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Is it ethical to ask fans and consumers to work for your brand for free?


That doesn’t mean gathering insights or ideas from social media is inappropriate. A fan or consumer who makes a ‘drive-by’ post or comment on one of your social channels typically does so on a voluntary basis, or sporadically.

But it’s a different case when you’re creating a community. The relationships you’re hoping to build are longer term and the commitment you’re asking of your community members is more persistent. You’re asking for a deeper level of engagement with your brand, whether that’s daily, weekly or monthly contributions.

It’s about a true partnership, not exploitation

The plant-based food brands we’ve spoken to and work with typically have strong company values in common areas, including sustainability, the environment, human health, animal rights, nutrition, diversity and inclusion. A common theme running through all these areas is a clear opposition to exploitation of people, animals or planet. So naturally, the question comes up: how can we extend our ethical beliefs to the community we build?

The answer is what we call mutual value creation. It’s a simple concept. The idea behind mutual value creation is that if your community members create value for your business, they’re entitled to share in the value created – in some fashion. We strongly recommend thinking this through as you build your community.

So, how do you compensate community members for their work?

Six ways you can share value created with your community members

1 – Micro-payments, or retainers. Depending on the exact asks of your community you might offer contributors periodic micro-payments. If you find you have ‘super-contributors’ in the community, those that go above and beyond and consistently create value in numerous ways, you could even look at putting them on retainer as a brand ambassador. Over time, these super-contributors tend to make themselves known in a community. How will you engage them

2 – Recognition of community members on your social feeds. For those contributors looking to build their personal brands, you can use your company social channels to share their original content or promote them personally. This is especially pertinent for younger contributors who intuitively understand the value of their personal brands in the digital space. Consider adding a section to your website that identifies and recognizes your brand ambassadors.

3 – Free products. This one is simple. You make plant-based foods, so you can share them with your community members. Your more committed users might get regular shipments of food which both saves them money and gives them a way to connect more deeply to your brand (because they’re eating your products on a regular basis). Your more casual contributors might get a single shipment of products after a certain number of contributions or time.

4 – Social-ready badges and role descriptions. What if someone contributing regularly to your community could claim a role with your organization on their resume, LinkedIn or other social platforms? The experience they get partnering with your brand adds undeniable value to their professional experience, so why not formalize it?

5 – Exclusive access to your brand. Some of your contributors will be motivated by a look behind the curtain and the ability to go deeper in their relationships with your brand. So, you can create these vehicles for them. Give them the option of visiting your test kitchen to try upcoming products. Or create exclusive online calls with your team or executives. 

6 – Company equity. The rise of micro-investing through tech platforms opens up an interesting space for plant-based food companies, particularly those inclined towards more cooperative ownership models. Could you offer stock or options in exchange for contributions? This is an emerging model of compensation that is looking for its trailblazers. The first companies out of the gate on this could benefit from significant PR wins as well.

One final note:

You don’t have to make all these decisions on mutual value creation in a vacuum. When you’re building your community, do it in partnership with a small group of foundational members. They’ll help you understand how best to structure a model that helps your community grow at the same time it fairly compensates them for their time.

Don’t miss our upcoming Brand Accelerator Lab Information Session!

Have questions? Want to know more about building a fan community for your plant-based food brand? We’ll be discussing mutual value creation and other community-building strategies in our upcoming Brand Accelerator Lab which is custom-designed for plant-based food brands.

Learn more about the lab at our upcoming information session on Sept 8.

Learn more and register now!