The branded community is not a promotional tactic but a business strategy
Brands must be very careful to respect the conventions of the social media space. Consumers want content, but they do not want constant marketing. The brand community has to serve the people in it, and in so doing serve the business behind it, not the other way around. The content on the site should not feel like a never-ending sales pitch, but should reflect and sustain the ethos and stories of the brand. People go to social media to interact with people, not with products. Special rewards and giveaways should be structured to reflect the community aspect of the space by rewarding the members who are most committed and actively involved in the conversation and the brand’s identity. What the members of the community have in common in the first instance is the brand itself, and the values it represents. Brand loyalty is the reason the communities form, but it has to be maintained and cultivated by serving the people’s—rather than the product’s—needs. Continued brand loyalty, advocacy, and networking will be the reward.
Consider the case of figment.com, the online writing community established by Random House Publishing, the biggest trade press in the world. With over 300,000 users between 13 and 18 years old, Figment is carefully and tightly targeted towards a community of like-minded people: lovers of reading and writing. Members come to the site with a very specific set of goals: to read and share novels. The writing gives members a starting point of interaction, but also a set of activities. This is both a community of interest and a community of practice, both of which relate to the brand’s core values of encouraging love of the written word and democratizing access to reading and writing.
New members of the community become “featured figs,” a way to introduce them to other members and socialize them into the community norms and practices. The brand makes use of contests and promotions, but they are all designed around reading and writing, including #shelfie contests to be posted on social media and writing contests with specific prompts that serve to showcase members’ talents through gentle guiding of the brand. Winners are featured and publicly celebrated by the brand and members alike, further cementing community ties and the commitment of the winners to the site and what it stands for. While the 13- to 18-year-old demographic is only a very small part of Random House’s readership, the brand recognizes the importance of setting up communities with common interests and providing them with audience-appropriate ways of interacting and connecting, all of which center on reading and writing. Members of Figment are deeply committed to fellow figs and deeply loyal to the site that provided them with a voice. They feel deeply supported in their own projects, and turn to the site to meet their needs as a writing community. The fact that it is a project of Random House, a major publisher, is not obscured, nor is it highlighted; the point of the site is not to sell books but to cultivate writing. But the two are intertwined: members of the site are highly engaged with books and reading, and will likely turn to featured Random House books not only now, but in their long future as lovers of the written word. Members feel celebrated and supported by their fellow figs, among whom they count the brand itself.
To build a successful brand community, brands have to know their stories. They have to know their customers. And they have to use the social media space to know both better.
That’s easier said than done. But some brands have done it very, very well.
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- “Rethinking the Funnel, How Your Marketing Efforts Should Evolve for the New Social Customer Lifecycle,” Wildfire/Google, US Nov 2012, accessed July 30, 2015, https://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/marketing-efforts-should-evolve-for-the-new-social-customer-lifecycle_research-studies.pdf.
- “New Social Media Research Shows What People Expect From Brands,” Social Media Examiner, accessed July 30, 2015, http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/social-media-research-shows-what-people-expect-from-brands/.
- Susan Fournier and Lara Lee, “Getting Brand Communities Right,” Harvard Business Review, accessed July 30, 2015, https://hbr.org/2009/04/getting-brand-communities-right.
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