Now that we’re past the initial shock of COVID-19’s arrival, and into this strange new normal, many of the brands we’re speaking with are looking for ways to reshape their businesses so they can make it through the crisis. They’re also preparing themselves for future shocks that may necessitate lockdowns or otherwise limit our ability to be together in groups. That’s all leading to an increased focus on digitization.
Here is a five-step process for brands to kickstart their online communities. While there’s a lot of information below, this is designed to be an agile process that gets brands in-market with their consumers – fast. In fact, the strategic layer of this process (steps 1-3) can be frontloaded into two weeks with a live community launch possible in just 4-6 weeks.
Here’s how to make it happen:
UNDERSTAND BRAND FAN COMMUNITIES DELIVER VALUE and help protect revenue, particularly during disruptive black swan events like pandemics.
The biggest hurdle for many brands is taking the next step beyond social media investments and building partnerships with their consumers that go beyond likes and shares.
A commitment to building a digital community can sometimes be intimidating, especially for brands that aren’t experienced in managing a community of fans. It requires going beyond content creation and sharing, or market research, and actually connecting with your fans as people.
The skills to do this can be learned or leveraged by hiring a community manager, deputizing brand fans as community moderators, or rethinking the skills necessary for your organization to build a lasting brand as we enter what many believe will be a prolonged period of societal change.
The bottom line: In times of crisis, everyone retreats to the essential. A community, where participants are as connected to each other as they are to your company, will actually make your brand a larger and deeper part of your fans’ lives.
- What is the ROI on your social media spend?
- Could some of that social media spend be reallocated to start a brand community?
- Could you identify 100 ‘true fans’ from your social followings as seed members for a digital community?
- What value would you get from having 1000+ deeply invested fans partnering with you on an ongoing basis?
- What support or expertise do you need to make a community work?
IDENTIFY COMMUNITY OPPORTUNITIES unique to your brand. Then choose one.
Every brand has different opportunities. When we work with clients, we typically map the community opportunities available to them, the most organic ways to build community given the particulars of their brands and their specific business goals. That’s one of our very first steps.
Identifying the right core purpose is critical to a community’s success. One simple way to do that is to use personas and/or demographic information to assess what your fans care about and find the overlap with the higher purpose your brand might have.
For example, Beyond Meat lays out its mission like this:
At Beyond Meat, we believe there is a better way to feed the planet. Our mission is to create The Future of Protein® – delicious plant-based burgers, beef, sausage, crumbles, and more. By shifting from animal to plant-based meat, we can address four growing global issues: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.
There is a natural opportunity for Beyond Meat to build a community based around social purpose. Many of its consumers will share the values the brand lays clear.
There are different strategic exercises brands can go through to identify the right community opportunity (and we’re happy to help you with those – just contact us) but once those are complete, the key is to pick a focused purpose for your community; something that will rally your fans to join. This process can take as long as you allow it to, which is why it is often better to make a choice, get into the market, and adjust as you learn.
- Does your brand have a higher purpose – beyond product utility or company profit?
- What do your ideal consumers care about outside of your brand?
- Does your brand have a CSR focus that could lend itself to a community?
- How does your product make consumers’ day-to-day lives richer?
- Does your brand make the world better? If so, how?
DEVELOP A STRATEGY to recruit your community members.
Your fans and consumers (or the people you wish were your fans and consumers) are inevitably scattered across social channels. Some of the people you want to reach may be on Facebook or Instagram. But younger people may be living on TikTok. You need to go find them where they are and invite them to the community experience that you’re creating for them. Don’t forget to consider existing message boards, forums and other online communities where they may already be gathered. And if you have a mailing or customer list, that’s an easy way to connect with people. The bottom line: cast your net as wide as necessary to find your inaugural community members.
And remember: community is a natural evolution for your fans. Brand communities are the ultimate social media.
Here’s something utterly critical with this step: Make people an offer they can’t refuse. There are a thousand distractions in the digital sphere. Attention is hard to command. So, make sure your offer to join has clear, defined perks. Simply saying ‘we’d love for you to join our community’ isn’t always going to get the job done. Create a value proposition around what your community is offering that people can’t get anywhere else.
That could take many forms including discounts, exclusive access to your brand or products, or notoriety, if your plan for the community involves promoting the people inside it. But it could also be attached to a higher purpose, as we mentioned earlier. If your brand has a social impact component you could build an offer to join your community around advancing that cause or mission.
- How many people do you need for the launch of your community?
- Where are your ideal community participants hanging out online?
- How can you get their attention – particularly in a time of crisis?
- Is there something new you can offer in your community they can’t get elsewhere?
- How will you reach out to prospective community members?
ACTIVATE YOUR COMMUNITY.
Here’s the good news: it’s okay to try things, including things that don’t work. Online communities take time to coalesce and mature, just like offline communities. If you’re approaching your community planning decisions openly and with the best interests of the community members at heart, you’ll be okay, even if you don’t immediately get the engagement you want. The very act of working with the community (on one of your business or marketing objectives) builds trust and deepens connection.
Over time, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. The key is being ready to adjust as you go.
- What ‘warm-up’ and ‘getting to know you’ activities could you plan for your members?
- What kind of digital activities line up with what you know about your members’ passions?
- Is there a product or campaign idea you’d like feedback on?
- Would you benefit from general information about how the community perceives your brand right now?
- Consider asking your participants what they would like to get out of your community.
MEASURE YOUR RESULTS.
Over time, departments across your company – from research and R&D to marketing and sales – will be able to interact with the community and partner with them on all kinds of initiatives. And you’ll see community members bond with each other and gain affinity for your brand.
But right from the start it’s important to identify some hard metrics that will help you track how you’re getting value from the community and how it’s maturing. Some of the metrics you identify may be activity-based metrics (what’s happening in the community outside of specific goals you may have) and others may be more focused on the specific value the community delivers towards your business objectives.
The important thing, as with other elements of the community, is to determine the right ROI calculation for your brand and then track against it. That will help you shape the direction of the community and maximize the value you get from it.
- The evolving number of community members, and total comments, likes and shares inside the community.
- The percentage of community members actively participating on a week-to-week basis.
- How your community members connect to each other and who the most influential members are
- The number of quality submissions you receive to ‘missions’ or ‘challenges’ you pose to the community.
- New product sales you can directly attribute to community activity.
PARTNER WITH IOVIA TO BRING YOUR COMMUNITY TO LIFE
This overview of the community-building process is designed to give you a conceptual understanding of how to plan, launch and grow your fan community over time.
If you’re interested in learning more about how IOVIA can help your brand create a community, you can Contact Us here.