As an expectant father, I’ve become very interested in the idea of community—and in different tools for creating and organizing one! There are some wonderful sites out there wherein you can invite (recruit?) your friends and family into cooking meals for you over the first few weeks after the birth, and even organize a schedule so you don’t end up with seven lasagnas in a row (though I wouldn’t complain about that!). I haven’t yet found a site for overnight babysitting that works that way, but there must be one…right?
The saying goes that “it takes a village” to raise children, and I’m sure that I will quickly come to appreciate the truth of that.
It’s also a truth that marketers are realizing that, when it comes to helping clients with their figurative babies, creating and/or utilizing customer communities is the best way to encourage engagement with the marketed brand and/or product—and it reaps many other benefits as well. Just as with a child, raising your brand or product baby in a community exposes it to invested feedback and advocacy that, just like a parent, you must moderate, measure, and reflect on to ensure the best results.
But how do you get a village? As I’m fairly new to the country, I am also reflecting heavily on that fact! We have one set of friends and family in the US, but another much larger set in the UK, and I can’t fly them all over. Nor can I immediately generate a similar village over here on a weaker foundation. “Hey, we worked on a project together once! Fancy cooking me dinner in September?” doesn’t go over so well with most people, especially in the Northwest!
Communities are driven by what unifies them. If what unifies them isn’t a compelling reason to engage, then there won’t be much engagement. As a general rule, you need something stronger to drive community engagement than a unifying statement like “We worked together once,” or, more interestingly for marketers, “These people use our products.” When you have a diverse product set, that won’t be a strong motivator to engage, as many members of the community you’re hoping to build may have nothing in common if they use different products. The fact that they use your products isn’t a strong unifying factor from their perspective. You can get over that by motivating with incentives, BUT it would be much better to find a compelling reason for a community to exist or find vibrant communities of your customers (or people who could be your customers) that already exist.
Getting back to the baby analogy, friends and family offer to help out for a variety reasons:
- Some are heavily invested in the new baby, as close family members. They feel an obligation to provide support and may engage more, especially with feedback, than you’re comfortable with! You might need to set some ground rules here for best results. (Marketers: For this group, think of customers who feel a strong affinity with your brand and use your products very frequently, to the exclusion of competitor’s products. They feel they have a right to influence the future direction the company takes, which is great, but it could hamper innovation if they drown out other voices.)
- Close friends may feel just as invested and are likely to be great advocates for your children, but they may need encouragement to provide feedback. (Marketers: For this group, think of customers who use your products frequently but don’t exclude competitor products as a matter of course. They have an affinity with your brand, but it is not the key driver in their purchasing decisions; hence, they don’t feel particularly strongly about defining your future direction. However, they will provide great insights if encouraged to do so, and this will increase their affinity.)
- Others in the outer reaches of the friendship circle might really only want to see a cute baby, so you need to play up the cute factor to get them to engage and then catch them when they’re in the area. (Marketers: For this group, think of new or infrequent users. They don’t really have an affinity for your brand, as they chose your product based on a feature or aesthetic that appealed to them. They could easily switch allegiances in future, so they need careful and constant encouragement to engage in communities, which may well involve incentives.)
Because customers also have these different levels of investment in brands and products, different strategies are needed to get them to engage in a community—and also to decide whether a single community or a set of communities is the best option. Depending on your desired outcomes, it may not be useful or appropriate to have your “close family member” customers engaged in a community with your “outer friendship circle customers”—though alternatively, it could also be ideal!
Sound daunting? Well, we have a community here ready and willing to help you: consultants who are experienced across the board of customer engagement and who have special focuses in creating and/or successfully engaging customer communities.
So don’t lose sleep over your customer community needs—let us help! Or rather, let my colleagues help; I’m having twins.