A common digital marketing goal for B2B companies is to build a thriving online community. More and more often, online communities are proving to be an excellent competitive advantage for B2B firms.

However, many businesses stop at making the proclamation, and struggle with digging into how an online community actually forms. It’s not always an organic process! In fact, businesses often have to work hard to create their online communities, building them from the ground up. Creating a space for customers and partners to meet is only the first step.

So, how do you begin a community in the B2B world – especially when many of your customers aren’t especially active online? Let’s go over some of the most effective approaches, and why they tend to work with a little time and investment.

1. Look at Multiple Online Community Tools

Don’t just stick with the online tools that you are comfortable with. It’s easy to say, “Well, we have a presence on Facebook, so let’s just create a Facebook Group.” That may be a great start! But take time to look at all your options as well so that you know what the best choice is – or if you want to use multiple tools to create an online community across several different sites.

LinkedIn Groups, for example, may yield great results because LinkedIn is a more professional place than Facebook. Or you may find that setting up your own forum or online portal on your website is the best way to create a tight-knit, meaningful community. Explore your options when first forming your community strategy!

2. Tie Real Events to Online Discussion

For B2B companies that aren’t sure where to start, often your real life events are a great solution. Chances are good you already take part in local or regional events. Maybe you hold a dinner for your clients, or celebrate finishing a project. Maybe you attend trade shows and other important industry events. Whatever it may be, use your events as a gateway to forming online communities: Make them your excuse to invite people, bring up your business group, and advertise that you have a group that may help answer some questions or compare notes with others.

3. Livestream More

We know – B2B companies are still coming to terms with livestreaming and how to use it. But when it comes to online communities, livestreaming is an ideal method of building members and creating an audience. By their nature, livestreams gather like-minded people together online, at the same time, to watch the same thing. There’s no more fertile ground for making your online community or helping it grow!

So, first – hold interesting livestreams. They could be interviews, event coverage, or even important milestones in a project, so get creative! Second, make sure you mention, both vocally and in the livestream description, the destination where viewers can go to officially join your community, whether a Group, forum, or whatever you have set up. Third, create a video of your livestream and post it with similar instructions to pick up future viewers as well.

4. Focus on the Future

Your customers are busy. Everyone is busy! It’s common for people to struggle to find enough time to be an active part of any online group, even those they really like. So it’s important that you create interesting content that keeps people coming back and having discussions. One of the best ways to do that in the B2B world is to focus on future events. Talk about the latest predictions for your market, new products that could become very popular, new laws that will affect the way you do business, speculation about future growth…you get the idea. Turn your community into a lively place where all the latest news is talked about or at least viewed, and your members will keep returning.

5. Market Your Community As a Networking Solution

Another option is to focus on the benefits people receive when they are part of your community. This doesn’t have to be a “promise,” you can just point out the advantages in joining. Networking is a great example if you need to name-drop a specific benefit: “It would be great if you joined our online group, we discuss the latest news, it’s pretty great for networking too.”

This gives people a reason to join your group besides simply being a fan or customer. After all, who doesn’t like a bit more networking potential? Of course, this also means that you’ll have to do more group moderation and discourage people from posting what are essentially just ads, so some extra work is involve.

6. Make a “How To” Community

An especially popular option for B2B and customer groups, how-to communities discuss how to use products, and the latest tips or tricks for working in the industry. Customers often join looking for troubleshooting or recommendations, too. A community designed to help everyone out will have an easier time gaining members.

7. Encourage Member-Generated Content

When possible, encourage your community to provide their own input. This could be answers to frequently asked questions, opinions on new products or events, or collaborative projects. Whatever your community looks like, always encourage people to weigh in. Who knows, you may learn a lot, too!

8. Join Independent Communities

Independent communities are usually run by licensing organizations, nonprofits, industry magazines, and similar entities. Join a few of these! You will be able to see how the community is run, how it responds to things, and what interface looks and feels good. You may also be able to invite people to join your own community as you get involved in discussions. You may even find that these independent communities are already exactly what you were looking for in a group.

9. Have a Long-Term Plan

One of the most common problems with these online communities is that no one has a long-term plan, and they just sort of die out, leaving an empty online “room” that gives your brand a bad reputation anytime someone sees it. So, have a long-term strategy for what the community is going to do, and how to close the community (and maybe start a new one) if activity completely dies down.