Community building may seem like an afterthought, something to deal with after all the other business realities are put in place. Surprisingly, though, making sure you’ve identified and nurtured your own user communities is an important part of the business itself.
Building a community makes perfect business sense
Society grew somewhat immune to ads online; we are pretty fast to filter them out and annoyed by them in most cases. Old-school marketing tactics are not as effective anymore, either: a 2007 New York Times article reports a marketing research firm’s estimate that a person living in a city sees up to 5,000 advertising messages a day. In 2015, another marketing research firm said that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day.
No wonder people are more likely to trust other people, like influencers and peers. That makes perfect sense with the overwhelming noise and digital buzz, with companies fiercely fighting for attention. Add a crushing epidemic of loneliness to that. There are plenty of studies that show just how isolated people are feeling in the modern world with all these social networks.
“The consumer of today doesn’t want to be sold to, they want to be part of the journey.” Chris Bruzzo, Chief Marketing Officer, Electronic Arts
Why? Because we are very cool, smart beings and all, but really our psychology and inner mechanisms are still the same as they were thousands of years ago. We have a very deep need to be with other people. We have a history of living in small groups of up to 100 other people. We spent our whole lives in them, too. We knew each member of the community and we had a role and purpose inside that group; we knew exactly where we belonged. While today’s access to more possibilities and more connections, we can share that community all over the world. Still, this doesn’t change our nature; it doesn’t change our primal instincts. We changed the world around us, living so fast, that we didn’t actually catch up psychologically.
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This is why the community building industry is actively evolving and developing; it’s a response to these very issues. Company leaders recognize that this is a more sustainable way to keep and attract customers in the long run. And anyone who cares for their business should look at creating a community around their brand and/or company.
It’s not hard to find the business value of a community
Here are five of them:
- Customer support/success – community as space for members to answer questions and solve problems for each other in order to be more successful
- Product innovation, ideation, and feedback – community as space for members to share ideas and feedback that leads to innovation and better quality product
- Advocacy – a network of ambassadors/advocates who drive awareness and growth for the business
- Content – in the mature community, content is often generated by members and becomes a part of the knowledge base for the product
- External engagement – people who have related interests to or are focused on your brand
David Spinks, founder, and organizer of the event shared his observations on the current state of things in the community industry.
Five key trends happening in the community building industry right now:
- Companies are focused on developing and scaling community programs
- Businesses are building both online and offline communities
- 55 percent of responders indicated that their biggest challenge is engagement
- Retention is the number one goal, but it is very hard to measure
- Organizations see value in the community and are investing in the efforts to build it
Improve your community strategy
As a community manager, I am particularly interested in how to make sure you are on the right track when building a community. Richard Millington, an experienced community builder and the author of “Buzzing Communities,” suggests focusing on three points when it comes to community strategies:
- Mapping out the customer journey. Realize that only a minority of community members will engage in all the activities possible, so you’ll have to identify these main personas. A community is a collection of different members, segmented by persona, age, and activities. Connect with their goals to provide valuable experience. Try to catch their desires (not only problems), and fulfill your members’ desires—it’s the one thing that will bring them back again and again. Don’t neglect your goals, either: the customer journey should be tightly interlinked with where you want to go. Activities in your community can aim to help you to get feedback about your product, content can drive more traffic, and tutorials and forums can complement your support team’s efforts and customer loyalty.
- Designing your community. Most of the time, if it is not immediately obvious how to get on board, people won’t bother. Everyone is busy and bombarded with hundreds of things per minute. So make sure that community link is extremely easy to find on your website. On the community page itself, don’t waste space with “Welcome to the community” messages. Instead, fill the top of the site with trending and new content. That way your regulars will be able to quickly scan what’s new and guests can be hooked with some interesting topic. Also make calls to action clear and visible, perhaps with a “Ask a question/Help” button.
- Metrics and decision making. It’s very important to decide what to actually measure. Those metrics will be your compass and help you to improve your strategy over time. It’s probably a good idea to start with analyzing where are you standing now: what have you tried, what worked and what didn’t, why it happened, can you improve it, etc. A good set of metrics to watch includes: revenue, engagement, emotion/sentiment and behaviors.
The most successful communities create revenue for the organization, make people want to stick to the product, fulfill the needs of the community members, and become part of member identity. Naturally, they talk about the community as a great experience and create an unbeatable marketing channel for the business.
Community professionals should dig deeper and be ready to give value in order to get it as well. Customers are not just a transaction, companies that understand the importance of building a community experience around what they do are here to stay. The lessons shared at many conferences like CMX Community Building Summit is that corporations must move beyond customer service to customer journeys, experiences, and happiness.