Community-led growth

In product-led growth (PLG), users experience the product first-hand via a free plan or trial period, and then go on to buy it themselves or with a sales assist. The product does the early selling. In community-led growth (CLG), buyers evaluate the product by observing and interacting with its community. The community does the selling.

Comparing PLG and CLG

A community-led growth motion needs members who are willing to speak up on the product's behalf, to help people learn how to use it and get the most out of it.

Why would someone do that? One reason is passion, another is that they know a better community makes a better product. As talented new users join the community, they win too.

In community-led growth, members must have a way to create value for each other. Often that happens by members creating guides, documentation, templates, plugins, extensions, and apps that others can use. In open source, members working on the core product and ecosystem. These help everyone develop and get the most out of product, often in unanticipated ways.

Here's a table that compares the two growth models:

Value creationBy product makers for usersBy members for members
(templates, extensions, docs)
Research phaseFree trial, freemiumInteract with the community
Growth driversIn-product invites, WoMTalks, demos, advocacy, warm intros
Content sourceFirst-party, partnersUser-generated
Good forEasy-to-use productsComplex, powerful products; platforms
MeasureNPS, PQLsGravity, CQLs, active members
ExamplesAtlassian, DropboxWordPress, GitLab, Figma

Can elements of product-led and community-led growth be combined? Yes. A common situation is product-led growth with community acceleration. In that scenario, the user community primarily provides social proof and accelerates word-of-mouth awareness. This works even if the product doesn't rely on members creating value for each other.

The open source / open core software model combines the try-before-you-buy approach from PLG with the fundamental aspect of CLG: community members working together to build the product and ecosystem.

Community-led flywheels

Here are a few flywheels that you'll want to look at setting up if you're doing community-led growth.

Community and Customer Success flywheels

How members contribute value that feeds back into the product and ecosystem, made available for the benefit of other members and users.

Content and marketing flywheels

How to empower members to create content that other members learn from and new users are attracted by. This content has multiple downstream impacts: increasing activation and overall success, driving traffic and signups, and encouraging other members to create their own content.

Sales flywheel

What to do when members and users raise their hands or provide other ready-to-purchase signals. How to do a clean hand-off to a sales team preserving context and integrity. How to feed back happy customers into the community, giving them an opportunity to share their story and teach others what they know.

Hiring flywheel

Hiring is a challenge for all companies, costing lots of time and money. A community-based hiring flywheel can help by producing quality candidates who are already familiar with the company and its product.