During our live Thrive webinar, I sat down with Katheryn Hunt to discuss why businesses must develop deeper connections with their customers. Together, we created an outline for building a committed community and how to grow it.
What is a purposeful community?
A purposeful community is a group of people with a binding cause unified by a common goal.
Why build a community for your brand/business?
It's essential to understand the value a community brings your business before setting out to create one. It's also vital to understand the value the organization brings to members and potential members. Brand loyalty, for one, is a huge benefit a community can get your business. Community members are less likely to switch brands if they are actively engaging in your brand space. Their conversations can help companies and enterprises identify trends in the industry and also spot product opportunities.
One of the most important benefits a community can provide a company is an organic attraction to your products through "shoulder to shoulder" conversations. During the Thrive, I came up with a fictional company that manufactured composting kits. The fictitious company's community was labeled "Compost Champions," and Katheryn added "World Savers." So our community gained the lengthy name "Compost Champions: World Savers." I might argue that "Waste Warriors" is more aligned with the goals, but let's stick with Champions. I will be using this fictional company throughout this blog as an example.
We also touched on how brands/companies can spot growing trends within the members' conversations during the webinar. These trends can lead companies towards offering new products and services. It might lead to discovering an underserved market. The more comfortable your members feel, the more they will reveal to you. You can learn a lot of insights by listening to your members.
A great example of a company that has utilized a brand community is none other than Wix. Our Partner Community has directly inspired the Partner Program and Partner resources. In addition to Wix's official Beta Program, their organic conversations provide Wix with direct feedback on their many products. Wix is very responsive when it comes to the partners' needs concerning their products. Additionally, the partners' valuable feedback directly impacts product roadmaps to this day.
What are the fundamental building blocks of a brand community?
I get asked quite a bit "how" to build communities. I'll address some fundamental community identifiers before jump-starting how to build a community. I will break it down into four questions that will help identify the key components that will provide your community's framework.
What is the purpose of this community?
What is the goal of this community?
What is the value of this community?
Who are the ideal members?
These questions are not easy. Don't be shocked if you can't answer them immediately. It's worth the time to answer them thoroughly, though. The more detailed you are here, the more it affects your decisions in the growing phase. I will break down what you should discover in each of these questions and then either provide real-world examples or answer these in relation to our hypothetical company's community, The Composting Champions.
What is the purpose?
The purpose of your community should closely align with the goal of your company or product. Why do you make what you make? It's the same for the community. What purpose does it serve? A community's goal might be to learn, share, contribute, or give back. The objective is actionable and a verb. Our favorite community, the fictional Composting Champions, have a single purpose. To share personal expertise from creating and maintaining their composting setups so that others might learn, get inspired, and start their own. That's a clear purpose. Someone can infer the relationship between the brand and the community. The brand offers tools to make the community's goal successful.
What is the goal?
Think of the purpose being on an individualistic path and the goal being on a collective approach. If thousands of people all adhered to the same purpose, what might they achieve? That's your goal. The best plans are mindset based and not necessarily achievable. I also want to point out that it will create your potential members' high adoption if you can name your community and the goals. "Compost Champions: World Savers" is obvious; it's silly but straightforward. World Savers, that's the goal. The reason why we all compost together is to reduce waste and save the planet.
Following that same idea, what is the goal of your community? If everyone in your community followed the purpose and learned, shared, or contributed, what would you have collectively? What could that become? What bigger picture would they paint in the world? When you can answer that, you will know the goal of your community. You might even be able to infer a name from it. Still, perhaps you might want to wait and see how your community members refer to each other to get a better idea. The secret sauce is always in the members and their interactions.
Businesses should carefully align the brand's involvement and goals to the community's plan. They do not have to be the same, but they cannot conflict. Reflecting on an earlier point about the community purpose, the brand's role in the "Composting Champions Community" was exact (providing tools to save the world). Keeping roles in mind should give clear swim lanes for brand-based goals and community-focused goals.
What is the value?
I see the value of brand communities existing on two primary tracks. The first track is the community ≤≥ brand; this includes its value to the community and the community's importance to the brand. That isn't a typo - they are distinctly different, but understanding this value and creating activities that nurture this connection is half of the secret sauce.
The community ≤≥ brand track strengthens the relationship between the brand and the members. Examples might include company-based support, updates, or encouraging community-based feedback—for example, Wix's Partner Beta Program. Partners gain three huge valuable pieces here. Firstly partners learn of new releases before anyone else. Secondly, they get to access these new product features first. Lastly, they get to provide feedback about these products directly to the teams. That feedback is valuable to Wix. It's an example of solving a need of the community: to keep updated about new product and feature releases. Instead of just solving the problem, we did much better. Wix weaved the solution directly into the community's fabric and created a win-win space where both sides (Community and Brand) gain equal value.
The other side of the same coin would be the value of the community to the brand. Possibly having a large group of well-informed members spanning thousands of locations that speak dozens of languages could be valuable. If so, perhaps one of the internal goals might be to create an ambassador program or brand champion program where distinguished members are provided speaking opportunities at conventions. It might align with an internal goal of expanding the brand's influence via shoulder to shoulder conversations and rewarding members who exhibit desired behaviors with opportunities. It's another example of creating a possibility of equal value for both the community and brand.
