When you build a brand, one of the most important measures of success is the actual engagement and connection of your loyal customers, followers, supporters, partners, fans and friends--your community. With the arrival of the digital age and 24/7 connectivity, social platforms are forcing companies to find new and compelling ways to keep up with daily communication and connection with the people who matter the most. Marketers are being forced to change their habits, moving from a reliance on traditional content marketing to editorialized “content curation” that delivers compelling points of view in an organized, entertaining or educational fashion, offering consumers different reasons to connect and engage with brands. So, if you’ve spent the past decade focused on content marketing, how do you make the switch to digital curation?
We recently worked with World Vision  to help its college activism team identify new ways to engage and connect college students around global social justice issues. Working with the team from ACT:S , the World Vision activism network, over the past five years (as well as many other not-for-profits) we realized the obvious: there are thousands of people all wanting to make an impact on a wide range of issues facing humanity, including health, poverty, environmental and social justice issues. What was missing was a place where creative activists could come to share their ideas and the tools they need to engage others. After developing a strategic framework for the "activism engine," we partnered with our friends at Fifty & Fifty Collective  (the same team who designed the digital viral campaign for Kony 2012) to bring it to life. “Our challenge was to create a space that promotes and facilitates creative action,” said Javan Van Gronigen, founder of the digital humanitarian agency, Fifty & Fifty.“ACT:S wanted a central place online for people to share resources and ideas as well as find ways to take action addressing some of the biggest challenges facing humanity today such as world hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and clean water availability. The problem they presented was that there was no one place where all the elements for creative action could coexist, such as those setting up the actions, those taking part in the actions, and those producing creative content that can be used within the actions.”
The result of our collaboration with the ACT:S team and Fifty & Fifty is an online destination where World Vision can help curate content and provide creative tools to support a broad community of creative activists. Along the way, we learned the following valuable lessons for building a community of actively engaged users:
1. Create a long-term relationship
Building a connection to your audience is the key to maintaining a long-term relationship with them. To build a strong connection, first you must understand your audience’s interests, and once you know you will need to find, and use, the most popular form of communication. Lastly, once you earn your audience’s interest, you must be constantly available and ready to interact to keep them actively engaged.
2. Listen to the people.
“Other organizations can learn that there are a lot of people looking to be involved, they just need to be engaged in a way that works with who they are,” said Van Gronigen. “If you have someone that is great at throwing events, then give them a space that they can find an issue to throw an event on behalf of and equip them with the resources they need to make it successful. If it's a person that is a great artist or designer, create a space that they can share those gifts by providing content that anyone can use around key issues.”
Pay attention to where and how your targets want to communicate, what they want to talk about and what they actually do, then build the community they demand. World Vision ACT:S gives the opportunity to upload, post, find, and share within an activism community with ‘How-To Guides,’ posters, art, videos and more, all in a digital platform that is easily accessed and shared through a space where their audience is already spending a good portion of their time.
3. Create it and continually influence your audience
Regardless of how innovative or relevant your community is, you can’t expect people to participate unless you do. Launching your community is only the first step (and probably the easiest) to getting involved. Once you’re live, dedicate time and attention to share, create, lead and converse with the people you want to influence to establish a long-lasting relationship. By staying actively engaged, you will become relatable and your audience will learn more about you, creating a closer relationship.
4. Get actively involved
“The ACT:S platform is a great tool that will continue to take shape as more users are on it, providing us information on how they use, and their needs in this space,” says Van Gronigen. “It's not an attempt to recreate a social network, rather just a place where creative activism can be birthed and hopefully equip and inspire others to do what they can to leave the world a better place than when they got here.”
When communicating with your community, consistency helps to build real genuine trusted relationships--and that’s really what it’s all about. Inconsistency will bring confusion and could undermine relationships, which could cause backlash and a bad image.
5. Iterate and evolve often
“The game changing piece of the activism engine project is the ability to openly source creative content that is designed for specific issues,” said Van Gronigen. “Essentially, it's a digital library of creative activism that anyone can use to make a difference around the world, or even just in their local neighborhood. It also wraps the creative activism with an online community space that allows users to connect as individuals in their effort to change the world.”
It can be very easy to become lost in all the clutter on the web. To ensure you are engaged, active, and relevant with your audience find a way to stand out by planning messages strategically, focusing on your strengths, and finding a unique and simple way to communicate.
[Image: Flickr user Daniel Dionne ]