The word community is used a lot in the SaaS business. The days of just having one user conference per year for your software product are long gone. What do we mean when we talk about community? It means different things to different businesses and it is worthwhile clarifying what kinds of communities your SaaS business has and needs. Three types of communities are common for SaaS businesses and have entirely different although potentially interrelated purposes.
First there is the community of your customers. This is the most common type of community and is typically the people who use your application on a day-to-day basis. They interact with your support organization and use content such as frequently asked questions. They also are typically users and contributors to your forum. An engaged community of your customers can contribute to your business by answering other customers questions, providing referrals and helping to prioritize new features. They can be encouraged through various incentives although often the best contributors want to be recognized as such within the community. An award in front of their community peers with little monetary value is often used successfully.
Second, you may have a community of developers. You see this most often when there is some sort of platform aspect to your service. It may be expansions to your service, other services built on top of your service, integrations or some combination of these. These communities are organized with a substantial amount of technical information, forums that are just for developers, and developer specific support focused on technical issues. This community typically contributes through product suggestions and answering other developers questions. This is a critical community for open source providers.
Third you may have a community of your partners. This may be as simple as a listing of your partners without much, if any community aspects to it. However, many SaaS providers have application marketplaces where other applications which integrate with yours can be listed. Salesforce with the AppExchange is a great example of this. Netsuite and Bullhorn both have application marketplaces to give other examples. In the case of Bullhorn it is a good example of what smaller SaaS companies can do. In the case of Salesforce there are opportunities for these companies in the community to participate in groups, forums and other kinds of interactions with other providers. Although this community exists to serve your customer community it should still be though of as a separate community. Making the members of this community more successful will help make your customer community more successful.
Although there are overlaps in the content and even members in the above communities it helps to think of them as separate communities since they have different needs and motivations. Think about what communities you have and their purpose. This will help you understand how effective they are and what improvements may be needed to make them more effective.