New Ways to Build Online Community

How do startups with innovative ideas for business get their names into the world?
How do startups with innovative ideas for business get their products into the online marketplace? (Photo: Pexels)

In Silicon Valley, innovation often follows when venture capital makes big investments in a certain type of business. According to the National Venture Capital Association, roughly 40 percent of all venture money went toward software in 2015. So it’s not at all surprising that there are a host of startups trying to attract investments and customers by innovating ideas for businesses. For years, ways to engage consumer companies through building online community has proved a prolific and profitable sector. Given the investment activity in business software, there are now innovations in the ways software companies targeted at the business market attract their communities of customers, resulting in higher spending from business customers, more cross-sell and up-sell, and decreased customer support costs. These innovations follow three trends that are well-tested and used in many companies’ playbooks:

Take a (Small) Bite Out of a Huge Player

Peerlyst is a vertical business community (meaning focused on only one industry) dedicated solely to Chief Security Officers (CSOs). As online security grows as a career, Peerlyst hopes to become the destination for the folks who build, manage, and implement network security software, supplanting LinkedIn as the way to reach and recruit security professionals. A closed community leads to fantastic networking/recruiting, unbiased peer vendor reviews, and other ways to geek out on security-specific topics such as how to reverse malware. LinkedIn’s lack of features for forming and managing industry-related groups left the door wide open for this intrepid startup.

Another startup nipping at LinkedIn’s heels is Blendoor, which addresses unconscious bias in the way managers hire new talent. Blendoor reveals a candidate’s skills and education, while suppressing their gender, name and photo. She hopes to help corporations hire more like universities: based more on merit and experience than the way someone looks or talks.

Copy Successful Apps to Create Your Own Echo Chamber

SalesHood is an app devoted to sales productivity: it invites sales forces to record their pitches and be reviewed by their peers. The premise is wholly mobile-social, and in effect gamifies the way sales reps learn to tell the company story, as well as borrow the best bits from their peers. It is fun and creative, like Dubsmash meets Facebook, and effective. The young company has shortened time to first deal close, increased win rates, and reduced time to quota for reps all over the enterprise sales landscape.

Lithium Technologies, an established community management software company with an entrepreneurial bent, recently rolled out Lithium Reach which allows managers to curate, deploy and manage outbound content as well as track customer engagement. This concept borrows from the common online social content products like Buffer or Hootsuite. Lithium already had customer tracking and social monitoring, but with Reach, they can now also track how customers interact with published content, allowing its business customers to increase the accuracy of future messaging, and reducing their need to license and manage so many tools at once. It also optimizes the time to post content using engagement data from your prior posts. This is a useful feature for social media managers who manage a bunch of channels, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Spotlight Smaller Business Communities to Strengthen Retention is a way for businesses to organize their partner networks into easy, addressable user groups. The platform gives customers tools for one-to-many communications without much peer to peer cross talk. Mobilize is a great place, say, to put your software evangelist community to keep them alerted product innovations and things they need to know from the mother ship. Once a company’s partner networks are safely managed in their own special space, the company can have more control over what content the partners see.

Directly, which enlists a company’s customers to work as its customer support representatives, might be my favorite example of a small company making waves. Directly’s clients include Airbnb, LinkedIn and Pinterest. By using customers to answer run of the mill questions for other customers, these companies lower customer support costs as well as lock in the community of “answering” customers, thereby saving on churn costs.

Shira Levine is a pioneer and innovator in the online community marketing field, having held leadership positions at eBay and Zynga.  She specializes in broad customer and enterprise engagement best practices and supply-side marketplace community strategy for consumer & enterprise. To learn more about her consulting practice, please visit

New Ways to Build Online Community