In a Substack post in 2022, Anu Atluru, former Head of Community at Clubhouse, wrote about her experience taking a social media startup from a few founders to 100+ employees. In it, she explained a key lesson for entrepreneurs and businesses seeking sustainable (and rapid) growth:
“Traditional product-led growth (PLG) means building a great self-serve product that can basically acquire and retain users itself. This is a direct product-to-user sell, and a “best product wins” approach. Community-led growth (CLG) engages the community in the process, enabling a “best recommendation wins” approach.”
By leveraging the power of their community, Atluru and her team were able to unlock a whole new avenue for growth that was far more sustainable than traditional product-led methods.
Online education is a huge part of that process. Companies can use online courses, webinars, and other educational content to teach users new skills and provide them with the knowledge that helps them better understand and find success with the product.
This type of education also creates a community environment where customers are likelier to share their experiences with friends and family, leading to further organic growth for your business.
Below, we’ll dig deeper into the black box that is community-led growth, the role online education can play in it, and the steps that your business can take to create your own CLG strategy. We’ll also include a few case studies from some of the most successful companies implementing this growth strategy.
- Understanding community-led growth
- The role of online education in driving community-led growth
- Steps to drive community-led growth for your business
- Case study
At its core, community-led growth is a way to leverage your existing user base to drive more organic, word-of-mouth revenue. It’s an iterative process that starts with understanding the needs and wants of your users, then uses that information to create content and experiences tailored specifically for them.
The reason why CLG is so impactful is that it creates an environment where users are engaged in the process of creating value for themselves and others. When a company focuses on developing its user community, it can create an “ecosystem” in which customers become promoters, evangelists, and even co-creators.
Examples of companies that have achieved community-led growth
A company that is focused on providing product utility – say, a wrench manufacturer – is going to pursue PLG, trying to “build a better mousetrap.” But that doesn’t work for everyone.
Here are some successful community-led growth examples:
There is no better example of this than the professional networking giant LinkedIn. To grow its user base, the company used its members to give recommendations and endorsements to other users.
This created an environment where people were more likely to join (and stay) on the platform since they trusted their peers more than a product description or ad campaign.
The HubSpot team has focused on content marketing to drive growth for the business and create a community.
The company created a library of educational resources – including online courses, an webinars, ebooks, and whitepapers – that taught users about inbound marketing and helped them understand how HubSpot could help their business.
The HubSpot Academy was wildly successful and helped the company grow its user base by leaps and bounds.
Hootsuite was one of the earliest major players in the social media management space. To differentiate itself from its competitors, Hootsuite focused on building a strong community through Hootsuite Academy.
It created forums and opportunities for their customers to connect with each other and exchange advice. This helped foster a sense of ownership among Hootsuite’s customer base, leading to more organic growth for the company.
Online education is a key component of any community-led growth strategy. By creating educational content that helps users better understand your product, you are essentially giving them the tools they need to become advocates for it.
Encouraging what Atluru called “network nodes” based on individual courses or academies can start a grassroots community of loyal users passionate about your brand and product.
This, in turn, leads to more organic growth, as people will be more likely to recommend your product or services to their friends and family – suggesting the education resources as a gateway.
Benefits of online education for businesses
Beyond community growth, online education can also provide your business with several other benefits:
- Building relationships with your customers and keep them engaged.
- Upselling and cross-selling products, as customers may have a better understanding of what is available and the steps that they need to take to achieve success using your product or service.
- Gain insights into user behavior, giving more information about who the target audience is.
- Create loyalty among customers, as they will feel appreciated and valued if they access exclusive educational content.
- Differentiate your product from competitors, as you offer more than just the basic features.
These things also offer value for the community members to share among their networks, further driving organic growth.
Interested in implementing community-led growth at your company? Here are the steps you should follow:
Step 1: Define your target audience
Before you can create online education content tailored to your audience, you need to know who they are. Take some time to understand the demographics of your user base, then use that information to create buyer personas and target audiences for your community-led growth strategy.
Step 2: Identify the skills and knowledge gaps in your target audience
Customer frustration sometimes comes from not understanding the product or not knowing how to use it effectively. To create effective online education content, you need to identify what gaps exist in your target audience’s skills and knowledge.
Send out surveys, conduct user interviews, or look at customer support tickets for insights.
Step 3: Create high-quality educational content
Don’t try to fast-track the development of educational content. Quality over quantity should be the guiding principle. Create comprehensive, detailed content tailored to your target audience’s needs and interests.
Learning management systems like Thinkific Plus who can help you create and launch your courses quickly, even with limited resources.
Step 4: Deliver the educational content through online channels
It’s not enough to hope your customers find the educational content you create. Make sure to deliver it using channels they are already familiar with, such as email newsletters, social media platforms, and even webinars or live events.
Encourage users to share the content with others in their networks or provide referral incentives to drive more word-of-mouth growth.
Step 5: Build a community around your educational content
When they have selected a course, customers shouldn’t just be thrown into the pool of existing users. Instead, create an exclusive community where they can connect with other graduates, ask questions, and share best practices. This exclusivity will help foster a sense of loyalty and commitment to your product.
Step 6: Encourage community engagement and collaboration
Don’t just leave your community to fend for itself. Encourage engagement by providing incentives, hosting contests and challenges for your customers and community members, or even allowing them to create their content that can be shared within the group.
This will help keep users engaged and returning for more, given their investment in the people – not the product.
Step 7: Measure the impact of your online education initiatives
Nothing is worth doing if you can’t measure its impact. Use analytics to track the progress of your community-led growth initiatives and adjust your strategy accordingly to maximize results. Is a certain online course not providing much follow-up engagement?
Are more users signing up for a certain online course than others? These insights can help you refine your CLG strategy and ensure it is as effective as possible.
Entrepreneurs on Fire
How do you leverage a podcast audience? Sure, you can fill the airwaves with corporate sponsorships, charge a premium on an exclusive platform, or even sell merchandise.
But what if you want to grow your audience and give them something more valuable? That’s exactly what John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs On Fire did when he turned an award-winning podcast into a coaching empire.
The goal was to create an online education platform specifically geared toward entrepreneurs, where they could access courses on marketing, finance, sales, and leadership from the comfort of their homes.
The key here was that the courses were affordable for anyone who wanted to learn but also high-quality enough to benefit those looking for a more comprehensive learning experience.
They started with a free course that acted as a teaser for what was to come, then moved on to create more in-depth courses available for a small fee. They even incorporated exclusivity by creating a members-only portal called Fire Nation, where subscribers could access exclusive content and get personalized help from the team.
The result? An engaged community of entrepreneurs passionate about learning, growing, and creating a better future for themselves. Entrepreneurs on Fire has generated over $1.5 million in revenue from its courses, while the podcast has exploded thanks to a dedicated network and now has over 100 million listens.
Community-led growth is becoming an increasingly popular way for companies to drive sustainable, organic growth. By leveraging the power of customer engagement and investing in online education, companies can create a “best recommendation wins” approach that leads to more word-of-mouth referrals and higher customer loyalty.
If you’re looking for a way to unlock sustainable growth for your business, invest in community-led initiatives such as online education.