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Every day, community builders get stuck in a state of “analysis paralysis.” 

They either ask themselves so many questions that they never make progress toward measurable goals, or they build random programs that don’t connect to one another — and they never manage to draw a line from community engagement to business value. 

I’m here today with a message to help you out. 

First, breathe. 

Second, step back. You have to know what business values community could potentially drive in your organization before you hit the gas. 

Third, pick your business value from the five values listed below. Through our work at CMX we’ve discovered that community can really only drive five business values. It’s as simple as picking one (for now) and then measuring against your performance in that area. 

The SPACE Model for Defining Community's Business Value

All communities can derive their business value from one of the following areas, which can be boiled down to a handy acronym called “SPACE”: 

  1. Support
  2. Product
  3. Acquisition
  4. Content
  5. Engagement

Now, which will your community drive? 

1. Support

Many of you will already be familiar with this area of community. Communities built to support value create a space where community members can answer one anothers’ questions about a company’s products and services. Apple, Google and many other longstanding companies have utilized this model for years now.

If you decide that you want your community to build support value, you can measure things such as: 

  • Decreased support costs
  • Increase in customer success and retention
  • Increased customer happiness and NPS scores

Examples of communities that drive support value: Apple, Sony, Udemy

Tools: Zendesk, Get Satisfaction, Vanilla Forums, Desk

2. Product

Communities are a rich resource of innovative ideas, but these ideas frequently go untapped. Our research has shown that innovation is one of the primary reasons that companies launch communities, seeking to make community their competitive advantage. 

Groups of people can also collectively build features faster and iterate faster. By bringing customers together online or offline, companies can leverage the collective insight of their community to get ideas for improving their products and services or even tap members through every step of the product development process. 

If you decide that you want your community to build product value, you can measure things such as: 

  • Ideas, bugs and feedback submitted or applied to product
  • Improvement in sales pipeline as a result of better product offering
  • Decrease in time to market for new products

Examples of communities that drive product value: Dell IdeaStorm, Vimeo, Salesforce MVP Program

Tools: Uservoice, DNN, Salesforce Community Cloud

3. Acquisition

More and more companies are recognizing the value of brand ambassadors or superusers. Marketers have long touted the power and the efficacy of word-of-mouth marketing, but systematizing it has left many scratching their heads. If a company can connect brand ambassadors with each other and give them the tools to successfully spread the word, they can drive growth and loyalty. 

If you decide that you want your community to build acquisition value, you can measure things such as: 

  • Referrals, signups and sales
  • Impressions and online mentions
  • Reduced marketing spend for same or higher results

Examples of communities that drive acquisition value: Lululemon, theSkimm, Marketo

Tools: Influitive, Ambassador

4. Content

Distributed models are changing the way businesses function. Collaborative consumption, crowdfunding, user-generated content, marketplaces, open source — all examples of distributed models where the masses create the value, and the business provides the platform. 

If you decide that you want your community to build content value, you can measure things such as: 

  • Content submitted and approved
  • Increase in content contributions per user
  • Increase in retention of content creators

Examples: Duolingo, Airbnb, Kickstarter, Product Hunt, Lyft, Mozilla, Genius

5. Engagement

Community is powerful because it gives people a common sense of identity and belonging. If the brand gives them that sense of identity, it doesn't matter if the community is focused on the brand's product or not, members will feel a stronger connection to it.

Nike has a community for people who love running. Sephora has a community to talk about beauty. HubSpot has a community for inbound marketers

As a result, they've seen big increases in customer spending, and the community drives other secondary community values by fueling ambassadors, product feedback and more. According to Lithium, the platform that runs Sephora's BeautyTalk forums, "Sephora's BeautyTalk superfans spend 10 times more than community members who spend 2 times more than their average customer."

If you decide that you want your community to build engagement value, you can measure things such as: 

  • Increase in customer conversion to sales
  • Increase in customer lifetime value
  • Ambassadors created/feedback collected

Examples of communities that drive content value: Nike, Sephora, HubSpot

Tools: Lithium, Jive, Vanilla Forums, Higher Logic, and many more 

It’s Your Turn

Which business value will your community drive? 

The hardest part of this process is picking only one value to start with. From there, everything else gets easier and the questions that once plagued you fade to the background as your purpose becomes clear. 

Yes, you can drive more than one of these values at any given time. But there's no need to overcomplicate things as you get started. 

Without clear business focus, communities doom themselves to failure. Once you can start to prove that you’re moving the needle on one of these values, you can draw a clear line from community strategy to business impact. 

Title image Daniel Alvarez Sanchez Diaz