A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a group of people who provide insights, feedback, and guidance to an organization or community manager. These boards are incredibly helpful, and are created to foster a deeper connection between a community leader and their members, ensuring that the community is going in the right direction.

The primary purpose of a CAB is to bridge the gap between community members and management, allowing members to be a direct source of feedback, and ensuring that community managers can take on board that feedback and use it to enhance the overall user experience. 

By involving members in the decision-making process, communities can build a stronger sense of trust and loyalty, which is essential for long-term engagement and growth.

In this article, we’ll dive into the role and function of CABs, exploring how you can set them up, leverage their feedback, and overcome any potential challenges. 

Understanding the role of CABs in online communities

CABs differ from focus groups or market research panels. They’re less about gathering general feedback and more about forming a strategic partnership between community managers and their most engaged members.

Unlike feedback sessions or surveys, CABs involve long-term engagement, providing ongoing insights over time. They provide a mutual benefit for both community managers and members, as the community overall benefits from direct user insights, and CAB members get to gain a sense of ownership and influence over the direction of the community.

CABs are ideal for online community settings as the digital nature of online communities allows for a quicker implementation and assessment of changes based on CAB feedback. Online CABs can also easily include members from around the globe, providing a diverse range of viewpoints and can lead to a more inclusive approach to community strategies. 

Top 6 tips for community marketing and content marketing collaboration
In order to achieve the best results from both community marketing and content marketing strategies, it’s important to recognize exactly what makes them both unique, as well as what unites them.

Setting up a Customer Advisory Board

Establishing a CAB is a strategic process that requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. The success of a CAB hinges on clear objectives, the right mix of members, and a structure that facilitates effective collaboration and communication.

Identifying the goals for a CAB

The first step in setting up a CAB is to define clear and specific goals. Think about what you want to achieve through this board. Your goals could range from getting insights into user experience, testing new features, guiding community growth strategies, or enhancing member engagement.

Your goals can also help you in other aspects of your CAB, from choosing the members, to the structure and frequency of meetings.

Selecting the right members for the CAB

The effectiveness of your CAB will depend on the members you choose. It’s essential to have a selection process that aligns with the goals you’ve set.

Look for members who are not only active and engaged in the community, but those that represent a wide range of perspectives. Consider factors like how long they’ve been part of the community, the industry they belong to, and their unique perspective or skills that they could bring to the table.

Make sure you strive for diversity in your CAB to ensure a broad range of insights. This could include diversity in geography, age, gender, as well as different user experiences and levels of expertise in the community. 

Structuring the CAB

Once the members are selected, the next step is to structure your CAB to facilitate productive discussions and valuable outcomes.

Decide how often the CAB should meet, whether that’s monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually, depending on your goals and the availability of the members. Regular meetings are important to keep the momentum going and address any ongoing community developments.

Choose an effective communication channel that suits the nature of your community. It could be a mix of methods like video meetings or in-person meetings (if possible), or formats like email or a dedicated communication platform like a Slack channel for ongoing discussions. 

Lay our clear roles and responsibilities for each member, such as CAB leader or facilitator. Ensure responsibilities are evenly distributed and each member understands their role, this will help maintain a focused and productive group dynamic.

By taking all this into account, you can set up a CAB that is well-equipped to provide valuable insights and guidance, ultimately helping to shape and enhance your online community. Remember, a well-structured CAB not only brings benefits to the community but also provides its members with a rewarding and engaging experience.

Take your community engagement to the next level with these 6 top tips
Community engagement is non-negotiable when it comes to community-led growth. It’s not enough to just get people in the door, you’ve got to make sure they’re getting involved, having fun, and engaging.

Leveraging CAB Feedback

One of the key functions of a CAB is the ability to gather, analyze, and implement the feedback you receive. This process is crucial to ensure that the insights being provided by the CAB members are being made into tangible improvements in your online community. 

Gathering feedback from CAB members

Collecting feedback from your CAB can be done through various methods, each offering unique insights and encouraging different types of engagement.

  • Surveys and questionnaires: These are useful for collecting structured, quantitative data. They are particularly effective for gauging CAB members' opinions on specific topics or proposed changes within the community. Surveys can be conducted periodically to track shifts in opinions and satisfaction over time.
  • Interactive sessions and workshops: These sessions are more dynamic and allow for deeper discussions. They can be done virtually or, if possible, in person. Workshops and interactive sessions are excellent for brainstorming, problem-solving, and exploring complex topics in detail. They foster a more engaging environment and can lead to more nuanced insights than surveys.

Analyzing and interpreting feedback

Once you have the feedback, you need to analyze and interpret it. This process involves looking beyond surface-level data to get to grips with any underlying trends, sentiments, and implications of the feedback. 

