This post is by Rodney Laws from Openview Labs
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The advent of the SaaS model fundamentally changed how software companies approach customer service. When each piece of software was sold as a high-priced package, the emphasis was on traditional sales tactics: stress the positives, gloss over the negatives, make the sale and move on — make it past your refund period, and you’re safe. But the move to a subscription-based strategy made that approach untenable because assent could no longer be won and forgotten about. Instead, it suddenly needed to be continually earned, with each fresh month presenting an opportunity to keep a customer around or lose them to a more appealing competitor. This naturally had an impact upon how companies presented themselves. Instead of products, they started to sell services, and brand reputation became essential for more than just determining initial expectations of quality. Given that ongoing SaaS marketing now demands great priority, it’s only sensible to ask
important question: what sets the top brands apart? Well, one of the core ingredients to excellent SaaS marketing today is using community content. What does this content involve, why is it effective, and how can you use it? Let’s take a look.
What counts as community content?Put simply, community content is content produced by your community — the complexity arises from what your community actually involves. You’ll hear talk of UGC, or user-generated content, which encompasses all types of content created by your users or followers (including reviews, testimonials, photos, videos, guides, even poems if you prove sufficiently inspirational), but not every piece of UGC is going to count as community content. For instance, if you ran a UGC contest (quite common as a marketing tactic), you might get a host of social media users to take photos in line with your stated parameters — but how many of those people would actually be users of your service? It’s likely that some (perhaps most) of them would have followed you idly, and simply taken the chance to get the offered incentive. On the other hand, time-tracking tool Toggl does something interesting: it allows its users to take a test to see how well they understand the tool, then encourages the experts to join its Toggl Master program and get paid to help new Toggl users get the most out of it (it even provides case studies). This is a clever way to turn leading users into influential advocates. Community content, then, is content produced by people who actually use your service, and ideally those who are quite invested in it: your long-term customers and/or your biggest clients. Their content is more significant, more telling and consequently more powerful.
The added value of peer supportSigning up to a SaaS solution isn’t like a conventional B2C exchange — it has a lot more in common with a B2B arrangement, particularly when the cost veers towards the enterprise level. This is because it’s typically intended to be a long-term investment. You can relate it to buying an iOS or Android smartphone: if you get an iPhone, then you’ll want to eventually replace it with another iPhone, because moving data between mobile operating systems is a huge pain. Company support is massive, obviously — a great SaaS company will offer 24/7 support through multiple channels, and perhaps dedicated account managers for high-end clients — but peer support is also a great selling point. Case in point: Shopify attracts a lot of merchants for not only its well-regarded support system but also its strong and helpful community (which runs to over 580k members) — the company even features its customers’ stories very heavily as part of its blogging strategy. Why wouldn’t any SaaS business with a good community want to emphasize it? Customers aren’t always going to want to go directly to the software providers for assistance, and there will invariably be issues that those providers can’t really help with (for instance, creative roadblocks or other matters that indirectly involve the software). Knowing that there’s somewhere to go for peer support is a huge reason to choose one solution over its alternatives.
Hyper-relevant social proofPeer support isn’t the only reason to prefer a Saas business with a strong community, naturally. It’s also about getting the kind of social proof that you can’t get from a simple review. Reviews can be taken out of context, or selectively edited, or cajoled through general incentives and/or special treatment — someone can say, “This is the best software solution I’ve ever used! 10/10,” and then never use it again. Community content is different. Community content is produced steadily over time. It’s long-form and complex, tracking ups, downs and everything in the middle. By following a SaaS company’s community, you can get a great idea of not only how good the service is, but also how well the company listens and responds to feedback from its biggest customers. It’s a little like choosing between job offers, and seeing that one of your prospective employers has numerous staff members who’ve been with their company for decades. That tells you something about what it’s actually like to work there. Community members might get frustrated and complain about various things, but if they continue to subscribe, that shows you that they still consider that service to be the best of its kind. Knowing this, SaaS businesses that do manage to keep their customers subscribed for a long time should absolutely make that fact abundantly clear to prospective customers. The message is simple and powerful: subscribe to this service, and you won’t regret it.
How to turn it to your advantageNow that we’ve looked at how community content is informing SaaS marketing by raising and demonstrating the value of a service, we can think about how you can use it to better market your SaaS business. Well, it isn’t too complicated. Let’s run through a few basic tips:
- Actively work to build a community. Even if your service is excellent, you can’t rely on a community forming — and no community means no community content. Provide an official forum, and encourage your in-house support team to provide updates there on occasion to incentivize customers to join up and get involved. (Here’s some general advice on building a network — much of it is applicable here.)
- Highlight notable posts/guides. Once you have some community content being produced, be sure to highlight any posts or guides that you think are particularly insightful. For instance, you could get permission from a customer to mention their guide as a valuable resource in your marketing pitch.
- Document user communication. Whenever you get involved with your community to acknowledge the varying perspectives and learn from them, you should document the results. Having one of your marketing points as “We listen to your customers” is one thing, but if you can actually demonstrate that you listened to customer feedback and made a significant change as a result, it will prove it to be the case.