How Brands Can Better Connect With Their Communities And Reap The Rewards Of A More Engaged Audience
For many brands, fostering a community is second nature. For others, it takes a concerted effort to find their following and then flip that audience into a community. The end goal here… getting them working for you to foster awareness, advocacy and ultimately generate conversions.
And no surprise… there are more than a couple of steps to get to a state of fully fledged self-sustaining community.
But first you might be asking yourself, well what’s the difference between an audience and a community? Are they not the same thing? Turns out… not quite.
Audiences are great and brands need them to survive. But where an audience might have power in numbers, its weakness is that it is often only provides a passive following. As a brand, perhaps you’ve built this audience over time and have fallen into the all too easy rhythm of blanket messaging or knee-jerk promotions without actually getting under the skin of what it is that they actually want or need.
A community on the other hand, is taking an audience and getting them engaged.
Having an engaged community is the golden ticket for real and meaningful growth, especially in the digital space, but many brands overlook the hard work that goes into fostering this community to then empower them to go on and become a healthy ecosystem of advocates.
In a recent LinkedIn post on the subject of community, I used the old adage, much like raising a person, building a community literally takes a village, and in some cases, it can even be like building the village itself. Step by step, block by block – it doesn’t happen overnight, and it will most likely, always need a helping hand to keep it on the right path.
Fostering community around your brand is essential for attracting and retaining customers. Consumers want to connect with brands that inspire them, engage them, educate them, have fun with them and ultimately align with their values. Brands that create content and experiences that tick these boxes make themselves irresistible as consumers start to transition from a passive member of the audience, to a passionate community advocate.
Building a community, and building a brand are two processes that go hand in hand; one cannot survive without the strength of the other – and finding a happy equilibrium should be a brands upmost priority.
Brands can build communities in lots of ways… but here are my favourite ways to get started:
Give Your Social Team Freedom To Create
Trust your social media managers – after all, they’re probably a large contingent of your target audience. And if they’re not, you can bet that they are plugged in enough to know what trends, content types and mediums are resonating with your target audience right now.
Investing in your social team is paramount to building a community. You literally cannot do it without them!
And gone are the days of this resting on the shoulders of one soul individual, or parcelled into another job role such as PR, Comms or Marketing – social teams are expanding, and brands that are doing it right have seen the benefits of moving away from the one-person social team towards a one person per channel social team.
Dedicating this resource to a particular channel will revoluntise a brand’s ability to foster community within a particular app or medium.
While this approach may be out of reach for some brands, start small by separating your social guru(s) from your PR and Marketing pros – rather than combining roles, invest in people and allow your teams to really focus in on their superpower – then watch your community grow.
Keep Your PR Pros In The Know
As a PR, I would rather be inundated with information than scraping the barrel for a story.
To cut through with the media, your PR team needs news – that much is not new – but news can come in many shapes and sizes.
Think beyond brand or product launches or announcements of offers or sales. Use these yes, but many brands don’t have the facility to be pushing out something new every week, so look at what you do have and work creatively with it.
Firstly, use your owned data to form unique insights on trending topics, or maybe you can even plot a trend of your own. Sales data, room nights, bookings – look at what’s on the up, and think about the why. This is the most important part of driving coverage opportunities from data. You have to have a hook.
Next up, have an opinion. Crucially though, your stance needs to be bold, fresh, new – perhaps unexpected, and better yet, backed up by data. We’d love it if being passionate about a certain subject could be enough to cut through, but without a hook, not every thought will go on to lead to coverage or inclusion. Make sure to link your opinions to trends or the news agenda too – and keep them coming! If your PR team doesn’t know what you’re thinking, how will they succeed in selling you in as a thought leader?
Finally, be honest and consistent with your PR team – we want to know what’s going on and it’s our job to hunt out a story. To do so maintaining a constant dialogue on what’s going on behind the scenes is crucial.
An informed PR team armed with data, insights and ideas will be on the front foot for securing consistent opportunities with the press which will strengthen your brands standing within your community too.
Don’t Ignore Your Greatest Resource
But what is my greatest resource? You might be asking.
Hint. It’s the very thing you’re working so hard to grow. That’s right, your greatest resource might just be your existing audience. And it’s time to get them engaged.
Listen to what your audience needs to empower its individuals to form a community and provide it. The great news is that there are tons of free tools out there to connect with your audience.
Or why not use your existing channels to find out what they’re thinking and make it a reality. Polls, quizzes… there are so many free and easy to use engagement features built in to your existing social media platforms (like Instagram Stories) – it’s time to start using them and doubling down on the data they provide.
But it doesn’t all have to be determined by what’s lacking… celebrating your audience is another fine way to craft them into a community. User Generated Content (or UGC) is key here. Find existing advocates of your brand, sharing your product or experience online and curate this alongside your content pillars to make your audience feel seen.
Keep Things Fresh and Fun
Creating content doesn’t need to be an arduous task. Start with defining your objectives and outlining content pillars to help you structure and curate content plans.
Think about formats – what resonates with your audience, which platforms are they using and for what purpose. Show up in the many spaces they might be with content tailored to the experience they are seeking on that platform.
Be reactive – remember, people like to buy from people so loosening the corporate reigns will work wonders in turning a passive audience into an engaged community of advocates. Keep an eye on the news agenda, engage – not only with your audience but with other brands, and do away with lengthy sign off processes on content and captions.
It might be useful to put some community management guidelines in place – but this should only be guidelines, not actual rules. To truly be reactive, your social pros need license to engage in an authentic and timely way.
Stay True To Your Values
With so many mediums of content out there – from blogs and e-books, TikToks and YouTube videos, podcasts, e-zines, newsletter, to static and even carousel posts, the list goes on – it is easy to over-commit before you’re ready.
Start small. Work out where your audience are and what they need. Think about what mediums best resonate with your target audience and allow you to showcase your product or experiences in the best way.
But don’t pigeonhole yourself to one medium and one medium only. Remember, consumers will use different channels for different purposes – and it is important to create multiple touchpoints across several of them to support your audience at every stage of their journey.
Interact, Or Your Life Is On Contract
While I may have butchered a Limp Bizkit lyric in the signposting of this section – the sentiment rings true. Brands that have no community manager are going to struggle to create a sense of community.
Community is all about togetherness, and part of coming together is conversation. Your social pros should feel empowered to interact on behalf of your brand without too many restrictions.
Start conversations. Field Questions. Add value. Ask for feedback. Resolve complaints. Celebrate. Get your audience involved in interactions with you and watch confidence in your brand grow.
Pull Back the Curtain
Depending on your brand, niche or sector – sometimes there can be benefit to showing consumers a peek at life behind the curtain.
Maybe this is a short-term content piece on the team behind the channel, or a day-in-the-life of what it’s like to work for your brand.
While not necessarily showing off your product or service, content of this nature showcases your culture, puts your people first and in turn, makes your online community feel like a natural extension of the team. Or at the very least, potential future employees!
Create Dedicated Spaces
Facebook may be dead in the water when it comes to Gen Z, but it is still a great place to create dedicated spaces for your community to engage with each other.
Think about creating groups dedicated to your community; and let your community manager guide conversations with hashtag challenges, polls, questions, or calls for UGC that generate excitement amongst your exiting audience and drive others to become part of an inner-circle.
Take Things Offline
Creating community does not have to be done 100% online.
Think about ways to engage your audience in the real world. Host events, offer experiences, enrol product testers, start an ambassador program – keep these interactions fun, informal and affordable and help your audience consider the lifestyle your product or service might offer.
Want help creating a community of your own? Get in touch with [email protected] to find out more.