Technically, Community Marketing has been around for years. While most people would lump it together with Word-of-Mouth Marketing, we beg to differ. It does share similarities in that it’s an organic, authentic approach to creating community, however, Community Marketing focuses on long-term relationships with a group of individuals that share a similar passion, ultimately making Community Marketing more effective than Word-of-Mouth.
If you take a look at the industry’s history, Word-of-Mouth Marketing was the dawn of the marketing industry. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung very far in the opposite direction with noisy, interruptive ads vying for our attention. Naturally, audiences are doing whatever it takes not to have their lives bombarded by advertising hence the advent of ad blockers and programs that allow you to subscribe to opt out of ads (Spotify, online news outlets). As is only natural, the pendulum is swinging back, audiences are seeking out more authentic engagements.
This need has led to the birth of mini-celebrities: influencers. These individuals offer a new way to get to know brands without being sold to. The public seeks trustworthy individuals (online word-of-mouth) who are providing their own personal opinions about products. I’ll leave that topic for another day.
Traditionally communities have resided offline. The definition of community as we know it, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”
However, with the prevalence of online platforms, the definition of community has broadened. It is no longer limited to our geographic location. In fact, studies have shown that even difference in language don’t deter a community, as long as they have a shared vision.
Marketing is heading towards healthier, happier relationships between brands and their audiences. While most people have no idea what the solution is just yet, we know the exact remedy - Community Marketing. This focuses on building authentic relationships that create brand tribes.
If you’re a fan of Seth Godin, like I am, then ‘tribes’ is a word you’re familiar with. His book Tribes peaks to the opportunity for brands to lead tribes. We’re 100% on board with Seth on this one. We’ve developed our own community marketing tribe lab to study the social psychology of tribes.
Our research has shown a methodology that grows organic communities almost anywhere. The components overlap with one another and are simplified to make it easier to digest.
7 Key Components Of Communities
Identify a passion that your members share. A fanatical interest that is shared by your members. It has to be a topic that your brand is truly passionate too. It does have to be directly related to your product or service and should not put your product at the center of the conversation.
A good shortcut is to focus on what your product or service actually provides. Is it peace of mind? Is it a moment to yourself? Is it prestige? What intangible offerings does it provide and why do you love your product? And if you don’t love your product (don’t worry, we won’t tell), find the people who are obsessed, and figure out why they love it so much. Oftentimes the product itself is great, but it’s the intangible gifts it gives is what they’re most passionate about.
A common misconception when we talk about Community Marketing is that it won’t fit your industry because you’re not sure your organization fits within a passion. Well, let’s abolish that myth right now. If humans who have a passion for pretending to be animals is a thing (i.e. furries, people obsessed with garbage sorting, or people obsessed with tax accounting), then yes — your obscure offering has a community.
If you’re still worried, one thing that might ease your mind is a community’s effectiveness isn’t measured by how big it is, rather by how strongly engaged and loyal their Tribesmen are. Think of the 80/20 rule. Later on, under point six, we’ll be talking about your Tribe. Those guys are what’s most important. Those guys are the word-of-mouth, influencer masters in your community. They’re the ones that will chit chat all day long with everyone about your shared passion. So, what you’re really looking for is a group of tribesmen you can put your heart and soul into investing in to build a meaningful, long-term bond.
Like the lessons we learn from marketing, the simpler the better. Don’t try to be all things to all people. As the Genie from Aladdin puts it “Beeeee yourself”. People are attracted to people who are passionate. They just want a taste of your world.
Now that you know your passion, what barriers do you want to break the existing mold? What is missing? What can this community benefit from to make it better?
If you’re product and/or service is about quality, we would recommend a vision that focuses on pushing the boundaries of quality or perhaps to fix things that are broken in the industry. If your product is about price point or accessibility, we would focus on a vision that shares your passion with the world.
Regardless of the topic, it’s a vision your company’s leaders need to get behind and embody. Don’t get too carried away with this, you don’t have to save the world, you just need to help change it a little bit in a way that you think will make it better. It could just be growing a community that is obsessed with a certain lifestyle and feel it’s limiting. It could be representing a minority group that you feel needs empowerment. It could be educating the public about something that could make the world better. It could be a group of men who don’t want to be embarrassed for loving My Little Pony (yes, Bronies exist).
The purpose of the vision is to empower your members to achieve a similar goal together. Nothing is more energizing than achieving a goal together with a bunch of like-minded individuals.
Much like a child, a community is shaped by their guardians. The guardian is the most important part of the foundational growth. The guardian is a role model for the community; an individual that demonstrates the core values and tone you want your community to demonstrate throughout all their interactions. However, a community has to survive on its own eventually. The guardian will eventually fall into the background and jump in only when necessary. Much like the guardian in a family, communities have leaders.
This individual has to be part of the brand, representing the organization’s community voice. They are the ones to create, justify and adjust the rules and regulations accordingly. While this responsibility will dissipate across core members as the community grows, it is the leader’s responsibility to set the foundation and lead the charge.
Another important responsibility of the leader is not to dictate but to foster member communication with each other. To actively work towards moving to the sidelines and empowering the community to embody and work together towards the vision. In order to work towards this, the leader provides useful and relevant content to the group and directs the ship to ensure the conversations happening are on topic. As well, on occasion, making the tough decision to reject and remove members that don’t follow the code of conduct.
