The social Web is expanding into the workplace. According to a recent Forrester Research study of business buyers, 91% use social technologies and 69% use them for professional purposes. In that context, more companies are discovering the potential of branded online communities aimed at the B2B market.

That trend is less visible than the growth of other types of social networks because B2B communities are often aimed at highly specialized populations and may even be closed to outsiders. However, a growing number of enterprises regard their B2B communities as a secret weapon that gives them a powerful competitive advantage.

What's an Online Community?

Simply put, an online community is a website where users can publish content and form relationships with one another. For B2B users, an online community can be a networking opportunity, a chance to collaborate, a place to gather and share knowledge.

A company that launches a B2B community is opening a direct line for engaging in an ongoing conversation with those users, which can lead to enormous business benefits.

Special Requirements of B2B Communities

When developing an online community—of any kind—it's important to start with a clear vision of your goals and your target users. A B2B community is no exception.

However, your goals and target users for a B2B community are likely to be quite different from those for a community aimed at end consumers. Those differences will shape everything you do, from the website design to the types of activities you will offer, your communication style, the type of community management required, and strategic decisions about how you will recruit your members and whom you will permit to join.

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Nancy Strauss is the owner of William Victor Marketing Translations ( and the author, with Anna Buss, of Online Communities Handbook (