetime value (CLTV), Community-Led Growth relies on building and nurturing a strong community that will directly influence the product growth in the long run.

With the Product-Led Growth approach: 

  • Product analytics and metrics act as a driver for product adoption

  • A positive user experience lays the foundation for the “aha!” moment(s)

  • The reduced product friction intensifies the discovery of the real product value

  • The unified work between product teams makes it easier to reach shared goals

  • Continuous customer feedback loops insights back into the development process

  • Satisfied users are happy to recommend your product to their network and community

With the Community-Led Growth approach:

  • Word-of-mouth promotion helps you grow the community around your product

  • The community itself magnifies your product visibility, recognition, and authority

  • A sense of belonging strengthens the relationship between members and product teams

  • The collaboration between community members reduces the number of support tickets

  • The level of product knowledge expands with the variety of resources beyond help docs 

  • The feedback coming directly from the community influence further product development 

As Bob Moore puts it: “Product-Led Growth and Community-Led Growth can exist very harmoniously together.”

Let’s hear him out.

As we just heard from Bob Moore, “the line gets blurred between effective Product-Led Growth and effective Community-Led Growth; it's kind of a Venn diagram – all the best things are in the middle of it but you know both sides matter quite a bit.”

What about Marketing-Led Growth and Sales-Led Growth? Are they still in the game?

Short answer: Yes.

Of course, choosing the right type of go-to-market strategy will depend on your business model and team structure, as well as your target market, ideal customer persona (ICP), and both direct and indirect competitors. 

But even if you transition to Product-Led or Community-Led strategies, that doesn’t mean that you should neglect sales and marketing, nor that Sales-Led and Marketing-Led activities should cease to exist in your company.

The tactics of a Sales-Led strategy that you can use include:

  • Proactive nurture of product qualified leads based on early adoption insights

  • Active engagement of sales reps in customer acquisition and user onboarding

  • Effective user segmentation and a more personalized approach to new customers

The tactics of a Marketing-Led strategy that can add an additional layer to your growth are: 

  • Product positioning and key messaging statements for the right product-market fit 

  • Leveraging your pricing model (freemium or free trial) to expand the user base

  • Running marketing campaigns optimized for conversion based on granular product data

Why is Community-Led Growth important – why now?

Three key benefits that your business can gain from Community-Led Growth are acquisition, retention, and uncapped feedback. And the trick with this type of growth strategy is that the biggest gains come as a by-product of your community-building activities. 

Not to get us wrong here, we are not saying that you don’t need to put any kind of effort at all. But while you focus on growing your community – which won’t happen overnight – the gains will start to show in the long term.

Aside from acquisition, retention, and feedback, with Community-Led Growth, you can make it easier for your users to find answers to their questions while decreasing the volume of support tickets at the same time. 

With a highly engaged community, your product knowledge base will grow over time, not only due to your efforts to optimize FAQs and help docs but also because new members will get support from advanced users.

The sense of belonging is something that Gabriel Fraga, Senior Online Community Strategist at Typeform, emphasizes as one of the greatest benefits.

“The main benefit of a community is that it allows you to create a sense of belonging and there is no better approach than community when it comes to that. If your brand or your organization is looking to do something beyond just a product and create a special relationship with your customers, then a community is vital. Without it, there's no other way to create that special place and special relationship with your audience.”

– Gabriel Fraga, Sr. Online Community Strategist, Typeform

Also, when you thoughtfully build, nurture, and grow your community, you will be growing your brand recognition, authority, and social proof along the way. In a sense, it can be like having your marketing activities on autopilot, without even wanting to do that intentionally. We put an accent on unintentionality here because your focus on community growth has to be unselfish – always putting customers first, marketing second.

Let’s hear Latif Nanji’s perspective on the benefits his team has seen from the Roadmunk Community, and how the community has directly influenced the product roadmap.

Now, let’s take a step back.

The concept of online communities and Community-Led Growth isn’t new, so why talk about it now, and how product teams can benefit from it? 

