The concept of virtual community appeared around 1985. This phenomenon became bigger when internet appeared, and even more with “web 2.0”. Nowadays, there are numerous virtual communities in B2B.
Let’s take a look at internal virtual communities. The time when companies tried to set up virtual groups through forums, internal platforms or other ways is long gone. Social media changed things and we can notice that, in big companies, internal virtual communities are being implemented. These groups, which come on top of the organization of the firm, are here to make the company even more efficient.
External virtual communities are heterogeneous. You can find vertical ones organized by jobs on LinkedIn, like Oil and Gas HSE Practitioners. There are also horizontal ones, organized by functions like the Cercle des Directeurs Marketing for instance. Also, some communities are built around a brand, like Zebra for instance, which gathers its partners from North America through Zebra PartnersFirst North America.
However, virtual communities are not used that much in B2B, even though they could bring some upsides. Here are some of these benefits:
– Get to know the market better
As far as business is concerned, online communities are a great data base for pertinent information which is easy to find and to use.
– Comfort your leadership position
Starting and developing a community is a good way to comfort a company’s image. It might be easy to claim you’re the leader in your area with a couple sentences on your website, but it is a lot better to prove it taking care of a community. Even more in B2B, where the technical part of the business is one of the most important things.
– Impact your client relationship
Although an online community‘s first goal can’t be to sell products and services, it can help to support a customer loyalty program or even to reactivate a relationship with former customers. Leading a community will also “humanize” your company.
Moreover, the stronger your virtual community is, the bigger the impact on your business will be. The challenge for a firm is therefore to initiate and to develop a group of interests while making sure to generate engagement, the core of its longevity. To do so, a company will need to use the right content strategy.