The Evolution of Community Marketing: Insights from Brian Oblinger

Welcome to the LikeMinds Community Deep Dive series, where we speak to an interesting community marketing leader in each episode and get to know what makes them tick! 

This interview with one of the best minds in community marketing is such a scoop. We're excited to bring you this extract of a chat between Pawan Rochwani, our community nerd, and the Guru of Community Strategy Academy, Brain Oblinger.

Read on for a masterclass on how two community connoisseurs keep conversations light but enriching.

Pawan starts conversations by asking our guests who they are outside of work - and Brian likes it because it helps show how multi-faceted we all are (and that there's so much of life outside of work). He is a stereotypical Coloradoan about his love for the outdoors, hiking, and volunteering at animal shelters. He also loves sports.

Watching Community Evolve

If you didn't know, Pawan got into Community when it was pretty nascent in India, before his successful stints at Pepper Content and inFeedo. Drawing on this experience of watching the domain flourish in India over 6+ years, Pawan wanted to know what Brian saw over two decades as a Community pioneer in the US.

Like many stalwarts, Brian did not seek Community marketing, but it found him. He has grown with it. "Certain parts of the world are more mature than others when it comes to Community, but that's good! It means that we are reaching and teaching new people", he said.

The evolution of Community marketing is marked by some 'eras.' Its beginning is rooted in Customer Support, addressing a need for efficiently disposing of tickets. The rise of social media changed how we saw Community; it grew to encompass brand building, marketing, and more. 

"Now, we are in a phase where people understand that Community can be all these and more. Product and customer success teams are embracing it for their use cases.

As such roles and social media managers find themselves doubling as community movers, diverse skills become essential to acquire. Community and social media are no longer like oil and water (to quote Brian). We're all trying to achieve the same thing - customer satisfaction and business value.

Therefore, people should work on building their business acumen. The ultimate goal is to help our members, but achieving this depends on businesses recognizing Community as a good investment idea. Pawan drew a parallel to brand marketing in this regard.

The Demand-Supply Equation

The economy of 2023 has left businesses hesitant to maintain too many channels for customer outreach, in sharp contrast to a couple of years ago when every company wanted to nurture a Community. Brian attributed this behavior to the inflation crunch and layoffs.

He believes it's a temporary setback - "an uncontrollable economic trend, not to be conflated with the value of Community." There are more people than ever interested in building community marketing skills. When the investment returns, we will have a great talent pool to take off.

Many companies are averse to spending this year since they foresee little growth. Their customer success leaders are looking at 'digital hubs' and self-service as a replacement for 1-to-1 CSM models. "Community is the only way such companies will get to some scale of self-service success."

Popular Tools Among Community Marketers

Brian sees many people use process automation tools like Zapier and UiPath to orchestrate the backend of Community flows and data. Automation is cutting down the hours spent on tedious tasks.

Technologies based on ChatGPT help on the authoring and summarizing side, increasing the output of distribution.

The third bucket is 'the productization of AI.' People are waiting for platform vendors to offer products and APIs that will multiply the productivity of Community marketers. Brian recommends getting your data ready for AI to consume it and prepare to hit the ground running.

Running  Community Strategy Academy

"The idea for this has been in my head for years. It's me dumping my brain of everything I have ever learned to lessons that everyone can consume." Brian's dream of teaching all he learned is not competitive; he partnered with Noele Flowers, though what they built has faded.

He plans to build a ton of content, having received much constructive feedback. He is happy with the response.

Rapid fire with Brian Oblinger

Does the US have an equivalent of in-app communities?

Brian likes the concept because he's often asked businesses to think about bringing their web-based communities into their apps, making it easier for users to engage. He helped do something similar for Alteryx. Other examples he likes are Turbotax and Autodesk because customer engagement improved for them.

What are some current engagement strategies? Is there anything new community leaders are doing?

First, In-person events are back in vogue. Second, content is back on the center stage. Third, community leaders are focusing on creating things people want - engaging with their broader teams for insights on the same.

Trends that will rise in the next 5 years in the Community space

A lot will stay the same, but AI will shake things up. There will be good things but also a steep learning curve. More business stakeholders are becoming familiar with the benefits of an engaged community and will support its adoption. "Community builders have to rise to these occasions and meet the expectations.

What are some mistakes Brian has seen as a community leader?

Brian asks people to spend time understanding the goals of their visitors and what community members want to see. This work needs to be reconciled with the business objectives, especially when they are at odds. He cautions against jumping into community-building without a strategic framework. 

We should be meticulous about how we approach our customers. A business-first mindset makes us value their time more, ultimately nurturing them better.

Do watch the interview for Brian and Pawan's real-life nuggets. Also, check out Brian's courses for upping your community game! 

About LikeMinds

Likeminds elevates businesses in unlocking the true potential of their users through their in-app community and social network. Using LikeMinds, businesses achieve higher conversion and retention, by building custom community experiences in their existing platform unlocking community-led growth.

With LikeMinds, businesses get an easy-to-implement and highly scalable infrastructure with a fully customizable UI. All of this with a customization time of 3 days and a deployment time of 15 minutes.

Our Chat and Feed infra have pre-built widgets such as image carousels, PDF slides, short videos, polls, quizzes, events, forms, and more for user engagement and retention along with moderation capabilities to ensure frictionless community operations.