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Branded communities: Specialists on taking those first steps

Communities make sense. They are the bedrock of societal evolution, where like-minded individuals gather to share a common interest or goal. They help out the most vulnerable, bring a sense of connectivity and collective gain and can be used to change the bigger picture.

In other words: Being part of a collective brings out the best in us.

It is little surprise then that marketers and thought leaders are all looking to create their own digital branded communities.

Not only do they naturally increase brand awareness and, if done well, loyalty, they also provide a direct link to customers and transform them into advocates. This in turn can create peer-to-peer knowledge transfer and a sense of belonging.

Branded communities represent a less-invasive place for lead generation and ultimately monetisation, meaning everyone from start-ups to established players are getting in on the act.

We spoke to experts in community-building to get their one piece of advice for those starting in their footsteps.

Branded communities: Find your voice

Tina Dingel, CEO, Steady: “If you have a passion you want to share with a community, don’t hesitate to start spreading the word. While promoting your work may seem unnatural at first, don’t be afraid to highlight what you are doing so that you can find your following. Embolden yourself to learn and grow to help find your voice.”

Marshall Julius, film critic, blogger, broadcaster and author: “Take your time. Find your voice. Your audience will find you. Be cool! Be friendly. Don’t be in a rush to monetise.”

Start right now

Max Rothery, VP of Community, Finimize: “Start now and start small. Starting a community can be daunting so timebox a small group. Even if you launch a seven-day WhatsApp group with your most passionate customers, you will learn so much about how and when they want to interact with each other. So many community projects falter after months of platform assessments and budget planning.”

Ashley Friedlein, CEO & Founder, Guild: “Just start it. If you overthink it you might never begin. And once you’ve started it and invited people in, you are forced to get going and improve it.”

Take joy in conversations

Lottie Unwin, founder of Copy Club: “Do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to make lots of money quickly – it won’t work. Instead, build a community because you have a real need and you want to take joy in lots of rich conversations. The community growth will follow.”

Have a simple proposition & address an issue

Guy Procter, Editor, Country Walking: “Have a simple proposition you really believe in. A combination of selfish and social benefits is powerful. Create cheap and easy ways for the tribe to reinforce itself, but also opportunities for your superfans to contribute as much as they want to. Never stop whooping when people do things that make them proud!”

Dayo Akinrinade, founder and CEO, Wisdom: “For someone starting a new community, it is vital that community members share a unifying common goal and where the goal addresses a problem, the value proposition for that community is strengthened.”

Simone Grace Seol, Master Life Coach, Business Shaman and Marketing Expert: “Have a deeper ‘why’ behind your community-building. Preferably, several deeper whys. What change do you want to see for the world? Who do you want to become in the process that’s so important to you? What is the impact you want to have on your people, if the impact will reach through many generations after us?”

Emma Unwin, Senior Account Director, M&C Saatchi Talk: “A community is a place for inclusion; a place where people learn and grow and build relationships over common goals and interests. For businesses, a community is a place where your customers build relationships with each other and your brand. By creating an ethos of helpfulness, you’re creating an open environment where your customers or community members can learn and share. And once they’ve learned from others, they’ll be more likely to return the favour.”

Attract long-term collaborators

Christian Perrins, Head of Strategy, Waste Creative: “Forget consumer, think collaborator. ‘Consumer’ supports the notion of ‘we build it, they buy it’ – which goes against the way most modern economies work. You’re looking to attract long-term collaborators and a mindset of ‘we build it together’. Some fans will be very vocal, some less so, but collectively their sentiment and signals should help shape your product, your brand and your comms, all of which will be better for their involvement, and will increase their chance of ongoing purchases.”

Find a passionate fanbase

Siobhan McDade, Director of Brands, Jungle Creations: “Communities can only work if there is a passionate fanbase. Strong emotions are crucial – so you must start by working out why an audience would be interested in becoming a part of your community.”

Seth Matlins, Managing Director, Forbes CMO Network: “Know your audience brilliantly, it’s the first rule of marketing. Everything else follows from that.”

Branded communities need to be authentic

Former international rugby player Grayson Hart, Puresport: “Make sure it comes from a genuine, authentic place – the people who are driving it have to love it or people will see through right away, and it won’t gain traction.