SaaS Communities: Fostering a Sense of Belonging to Drive Growth

Victoria Rudi
May 16, 2022
⌚ 11 min read

→ Your growth practice

Build a community around your SaaS product and enable your audience to generate meaningful connections, get help, engage in many-to-many conversations, have ongoing exchanges, and enjoy a sense of belonging.

→ Quick explanation

Creating a community for your SaaS users and other company stakeholders is the new competitive advantage. As David Spinks, community expert and founder of CMX, notes:

“Companies are setting themselves apart by tapping into the collective energy, knowledge, and contributions of your most passionate customers, fans, and partners. When people feel like they’re a part of a community, it becomes their home. They don’t want to leave. And they’ll step up to contribute and grow the community in ways you can’t imagine.”

Business communities aren’t new. It all started with Apple. In 1985, Ellen Petry Leanse, a communication specialist at Apple, discovered that customers discussed Apple products on third-party forums.

Ellen Petry Leanse's Apple Employee Badge

As a result, Leanse decided to build a community for Apple customers and take control of the narrative. Initially, it wasn’t easy as she met the resistance of the Apple executives. Unfortunately, they couldn’t foresee the growth opportunities a community could generate.

To convince the upper management, Leanse would talk to customers, gather their feedback, share it internally, and advocate relentlessly for creating an online community. Finally, Leanse managed to get the upper management on her side and create the “Apple User Group Connection.” The rest is history.

Apple User Group Advisory Council

According to Spinks:

“Creating an online community opened up the curtains in a way businesses just didn’t do at that time, and it helped Apple turn the corner on improving customer sentiment.”

Salesforce is another example. As Spinks writes:

“Erica Kuhl spent the majority of her 17 years at Salesforce building the community program from the ground up.”

Nowadays, the Salesforce Trailblazers community has over 3,000,000 members supporting and engaging with each other.

→ Definitions

📓 One-to-many communication: Brands engage and interact with their target groups without fostering the connection between their stakeholders. The brand’s audience members, users, and customers can engage with the company, yet they don’t have an environment to connect with each other.

📓 Many-to-many communication: Brands enable their audience members, users, and customers to connect and engage with each other.

📓 Audience: People who engage in one-to-many communication, reacting to your company’s content, actions, and launches. An audience isn’t usually invested in the growth of your SaaS product. Focused on consuming, observing, and reacting, you won’t see the members of an audience getting involved or contributing to the general wellbeing of other users.

📓 Community: A group of users and company stakeholders who come together with a shared purpose, such as getting help from connecting with other users, learning and sharing knowledge, and more.

📓 Community-Led companies: Brands that put communities at the core of their business, focusing on connecting people and creating value for both the business and community members.

→ Quick facts

The 2022 Community-Led Report by Commsor reveals findings such as:

  • 83% of respondents worked at organizations with a dedicated Community Manager.
  • 55% of companies are hiring for community roles in 2022.

The same report shows that:

“While most companies that didn’t have a Community team in 2020 hired 1-2 people, an impressive 20% of IPOed companies jumped to 3-4 community pros, and 15% of Series B+ companies to teams of 5-6.”

Also, according to Community Predictions 2022 by Vanilla Forums, we’ll see more companies hiring Chief Community Officers. The report cites Alexis Ohanian, who argues that: 

“More than half of the top-500 publicly traded companies are going to have a Chief Community Officer.”

→ The elements defining a community

According to social psychologists David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis, a community is based on four main elements:

👉 Membership or the feeling of belonging to a group. As David Spinks explains, membership includes five attributes:

  • Boundaries. Who is and who’s not part of the community.
  • Emotional safety. A feeling of trust and security inside the community.
  • Belonging and identification. A sense of personal relatedness.
  • Personal investment. The possibility to contribute by helping other community members.
  • A shared symbol system, such as a logo.

👉 Influence. When building a community, you have to create an environment where members can expand their status and influence by actively helping others and having a positive impact.

👉 Fulfillment of needs. You can’t build a community just for the sake of it. A community should generate value and cater to people’s needs. These needs can vary from solving a specific product issue to finding new ways to succeed.

👉 Emotional connection. Healthy communities will foster transparency, trust, and support, strengthening the bond between its members.

→ How does it work?

Usually, SaaS companies build and foster bi-directional communication with their leads, prospects, customers, and users. However, their stakeholders can’t interact and exchange messages with each other.

Thriving SaaS brands, though, are active in fostering bi-directional communication with their target group while allowing their users and other stakeholders to interact with each other. The interaction between a brand’s users and stakeholders may result in experiences such as:

  • Mutual help (regarding the platform itself or other industry-related challenges)
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Engagement
  • Feeling of belonging
  • And more
SaaS Audience vs. SaaS Community

→ Types of community access

  • Open: People can access the forum or the “meeting place” and browse through the posts without registering. They’ll have to register only when they want to publish something on the forum.
  • Private: People can’t access the forum without registering or logging in.

→ Types of communities

  • Online communities: Forums or “meeting places” community members can access online, from anywhere in the world.
  • Localized communities: Local groups created and nurtured by brand fans and enthusiasts.

