Lattice's 5-Step Guide to Building a B2B Community

Nearly 80% of founders say building a community is important to their business. Here's how Lattice turned that ambition into a reality.

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“Our customers are very social. They’re highly focused on building personal relationships. Yet, human resources can be a very isolating profession.”

That’s Annette Cardwell, senior marketing director at Lattice. She’s talking about the original motivation behind creating Resources for Humans, a community for HR professionals.

Because they’re a neutral authority, HR professionals often can’t share concerns and challenges with their colleagues. As far back as Annette can remember, Lattice’s customers have asked for a safe space where they could learn from peers, develop their careers, and feel like they belong.

Lattice began building that space in 2017. Today, Resources for Humans is the go-to community for HR professionals. With more than 16,000 members, it has established Lattice as a trusted ally in the HR space, bolstered thousands of members’ careers, and inspired meetups across the world.

But building a community that works for its members and its owner isn’t easy.

In this article, you’ll learn how Lattice:

  • Set achievable community and business goals
  • Designed a safe space for HR professionals
  • Complemented in-house management with a community leadership program

Step #1: Identify goals for your community

When Annette joined Lattice in 2019, Resources for Humans was already two years old. Fuelled by paid promotion, the community had grown rapidly, but without any dedicated management, and with no explicit purpose or direction, according to Annette, it resembled a “wild-growing vine.”

Annette insisted the community needed objectives—both for its members and for Lattice.

“Having clear goals is the first step in building a community,” she explains. “If you don't know what you’re building and why you're building it, you’ll struggle to be laser-focused on strategy.”

Working with Lattice’s marketing team and community members, she explored the value offered by Resources for Humans. She deduced that members could:

  • Build connections and relationships with peers in their industry
  • Use the community as a safe space to share concerns and seek help
  • Access professional development tools, opportunities, and programs
  • Feel like they’re part of a vetted private club

Today, these benefits act as the community’s North Stars. The Lattice team designs programs to support professional development and initiatives to maintain the safe space. If an idea undermines the community’s benefits, it doesn’t go ahead.

Although Lattice was primarily building its community for HR professionals, Annette knew she had to tie it back to concrete business aims. Without that proof, Resources for Humans risked being seen as a vanity project, one that helped Lattice’s audience without benefiting Lattice’s business.

Here, Annette defined four key objectives along with performance metrics:

  1. Be the leading industry community for HR leads (Community growth number and sentiment score via survey)
  2. Establish Lattice as a trusted ally (KPI: Lattice awareness score via survey)
  3. Provide insights into focus areas for Lattice’s ICP (KPI: Content output and engagement on social media)
  4. Create inroads into new regions and industries (KPI: Membership in new markets, Ambassador recruitment, and events in new geographies)

With clear success criteria tied to corporate performance, Annette could prove that the community was a valuable business asset.

Step #2: Set standards and community guidelines

Resources for Humans wasn’t the first online HR community. The problem was, the ones that came before it weren’t very good. They were all open communities with no vetting process. While they grew quickly, their quality suffered.

In addition, those spaces attracted salespeople and marketers, who treated the communities like “hunting grounds” for deals. The presence of sales reps and marketers killed conversation and scared away members.

Lattice took a different approach. According to Annette, they committed to creating a “clean, well-lit space,” somewhere people felt comfortable, secure, and supported. For Lattice, that meant the significant step of vetting every single applicant.

"We literally look people up on LinkedIn and we don't allow those folks in.”

Their application policy was, and remains, simple: Resources for Humans is a group for HR professionals. If you’re not an HR professional, you don’t make it past the application stage. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying.

“Some people lie and try all sorts of fakery,” says Annette. “Others are honest, but they’re on the customer or marketing teams. We literally look people up on LinkedIn and we don't allow those folks in.”

Lattice didn’t take the decision to vet applicants lightly. They acknowledged that committing to tens or hundreds of thousands of manual checks was the cost of ensuring quality. Their investment paid off. The policy created a safe space for sharing, support, and development. HR professionals from all backgrounds flocked to the group: HR assistants just beginning their careers, veteran executives, and everyone in between.

But accepting the right sort of people was only half the equation. With all communities, particularly online communities, there’s a risk they can turn toxic. Lattice resolved to build a self-regulating membership, one full of people who understand the rules and help keep people in check.

Annette and her colleagues designed a simple Code of Conduct (Be Respectful, No Selling, Keep it in the Community, and Actively Participate) and strictly enforced the rules. Members quickly rallied behind the guidelines and began self-policing.

“The more regulated you make it, the better the behavior,” says Annette. “There's this virtuous cycle of good behavior creating more good behavior. Everyone is trying to create the best experience possible. You don't want to be the bad apple who creates trouble.”