The second track, and the second part of the secret sauce, is a community member ≤≥ community member. What value might your members provide each other? What's the energy cost of creating this value? Is it a post or a reply? An event? A tutorial? However, your community chooses to communicate, and the language they use is the community "lingo." Support communities often utilize discussions that include very well detailed responses and links to resources. Design-oriented communities, such as the Partner Community, often share newly designed sites for feedback. Our Composting Champions would most likely share photos of their backyard composting setups. Other communities might localize and have events daily, but the behavior is essential to note here. Organic behavior, natural conversations, and activities (whether in the form of images or discussions) will most likely be desirable and valuable to someone who stumbles upon your community. The organic attraction to your community's activities can be precious to both existing and potential members. It is how a brand can grow its sphere of influence in a shoulder-to-shoulder way.
Who is an ideal member?
I could write a book on this, but I'll stay focused for your sake and stay away from the rabbit hole. Let's reflect a moment on the purpose, goal, and value of the community. We want the ideal member to champion the plan and engage in the purpose fundamentally. We want these members to naturally engage in activities that provide value for both them and the community at large. It's essential to identify this because the member's actions set the stage for choosing a platform in the next section.
For example, in the Wix Partner Community, we want new members to continually reach that next level of success with their agency by learning from and being inspired by the community. The collective knowledge of the Partner Community is vast. Ideal members share their knowledge, tips, and expertise via discussions, articles, how-to videos, and by sharing inspirational sites. Their contributions create value for all members as well as for agencies new to Wix.
For our Composting Champions, the ideal member wants to help reduce waste. Composting is either one of many endeavors or the first step. The community's desired activity would be a member who shares their expertise and journey through discussions, articles, and youtube videos.
Now that we have our fundamental building blocks and we've identified our purpose, goal, value, and who our ideal members are, let's focus on growing. One of the most important choices for growth will be choosing the right platform.
Picking a Platform
Many companies start community conversations by discussing platform opportunities and looking at feature lists. Don't do that. The platform conversation comes after you have identified your fundamentals. Businesses should go through the steps above and pick a platform that will facilitate the community's desired activities while meeting the company's internal goals.
Choose your platform based on the needs of your members plus the internal goals of your company. Let's reflect on the ideal member - what do they do? What is their activity? What they do not do is also important to note here; don't bite off more than you can chew. You don't need all the bells and whistles, but knowing you can add more later is excellent as it lets you narrow your potential platform list a bit further. Is the goal of the company to grow this community through the exposure of their activities? If so, we need to make sure that one can tailor the community's main page to showcase the community's organically attracting activities and be visible to Google. Again - if one of the company's internal goals is to reach potential members via their actions, the community's visibility will impact platform choice.
Focus on what you want your community to do and choose a platform that empowers their activities.
How do we stimulate the conversation in the community? Katheryn went into length about this in the Thrive session. One of the tips she provided was for a community leader to be a facilitator rather than making it about themselves. She said, "It's not about your voice. It's everyone else's voice that makes it successful." Creating discussion posts that encourage members to share their personal experiences or knowledge is a great way to cultivate community involvement. Over time you will notice the same members often engage and even start creating their engaging posts. The community will know these members and will gravitate towards them and recognize them as leaders. These are your "community champions."
Katheryn and I both use this term to describe the members that are your ideal members that have gained the respect of your members through their exemplary behavior. Typically your champions are consistently active, reinforce the community rules, and are very helpful and friendly to the other members. These champions are your "ideal members" and help create and sustain the community norms without effort. It is crucial to identify these members, create a special place for them, and even provide them with special access to the company. In the years to come, they will be your front line in the community. Katheryn terms this as moving from "Me to We."
You might want to provide special rewards for these members also. In the Thrive session, we discussed one hypothetical way to award our most helpful Compost Champions might be to send some community champions to a climate change convention. It would reward the champions for their involvement in keeping the community goal on track. A great way to tie this endeavor to a brand goal is to raise awareness at the brand's convention. We could achieve this by sending a branded jacket to the community members who are attending the event. Now the company will have its biggest fans wearing their brand at a convention. You don't have to ask these members to sing your praises; you know they will, and it will be organic. This idea circles back to aligning the tracks of value. Community members will love being together on this journey, and this convention is full of potential customers for the company. Strategic thinking and positioning of communities like this can create immense potential for business growth.
Building That Engine
Communities are genuinely an engine of immense fusion power. The right community activity generates content that attracts engagement. This engagement becomes valuable to members and potential members. The content and engagement will organically attract new members to join your community, and the cycle will repeat itself.
Being a good brand community leader requires a balance of marketing, psychology, and PR. You will need a lot of passion, patience, and desire to connect. Conversations should always be focused on the members and never yourself because you are the facilitator.
If you are a business owner who is teetering on the fence about whether you will build a community for your company, I say go for it. Dive in. I think you will be amazed at how eager people are to be a part of what you are doing. I hope this article can help you get started and I encourage you to watch the full discussion in the video below. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or make suggestions about what you might want me to write about in the future.