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Approaching community and demand gen

Community-led initiatives can be a tremendous source of data. Businesses that successfully build large, active communities commonly see significant growth in their contact databases and email lists. Organizations that survey their communities can gather new market insights. Furthermore, analysis of data can help refine segmentation and targeted promotions.

Access to better data is a benefit of community-led work, but it has to be leveraged appropriately.  One wrong turn can erode trust that is not easily regained.

Maintaining street cred

When your community-led marketing program is built on a vendor-neutral brand promise, it's essential to maintain that commitment to build trust and credibility. That means the “Trojan Horse” approach to marketing is not advisable… you cannot “spam” community members with company or product information under the guise of community outreach. Does this mean your marketing team can't email community members? Of course not. However, it does mean that communications need to be contextually appropriate to the community.

For instance, many communities use email newsletters to share relevant content like blog posts, active discussions, upcoming surveys, books, interviews, or industry conference meet-ups. They also share best practice documentation or training opportunities. If the email maintains the community's vendor-neutral stance, it can be valuable for your members.

Avoid using the community as a traditional lead generation pipeline–this is crucial for street cred. Community members join to connect, share knowledge, and upskill to benefit their careers and company. Promoting your company products and services that break the community's brand promise can (and will) erode trust. Refrain from bait-and-switch tactics that funnel community members into your marketing qualified lead (MQL) pipeline.

Communities produce market insights

Consider the example of Mary, who built a large community in the education technology (EdTech) industry, serving tens of thousands of people. As her consultant, I suggested an indirect approach when discussing strategies for leveraging her community member list for demand generation purposes. I recommended she view her company's community-led initiative as a comprehensive market research project supporting demand gen. 

Rather than emailing everyone on the list with company-specific promotions, her marketing team could use the information better to understand their ideal customer profile (ICP). The extensive community list would reveal geographical data, companies where members worked, specific job titles, and industries. Contact databases are rich with community member, information, which can be used to improve targeting for sales and marketing teams.

The data collected from community members can also help enhance segmentation. Demand gen teams can learn more about potential target accounts worldwide and their investments in relevant fields quickly. Gathering demographic, firmographic, technographic, and geographic content allows more profound insights into target markets.

Using community data helps companies like Mary's develop more effective digital, field, and event marketing strategies. For example, enhanced targeting for digital advertising, paid social promotions, and account-based marketing (ABM) efforts can be achieved with this data. In addition, better segmentation allows companies to personalize campaigns and strategies at scale more effectively.

Community-led initiatives provide many data points about potential end-users, which can better inform go-to-market strategies. Fully operationalized community data fuels revenue growth, making it an attractive initiative to pursue. By regularly revisiting segmentation analysis, businesses can understand changes in market categories, community traits, and industry patterns - then adjust their go-to-market initiatives motions accordingly.

Community surveys benefit many areas of the business

Beyond improving your ICP and refining ABM targets with data gathered about community members, you can collect and analyze additional data with industry surveys. For example, at the Linux Foundation, we often surveyed our open source community members to help refine our understanding of the market, technology adoption patterns, year-over-year trends, and target member profiles. 

Depending on the topic, it was common to have thousands of community members participate in the survey. By comparison, when my marketing teams would run company or product-specific surveys, it took a lot of work to get a few hundred results.

Here’s an expert tip. Involve your community in developing the survey. At the Linux Foundation, we relied on input from key thought leaders, industry influencers, analysts, and advisory board members. By inviting a small group of people from your community - especially those who don’t work for your business - you can significantly improve the quality of the survey questions and reduce any vendor-specific influences your marketing team may unwittingly include when running surveys solo.

Access to a large set of community data through a survey can benefit your marketing team and other functional areas of the business, such as in the following ways. 


  • Product engineering teams can review the survey findings to better assess product roadmaps and priorities. As one example, year-over-year data can reveal emerging or declining market interest in a particular technology, process, or function.
  • Product marketing teams can analyze survey data to refine better ICPs, competitor landscape insights, and sales enablement tools. As a voice to the market, product marketing leaders can also use survey data to develop industry event presentations or share with industry analysts who love getting more visibility into data about a given market or community.
  • Demand generation and content marketing teams can leverage survey results by producing industry reports or webinars that match survey findings with key value propositions around your company’s products or services. That content can then be used to create prospective customer leads for the business.
  • Communications and PR teams can use the survey findings to position company executives and spokespeople as industry thought leaders.


In addition to benefiting internal audiences, publishing survey results can help the community at large.  These surveys inform your community of needs, priorities, trends, and other insights. Community members use the survey results to compare their personal and professional experiences with others in their peer groups. 

Data is part of a community-led strategy

When planning community-led initiatives, consider ways that you can leverage data to benefit your marketing efforts. Data used in the right way can improve several areas of your business. 

Data about and from your community not only improves marketing’s execution of initiatives, but it can also serve the community. Consider ways to share data with your community that benefits them as well.

This blog is an excerpt from Derek Weeks' upcoming book: Unfair Mindshare, a CMO's guide to community-led marketing in a product-led world. If you are looking for more insight into managing community-led initiatives, stay tuned to our regular updates on this blog through our Twitter and LinkedIn updates.