Forward top tips on building a community: Forward Fortnightly Archives

July 29, 2021

Growing a strong community is the holy grail for brands. But it’s not easy to get right. And certainly doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s common to mistake a social media following for a community - but they are distinct (and can work together to drive brand awareness, deep engagement and ultimately sales). Ryan Hoover (of Product Hunt fame) criticised ‘community builders’ for too often sitting on the sidelines - asking how it can be possible to build a strong community without being a part of it. The discussion this inspired is worth a read. As David Spinks said, there’s a huge difference between audience and community. An audience is focused on a brand. They’re all *listening* to you, but they don’t necessarily feel a common sense of belonging and shared identity with others who are also listening to you 

A key difference is that in a community, people are contributing, not just listening.

Broadcasting vs active engagement.

If you’re talking about community, ask yourself whether you’ve got this right. Do your interactions with customers feel truly two-way? Are you broadcasting or are you actively engaging? Creating and participating in dialogue? There’s no right or wrong, of course - building a community isn’t the right strategy for every brand. But a strong growth strategy needs clarity. 

Being authentic means sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s scary being open, especially when it’s not-great-news. But it can be a powerful thing.

Here’s an example. Most brands dodge talking about negative reviews. Dan, CEO at Heights, owned their first ever negative review on Instagram (they have over 4000 on Trustpilot, and a 4.8/5). What’s nice about this? It shows transparency. Ownership. That he listens to his customers. Check out the overwhelmingly supportive responses. Sometimes building in the open is the best way to demonstrate your ideals and build loyal fans.

Ryde, a platform that aggregates delivery jobs and provides management software for businesses, puts a community at the heart of their brand. They use their workforce to create marketing material, including promotional videos and a brilliant photo series. You can read more from co-founder Duncan on how they’re creating a ‘fairtrade workforce’ loyal to their growing platform here

Community building can make business sense too

The Copy Club is a fast-growing community of marketeers who get together to solve problems and share experiences. Founder Lottie Unwin has scaled it to a team of 10 through the pandemic. How? By identifying a real pain point for a well-defined target audience - and by being unwaveringly authentic. In their conversation, Lottie perfectly summarises her mindset - “community is a synonym for a good old group of friends”. 

It should come as no surprise that brands that get it right find it easier to build brand trust, affinity and loyalty. In fact, strong communities help support the ideal business model, unlock extraordinary competitive advantages and create a superior business model.

5 top tips to start building your community

Start small. Work to create opportunities for deeper engagement.  

Listen - and build with your cheerleaders. This community thing isn’t just for plucky young startups. You can learn a lot from big corporates too. One word for you. Cakepops. Without a suggestion from the community, Starbucks would have never offered them. You would never have heard of a Starbucks pumpkin-spiced latte either. This case study shows how they built an active community.

If growth is your objective, make sure your community is delivering. If you’re asking (particularly those data-oriented marketers) ‘but does it pay back’, take a look at this post from community-building guru Chris Detzel, who digs into an ROI calculation for community. No ‘brand uplifts’ or NPS trickery here, just cold, hard traffic and conversion calculations that even the most cold-hearted pragmatists of us can get behind. 

Authenticity is the key to community success. According to The Drum, nearly all online branded communities fail within their first year. Behind it, purpose is the crucial ingredient: get that right, and everything will follow. 

If you’re a founder, don’t build in the dark. Consider how you can foster a community from the outset, bringing the audience along on the journey. Gymshark is a great example. They’ve played a long-game that has really paid off - spending time to build an authentic influencer community that’s aligned to the needs and desires of their key customers.

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July 29, 2021