We’ve all experienced clicking with someone by saying “oh I love that brand!” Especially today, brands are a prominent backdrop for creating community connection. But what does creating a community actually mean and why is it important as a marketer to focus on community-building efforts?
“Community” is a loosely used word and its definition is abstract. Scholars of sociology will tell you that a community is a social unit that shares something in common, such as customs, identifying characteristics, values, beliefs, or norms, and that the power of community participation is well-recognized to combat experiencing a sense of isolation.
Regardless of its official definition, online and offline communities are a big part of our lives. Here are a few key ingredients that create community and how your brand can play a role.
Whether it’s a hobby, an educational institution, or ethnic group, communities develop when individuals share a form of self in common. Having a shared identity also means that being a part of the community itself becomes a channel of self-expression.
Lady Gaga has been considered a pioneer in creating fandom culture online. When she coined the term “Little Monsters,” she gave a name and a support network to like-minded people from around the world. “Little Monster” became a shared identity of people who spent their waking hours not just consumed by Lady Gaga’s music, but also by the values and beliefs she stood for.
How can brands create community through shared identity?
Like Gaga’s “Little Monsters,” brands can also find ways to name and claim the shared identity of consumers.
Think about a community of runners. The group shares a common identity, but empowering the individual to feel kinship among that distinctive running community creates a shared identity. Perhaps they have a special community name, motto, inside jokes, and communication short-hands. Sometimes even a t-shirt makes all the difference in creating a shared identity.
Brands today also know the importance of having strong values and communicating them to consumers. Values don’t just communicate the integrity of your business or corporate practices, they also serve as a shortcut for consumers to project an identity.
Remember, it’s not just about telling the story of who you are as a brand. It’s about empowering people to tell the story of who they are and what they stand for. Fostering that connection pushes your business past the competition.
The basic building blocks of creating a community involve participating in similar experiences. But it has to be more than that. The difference between a group that has shared behavior and a community is finding the quirks, idiosyncrasies, and authenticity that pulls at our emotions.
A group of moms with young children might participate in the behavior of buying diapers, maybe even from the same brand for the exact same reasons. But that doesn’t magically make this group of moms a community. Instead, the behavior of managing a diaper blowout with one baby while a toddler throws their food across the room and the dog throws up is the kind of shared experience that creates a community.
That kind of shared behavior creates an opportunity for people to vent, exchange tips and tricks, and express themselves in a way that connects with others.
How can brands create community through shared behavior?
In 2019, Kraft pledged up to $100 for moms to hire a babysitter for Mother’s Day. The brand publicly embraced what many moms secretly crave on that holiday: time away from their children. This opened up an opportunity for moms to connect on this real need in parenting.
When focusing on your community-building efforts, don’t just concentrate on the shared behavior of buying your brand. Focus on the genuine moments where you brand is part of the backdrop of real life, and use that as a launching point for conversation and community.
It’s important to remember that these experiences don’t have to be elaborate milestones in life. As Starbucks founder Howard Shultz has said, “I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community.”
Consumers are not just consumers anymore, they consider themselves co-creators. Harvard Business Review shared the importance of not just having a purpose but having a shared purpose.
“They want to be a part of something; to belong; to influence; to engage. It’s not enough that they feel good about your purpose. They want it to be their purpose too. They don’t want to be at the other end of your for. They want to be right there with you. Purpose needs to be shared.”
Communities need to be not just for something, but also with something. A shared purpose is what brings people together and makes them strong.
How can brands create community through a shared purpose?
To help create community through shared purpose, HBR recommends asking what kind of purpose fit this criterion:
1) Something you and your customers can work together on
2) Is a natural expression of who you are and what you stand for
3) Connects how you make money with how you contribute to the world
Unilever’s Sir Kensington’s Taste Buds community isn’t about just buying condiments. It’s about connecting “evolved eaters” – people who are conscious not just of their health, but also of the source of their food. With a shared purpose, co-creation with fans builds a feedback loop that ensures Sir Kensington’s is offering eaters what they love most about the brand, as well as fostering passionate participation and a true two-way relationship.
When many think of how to create online communities, they might associate them with light-hearted interactions to pass the time scrolling through the internet. But look under the surface and you’ll see how much communities are a driving force in our lives and just how big of a player brands are in our community interactions every day.
Interested in more?
Learn how to build a community for your brand with our Community Marketing 101 eBook.