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Community Management: Are Customer Networks the Changing of the Guard for CRM?



Community Management: Are Customer Networks the Changing of the Guard for CRM?

Community Management and Customer Relationship Management CRM: The omniscient Wikipedia describes Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as “the consistent alignment of a company to your customers and the systematic design of customer relationship processes”.

What role does interaction with customers and prospects play in this context? Can CRM really work well if the relationships with the customers are not a dialogue, but a one-way street? Certainly not. Active relationships with the target group, not just playing with marketing or sales information, are the goal of all good marketing and sales.

Of course, “Call to Actions” can be integrated into newsletters and events can be organized. Ultimately, however, in such cases, the impulse always comes from the company, never from the customers. Your customers and prospects have so much more potential and desire for dialogue. By building a community (German: network), you can take advantage of it.


About the Author

Franz Wenzel, Computer Scientist (FH) and Managing Partner of congreet GmbH

Franz Wenzel has been writing on the since April 2020.

His article on standard software versus individual software development can be found here.


So the question arises:

Away with the CRM systems and here with the community platforms?

Salesforce, one of the largest global providers of CRM systems, describes CRM software as follows: “CRM software collects information about contacts with customers such as emails, phone calls, profiles on social networking websites and much more. It can also automatically pull in other information, such as the latest news about the company’s activities, and store details such as customers’ personal preferences regarding communications.

The CRM system structures all this information clearly so that you get a comprehensive overview of people and companies and understand their relationship better and better over time.”  (Source: )

A community is a community of interests of people who, through a particular topic, regional commonality or demographic criterion, become a group of people who are interesting to each other and who can support each other.

A community software can support this project perfectly. Famous representatives of community platforms are e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn. On their platform, anyone can implement communities in the form of groups. The big disadvantage of this is that you are only a user of these systems yourself. The important data sovereignty lies with the platform providers.

CRM is too passive – networks are for participation

CRM systems try to archive and classify customer data in order to sell them products or services by means of special offers or campaigns. The customer has a passive role here. This has the advantage that all processes can be easily planned, as the complete control lies with the owner of the CRM. In a community system, the participants are active participants. They can act themselves and for their own benefit.

The path from the passivity of an e.g. newsletter recipient of your CRM to an interacting member is both an opportunity and a risk. If the network operator does not manage to encourage the members of the community to participate, the delivery obligation for exciting content lies exclusively with the operator. It must ensure attractiveness in order to maintain the community. If, for example, the operator is a publisher, this is not a problem. For companies that produce little content by default, this can be time-consuming and expensive.

However, if many members of the network become content suppliers and discuss diligently, you need very little effort to successfully manage such a system. The operator benefits greatly from the additional input.

Which networks can you imagine?

A few possible scenarios for networks are

  • Customer Networks
  • Regional Groups
  • Expert networks
  • Alumni Groups
  • Women’s Networks
  • Associations
  • Brand and product communities
  • Service and Support Communities
  • Career Networks
  • General interest groups

Community Management and Customer Relationship Management CRM – What are the benefits of building a community?

While with CRM systems the data storage according to GDPR often has to be interpreted very extensively, you can largely forget the topic with communities. As in LinkedIn, for example, people maintain their own data. This also gives the members of the community control over the scope and visibility of their data.

What is exciting now is that for meaningful participation in a network, the participants have to make their data available. As the operator of the platform, you can only use this data within the framework of the network, but you no longer need to worry about data quality or consent.

The members provide you with the data voluntarily, even gladly. Because they expect this to be an important advantage within the community. People classify themselves and tell the network what things they are interested in. The operator of this community can react to this in a targeted manner within the framework of the network rules defined by you and, for example, play out targeted advertising or individual offers.

Image and prestige

The operator of the community actively occupies a specific topic. If it is possible to occupy an interesting topic and to inspire many experts on this topic for the community, then the topic is automatically associated with the operator. This makes it a theme brand! A good example is, for example, a company that produces and sells a product for tax consultants and builds up a network for tax consultants. This company would become known in the industry solely through the network and can use this platform as another advertising channel. If other tax advisors join the community, they automatically become interested parties of the operator. If the operator manages the subscriber data in a structured and systematic manner, a target group-specific approach is immediately possible. Easy!

Community Management and Customer Relationship Management CRM – Why another platform?

For the operator, the advantages described above are obvious.

But why should potential members join a network outside of big players like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.?

It is a topic-related network of experts. This means that for me as a potential member, it must be interesting to be right there. If the image of a community is strong enough, then it becomes the “who’s who” of this topic – this is interesting for one’s own image. Potential members can position and profile themselves within the network. The participants of a community are all united on the topic. Each member is a potentially interesting point of contact.

Therefore, it is important for the selection of a platform that you can easily address other people within the network. Even before addressing, there is still the finding. While general platforms like LinkedIn are difficult to navigate via unstructured text fragment searches, it’s much easier if the network offers topic-based keywording.

It is important that the data of people and contributions are structured and not only e.g. the people are stored as in a business card folder (older people still remember). Through the systematic preparatory work of the operator, the theme room is structured. If information on these topics is provided, e.g. as a topic-specific news stream, the system increasingly distinguishes itself from generalist platforms such as Facebook. They want to serve all stakeholders. The key to success is topic focus.

Meeting interesting people, offering a platform for conversations (or dialogue) and gaining access to interesting information – this makes a network successful.

What do I need for my own community?

  1. Topic to be filled
  2. Addresses / Potential Participants
  3. Content (plan) for the start-up phase
  4. An online community platform, such as congreet

What was congreet again?

congreet is the community platform of the German company congreet GmbH (

With the congreet software you create your own community in your branding. At the same time, as the organizer, you are the owner of the data. This gives you the opportunity to manage members like in a club and to access valuable statistics and evaluations. The software offers all the necessary features for an intensive and extensive exchange on a specific topic. For example, a personal profile for all members, a newsfeed with space for discussions and a 1:1 chat for personal contact.

B2B matchmaking and keyword browsing make it very easy to find the right contact persons. Live surveys and broadcastings also offer the organizer the opportunity to collect feedback and broadcast targeted advertising messages. Under, the functions are presented in detail.

CRM or Community?

What do you need now? A CRM solution or a community? Of course, the “classic” CRM has not become obsolete and a network platform is not suitable for many aspects such as forecast or real lead tracking. However, a customer network completes the CRM very well. Therefore, the answer to the initial question is: Do one thing and don’t leave the other.

If you have any questions about the network, please contact the author or his colleague Julia Mühlegger, who can be reached at

Image Credit:


Note: This is a machine translation. It is neither 100% complete nor 100% correct. We can therefore not guarantee the result.


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