What's Behind a True Community?

@Tim | Strategy

The consumer/ordinary person in me always, or almost always, answers the questions raised by the marketer in me. One of these questions was why are there millions of posts written about community and brands in the past several months? Community has become the new buzzword: everyone talks about the power of the community and how every brand should build a community in order to be successful in its social media endeavors. Although some really smart people have explained what a community is and how it can impact a business, brands still don’t understand that it is more than just building a community, it is about building a strong community and nurturing that community.

Another question the marketer in me asked a while ago was how do you build a strong community?  What do you do to turn mere followers and fans into active participants in a community? The ordinary person in me (I don’t like to call myself a consumer) observed what some brands I was a fan/follower of have done to achieve that. The most successful brands do only a few things, but they do them really well.

1.    Engage: They respond to my wall posts and tweets. Even if it is just to say “Thank you”, they respond. There is nothing more annoying and disrespectful than a brand not responding to its followers! The brands that have managed to make me a part of their communities listen and respond when they have something relevant to say.  When I complain about being tired, they send a tweet that I need a break, even if it is just for 15 minutes. They show their human face and it makes me proud of being part of their communities. Sometimes they even take the conversation IRL. Although it might be hard to do with a big brand (depends on their strategy), an extended conversation IRL can be the most successful social media tactic for a small brand.

2.    Provide value: They provide value beyond informing me about their new product and showing me pictures of it. They share relevant information that appeals to my needs and wants. They inform me about things I need to know, or I think I need to know. They make me laugh. Chances are if you know your audience, you already know what they want and need to know; you know what will make them laugh; you know what they consider important.

3.    Provide experience: They provide experience that extends beyond a Facebook update and/or a tweet. They give me opportunities to have fun as a community. They give me opportunities to engage in activities or games as a community. They make me feel like a valuable part of the community.  The make me feel proud of being part of the community. They connect people who can help each other or have similar interests.  Again, they don’t act as a brand, but as a human, a human I would like to have as a friend.

All these activities show that a brand cares, which is exactly what I need from a brand and it is exactly what a brand, small or big, should be doing. If you want to build a strong community, and I guess you do want to, then start engaging with your fans/followers, provide them with value and a unique experience.

Final piece of advice: If you are a business owner, please don’t rely on the fact that because I loved your brand prior your Twitter/Facebook era, I will be a part of your community. You need to put some effort into achieving that and Facebook updates about your awesome product and pictures of it will not do the work. More likely I will just hide your updates. Please show your human face and care. Be a part of your own community!

About the Author: A true child of the Internet, Andreana “Addy” Drencheva spends too much time on social networks connecting with interesting people, observing what brands do and contemplating what they should do.  IRL Addy does a bunch of awesome things: from helping a peacemaking nonprofit organization to increase awareness, to planning carnivals and comedy shows, to writing for The Next Great Generation, to finishing her degree in Public Relations and Communication Studies. If you want to connect with her, try @addy_dren on Twitter.   She will love to chat.