We reached out to our very own Pulkit Agrawal, Co-Founder and CEO of Chameleon, to hear his thoughts on this. 

“Community-Led Growth is an outcome of a strong product-market fit, because it reflects the transition from users to fans. This makes it an important factor for product teams in assessing how well the product is serving the market.”

– Pulkit Agrawal, Co-Founder and CEO, Chameleon 

Once you know you are hitting the right spot with your product-market fit, having a strong community of product fans and brand ambassadors can only strengthen your position in the market and help you grow even further.

Should your organization build a community?

In other words, is Community-Led Growth for everyone? 

We reached out to Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing at Banzai, for her insights.

“Community, like all other channels in a business, requires attention, resources, commitment, and focus. Every business is responsible for knowing which levers to pull and which to ignore. However, if your product or service can be served through word-of-mouth referral and the evangelism of your customers, then community-focused efforts should absolutely be considered.” 

– Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing, Banzai

Lani Assaf, Marketing Manager at Elpha, shared her thoughts with us as well.

“Firstly, when you're building a community, it really needs to be clear and authentic, especially now when there are so many communities for so many different niche topics. If you are not building something that's clear and authentic around your brand, or your product, I believe people are going to see right through that. So, if authenticity isn’t already part of your brand values, to be authentic as a brand, then I think you're going to struggle to create a strong community.” 

Lani Assaf, Marketing Manager, Elpha

As a second point, Lani Assaf refers to Bailey Richardson, Head of Community at Substack and co-author of the book Get Together, who was recently a guest on Elpha’s Office Hours series, when she says: “Remember that when you're building a community, what you're really building is a group of people who keep coming together over something that they care about.”

Inspired by Bailey Richardson’s insights, Lani Assaf concludes:

“If your product or a company is thinking about building a community, you need to be super clear about:

  • Why will these people come together?

  • What do these people need more of? 

  • What is the change they desire?

  • What is the problem that only they can solve together? 

Without the framework of who's coming together and why, it could be challenging to stand out in such a community-saturated (virtual) world.” 

Lani Assaf, Marketing Manager, Elpha

To build an outstanding community, you certainly need to know exactly who you’re building it for, and why. Other factors may include the maturity of your business, the type of community you want to build, topics you want to cover, industry trends, and more.

It’s a lot to think about, so let’s break it down.

Don’t start a community if... are developing a new product and you’ve just built an MVP, but you are still in the pre-PMF stage, meaning you are still figuring out your product-market fit. It might not be a good idea to start a community before you are clear about your target audience, the problems your product will solve for them, and the size of your market.

Consider growing a community if...

...your business has taken momentum and started to scale. Even if your product is still in the Beta phase, you could already see a community of early adopters and Beta testers who are naturally driven to your product. Whether that community grows strong would be directly related to the quality of your product, the clarity of your product-market fit, and the effectiveness of your growth strategy.

Build a community if…

...your product or a SaaS business is at a stage when it’s becoming to be a recognizable brand among your target audience and the wider auditorium. This would be the right time to start nurturing your relationships with existing users, develop connections with new customers, and start providing value beyond your product.

Types of communities you can leverage for growth

The three most common types of communities are: 

  • Product-oriented (offering self-serve support, office hours, forum, etc.) 

  • Topic-oriented (offering peer support, AMA sessions, expert insights, etc.)  

  • Profession-oriented (offering career guidance, educational resources, job boards, etc.)

This is not a definitive list of community types. Also, these types are not mutually exclusive, but they do have their own specifics and nuances. 

For example, you could start a community with only a forum for product questions, only to see it expand by covering industry topics in newsletters, webinars, and podcasts, or organizing local community branches around the world, each with its own live events.

Choosing the right kind of community will depend on your audience preferences, team structure, brand vision, and long-term business goals. Once you decide what type of community you want to create, finding your audience and building loyalty will depend on how much value you add to the space.

What are the biggest challenges of community building?

