Community: a term that has been given new life in our vocabulary of late. The common connotation today is a collective of enthusiastic people organized around the lifestyle, activities and/or ethos of a brand in an online channel(s).
The term “community” has been anointed with a multitude of mystical powers thanks to Web 2.0 and Social Networking. For Brands, communities have become a new ecosystem to cultivate for both customer acquisition and customer development campaigns. For individuals, communities are represented by one’s personal “social graph”.
These communities have created the necessity for corporate community mangers and fuelled blog content from the Rules of Community Management to proper etiquette within them. Yet, there’s one fundamental question that seems to have been mostly overlooked in favor of technology and rules.
My Sandbox or Yours?
Brands create communities where customers, employees and other stakeholders are encouraged to engage the brand and each other. The promise is that these connections will provide crowdsourcing for new product ideas, increase brand awareness or cultivate loyalty. Whether they admit it or not, most executives look to these channels to become prime hunting grounds for sales opportunities.
So is creating a brand community the best strategy? Consider:
1. The Development Costs & Effort
A community isn’t built over night and with the wave of a magic wand. It requires investment of time and money to develop the communication strategy, the infrastructure and marketing efforts to attract members.
2. The Maintenance
Once developed and critical mass is achieved, you have to maintain interest and participation. For every successful brand community, there are dozens that fizzled out soon after their launch because they could not sustain interest or provide ongoing value to their members.
Big investment. Big Risk. And possibly long-lasting brand damage since a community with little-to-no engagement is a black eye on brands.
The alternative? Instead of creating an ecosystem to which you pull customers, create a strategy that allows you to connect to – and through – your customers’ individual communities. Allow your message to surf the customers’ social graphs, which have existing, well-formed connections, built-in trust and don’t require your effort to maintain. If successful, this approach has the possibility of dramatically increasing your reach through their online and offline pathways; a spider web of instant connections.
The rewards earned by this strategy are tenfold; however, creating it requires true marketing innovation and possibly a complete rethink of your marketing strategy. It requires the courage to put the customer at the center of your communication ecosystem as opposed to your own properties.
Watch for an upcoming post where we’ll outline some of the strategies and tactics.
What say you? Wishful thinking? Or the future of community outreach?
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego