The Essential Guide to
Customer Communities

B2B companies are leveraging community to foster lasting success.

Online customer communities have emerged as an essential strategy for companies looking to deliver value-rich customer experiences, helping them build long-lasting customer relationships that drive retention and revenue.

However, because online customer communities are such a versatile strategy, many companies are not sure where to begin when they decide to implement. In this guide, we lay out the core principles that underpin successful communities, giving you best practices that will help you achieve business objectives with this uniquely powerful methodology.

Chapter 1

What is an online customer community?

An online customer community is a location or platform where customers, users, internal stakeholders, partners, and others meet to discuss and share experiences related to a company’s offerings. Originally conceived as a customer support channel for B2C companies, community has evolved into a crucial strategy for B2B enterprises to engage and retain customers.

Why do businesses need online customer communities?

Online customer communities facilitate product and industry-related conversations in a specialized setting that is transparent, secure, and productive for customers. In turn, these conversations create opportunities for companies to connect with their customers and users. Using community, companies can develop customer relationships based on trust, while gaining insights into customer behavior that drive crucial business practices like Customer Support, Customer Success, Product Development, and more.

Read the 2024 Market Guide to Customer Communities

At Gainsight, we position customer communities squarely at the heart of the customer journey and the customer experience. We have seen firsthand how community helps companies deliver value, which results in stickier customer relationships that increase retention and revenue growth.

Are there different types of online customer communities?

Customer communities can serve several different use cases. None of these cases are mutually exclusive; in fact, most companies will use community to execute on two, three, or more use cases simultaneously. But understanding the possibilities will help you clarify your goals and provide a starting point for planning your community.

Use Case #1: Scaling Customer Support

This is where most companies begin with community. A community platform is the perfect place for users to go when they have questions about a product or need to troubleshoot. Companies start by posting common solutions and answers on a community for users to find. But in most communities, the majority of support content is actually posted by other users in a peer-to-peer (P2P) motion. Regardless of the source, once quality content is established, it lives on to help future users solve problems. As you can imagine, this significantly reduces the burden on Customer Support teams and saves costs.

Use Case #2: Building a Knowledge Base

Troubleshooting content is a great beginning, but for companies that want to be more proactive about educating and informing customers, community can easily grow to become a central hub for all customer-facing resources, including best practices, Customer Education, product updates, and more. As an efficient vehicle for communicating to the largest number of customers possible in a one-to-many channel, this use case will help customers truly personalize their experience and find their own unique path to value.

Use Case #3: Optimizing the Customer Journey

Beyond simply serving as a central repository for content, the community plays a crucial role in supporting customers throughout every stage of their journey. Specifically, designated sections of the community can be tailored to guide new customers from the initial onboarding and implementation phase, through training and product adoption, all the way to becoming advocates. This approach not only enriches the customer experience but also fosters a sense of belonging and engagement, leading to higher satisfaction. By integrating the community into the end-to-end customer journey, CS teams create a seamless and enriching experience that can put customers on course to become powerful advocates.

For me, community is only as important as how much it’s impacting the broader business. Community is everyone. It touches prospects and customers. Everyone is part of the customer experience. To give a great customer experience, you need to work with your internal stakeholders who touch every single part of the customer journey to give the most optimal experience.

Nisha Bax
Gong's Head of Community

Use Case #4: Strengthening Customer Relationships

Community builds dialogue between you and your customers, giving you a more complete view of what they are talking about and thinking about in a candid, transparent environment. This opens up a range of strategies you can use to strengthen those relationships. Communities allow you to identify and cultivate super users who can act as advocates and champions for your business. You can use information about customers to create user groups based on industry, geography, role, interests, or other attributes, helping develop a sense of belonging among customers. Community can also act as a vehicle to organize in-person and virtual events that encourage networking and learning among customers.

Use Case #5: Product Communication, Feedback, and Ideation

Community can drive product innovation and optimization. That’s because customers in a community feel comfortable providing candid feedback and insights on product features and experiences. Community then becomes a great place to gain real insights into how you can improve your product—from the people who use it every day. This feedback equips you with real data that you can then bring to your Product team, encouraging a more streamlined and data-driven product development process. In B2B software communities with a focus on customer ideation, we have seen as much as 30% to 40% of all user content posted be ideation-related.

If there is a bug in the product, we can be nearly guaranteed that one of our users will find it quickly and then we can fix it […] That’s probably our biggest achievement as a community.