After a decade of experience in building communities for companies such as Sony, Telefonica, Airbnb, and now Typeform, Gabriel Fraga points out two main challenges: finding a shared purpose and knowing your community objective.

Let’s hear his explanation.

As we already mentioned, growing a strong community around your product, service, specific topic or profession, isn’t a simple one-off task. It takes time, energy, and resources to do it right. 

Community-Led Growth as a strategy: Where to start?

Here, we’ll walk you through key steps to help you begin crafting your Community-Led Growth strategy.

Do your research and make a plan

You could start with choosing a platform, a place where your community will live. But simply putting it out there won’t help you much. First, you need to be clear about who your audience is and how your community is going to help them reach their goals. 

This is where your strategy kicks in. Instead of occasional, ad hoc posting on your platform of choice, plan in advance and back every decision with insights from your audience research. You can send out surveys, conduct one-on-one interviews, gather a focus group together, or use any other method of quantitative and qualitative research.

Keep in mind that this is something you should regularly do. Continuous feedback from your community will help you clarify goals, prioritize better, and keep your efforts focused on members' needs.  

Reaching out to your members for feedback is also a most important piece of advice that Lani Assaf would give to companies that are starting to grow their community.

When you know your audience preferences, you can start creating content that will engage your people and inspire them to join discussions, share their knowledge, ask for help, learn more about your product or a specific topic, and participate in events. 

Speaking of events, you don’t need to wait until you have a community of 1000 people to start organizing valuable events for them. Even if you have 100 (or fewer) members eager to interact with each other and your team, you should provide value. It can be through Q&As with your team, interviews with industry leaders, webinars, masterclasses, podcasts, or publishing comprehensive guides, eBooks, and more. 

When you grow your brand awareness and authority, you can start building a strong network of partners and collaborators to expand your visibility, reach new audiences, and further grow your community. At this point, you can scale up and think about organizing a conference, a summit, or another larger event. This will tighten your connection with the community, perhaps even help you grow from local to global.

Define team participation and ownership

To build and grow an engaged community, you’re going to need a team of people dedicated to it. Depending on your team structure, define who should “own” the community on your side, who should they report to, who else should be involved, from whom you expect continuous involvement, and who might jump in occasionally.

If you think your current team members don’t have the right expertise to run the community, consider hiring an expert. 

In fact, that’s exactly what Gabriel Fraga suggests for product teams that are just starting out with community building. 

“Don't try to improvise. Building a community has a lot of elements to it. It's hard work. Perhaps 15 years ago there were very few people that could build communities and they relied on very few resources. That's not the case anymore. There is information and there are community professionals out there. So, do the right thing and hire someone who has done this before and who can guide and lead your community. Keep in mind that community is complex and you need the expertise to build it.”

Gabriel Fraga, Sr. Online Community Strategist, Typeform

Having an expert on board could also help you with the next step goal setting.

Set clear goals for your community

On one side, you need to clarify the goals you want to accomplish with your community and the ways you see it grow in the future. On the other, you need to keep in mind your community members’ goals and the ways your community can help them achieve these goals.  

We asked Ashley Levesque how her team goes about setting the community goals. 

“At Demio/Banzai we have seen great success come from word of mouth referrals. We recognize that the pillars of driving a successful community include content, feedback loops, engagement, and active listening. We love to hear customers say that not only is the Demio platform helping them to exceed their goals, but that when paired with our training and content, they become webinar and event rockstars. Every quarter we are sure to evaluate, at an objectives level, how we can strengthen our commitment to our community through the creation of new content, stronger processes, streamlined communication methods, and highly-requested feature updates.” 

– Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing, Banzai

In terms of thinking about setting goals for community growth, Lani Assaf has shared her point of view as well, along with the tactics her team uses at Elpha, a community for women in tech that gathers more than 50,000 members.

“We focus on growing the size of our community and, at the same time, we also want to think about increasing the engagement with current members. To make sure that these goals are really set the right way, one of the first things we did was thinking about our user personas and an ideal Elpha user who will get the most value out of the community and the platform. Then, in terms of specifics around that, for the size of the community, we're looking at new Elpha members that join each month, and for engagement within the community, we're looking at monthly active users and weekly active users.”

