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In 2020, we’ve seen crisis after crisis change how we work and live. And while any single problem may eventually recede into the background, the larger systemic issues across societies promise a future of regular shocks.

Many of the brands we are speaking with are now looking for ways to reshape their businesses to navigate this crisis-as-normal environment. They’re also preparing themselves for future events that may necessitate lockdowns or otherwise limit our ability to be together in groups.

This is all leading to an increased focus on both digitization and higher purpose.

Here is a six-step process for brands to kickstart online communities where they can connect with consumers digitally, and support higher purpose activities important to them and their fans.

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:

STEP ONE

UNDERSTAND BRAND FAN COMMUNITIES DELIVER VALUE and help protect revenue, particularly during disruptive black swan events.

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.

Thought starters:

  • 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?

STEP TWO

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 specific business goals. That’s one of our very first steps.

Identifying the right focus is critical to a community’s success. And in a time of crisis, it’s more important than ever to understand what’s organic and what might seem forced. There’s no room for false notes.

Thought starters:

  • How does your product make consumers’ day-to-day lives richer?
  • Does your brand make the world better? If so, how?
  • Do your fans/consumers gather on or offline in ways connected to your products?

STEP THREE

IDENTIFY WHAT’S TRULY IMPORTANT to your community.

Here’s where we get to finding or creating your higher community purpose, which typically goes beyond commerce.

One simple way to do this 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 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.

Thought starters:

  • 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?

STEP FOUR

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.

Thought starters:

  • 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?

STEP FIVE

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.

Thought starters:

  • 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.

STEP SIX

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.

Consider tracking:

  • 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.

If you’re interested in learning more about how IOVIA can help your brand create a purposed-driven community built for the digital age, you can Contact Us here.

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