Every brand has a community. It may be comprised of your customers, partners, brand ambassadors or best sales prospects. The trick is not just having a community (and believe me, you have one whether or not you’re actively engaging with it) but managing that community so that it provides value to all members and, hence, strategic advantage to your business.
Most brands build community with an advertiser mindset, sending the message to members that transactions are valued over true engagement. The result: Brands get lost in a massive ocean of marketing messages and are easily ignored by weary consumers. To cut through the noise, you need to up your community game.
Here’s how to do it:
Serve specific niches
Many brands mistakenly believe that the more community members they have, the better. But the most valuable communities are smaller, more exclusive and focus on building lifetime brand advocates by offering their members far more than the opportunity to buy. Aim to build an association for a particular group, whether it’s vps of analytics or master plumbers. A group of 10 awesome people around a table can be more valuable than 500 people at an event.
Think about the subset of people you want to invest in and create experiences exclusively for them. Drill down as specifically as possible. For instance, simply CEOs is too general. A CEO of a Fortune 500 company has little in common with the CEO of a seed-stage startup. You can have more than one community, siloing your groups according to various verticals such as geography, company size, professional role, etc. This way, you’ll get to know your members more intimately so that you can identify their pain points, introduce them to people who may be helpful to them or suggest resources that they may not unearth on their own.
Start having meaningful conversations
Those dollars you’re spending online to get traffic and rack up vanity metrics may ultimately provide some ROI, but they won’t help you build community. All eyeballs are not created equal, and audience is not the same as community. Your goal should not be to build an advertising channel but to have meaningful conversations with your community members in a space where they feel heard and valued. For that, you’re much better off launching a private page where you can vet members and steer the conversation toward relevant topics.
For example, if your customers are primarily CIOs, you may want to start a private Facebook group for CIOs, a place where these execs can connect with one another as peers and possibly provide you with market and product insight. Make it clear that all members are vetted and that you’ve gone above and beyond to get the right people in the [physical and virtual] room. Your options are not limited to large social media platforms; you can also create a freestanding group.
Leverage the right real estate
You wouldn’t expect to have meaningful conversations with your best friends in the middle of a crowded and noisy club. And yet, that’s exactly how most brands approach community building.
Say, for instance, that your brand sells gourmet spices and everyone in your industry attends a certain trade show. As an advertiser, you may write a check for a booth. But in your role as a community manager, you’d be wise to invest in hosting a private, invitation-only event at a nearby restaurant where the chef will prepare a tasting menu with your spices. You’d invite top chefs who are attending the show, providing them with an oasis from the noise of a massive trade show and giving them an opportunity to connect with their peers in an exclusive setting. The tradeshow is not transportable, but your private event is. You can also earn a reputation as a curator of memorable experiences that connect industry superstars at private oasis-like gatherings within larger events. It’s not just another “brand activation,” but rather a true member benefit for a select few, with your brand sitting at the center.
As you consider all of the above, remember that you are vying for people’s most precious and finite resource: their time and their bandwidth. You’ll need to put effort into cutting through the noise to differentiate your brand from the competition, to get people’s attention and to build engagement and loyalty. To do that, you must provide your members with value that they’re unlikely to get anywhere else.