– Lani Assaf, Marketing Manager, Elpha

As your community grows and you start to see hundreds and thousands of active users participating in your events, polls, office hours, discussions, and other activities, creating a facilitation system could help you a lot.

Facilitate user interactions and nurture relationships

Engagement in a community goes both ways from your team to members and vice versa. But it also includes mutual connections, conversations, and discussions among members. 

To avoid any conflict or inconvenience, you can start by clearly stating a set of rules that apply to each member. This can be anything in a range from a short value statement to a comprehensive Code of Conduct. It will depend on your preferences. 

Then, set up a system for facilitating all those interactions. Just like you want to see members actively engaged, they also want to see that you are there for them in case they need any kind of help, guidance, or assistance.

The best practice is to have one or several dedicated community managers who will join in daily to follow discussions, start conversations, provide answers, and continuously nurture the relationships. Your members will appreciate the thoughtful approach and, in turn, ignite the healthy growth of your community.

Measure your Community-Led success

Identifying the right metrics for growth and discovering the level of impact your Community-Led strategies have on your product or business growth, is not an easy endeavor.   

Specific key performance indicators (KPIs) and members’ activities you want to track, will depend on the goals you set and the system you build for measuring the success.

“Are we hitting the numbers?” is the question that Elpha’s team asks regularly. 

Lani Assaf explains it further: 

“Are we growing month-over-month in the way that we want? What about weekly interactions in terms of posts, comments, reactions? Seeing these numbers grow means that our community is really engaged and that the content is community-led. The community-led content is sort of a loop, leading to more engagement within the community. That is definitely a big success that we love to see. Then, we also look for our average referral rate month-over-month. And when we host events, of course, we care about how often do people take part in our weekly and monthly events, how engaged they are, and how valuable the event is for them.”

– Lani Assaf, Marketing Manager, Elpha

On the other hand, Ashley Levesque and her team at Banzai track some other metrics to evaluate the success. 

“Branded search is a big one we love to see what percentage of our website visitors are finding us because they already know us in the market, they were referred to us, etc. We also recognize that not all success can be (or should be) attributed back to specific channels and efforts. We know that by continually strengthening our relationship with our community, answering questions, holding the integrity of our brand at the forefront, and delivering excellent service and products, that we'll see success.”

Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing, Banzai

Finding the right metrics is also something that Gabriel Fraga points out as the first step in measuring success because, as he explains, “communities can generate a ton of data so you have to focus on what really matters to you.”

Once you collect the right data and identify the right insights from the community feedback, it will be easier for you to define the next steps for growth.

Provide value beyond the product

The best thing about growing a community is that there are no rules set in stone, nor there is a one-size-fits-all solution.

For example, if you start building a community around your product to offer self-serve support with help docs and videos with important information, along with a product-oriented forum, you can move beyond that as your business grows. When you recognize the interest, you can open up new channels and create new points of interaction.

That way, you could: 

  • Grow a steady base of followers on your YouTube channel

  • Build a strong community around your newsletter

  • Grow your list of podcast listeners

  • Expand the cohort of regular webinar attendees

  • Have highly engaged readers of your blog, books, guides, etc.  

All in all, you get to create your own rules, envision the future of your community, and discover new ways of providing value to your members.

Now, the question you’ve been waiting for: Is Community-Led Growth the future of product success?

We’re circling back to where we began. Is there a disruption of the product world on the horizon? 

Let’s see what industry leaders and community experts have to say.

Bob Moore thinks that Community-Led Growth has certainly taken momentum.

Latif Nanji suggests that it will depend on many factors.

Pulkit Agrawal believes that Product-Led and Community-Led will continue to be intertwined.

What do you think? Will Community-Led Growth be the driver of product growth in the future, while Product-Led Growth takes a back seat?

Curious to know more?

Download our Community-Led Growth resources cheatsheet with curated articles on the topic.

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