Community Building
Written by: Ryan Flannagan

Chapter 28: Building Community

 

We’ve spent a lot of time showing you how Modern, Digital, Inbound Marketing can bring more qualified leads to your virtual door and help you sell more of them. It’s all about providing remarkable content to everybody — visitors, leads and “maybe/somedays” alike.

You could stop there, and increase your revenues significantly, but that would be a huge mistake. Just because somebody puts money on the table doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon that customer. We are not used car salespeople with a jacket nearly as checkered as our pasts. We are modern, digital marketers and we know the value of a customer is only beginning with the first sale.

By the same token, we are not boiler room appointment setters who hang up on nonqualified leads and scratch them out of our books. We are — say it with me now — modern, digital marketers. We know people who can’t buy our product directly still have massive potential value for our brands.

 

Building Community is how we develop and leverage the value of both past clients and on qualified customers, so let’s talk about how. But first, let’s address the biggest question in this conversation:

 

Why Bother?

Building community helps you keep in touch with people who aren’t actively buying from you, but who still feel positive about your brand. Through keeping touch (if you do it right), you also lead them to feel still more positively toward your brand as the community grows.

Musicians have demonstrated the power of this for decades, by not just selling albums but by creating a community of devoted fans. That fan base included people who had purchased every album and t-shirt, as well as people who couldn’t afford to buy albums at all. But go mention Iron Maiden in a room full of heavy metal fans, or Loreena McKennitt to a group of new age listeners, and watch the power of community at work.

What music publicists understand, and digital marketers must embrace, is the value and power of those community members. People like that may…

 

…Share information about your brand to a qualified customer they know
…Write a favorable review about you online
…Engage passionately against a negative review, refuting spurious claims so you don’t have to
…Write an article or blog post about your company or product
…Become an evangelist for your company
…Add robust content to your community to give it more momentum and gravitas

 

Developing a strong community for your brand leverages the fact that 55% of consumers are willing to recommend companies that delight them, and their friends will buy it even if it means paying a higher price than with an unknown factor.

 

The Elements of Strong Community

Think about Kia cars. There’s nothing wrong with them, but nobody’s exactly getting passionate about the brand. Now think about the Ford vs. Chevy debate that’s been part of US car culture since time immemorial, and recently brought us art treasures like:

company-branding

That’s powerful brand loyalty, but wait – there’s more.

Now, think about how people feel about their Harley-Davidson Motorcycles…and how some people who don’t even own Harleys think about Harleys.

You don’t want just a community — like the community of people who all drive Kias. You want a strong community like Ford and Chevy enthusiasts. If you can manage to develop a fanatic community like Harley Drivers or Iron Maiden fans, more power to you — though in truth that level of community is as much a matter of luck as good planning with solid execution.

If you look at 100 different successful brand communities, you get what looks like 100 different strategies for building them. This makes sense on the surface because obviously the things that motivate and engage Chevy-driving soccer moms are different from those that capture bikers (or coders and lawyers) on their hogs.

But look closer, and you’ll see powerful communities share several traits in common:

  1. They exist to serve the members of the community
    At the top level, they exist to build a brand and make a profit, but every decision about the community should be made to benefit and serve the culture of fandom and the needs of the members. Build an authentic community based on what the members ask for, and the community will help build your brand. Ask people to buy into an inauthentic fan club, and your community will be stillborn.
  2. They look spontaneous but are carefully engineered
    The daily interactions with your brand and other members have to be unscripted, but the development of that membership is a careful cultivation of communication hubs, thought leaders, community advocates, and fan base.
  3. They embrace constructive conflict
    A community for Coke never wants an argument about Coke vs. Pepsi, but they thrive from arguments about Diet Coke vs. Coke Zero, or what spice mix to include in a Coke-based barbecue sauce. Internal factions and friendly conflicts make communities more interesting, and members more engaged.
  4. They give everybody a role
    The key factor in a community is membership – a sense of belonging. People can’t belong if they don’t have a role to fit into. Not everybody is cut out to be a Fan Club President, online thought leader, or The Welcomer of the Noobs, but everybody should be able to quickly find a place where they feel they belong, and can contribute.
  5. They gamify participation
    From free t-shirts for coming to a promotion event to online badges, strong communities use the human impulse to accumulate points and trophies to foster participation. The points don’t have to have value outside the community, but giving them some kind of objective worth can help ramp up activity from time to time.

I’m not saying you have to be Coca-Cola or Harley Davidson to run a successful brand community, but you should look at brands that are so successful with community building. Analyze what they do and work to replicate their success. Examine how they use their social media channels, online communities and direct email campaigns to establish belonging and ownership among their clients and potential customers.

We’ll talk later in the book about specific ways to build a powerful community that includes customers, non-qualified leads and former clients alike.

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