Ditte Solsø Korsgård
Community Program Manager at Sonos

Use Case #6: Brand-Building, Marketing, and Conversion

Communities not only provide valuable content for existing customers and users but also serve as powerful engines for driving potential buyers from Google searches to your product pages. When customer communities are well-integrated across a website, they help companies generate additional leads, drive higher conversion rates, and accelerate the online buying cycle. Beyond just maintaining user engagement, communities can be leveraged by marketing teams to foster growth through customers. By connecting community activity back to CRM systems and using automation, companies can identify opportunities for cross-selling, upselling, and expansion. This integration allows for the tracking of leads, triggering of targeted marketing campaigns, and precise measurement of conversion rates, transforming community engagement into a strategic marketing channel to generate sustained growth over time.

What are the key elements of a successful online customer community?

Regardless of which goals you pursue with community, successful communities share in three important, powerful characteristics. These key elements define success:


Companies are based on the idea of empowering your customers to self-serve, which is a huge win-win for you and your customers. Customers win because they prefer self-service by a wide margin versus relying on contacting Customer Service or Customer Success directly. Communities allow them to access content at their own pace and receive information faster, in most cases. Self-service is a win for your company because it drastically reduces the amount of resources required to support and serve customers while allowing you to scale far beyond what you could accomplish when limited by communications driven by internal teams.

Content Engine

One of Community’s primary functions is to generate robust, high-quality content. Whether that content is user- or company-generated, it all drives engagement, facilitates self-service, and helps users and customers achieve value with your product. And the content that lives on your community doesn’t have to stay there—you can use your platform’s API or embedding tools to inject posts, knowledge articles, and support documents into your apps, websites, or software products. Content will also have a second life driving organic search, driving millions of relevant impressions each month, with up to four times higher click-through rates than paid search.


Multiway Communication

Communities are built to harness the power of multiway communication. Communications sent to the user base via community reach a large number of people in an effective, efficient manner, becoming a truly one-to-many channel that is arguably more impactful than what a single Customer Success Manager, Account Manager, or email campaign could achieve. On the flip side, P2P communications on community quickly grow into a vast web of conversations with a breadth and depth unmatched by any other channel. And because community conversations are happening on a trusted, transparent venue among your most dedicated, locked-in users, the impact they have will be deeper and more long-lasting.

Chapter 2

Why Build Your Own Online Customer Community?

Why build a branded community instead of using a social media platform?

It’s not uncommon to see the term “online community” applied to places like forums, social media groups, and even listservs. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are undoubtedly important channels for reaching customers and the general public. But how well do they deliver value to your customers? And do they truly serve your business goals?

Branded communities actually have several inherent advantages that social media platforms cannot match.

  • Control: A branded community gives you total control over the content and user experience, including the ability to integrate your community with the rest of your systems, such as Customer Support, Customer Education, Customer Success, and more.
  • Security: Privacy and data security are top of mind not only for you, but for your customers. The only way you can truly guarantee data safety is when you own the platform yourself.
  • Data: On a social media platform, who owns the data at the end of the day? Not you. In many ways, the data you gather about your customers via community is the most valuable outcome of all. You need to own it.
  • Capabilities: Many Community vendors provide dedicated platforms you can use to build a branded, online community, including Gainsight. We would venture to say that any one of these platforms will give you more functionality, flexibility, and scalability than a social media platform.

And a final point: we all know the social media landscape is constantly evolving. Do you really want your most important communication channel to customers to be subject to decisions made by a third party?

Learn more

Here are some great tips on community management: The Ultimate Guide to Successful B2B Community Management

Chapter 3

Benefits of Online Customer Communities

Once a community is in place, the benefits to your business will start to accumulate. Finding the right metrics to measure the impact of community is a topic for another article, but here are the kinds of benefits you can expect to see.

  • Lower support costs and the ability to scale customer-facing teams. Peer-to-peer and one-to-many content will ease the burden on Customer Support, and make them more efficient while reducing costs. We have seen support deflections as high as 50% among B2B companies. This efficiency and scalability impact also extends to other customer-facing teams, like Customer Success, Customer Education, Product, and Sales, reducing the amount of one-on-one time required for troubleshooting and supercharging initiatives like Onboarding and Product Adoption.
  • Better product roadmaps. Communities can revolutionize the product feedback loop and create a virtuous cycle of ideation, testing, and adoption. Product development-focused communities create an environment that not only facilitates general feedback, but also creates opportunities for measuring popularity and even beta testing. You can tie feedback to ARR and understand exactly how much specific ideas are worth. Armed with this information, you will be able to bring data-driven proposals to the Product team so that everyone is aligned around a truly customer-centric product roadmap.
  • Increase Engagement: Optimized customer journey. Community can be an integral part of a larger Customer Success strategy at every stage of the customer journey. From onboarding and implementation to product adoption, to expansion, Community is a scalable way to guide customers and help maximize value from the product. Engaged, successful customers are more likely to renew and possibly expand, maintaining and growing your revenue.
  • Increase Engagement: Stickier relationships. Engagement via community has a number of built-in advantages that encourage relationship-building with customers. Online communities give your customers a safe place to interact and share best practices with one another. These transparent conversations build trust. They also find inspiration from their peers, who provide examples of successes and new ideas for achieving value. Communities make customers feel like they are part of an interactive, interesting club of like-minded professionals. They will quickly begin to experience a sense of belonging and ownership—which makes them much more committed to staying with your product.
  • Increase Engagement: Revenue expansion with prospects and conversions. Unpaid users and prospective customers often visit a community to ask questions and learn more about the product, in many cases—60% to 80%—arrive via organic search. High-quality community content answers prospects’ questions and gives them a sense of what it is like to be one of your customers. When they find a vibrant, helpful community, these users become much more likely to convert into paid customers as a result. And the community’s presence will help build the company’s brand presence—marketers take note!

Learn more

Learn more about how to create a successful community here: 10 Steps to Community Success in B2B Software

Chapter 4

Real-World Examples of Successful Communities

We wanted to share some real-world examples of companies who used Gainsight to build successful online customer communities.


Workflow automation company Zapier needed a community that could connect their vast pool of users to the information they needed without disrupting their workflows. They designed a personalized community experience that could accommodate any user journey, while empowering their Community team with automation.

  • 100% of user questions answered in 4-6 hours
  • Customer support for 2.2 million customers
  • 240,000 monthly page views

Read more about Zapier.


Revenue intelligence platform Gong wanted to create a space where their customers could interact with one another beyond in-person events. Gong’s active community now enables knowledge sharing at scale, with improved customer retention, product stickiness, and ARR.

  • Active community members upsell at 3X the rate of other users
  • 36% of accounts are in the community
  • 12,000 unique visitors in one year

Read more about Gong.


Sonos is the world’s leading sound experience company, delivering an unparalleled experience through thoughtful design, simplicity of use, and an open platform. The Sonos community provides an all-in-one destination for self-service and user engagement, delivering a superior customer experience.

  • Serves more than 1 million users per year
  • Handles 40% of Sonos’ support interactions, saving millions of dollars annually
  • Their beta community’s 13,000 members have created more than 300 ideas for Sonos

Read more about Sonos.

Chapter 5

Why choose Gainsight as a community solution?

We’ve given you some examples of companies who have used Gainsight Customer Communities to deploy impactful communities that have boosted customer engagement, ideation, and self-service. ​Now we’d like to dive deeper into Gainsight’s capabilities and how it can help you build a branded online customer community.

Leverage your content into a seamless self-serve experience

Gainsight provides a range of tools to help you create an amazing customer experience using your community content. We make it easy to organize both company- and user-generated content so that it is simple for users to get the information they need while making it straighforward to quickly escalate complex questions. Federated search lets users comb through your entire resource catalog in just a few clicks. And behind the scenes, we have a uniquely flexible API and a robust set of moderation and publishing features that give you full control over the content experience. Gainsight’s Generative AI capabilities can also help you draft and publish knowledge base articles and create emails to engage with community members.

Flexible, easy-to-build community infrastructure

Gainsight makes it easy to create your ideal community setup without development expertise. You can adjust graphics and add custom HTML and CSS to match your brand. Features like user groups, gamification, event promotion are simple to implement so you can start nurturing relationships right away. And everything is driven by high-quality user data and advanced analytics. You can integrate your community data into systems like Salesforce and your Customer Success platform, which gives you a 360 view into usage across your entire customer base.

Build customer-centric products based on community feedback

Gainsight enables you to implement a robust product ideation and feedback loop through the community. Gainsight capabilities give you a frictionless way to collect feedback, filter ideas, assess popularity and ROI, and close the loop. You can also share product updates and feature releases instantly with customers—making the community the go-to place for announcements. The Gainsight product feedback dashboard will show you how well you’re delivering on the ideas that your users vote for and submit.

The full Gainsight platform also provides a single customer hub where Customer Communities, Customer Success, Customer Education, and Product Experience combine to deliver value and business outcomes. This integrated suite can help you create even more amazing customer relationships.


We hope you found this guide to online customer communities to be informative—and maybe even inspiring! You can check out the Gainsight Community here.