Community-Led Growth: Why It Matters and How To Do It Right

Community-Led Growth: Why It Matters and How To Do It Right

JK Sparks 6 min

Community-led growth is having a big moment in B2B SaaS. The popular paradigm, product-led growth, let’s the product offer do all the talking. Businesses attract, convert, and retain customers based on the quality of the product offering—and little else.

Community-led growth is different. Rather than focusing solely on the value a customer gets when onboarding on your SaaS, community-led growth builds a web of customers who interact, grow, and learn with each other.

And does it work? According to PeerSignal, 58% of Cloud 100 companies have a brand community to some extent.

But as successful as community-led growth, it’s still fresh enough that not everyone knows what it means.

What you’ll learn in this article:

  1. What is community-led growth?

  2. Examples of companies using community-led growth

  3. How to build a community from scratch

  4. Tips and strategies for building and nurturing a community

  5. How to measure the success of community-led growth

  6. Why community matters in building an owned media strategy

  7. How AudiencePlus helps companies build community


What is Community-Led Growth?

Community-led growth is a marketing strategy where community engagement (user-generated content, online forums, and social posts, etc.) drive attention to the SaaS. Rather than optimizing product metrics or emphasizing new features with the SaaS, the attraction becomes the brand itself.

It might sound slow as a go-to-market strategy. Why not lead with the product, especially if you have a compelling one? There are a few benefits to making community-led growth key to your customer acquisition:

  • Building connections: The target audience of your SaaS doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Each potential customer belongs to a web of Internet connections with other people, whether those are in-person connections or online connections. Additionally, building a sense of belonging by making your community the hub for this target audience gives you credibility as a thought leader.

  • Building advocacy: Think about the first time you heard of Notion. Chances are it wasn’t from Notion itself, but one of the many Notion advocates you might see on Twitter or LinkedIn. Thanks to a successful community of enthusiastic brand advocates, their community-led growth offers Notion a way to grow that doesn’t depend on product updates or a sales team.

  • User retention: Content marketing alone doesn’t drive the kind of user retention that solid community engagement can provide. One reason: trust. According to Paddle, companies less than 3 years old tend to see customer churn rates of 4-24% while established brands (over 10 years old) tend to see 2-4%. A strong community helps build trust while you create brand recognition.

For that reason, community-led growth sounds like a slam dunk. But marketers sometimes get the “community” concept wrong. For starters, a large audience on Twitter is just that: an audience, but not quite your own community. You’re still “renting” it from the platform, so to speak.

Community-led growth depends on customer success within a community you build on your own platform. Let’s take some examples to illustrate what we mean, and demonstrate how to build community spaces from the ground up.

Examples of companies using community-led growth

Notion: We spoke to Camille Ricketts, former Head of Marketing at Notion. She told us that content was a “major marketing lever” for B2B for one reason: specificity. B2B companies tend to have specific customer bases—there might only be 10,000 people in a specific community.

But Ricketts noted how Notion used content marketing to establish credibility with the key people who might eventually become advocates for the platform. From winning key hearts and minds as those advocates, Notion’s growth was inevitable.

Exit Five: Dave Gerhardt of Exit Five took his experience building an audience and community for the podcast “Seeking Wisdom” and turned it into a new method of marketing. He talked about the power of leveraging rented audiences—like a strong Twitter presence—to build credibility for new communities.

The wisdom he took from these experiences? Being able to reach out to community users rather than an audience always proved more powerful. “I found that the leverage came from the community,” Gerhardt told us. He reiterates Ricketts’ lessons—that the best B2B marketing comes from knowing an audience’s specific needs and turning that into a highly specialized community.


How to Build a Community from Scratch

Startups might know the virtues of community building—but still aren’t sure how to become a full-on community manager, let alone grow one. So let’s explore some strategies if you’re putting together a community-led growth strategy for the first time:

  • Choose a platform. Will your community interact on Slack? Discord? Remember what our examples said about specificity. In B2B, your audience is highly specific—and there’s probably a platform they prefer. Make sure you choose one they’re already familiar with.