Step #3: Designate (or hire) a community manager

Between 2017 and 2020, Resources for Humans lacked a dedicated community manager. Instead, folks pitched in whenever and wherever they could. But as the community grew, so too did its management demands. When the group surpassed 5,000 members, Annette realized something had to change.

“You need a dedicated manager to take your community to the next level,” she says. “They have a business directive to drive your community forward. They will create things for the community. The community will feel a connection to that person.”

Regular features create a baseline of activity, but Grace also stimulates a lot of conversation just by being present.

In 2020, Lattice hired Grace Cheung to lead Resources for Humans. She turned the dial on community participation and growth. She introduced regular engagement pushes like Tuesday Topics, a hot topic conversation starter. For example, during the pandemic, Grace opened a conversation on vaccination policy. Dozens of HR leaders shared advice, perspectives, and ideas. Friday Highlights, another repeating feature, encourages people to celebrate their week’s achievements.

Regular features create a baseline of activity, but Grace also stimulates a lot of conversation just by being present. Resources for Humans is her job. She’s on Slack every day talking to members, asking questions, and helping out. That attention pays off.

It took Lattice three years to attract its first 5,000 community members. Grace doubled RfH’s membership in around 12 months.

“So many people came to the community and made it a better place,” says Annette. “Resources for Humans became known as a vibrant and important place in the HR world.”

But just like before, new growth created new management challenges. Keeping a 10,000-member community on track wasn’t a one-person job. Hiring an army of Graces wasn’t a scalable strategy. Instead, Lattice needed a way to increase management with their current resources.

Step #4: Design scalable management structures

With clear community guidelines and firm moderation, Resources for Humans had become largely self-governing. Although a lot of members helped regulate the group, support users, and come up with new ideas, a smaller group of super users did the lion’s share of the work. Early on in her tenure, Grace realized these people were an incredible resource.

She began designing a program that would formalize their position as community leaders. To launch the program, Grace handpicked a small cohort of community members, people that she spoke with regularly and who had come to her with ideas and suggestions. They agreed to become the first community leaders, or Ambassadors.

Ambassadors allow the 16,000-strong community to operate without an army of moderators working behind the scenes.

Today, becoming an Ambassador means being recognized for your leadership, knowledge, and positive, ongoing community contributions. There’s a formal application process open to all members with six months experience in the community and a positive track record. Grace reviews all applications and forwards the most promising for review.

Once accepted, Ambassadors run workshops, write HR guides, and organize local events. They’re passionate, engaged, and knowledgeable. They allow the 16,000-strong community to operate without an army of moderators working behind the scenes.

Step #5: Secure buy-in and resources to grow your community

Growing a community is difficult. It requires time: Resources for Humans took three years to attract its first 5,000 members. It requires effort: Lattice’s community-building efforts rely on the hard work of dozens of employees. And it requires money: paid promotion drives the majority of member acquisition.

But Annette says there’s a more important factor to a community’s success: buy-in.

“I want to be emphatic about this: your leaders have to see value in your community,” she explains. “Buy-in is the only reason you get resources.”

Annette says they were fortunate at Lattice to have a CEO, Jack Altman, who rallied behind Resources for Humans early on. To this day, he talks about how impressed he is by the community and how important it is to the business. That buy-in “trickles down” to other executives, directors, managers, and ICs. But Annette admits many budding community builders won’t be so fortunate.

Community building is a relatively new discipline. Leaders approach community investments with a healthy dose of skepticism—understandably so. Tracking a community’s impact is a “dark science.” To win over hesitant leaders, Annette recommends marketers look past data.

“Buy-in is the only reason you get resources.”

“Don't get me wrong, you can tell a great data story and sell the value of something, but in the end, you need to create a spiritual belief in community,” she explains. “Make them understand why community is important to a company.”

Tell the story of how community-building will benefit your customers and prospects: new relationships, a safe space to share, professional development, and a feeling of belonging. Sell the idea of community.

Once you’ve won over your executives, you unlock a route to all the resources necessary for growth: time, people, and money.

Community is a force multiplier

Taken in isolation, community-building is a potent growth strategy: you gather your primary buyers in one place, their relationship with your business grows stronger, and you position your brand as a trusted ally.

But the impact of a community goes much further.

Take Lattice’s content strategy. Annette and her colleagues mine the community for story ideas and recruit contributing writers from its membership. Many of Lattice’s best marketing ideas have come from discussions and debates on Resources for Humans.

Or consider product marketing. The community provides a steady stream of potential HR professionals for interviewees. Just by listening to conversations, Lattice can unearth competitive intelligence.

Events and demand generation benefit, too. Event organizers recruit conference speakers from the community, and salespeople can access additional outreach opportunities. 

Not only does community-building drive community and corporate aims, but it also acts as a force multiplier for other marketing functions, helping organizations achieve greater impact with the same investment.

David is a former craft beer journalist turned writer and digital strategist. He now helps ambitious technology brands tell narrative-driven stories.

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