Business value of online community vs. user groups

Hello All,

I’ve recently joined a new company and have inherited both our online community and user groups. Pre-covid, these community programs ran separately, even though they targeted the same audience. The user groups started as in-person meet-ups, not connected at all to our online community. Since covid, our virtual user groups are struggling–low attendance, digital fatigue, and not so different from the weekly webinars we run for the online community. I’m not sure anymore if we should continue running the user groups, and if we could deliver additional/different business value from what we drive from our online community. I get a lot of feedback from stakeholders that our customers are asking for these because they want a deeper connection with each other and with our company. However, is this reason enough to revive and rebuild our user group program?

Do any of you run both an online community and a user group program? If so, what are the reasons to have both programs (or not to have both)? What ROI do you expect from each type of program? Does it make sense to connect these programs or keep them separate? I.e. Perhaps you register for one brand community, but have the option to participate in forums (online community) or join virtual or physical meetups with peers (user groups).

This fledgling community strategist would love to hear your insights! :slight_smile:

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@ddhanson Hi Denise,
I think there is value in both. For one, the community is a place to see what a lot of the other users are doing. I’d make sure there is a great deal of relevant content there, this will probably require you pushing on some of your users to get them to create content.

For the user groups, that should be a more intimate experience. I’m working on multiple ideas for this but my goal is to bring together users that have similar backgrounds, projects, industries, etc. I think the best way to do this is to have phone calls and make the introductions, have small roundtables (for lack of a better word) and help users make connections based on their similar goals and obstacles.

What do you think?

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I agree with @Mary_Green, communities are all about learning, whether people want to learn more about a brand, product, a hobby or some other interest, some form of learning is key. And so the user groups helps with this and so it is very useful.

I would find a way to merge them both so as they each complement each other. The main community can be a way to engage the larger audience or user base, then the active ones are channelled to the user groups. This will increase engagement with the brand and company across the board and you can choose what value or return on investment you want to capture.

I’d also do the bonding sessions of roundtables and real-time events that Mary shared and referred to as calls and roundtables, these events build the connection between members of a community.

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Hi Mary,

I agree that the online community and user groups serve a different purpose. The user groups seem to be more about the intimate experience and connections, while I’m beginning to believe the online community is more about self-education and getting to the resources users want quickly. I plan to experiment with the user groups and see where they go, but make sure that both online and user group communities are connected and aware of each other!

Thanks for your insight!

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I like your suggestion to merge them both! The online community is definitely the main community, and from there I believe the user groups will grow out of it where the more active members will want to connect with each other more deeply.

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I’m always a bit nervous of merging different communities into the same place.

I haven’t often seen it work well.

Shared some thoughts on the unique purpose of each here: Five Brand Community Building Models That Succeed (and why many fail) | FeverBee

It sounds here like there’s a trap of customers saying that want something and not then wanting to participate in it. Which suggests a research issue in the structure of the questions or maybe people leading customers to the answers they want to discover.

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Ah! I see! That makes sense. I guess when I say merge, I mean connect the two communities, so one acts as a funnel to supplement other one.

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That can work too. Especially with user groups and support/success communities.

Are you able to provide any more context?

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Sure sure!

Using @ddhanson’s example, the user groups give a deeper connection which means as a program or an experience it serves the deepest needs of their community. But it serves this need as a physical community, not an online one. This is evident in Denise’s note:

So once they made them virtual or took them online, they started to lose engagement.

What this also says or shows or what I can infer from this is that the online community only meets some of the community’s needs, while the physical community meets all of their needs. So if they redesign their community member’s journey or experience with this in mind, people start off in the online community, and they are moved into more tightly knit physical user groups.

So “starting with the online community” is the top-of-funnel phase, and “moving into the physical user groups” is the bottom-of-funnel phase.

This can even be taken further to create a loop where those who join the physical user groups refer others to the community and they start at the online community or just join the physical user groups straight away.

Another added bit would be after the connection, those in the physical user groups would still have access to the online community, and can participate in-between their physical meetups. The manager of these groups can also drop topics from the online community into discussions in the physical user groups to help them connect to the online community.

This whole linking and connecting is in a way “merging”, but in a more distributed sense where each community is still its own entity, but they work together.

I can’t say I know the answer.

My experience is building online communities to support offline events works very well in theory and not so well in practice. Partly because events have specific dates and times which people block out on their calendars. That doesn’t happen as much for online communities - the challenge is often there has to be a need for the user groups to exist.

Offline events have the chance to visit a place, meet people in real life, and the fear of missing out. Online user groups don’t often have that. They thrive when there are questions people want answers to or members who want to impress others - or they’re part of the fabric of how people use a product or service (developers etc…)

If that’s lacking, then it’s hard to keep them going

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