9 min read
Getting Internal Buy-in for Your Online Community
Tips to build your business case and overcome common objections
Tags: Associations,Community Strategy
You know an online community will help your organization...
…now how do you convince the rest of your team?
You don’t have to be a a master of persuasion to build support for a branded online community among other departments, your board, and executive team. Instead, you need to align your new online community and its strategy with the mission and priorities of your organization and each department.
Below, we’ll explore 5 steps for getting internal buy-in, including ideas for aligning with your organization’s priorities and overcoming common objectives.
- Build Your Case: Outlining the Need for Community
- Plan Your Approach: Identifying Goals and Researching Background
- Build Allies: Recruiting Your Stakeholders and Team
- Collaborate on Strategy: Documenting Vision and Goals
- Vendor Research: Deciding on Features That Matter to You
- Make Your Argument: Presenting Your Research
1. Build Your Case: Outlining the Need for Community
To get buy-in on building an online community for your organization, your choice of community platform vendor,
and online community strategy, start with research. Being informed and well-researched will help your case.
Start by thinking through these two questions:
- How will building an online community help our
- How will building an online community help our users?
If you don’t have solid answers to these, it’s the first place to start. The biggest thing to know is this: Communities can solve a lot of different problems for your organization. Sometimes, people think of communities as a siloed offering, relegated to one team, like marketing or support, rather than a benefit to the organization as a whole.
Online Communities Solve Cross-Functional, Organization-Wide Problems
One organization could tackle multiple use cases with their community – answering support questions, building a mentoring program, housing customer-facing resources, attracting potential customers or members, identifying advocates, and more.
At the buy-in stage, their Swiss-army knife capabilities can be both a curse and a blessing. Why? Because communities are so crossfunctional, you’ll likely need buy-in and support from multiple departments to move it forward successfully.
But once you get key stakeholders involved, aware, and convinced of community’s value for their department, it’s not just you by yourself, asking anymore – you’ve created a powerful, broad support base to help you make your case. You have advocates from across your company who can help you move it forward and into the budget.
Here are just a few of the use cases for online community
- Building an Industry Hub
- Improving Retention
- Hosting a Resource Library or Knowledge Base
- Creating Engaging User Groups
- Managing Advisory Boards
- Conducting Cohesive Onboarding
- Supporting Advocacy
- Hosting Events, Event Resources, and Continuing Post-Event Engagement
- Facilitating Program and Product Adoption and Feedback
- Program and Product Feedback
- Cultivating Communities of Practice
- Managing Support and Enablement
2. Plan Your Approach: Identifying Goals and Researching Background
Before you get deep into the community planning process, begin with a soft launch of your idea. This should be an informal, research-gathering process where you float the idea of a community and locate where you can find support for your initiative.
Taking this phased approach will help you plan your approach to getting buy-in strategically and ensure you identify potential roadblocks in advance.
Gather Background in These Three Areas
Identify Company-Wide and Departmental Goals
Start by finding your organization’s big-picture goals – things like “increase in retention by X%.” This will help you understand where community needs to fit in and it can serve those goals.
Next, hold a series of informal research meetings with department leaders where you discuss challenges they’re facing and goals they want to accomplish for the year and beyond. Tell them you’re interested in building a branded community and you’re doing research to see how you can help meet their goals with the project. This is where you’ll get ideas about who to involve as a stakeholder and identify potential objections and barriers.
Find Out if Your Organization Has a History with Community Building
Has your company or organization ever tried to build a community, or do you have one now? Knowing any issues or leftover good or bad feelings about past community efforts will inform the way you build your strategy. If everyone hated the platform, or nobody engaged in the community, or people felt ignored, you’ll have to strategize for how to overcome these barriers.
Assess the Budget for Community
Can your organization make room in the budget for an online community platform? This one might be hard to assess – you may not want to ask outright at the beginning, because you haven’t had a chance to build or prove your business case to earn the budget. But it will be helpful to know where your organization stands financially and if there are any key deadlines you need to be aware of when suggesting the purchase of new software.
Ask questions to get a sense of where you stand. Your accounting or finance team might be able to help you understand where the budget for new technology comes from or how you could work across departments to fund the initiative.
Tips for Gaining Support During the Interview Process
Emily Doyle and Meghan Cornwell built buy-in for their online community strategy at Teachstone. They did this informal interview process and shared some tips for success:
Move people from conceptual to concrete using tangible demos, realistic scenarios, and everyday examples. Use “Why, What, How” to move staff from concept to tactics.
Tell some stories about how it could be beneficial in the day to day. People need to hear things multiple times, so keep making your case.
Think through the unique value your colleagues can bring to the community. Make it relevant and real for each department.
3. Build Allies: Recruiting Your Stakeholders and Team
Once you’ve done your initial research, it’s time to do your prep work, so that you’re ready to recruit your team from other departments.
