Community building is hot, but often misunderstood. Implementing a community approach should not be taken lightly or be seen as a “quick fix” to increase profit and retention. As we’ve laid out some of the main differences between an Audience and a Community in Part 1 of this “Audience vs. Community” blog series: “What Makes the Difference?”, naturally a question arises: How do you build a community?
Most organizations or brands have already built a traditional audience through communication and marketing strategies, social media pages, mailing lists, or other channels.
But you cannot simply force an audience into a community, or re-label your audience as a community and think that it changes anything. Building a community takes careful consideration and a long-term strategy.
Communication strategy vs integrated “community first” approach
To increase the chances of your (online) community being successful, an integrated “community first” approach is needed across the entire organization starting the community.
To make a community approach work, you need to think of it as something different from traditional marketing or communications. It should be treated as an organization-wide program that can scale your organizational success and impact and not be isolated to just the Marketing or Communications Departments.
As Marjorie Anderson states in her blog post Positioning and Prioritization: Finding the Right Home for Your Community: “If you commit having a community program, it’s important to not to minimize the impact it can have on your members or business goals by not being strategic about where it’s homed and who is doing the work. Positioning is everything – both for your organization and for those that you serve.”
Considering the fulfilment of needs
When starting a community, it is crucial to research if there is enough fertile ground. A community should add true value to its participants and help solve specific problems. If you don’t tackle a member’s need (problem/opportunity/passion/interest/social improvement) that fits into a broader life goal, the community will never get off the ground. This is often why a community fails and why it is crucial to research and get to know your members, their goals and their challenges: To figure out how the community can help achieve and solve these.
Finding the sweet spot of your community
To define a successful community concept for your brand or organization, you need to find the sweet spot between creating value for the organization, creating value for community participants or members, and using the power of community by enabling connections to create added value:
Inspired by FeverBee’s “Sweet Spot” Framework
If you look at this Venn diagram, it’s clear that the sweet spot target to hit (“purpose”) is quite small. If we miss the purpose mark and end up providing value for just two of these, that typically means we end up creating:
- Content marketing audiences (No community element; No added value by enabling connections);
- Failed community concepts or utopian ideas (No participant goals or needs are met) or;
- Hobby communities (No business goals of the organization are met).
The sweet spot defines the purpose for your community and combines meeting the goals of the organization and the goals of participants utilizing the power of community.
This unlocks the power of community; This is what makes a community scalable.
Your audience is part of your community
Your audience is not necessarily less important or less impactful than your community. In fact, they form a crucial role as Consumers, Followers or even Endorsers within your community, as defined by Open Social’s Community Experience Pyramid.
You use your audience to build your community; to turn Consumers, Followers or Endorsers into Participants, Creators, or even (co-)Owners. This is the first step in gaining more community members: You broadcast your community platform launch via email, press release, social media, and other channels and invite your audience to explore your community platform, sign up and play an active role by fulfilling their needs. Once they are signed up as members, you engage with them in another way than you did simply as part of your audience.
You can also promote community events, content and more via your traditional communication channels. This allows you to continuously invite your audience to become more involved members of your community.
For the long run
When talking to people who are thinking about building a community, my first question is always: Why are you investing in a community? What are some of the biggest pain points and needs of your organization and moreover, your target audience, to which you think a community could add value?
It should not be taken lightly or be seen as a “quick fix” to increase profit and retention. Community building is a long-term investment. A community needs enough fertile ground to be successful. It needs time, a driving force, patience, attention and a long-term strategy.
It is not about drawing an audience; it is about creating added value by getting members to engage with each other. The scalability of community is the best recipe for success in terms of business, impact towards your mission and future-proofing your organization.
You know you have successfully turned your audience into a community when your members keep talking to each other when you no longer drive the conversation.
Anything missing? Any other feedback? Please do not hesitate to contact me or leave a comment!
Need help identifying your strategic community concept? Check out our Community Strategy Services.
Thank you, Richard Millington, David Spinks and Marjorie Anderson for your inspiration.