→ Types of community groups

  • Product wishlist: A space where people leave product feedback, request or vote for different features, and discuss possible improvements or needs.
  • Support: A space dedicated to peer support. Users may have questions, doubts, or product-related challenges other community members can solve.
  • Tips & tricks: A space for enabling community members to share product-related insights and knowledge.
  • Challenges: Some SaaS companies may create fun groups and run weekly games, challenges, and quests to foster engagement.
  • Events & webinars: Thriving SaaS companies run events and webinars for their community members to encourage connection, interaction, and engagement.
  • Casual chat: A space for enabling company stakeholders to simply connect and interact.
  • Inspiration: Some SaaS companies encourage people to submit product-related templates or assets.  
  • And more.

→ Your growth opportunities

By creating and nurturing an environment for your SaaS community, you’ll generate multiple growth opportunities, such as:

  • Differentiate yourself from the rest. No one can copy the sense of belonging your SaaS community provides.
  • Encourage peer support, acquire volunteers for your support team, and improve user satisfaction.
  • Get access to product feedback and better understand your users’ needs.
  • Nurture a group of product advocates and get your community members to help you acquire new users.
  • Get people to engage more with your brand by running community events and challenges or by enabling them to contribute with content, knowledge, or third-party assets such as templates.
  • Ensure the success of your existing customers and reduce the churn rate.

→ Case examples

>> Salesforce, a customer relationship management platform

The Salesforce Trailblazer is one of the most famous SaaS communities. With more than 3,000,000 members, the Trailblazers can:

  • Learn relevant skills
  • Get certified and earn badges*
  • Connect with other Trailblazers by joining over 1,300 community groups across 90 countries
  • Collaborate with millions of Trailblazers based on location, role, and interests
  • Share knowledge, provide guidance, and build a professional network
  • And more

*The Salesforce badges are recognized worldwide by the sales community.

In 2019, Salesforce surveyed its community members and revealed the following findings:

  • 90% said that participation in the Community helps them accelerate innovation at their company.
  • 80% said that the peer connections they’ve made help them increase adoption and productivity.
  • 73% said that the Community helped them build professional networks.
Salesforce Screenshot

>> Memberstack, an authentication and payments platform

People can join Memberstack whether they’re using the tool or not. They can interact with other community members, ask Memberstack-related questions, get product updates, and more. The Memberstack community has several spaces, such as:

  • Getting started
  • Introduce Yourself
  • Memberstack Updates
  • Memberstack Content
  • Memberstack Feedback
  • Daily-progress, a space dedicated to sharing daily progress on the upcoming product release
  • Ask questions
  • Casual Chat
  • Tips & Tricks
  • Tools & Resources
  • Hire an Expert
Memberstack Screenshot

>> Webflow, a no-code website builder

The Webflow community is a great learning resource. With more than 75,000 members, users can answer different website-related doubts. You can ask questions, help others, learn how to use the platform, and show your Webflow creations on the community page.

Webflow Screenshot

Moreover, Webflow developed location-based communities, allowing people to connect regionally. At the end of 2021, Webflow had 88+ communities in 28+ countries. People are also invited to apply and become Webflow community leaders in their cities.

Webflow Screenshot

People can access the Webflow community without an account.

Webflow Screenshot

>> Yotpo, an e-Commerce marketing platform

Amazing Women in eCommerce (AWIE) started with a 2018 program, seeking nominations to recognize visionary women in the eCommerce space. But the incredible response from the industry motivated the Yotpo leaders to take their vision further and create a community for women in eCommerce.

Yotpo Screenshot

The AWIE community provides Yotpo the space to host events, share profiles of great women professionals, and raise money to help build the next generation of female business leaders.

Compared to other SaaS examples, the Yotpo community is based on Slack. One can access the community without having a Yotpo account.

>> Fibery, no-code company workspace

The Fibery community offers spaces such as:

  • News & Announcements: Fibery new features and product updates.
  • Ideas & Features: Things users want to have in Fibery.
  • Second Brain for Teams: Talks about knowledge and work, management, processes, tools, and more.
  • Get Help: A place to ask questions on how to configure Fibery.
  • Bugs & Issues: A space for reporting bugs.
  • Show your Space: A collection of Fibery space ideas from users.
  • API & Programming: Questions and discussions around Fibery API.
  • Misc: Topics that don’t need a category or fit any existing category.

People can access the community without having a Fibery account.

Fibery Screenshot

>> inSided, a customer success engagement platform

People can access the inSided community without an account. However, they have to register to publish something on the community page.

With more than 1,456 members, the inSided community offers groups such as:

  • Ask your question
  • How to get started
  • Lounge area
  • Platform Research

It’s worth noting that people have to register to access the Platform Research group.

inSided Screenshot

>> Coda, an all-in-one doc platform

The Coda community provides the following spaces:

  • Start Here: Welcome, Coda Basics, Starter Exercises
  • New from Coda: Webinars, Coda Careers
  • Marketplace: Requests and Gigs, Offers and Services
  • Showcase: Puzzles, Tips and Hacks, Doc Show and Tell
  • Suggestion Box: Bugs
  • Ask the Community
  • Developers Central: Coda Packs
  • Making Packs
  • Off-Topic

You don’t have to be a Coda user to access the community.

Coda Screenshot

>> Dreamdata, a B2B revenue attribution platform

Based on Slack, the Dreamdata community gathers 180+ like-minded professionals interested in discussing B2B revenue attribution, asking questions, and making suggestions. People don’t need a Dreamdata account to join the Slack community channel.

Dreamdata Screenshot

>> Pitch, an all-in-one platform for presentations

The Pitch community is based on Slack, and it offers the following benefits:

  • Network with like-minded makers and creators
  • New ways to uplevel the presentations
  • Get Early access to new features
  • Attend exclusive events sharing best practices and insights
  • And more

The community has more than 1,400 members. You can join the community whether you have a Pitch account or not.

Pitch Screenshot

>> Drift, a conversational marketing platform

Insider is a Drift Community with more than 45,000 members interested in marketing and sales.

The community offers spaces such as:

  • Marketing: Conversations about strategies, tools, campaigns, etc.
  • Sales: Conversations about sales strategies around prospecting, selling, and closing.
  • Drift Products
  • Playbooks
  • Reporting
  • Settings
  • Integrations
  • Drift Video
  • Troubleshooting
  • And more

The Insider members have access to events, webinars, and certifications. Everyone can access the community.

Drift Screenshot

>> Cooper, productivity CRM software

The Cooper community has more than 2,470 members. People can ask questions, help others, and learn about product updates.

Cooper’s team runs live user training sessions, Q&As, and webinars throughout the week. To access the community training and webinars, people need a Cooper account.

Cooper Screenshot

>> Guru, a company wiki platform

The Guru Community has over 1,500 members. People can ask questions, submit product feedback, learn how to use the platform, and attend exclusive events. You can browse the community posts without having to register. However, you need to log in using the Guru account credentials to post something on the community board.

Guru Screenshot

>> MURAL, a visual collaboration platform

The MURAL Community offers the following spaces:

  • Collaboration: Unlock connection and innovation tips for better teamwork, and empower agile teams.
  • Café: Stop by for virtual coffee to talk about industry trends or whatever’s top of mind.
  • Facilitation: Share best practices and lead impactful meetings and workshops.
  • MURAL Product: Talk shop with us: use cases, product input, and more.
  • Ask a Question: Get answers to your MURAL questions and share your expertise.
  • Feature Ideas: Help shape the future of MURAL by sharing your feature wishlist.
  • Product Releases: Check out what’s new in the latest version of MURAL.
  • Templates: Discover new templates and frameworks - and share your own!
  • Template Ideas: Have an idea about a template you want to use? Share it! Vote on others. We cannot wait to hear from you.
  • Template Releases: Explore new templates as they come out.
  • Teachers’ Lounge: Connect with fellow educators on topics related to visual collaboration in the classroom.

People can browse the MURAL Community without registering. However, they have to sign in to post on the community space.

MURAL Screenshot

→ Your action framework

Questions:

  • What’s my business outcome? Why am I building the community in the first place?
  • Do I have the resources to create a community right now?
  • Will I hire a community manager? Will I build a team to manage my community?
  • How will I grow my community?
  • What’s the platform I’ll use for my community?

Requirements:

  • There are no specific requirements to create a community around your SaaS product. You can launch a SaaS community regardless of your $MRR.

► Quick note: Since its creation in March 2021, Tally, a free online form builder, grew to $10K MRR. However, the company is actively building a community that reached more than 1,000 members on Slack. Moreover, Tally created a community on Reddit. At the moment, the Reddit space has almost 50 members.

Some companies may confuse in-house communities with social media audiences. Although there are similar dynamics, your audience on social media isn’t your community. Audiences operate based on consuming information and reacting to it. Communities create content, provide mutual help, and foster a sense of belonging.

Also, if you rely on social media to emulate a community, you’ll always be vulnerable. Just think about it: if something happens overnight and the social media page you’re operating on disappears, you’re left without a community. This incident can’t happen with an in-house community.

Here’s a list of platforms you can use to create and grow your community:

  • Circle.so: The all-in-one community platform for creators and brands
  • Bevvy: In-person, virtual, and hybrid events for communities
  • Tribe.so: A customizable community platform for businesses (freemium)
  • Panion: A community management platform
  • Mighty Networks: All-in-one community platform
  • Amity: Online community features
  • inSided: An online community platform for customer success
  • SelfCommunity: Social network for brand communities
  • Commsor: Platform for community-led companies

💥 To remember: As Patrick Woods, the CEO at Orbit, writes for a16z:

“In a world where software is no longer sold, but rather adopted, more companies than ever before are embracing the customers, contributors, and fans they had previously overlooked.”

It’s time to move from developing transactional interactions to designing transformational experiences for product users and other company stakeholders. And building communities is the surest way to bond and connect, for real, with your users and other company stakeholders.