Take the findings you learned from your research. Let’s say a department identified three big priorities: How can you match community’s value or solution to those pain points? What kind of benefit can community offer to this department? Next, lay it out in a digestible and understandable way. What’s in it for the key stakeholders? How will it save their department money, or grow loyalty?
Your goal should be to demonstrate how the community aligns with and leads to achieving each department’s goals. This is how you can prove your new community will be a valuable technology investment.
Departmental Pain Point
|Sales and Marketing need more references to convince potential new members.
|With a community, we can create a network of our users in one place. Through their activity on the community, we can identify the most active members and the ones who are likely candidates for references.
You’re ready to go back to the stakeholders you identified and walk each of them individually through how community might be a potential solution. This is a great time to seek their feedback and ask if they have any concerns.
Invite them to be a part of your core team and buying committee, where they would help strategize for the community, join community product demos, and present to leadership with you.
4. Collaborate on Strategy: Documenting Vision and Goals
Once you have your core team, collaborate on creating a community vision and goals. For example, maybe you want it to support customers, but you also want to build advocates. You want to give members a place to find resources, but you also want to encourage more volunteering. Working together with your stakeholders to establish top goals and priorities will help you find the right community vendor and present a unified pitch.
Create community goals
To establish your community goals, look back to your research in the planning phase. Specific challenges and solutions brought you to the table, so re-examine those and codify them. Do some prep work to compile the ideas before the meeting so everyone has something to react to. You should be able to answer these questions:
-What pain points have we discovered?
-How will community solve them?
Draft a “vision statement” for your community
A vision statement or a goal statement is a good way to anchor your community initiative in your research. Make it specific and keep it succinct (this will probably take a couple of drafts). Example community vision statements:
-“A destination for customers to find support and prospects to discover our company.”
-“A secure, online space where members feel safe connecting and sharing about challenges they face.”
5. Vendor Research & Evaluation
Create a Feature Checklist
Hammer out the features, resources, or integrations needed in your community platform, and then categorize them by must-have and nice-to-have.
|Nice to Haves
Build a list of vendors to evaluate. Look to review sites, like G2, word-of-mouth recommendations, online research, or communities you’ve participated in for ideas on which vendors to add to your list. During the demos, consider providing your team of stakeholders with a scoring sheet or template so they can share feedback based on your goals and feature checklist.
As you get closer to choosing your community platform, rely on the vendor for support. They’ve helped many organizations move through the buying process and likely will have documentation and resources to help you build your case.
|TIP: Don’t have everyone sit through every demo. Try to cull down your list so you have the top 2-3 vendors. You can either go from the website information to eliminate any that seem like a bad fit based on your checklist, or have an initial demo where it’s just you, and bring the team on if it seems like a viable option.
6. Make Your Argument: Presenting Your Research
You’ve done the groundwork, you’ve built your case. You’ve researched your vendors, you’ve prepared a strategy. Chances are, you have to get final approval from someone, whether it’s your CEO, department head, board, legal, or IT team. These tips will help you put together a convincing presentation.
Your presentation should summarize the process you just went through:
- Share the pain points that you’ve gleaned from your research.
- Share how community is a compelling solution for those pain points.
- Share your vision statement for the community, along with any supporting points.
- Share your preferred vendor. (Why do you recommend them? How did you come to that decision?)
- Share how the features and advantages of your preferred vendor map to the pain points.
- End with the benefits to your organization as a whole.
Work with Your Vendor to Identify Answers to Common Questions in Advance
- How long will this take?
- How much will it cost?
- What integrations will we need?
- How will we ensure our users will participate?
Tips for a Compelling, Confident Community Pitch
Courtney Howell, Community Manager at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, pitched community to her leadership and succeeded. She shares her tips for communicating confidently with executives. From her experience, she’s learned that you need to bring three things to the table: proof, persuasion, and passion.
Tie Your Request to Goals
Relate community to your organization’s goals – it will be the foundation of everything and show your executives you know what’s happening and have the organization’s interests at heart.
Practice Your Pitch
Always try out your pitch on someone else first. They’ll be able to brainstorm and give you feedback, especially if they’ve pitched to an executive before. You can also seek guidance from a trusted manager or mentor.
Map Community Goals
Explain short and long-term goals. Know where your request fits in. Maybe you don’t get a resource this year, but you might get resources for next year.
Don't Give Up
Don’t be afraid to ask more than once. Just because they say no right now doesn’t mean that after a year of working on this, they won’t be open to it next year.
If the process seems overwhelming...
Remind yourself of the value of community – with a branded online community that encourages engagement at every stage of your user’s journey, you will:
- Build vital connections with your users, unlocking collecting knowledge and engaging everyone in your community
- Keep your members coming back with personalized, relevant experiences – from onboarding to renewal – growing them from passive recipients to membership fans.
- Grow your organization. Whatever stage you’re at, a community helps you accelerate growth.
Don't wait to explore the benefits of community
An online community will help you improve member engagement and retention while streamlining staff work. We're happy to walk you through how a Higher Logic community will help you thrive!