  • Leverage your audience. Gerhardt explained he was able to build communities thanks to social media leverage. If you already have an audience on Twitter, for example, you have the seeds for community-led growth. Put together a compelling pitch and ask your social media network to join.

  • Create content incentives. As Ricketts noted, her background was in content marketing. And that was foundational at Notion. When users saw existing content already made within Notion, they had demonstrable proof of the platform’s usefulness. Create content for your potential community members that encourages them to sign up.


Tips and Strategies for Building and Nurturing a Community

If you’re going to embrace your new role as “head of community,” it helps to know what you’re getting into. A community is a true give-and-take. If you were expecting a product feedback focus group to provide you with instant feedback, yes, they can give you that. But you have to remember why people sign up—and it’s not to be your focus group. Here are some things to keep in mind as you build your first community:

  • Remember the community is about users. This is what distinguishes it from an audience. It’s not a megaphone for your company’s co-founder and it’s not an audience. People join a community platform because they want to interact on their terms. Don’t only allow this, but actively encourage it. Learn how to build a community from your users first.

  • Provide community-exclusive benefits. If your free content is useful, using gated content for community members will highlight a sense of exclusivity. People might join the community for the “VIP”-like experience, particularly if you’ve developed a good reputation for strong content.

  • Highlight community responses. People join communities because they’re helpful above all else. So if you can find a way to make that community more helpful, highlight it! You can highlight great community responses to frequently asked questions, for example, by amplifying those responses under the profiles of community leaders.


How to Measure the Success of Community-Led Growth

Building a community is great, but engagement is only part of the equation. The question is how much community-led growth you’re generating—and how much of that growth you can attribute to the quality of your community.

To that end, you’ll have to take some qualitative measurements. Run surveys and find feedback from thought leaders in your community.

On the quantitative side, look for the demonstrable conversions your community is creating. Look at community user growth, how many users convert from free to paid community members, and the overall retention rate of your community. Identify correlations between your community’s success and the success of your brand’s ability to convert people into long-term customers.

Companies like Hubspot or Duolingo—which invited its members to become active contributors to how future courses worked—want genuine feedback from what’s working well within their communities.


Why Community Matters in Building an Owned Media Strategy

Community events and discussions aren’t a mere side benefit. They’re also fuel for owned content, helping you come up with original data. Through this discussion, you’ll learn what your community values—helping with future ideation for ideal product-market fit.

This first-party data is more important than ever—especially as every company becomes a media company. Large platforms like Google and Apple are making privacy a priority, which makes it harder to get first-party customer data. But an owned media strategy helps you build out that data without any underhanded tactics. Like Duolingo inviting its customers to help shape future courses, invite your community to help shape your future products and service offerings.


How AudiencePlus Helps Companies Build Community

AudiencePlus is helping companies embrace the new normal: owning your own content distribution strategy. Our goal is to help businesses escape the “rented audience” paradigm of social-only followings so B2B companies can build communities on their own.

Want to watch what happens as we teach people about the value of community-led growth? Join our community at AudiencePlus to stay up-to-date with what people are doing in 2023 to lead with their community first.



JK Sparks | About the Author

Head of Marketing, AudiencePlus

JK is allergic to the words “guru, ninja, and hack” when used to describe anything marketing related. Instead of chasing the latest “growth hack,” he’s focused on building sustainable and predictable levers that fuel long term success. By implementing this approach over the last decade, JK has helped organizations in both bootstrapped and well-funded environments scale from <$100K to more than $100M in revenue. You can follow him here.

JK Sparks 6 min

Community-Led Growth: Why It Matters and How To Do It Right

An engaged, active community is the key to building a strong brand and growing your customer base. Find out how to make it work for your business.

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