Consider both quantitative data from surveys, and qualitative insights from more interactive sessions. Analyzing the feedback in the context of your community goals and challenges will help in making informed decisions.

Implementing feedback 

The ultimate goal of feedback gathering is to use it in a way that positively impacts the community. 

Some feedback may lead to immediate, actionable changes, while other insights will require more long-term strategic planning. It’s essential to differentiate between the two and plan accordingly.

Quick wins will boost community morale and show members that their input is valued, whereas long-term changes might involve a more substantial shift in the community’s direction or strategy. 

Not all feedback can and should be implemented immediately, prioritize based on what most aligns with your community goals and what’s feasible in terms of resources and impact. Also consider the potential ROI of implementing changes, so ensure you’re making a balanced decision, considering both the needs of the community and the practicalities of implementation. 

Building a strong relationship with your CAB

Creating a successful CAB isn’t just about gathering insights, it’s also about nurturing a strong and ongoing relationship with CAB members. This relationship is essential to the effectiveness of the CAB, and is built on open communication and recognition. 

Maintaining open and consistent communication is crucial for the health and productivity of the CAB. This involves more than just conveying information, but also fostering an environment where CAB members feel valued and heard. 

Keep CAB members informed about what’s happening within the community and any upcoming changes. Transparency is key to building trust. Ensure there’s a clear process for members to provide feedback and that the feedback is acknowledged and responded to. This will help reinforce the value of their contributions.

Make it easy for CAB members to reach out with their ideas or concerns. Whether it's through dedicated communication channels or regular check-ins, accessibility strengthens the connection between the community management and the CAB.

Publicly acknowledge the contributions of CAB members, whether in community forums, newsletters, or social media. This not only shows appreciation but also highlights the importance of the CAB to the wider community.

Offer rewards or incentives that are meaningful to the CAB members. This could range from exclusive access to new features, recognition badges, or opportunities to participate in special events. Personalized thank-you messages or notes can go a long way in making CAB members feel valued. It shows that their individual contributions are noticed and appreciated.

Be open to evolving the structure or focus of the CAB based on the community’s changing landscape and the feedback from CAB members. Treat the CAB as a learning opportunity. Be open to new ideas and approaches suggested by CAB members and be willing to experiment with their suggestions.

Building a strong relationship with your CAB is a continuous process that requires attention, respect, and genuine engagement. By maintaining open communication, recognizing their efforts, and adapting to evolving needs, you can ensure that your CAB remains a vibrant and integral part of your community’s growth and success.

Breaking down a successful community & understanding what matters
Creating buzzing communities is not easy, but it sure is fun, if you believe in your cause and mission.

Challenges and considerations

While CABs can be incredibly beneficial for communities, managing them effectively has its own set of challenges and considerations. Being aware of these and being prepared to address them will aid in the smooth operation and success of your CAB.

Managing a CAB means working with a diverse group of people, aligning their feedback with community goals, and ensuring engagement remains high. Some common challenges include:

  • Member turnover: Over time, some members may become less engaged or leave the community. It’s important to have a plan for recruiting new members and maintaining the continuity of the CAB.
  • Balancing opinions: Not all feedback will be consistent. Balancing conflicting opinions and finding a middle ground that benefits the broader community is key.
  • Time management: CABs require a significant time commitment from both the members and the community managers. Ensuring meetings are productive and don’t overburden participants is crucial.

Effective facilitation during meetings is vital. Ensure discussions remain focused and productive, and that every member has a chance to voice their opinion. Have strategies in place for resolving conflicts, such as mediation or bringing in a neutral third party.

Encourage an open and respectful forum for discussions. Members should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts without fear of criticism or dismissal.

If sensitive information about your community or business is shared with the CAB, confidentiality agreements may be necessary to protect your and your members' interests. Be mindful of data protection laws, especially when dealing with personal information of CAB members.

Addressing these challenges and considerations requires careful planning, clear communication, and a flexible approach. By acknowledging and preparing for these aspects, you can ensure that your CAB operates smoothly and continues to be an invaluable asset to your online community.

Final thoughts

For community managers looking to deepen their engagement with their members and enhance their community’s growth and sustainability, CABs can be an invaluable tool.

They provide a structured yet flexible platform for gathering insights and building a collaborative relationship with members. Implementing a CAB requires time and resources, but the return in terms of member loyalty, improved user experience, and innovative growth strategies can be invaluable.

Have you joined a space of other community managers like yourself? Our growing Slack channel offers you everything you need to share tips, ask questions, and so much more!

Join today.

Join the Community-Led Alliance
Sign up to our community for discussions, networking, and ideas. It’s a free online resource dedicated to helping you sharpen your community-led growth strategy.