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Why community matters

 

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[tweetmeme]This is a guest post from James Ainsworth, marketing specialist at Alterian.

This blog post may upset one or two of you. I’m sorry about that. I want to talk about coffee and realise I may well have lost a sizeable audience of tea drinkers before I’ve even got to the good part. You see, I am currently wading through a data set gleaned from the conversations around Starbucks’ Red Cups and sharing all sorts of insight from their marketing campaign this Christmas. I ask that we put aside our tea and coffee differences for the sake of this opportunity to learn about community.

Community does the leg work for you. But first, you just have to cultivate it

Once there’s an established community around your brand, service or product offering, you have an empowered and loyal following that will be your all singing and dancing marketing department online. “Can we do this?” will always win out over “We are doing this”. If you spend your time cultivating community you cannot make important business decisions over the heads of those who live your brand; ask permission of your community when looking to change the direction of your business. Gap spent vast sums and efforts in positioning the brand as something owned by its customers over the years and then changed something as iconic as their logo, much to the chagrin of their customers. When Starbucks looked to introduce ‘Via’ instant coffee, a brave step indeed given the size of their loyal fans of freshly brewed, they asked their permission via their sizeable Facebook fan page.

Community is more powerful than the individual

In the recent comparison of monitoring tools conducted by FreshNetworks, they reported why there was a need to engage with those that command online power and the capacity to influence within social media circles: “There are many investments businesses would like to make, but with limited time and resources, focusing on the few appears to be a sensible starting point for social media engagement.” I would suggest it may not always be the individual that carries the influence, rather the well-connected few that carry power online.
Communities (and I don’t mean Facebook Fan pages – that’s a whole other post) are connected, powerful and more than happy to talk. Have you found where people talk about you the most and who are they? Consider how you can work with these advocates that have contacts and reach.

Community is a china shop, don’t be the Bull

Headfirst and with nothing more than smash and grab intentions of getting a cheap sale from a community is dangerous. If you don’t want to build your own community and you want to join an existing group, think about how you conduct yourself. Be open, be helpful and be patient to work your way into the environment of a complex community structure. You wouldn’t gate-crash a party or turn up uninvited with not so much as a bottle of wine; same applies to online pockets of interest and conversation. Bring something of value and work with those around you.

James is a Marketing Specialist at Alterian. You can connect with him on Twitter or Linked In.

 

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