From the early stages of your community, you will notice different types of visitors or members engaging. They fall into four categories, ranging from least engaged to most engaged. A community establishes itself when there is a strong set of Tribesmen who are highly engaged and aligned with your vision and passion. In order to build Tribesmen, they must pass through each stage from the following order: Guest Visitor, Ghost Members, Passive Members, and Tribesmen. Through each stage, there are ways we can encourage further engagement.
The speed in which an individual passes through the stages is highly dependent on a few key factors. For example, The resonance of your vision and passion, their trust level and the perceived usefulness of the community to further indulge.
I'm going to write a post on each of the stages and how to progress your members from being a Guest Visitors to becoming a Tribesmen.
As you may have noticed, Information Usefulness, is a key component to attracting people to your community, as well as further engaging members to become part of your tribe.
This component of community is very much like inbound marketing. The goal is to produce quality content that is perceived as useful in further indulging their passion.
There are two types of content you can produce - informative content and entertaining content. The goal of both these categories is to provide benefits that surpass the cost of membership.
This content does not primarily need to be shared by the leader or organization. It can be a space where members share this information with each other. Members will voluntarily share content that is specifically relevant to the community, making it a place to go when you’re seeking more information on the passion and vision. Ultimately, it allows them to indulge further in a way that they could not do by themselves.
- Informative Content:
Informative content is primarily used in Inbound Marketing. This type of content is defined as any useful or valuable information relevant to the passion and vision of the community. These can be in the form of job postings, resource sharing, news articles, research, opinion pieces, educational how-tos. The medium in which it’s shared can also vary from video, blog posts, physical print pieces, tools, etc. However, it must mainly be shared with either an online platform (covered in the next topic) or common meeting place where members can discuss together. An example would be a rescue dog community sharing a dog that needs a forever home, or resources to help your rescue dog deal with anxiety.
- Entertaining Content:
This type of content may not be extremely useful, but it’s continuously entertaining. Depending on the nature of your passion and vision, this may be a suitable content category to explore. This one is similar to Informative Content because it allows you to further indulge in your passion, however, this one is much more about reinforcing your group’s beliefs and just having a bit of fun. For the example of the rescue dog community, entertaining content would be the dog that holds food in his mouth, or a dog riding a bike. The goal isn’t to be useful but entertaining.
As you continually produce content for your members, remember that the more they find your content informative and/or entertaining, the more engaged they will be in your community. Thus making this a key piece in building community.
Where does your community convene? Where will your members be joining from? Will they be from your local city or from the country or province? How many members do you want to be part of your group? Depending on your answer, the place where your community convenes may differ. However, no matter the platform, you’ll need an online and offline place for your community to convene.
The platform is a key component because it’s a permanent piece of the puzzle. The platform you choose can either work for or against you. There are two key components to any online platform you choose for your community:
The platform actually contributes to your members level of trust. If the platform doesn’t allow much flexibility and control to the member, the trust level will decrease. The opposite is true as well, the more flexibility and control, the more trust is built. This provides members with a sense of control.
The ability for the guardian or administrator to respond promptly also contributes to the level of trust. If your platform allows the ability for your team to be notified and they have the ability to respond quickly, this contributes greatly to the level of trust your members have in your community.
Allow for a common space for conversations. Unfortunately, not all platforms provide an opportunity for easy two-way conversation for all members to view in one space. Also, some may have this option but are not as conducive to this type of engaged community. Snapchat, for example, can produce many followers and passive participants, but it takes much more effort to create a Tribe.
There are many options for platforms online or offline. For offline communities, think of neighborhoods, public community spaces including community centers, parks, coffee shops, etc. Any space your members can gather regularly. There are also a lot of options for Online Communities. It can be your e-commerce website (ie. Sephora is a good example), Facebook groups or Reddit forums. Keep in mind that if your community primarily speaks online, you’ll need to ensure there are offline opportunities to meet in order to build a tribe.
We’ve touched on a couple of ways to build trust. However, we haven’t yet spoken directly about how trust is extremely important for any member to be highly engaged, Tribesman or not. At any point a Guest Visitor moves towards being a Tribesman, the moment trust is questioned, you lose your community.
Here are the four ways to build and maintain trust:
captures the feeling of being connected to one another when users share their experiences and feelings through a website (Cyr et al., 2009; Zhao & Lu, 2012). -
, also named reciprocal communication, refers to the ability to communicate between two or more entities (Jiang et al., 2010).
- Transparency of Members
reveals who their fellow members are and how well they know them
refers to the site as being able to respond to user queries (Cyr et al., 2009).
- Active control
is the reflection of the machine interactivity, which concerned the ability to choose information and guide an interaction (Lowry, Spaulding, Wells, & Moody, 2006).
You’ll notice a pattern to trust building. Essentially, the closer the community is to real life face to face communication, the more likely it is to build trust. This is additional evidence that supports the fact that communities have not changed, rather have adapted to online platforms.
As you may see, the 7 key factors of Community Marketing are accessible by most industries, if not all. Anywhere from the financial, to niche b2b industries, to the obvious retail industries, are all able to capitalize on Community Marketing.
If any group of individuals can form a community, then they can use Community Marketing. With these 7 key factors, you can form a healthy community. Each of them can be measured, applied, and improved throughout the lifetime of your community.
By focusing in on your members by developing meaningful relationships, anyone can reap the benefits of community building. If you want to learn more, read our How to Evaluate Your Brand Community post and other community marketing strategy posts
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