How Can Community Help Your Organization?
As communities continue to pop up, grow, and spread around the world, businesses are becoming more aware of the advantages that engaging authentically with a community can bring. While some organizations — like Microsoft, Apple, and even LoCoSports — have supportive management groups when it comes to starting and growing a community, some leaders don’t see or clearly understand the value communities bring to their organizations.
What is community?
To keep us all on the same page, let’s use entrepreneur and community builder Fabian Pfortmüller’s definition of community:
“A community is a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together.”
These communities can be online or off and can range from local meetups to full-blown conferences, from Slack workspaces to social networks, and from contributor sites to forums.
How can community help my organization?
For some organizations, the value add of a community isn’t going to be as high as for others. Also, the type of added value differs from community to community. However, here is a core list of benefits your organization might expect to see if it buys into a long-term community strategy.
1. Distributed Content Generation
Content is and always has been king. Content drives thought leadership, knowledge sharing, search engine optimization, and even recruiting. However, great content has never been more important than now. According to the International Telecommunications Union, more than 50% of households in the world have internet access, which means nearly 4 billion people can contribute content to the world wide web. Organizations often organize content creation as an afterthought in their business plans (that’s a discussion for another day), but passionate community members bring a breadth and depth of knowledge to the group. If you proactively reach out to your members with content ideas, you’re going to find some who are interested in contributing; you’re going to be giving them a voice, and you’ll be delivering great content to the community.
2. Building Trust
Each brand community has underlying — and sometimes overt — business goals, ranging from news sharing to customer retention to marketing and just about everything in between. In order to accomplish your community goals and objectives, your organization must earn the community’s trust. Trust inside your community will lead to increased commitment from members, and thus, increased brand loyalty and customer retention. Getting there is easier said than done. Building trust starts with being human and appealing to the needs and wants of the members. Show the members that you care by listening to them, helping them find solutions to their needs, and following up to make sure the solutions you offered worked. If you continue to provide excellent, personal community management, members will start to come back to your community for solutions, which should make your business goals easier to achieve.
3. Dispersed Workload
A self-organizing community can help reduce certain tasks across all business departments. Your IT team might get a break from answering a question to a website issue, because your community members provide the answer; your marketing team might get a break as your community members advocate on your brand’s behalf; and, as I mentioned before, your content team could start getting more user-generated content, lessening the need to create their own content. By allowing members to play active roles in community management, you will hopefully start to create stronger bonds with those community members, to the point where they feel comfortable providing direct feedback to you about your products or community, creating a continuous feedback loop.
4. Global Reach
Traditionally, organizations were limited to interactions with people in their general geographic areas. As the internet spread around the globe, however, businesses were able to connect with people who had different experiences, problems, and needs. This is true for communities as well. Traditionally, we might of thought of communities based on geographic boundaries like a neighborhood, school, or town, but now, with online communities, organizations can share ideas across borders. Increased diversity in thought, experience, and objectives can create a more wholesome community where there’s a sense of trust between members and where all members feel comfortable sharing their own experiences.
5. Brand Personality
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about brand personality, what it means, why organizations need it, and how to go about creating it. In my humble opinion, LinkedIn VP Tomer Cohen summed brand personality up best: “Everybody wants to talk to somebody else; nobody wants to talk to a logo.” Creating a brand personality isn’t about putting a personal face mask on your company’s front door. It’s about allowing real people to have real conversations with other real people. If you are going to build a community, you need to start with people and that means eliminating frustrating customer support bots. Turns out, most companies have real people who can manage their customer service calls! It can be tedious, but it will pay off. By giving real people (your employees) and opportunity to empathize, problem solve, and connect with other real people (your customers), you provide a strong foundation for customer retention.
This list is by no means meant to be inclusive of all of the benefits your organization can reap if your community is built upon a strong, human-focused foundation; however, it can be a good list to start the conversation with. What benefits has your organization seen from building a brand community?