Does your small business have a brand community?

in General Marketing Ideas

It’s pretty common these days to hear business people and marketers talk about building a community around your brand. Notable ‘community-centric’ business / practices could include Facebook, MyStarbucksIdea.com and one of my personal favourites, Brewtopia.

You can have online customer communities, consumer created advertising, crowd sourced ideas and crowd funded products. All very Web 2.0 and all very good ideas, if a customer is involved in more ways with your business then that’s better surely.

It creates a sense of ownership and the community that is created is both self-reinforcing (i.e. the more people get involved the more it keeps them involved) and a great marketing tool in itself. You can also make the case for community as source of innovation, ideas, feedback ……

Cool. But how do you do it offline?

Like so many ideas that have been given a major boost through the Internet, customer communities have become more obvious, vociferous, bigger, bolder and better than ever before. But they weren’t invented online.

Take pubs. Pubs have regulars. Those regulars don’t congregate at that pub for the nice signage – they congregate there because of the other people who congregate there. Cafes, hair salons, rural post offices, nightclubs – they all depend, to different degrees on the communities that have formed around them. Is your local bar really that much better than the one five minutes down the road?

For the most part, communities can’t be willed into being. You can’t force people to play ball with you just because you want them to. You can however create a place that’s conducive to community and make it that much more likely by playing host.

Here are a few quick ideas to help create a community around your business, online or offline:

  1. Have a story. If people are going to talk about your brand it better be interesting.
  2. Encourage conversation. Give them a place to talk and the tools to do it.
  3. Play host. Make them comfortable and do some introductions.
  4. Be supportive of your community but don’t try to run it. Facilitate.
  5. Treat them special. Not great grammar, but where’s the payoff for being part of this community?

OK, but what, I hear you ask, can you do if you’re in ‘a slightly less social business’ – say accountancy or car repair?

Well, first off, even if the topic isn’t going to be exciting (sorry accountants) you can still create a dynamic community – you may simply need to be more proactive. How about hosting a networking event and inviting your clients and contacts so that they can meet each other. If they start doing business together it cements your position as central to this newly formed community.

For something like a car repair company, your customer’s may not be enthralled by the latest discussion on engine maintenance but some lateral thinking might suggest you support, sponsor or setup a classic car club. Ideally your brand is the community but if that’s not likely then be creative …

For some slightly different takes on the idea of community building try:

Venture Republic has some interesting ideas from a rather corporate angle. “Brand community simply is a group of loyal brand customers who are bound together by their loyalty for the brand.” Although in our discussions above we used a more active definition.

Martin Lindstrom suggests finding a leader for your community in his 2002 article.

Social Media Explorer blog talks about connecting communities that already existing around a brand – they just don’t know they’re a community yet.

Tony Adam gives some useful tips in his post on building communities online and offline

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