I want to be clear once and for all, even at the risk of annoying someone: communities need a budget. And if you don’t have one, or if you do not want to make it possible, it means that you do not believe that the community is an asset on which to build value.
It is therefore pointless to hire a community manager who would become (as in many cases he already is) a cabinet minister without a portfolio; it is pointless to launch a Facebook group (or Telegram, more trendy today); it is also pointless to waste time with consultants (I admit, it is pointless for me too).
A community does not nourish itself, nor does it grow miraculously without constant guidance that nurtures it, nor without the creation of a context that encourages conversation and togetherness.
And this requires money. Not a lot of money, especially at the beginning, but it certainly takes some. Let’s see in which areas you need to invest.
When it goes well, the community manager has a ‘small’ pocket money for communication. It is often a few thousand euros (not more) to organise events. Let’s make it clear: the community is not a child to be entertained or amused. A little, yes, but not only that. Two aperitifs a year are not enough to increase the sense of belonging, nor to say you have a community. A true communication budget must include the organisation of events, but also the creation of content, formats that stimulate conversation and a landing place where this content resides: a site? A platform? Social networks? Each of these choices has different costs, but I would say that at least a website — well designed and with welcoming graphics — fed with continuous updates on the life of the community must be considered.
If there is a cost-saving factor in relation to, say, the launch of a new product, it is marketing. At the beginning, this is done by word of mouth, telephone and e-mail. These are almost zero-cost tools, on condition, however, that we dedicate ourselves to newcomers, to encouraging encounters and stimulating conversation. Indeed, word of mouth is the real litmus test of a community. If it is not there, at least initially, it means that something is not working. So there is no point in spending money on acquisition campaigns. We reserve this budget when the community is working, its possible products are beginning to be established and there is a need to increase the pool of members to ensure turnover and innovation.
Technology costs can be very low or very high. The community, as mentioned, must have a place to live, to exchange and conversate. It can be on social networks and in this case the cost of technological development is almost zero, but if initially this can be a correct choice, even if very careful, it cannot last long. In fact, social networks do not guarantee the right experience for a community, whereas a platform, in addition to offering conversation tools, can become a repository for content, can manage webinars, can set up meetings between members and can implement listening and monitoring actions.
In addition, a platform can manage strategic data for monitoring the progress of a community, for understanding who enters and who leaves, and for proposing new tools and services. In short, although you may be cautious at first, if you really want to create a community and make it grow, sooner or later you have to give it a home, and a platform is the right one for it.
Personnel is certainly the biggest expense for anyone wanting to launch a community. Again, the expense is incremental. At first you have to invest mainly in a good community manager, but also in training the strategic team (our Academy is dedicated to all of them). It is necessary, however, that even before the community manager the strategic team is aware of what it means to launch and manage a community. Otherwise the community manager is left to make decisions that he or she does not have the authority to make, or to refer opportunities that he or she is not able to seize. Above all, the strategic team must have clear ideas to be able to distinguish the various phases in which a community is and guide the visions, efforts and investments accordingly. Therefore, it is necessary that they take time — and maybe even someone to help them (all references are purely coincidental).
Finally, staff expenditure is not just about the strategy team and community managers. As the community grows, it needs a team capable of managing the different communities that gradually form within it: newcomers and the old guard, activists and users, those who may gather around a certain territory or a certain line of offerings.
At this point I guess the question is: how much budget should I foresee to launch and grow a community? This is a difficult question which can only be answered by knowing the ambitions with which the organisation is launching a community, the number of people it intends to reach and the time it has available. The only certainty is that the costs are incremental: they grow as the community grows — and do not decrease as some believe.
It is true, in fact, that when a community grows and becomes large it feeds itself and in some cases it manages itself. But this is true up to a limited extent. The more the community develops, the more the activities and ambitions grow, and consequently the staff and costs to manage it increase. Exactly the same as with a product. No more, no less. On the other hand — and this is finally good news — the benefits of what has been seeded also grow, which means, for example, having a more efficient call centre — it has been calculated that it is 72% cheaper for a customer to answer a question via the community than via the call centre. Or, having more engaged and loyal customers — see the case of “L’estetista Cinica” (italian enterpreneur) who, thanks to the loyalty of the community, was able to recover a mistake that would have cost her more than 5 million euros. Or, having new services that complement the traditional ones — the Macmillan Foundation launched a community among cancer patients some time ago to promote peer support -, or having a group of people willing to help their product grow, as in the case of Salesforce.
Try it for yourself!