With multiple social media outlets and a vast online marketplace, consumers have unprecedented access to information about companies, allowing them to make informed decisions about who to do business with. Consumers tend to put particular trust in—and therefore seek out—other consumers’ opinions.
This transparency can also work in the favor of a business, which can use the same media to share information and build a community around their brand. While it starts with a good product or service, there’s more to building a community than that. If a company works to reach out to its target audience through content, shared values, and stories, happy clients and customers may turn into faithful fans who spread the word and help the brand grow.
However, businesses may not always be sure of how to begin building this sense of loyalty and shared community with their current and potential audience. To help, 16 members of Fast Company Executive Board share strategies any company can use to start building a community around its brand. Follow their recommendations to plant the seeds of avid brand advocacy among your customer base.
1. LISTEN TO THOSE YOU’RE TRYING TO REACH.
The key is to find out who your audience is and appeal to them. Create momentum by writing about initiatives your company is launching that hinge on your mission. Build value and trust by engaging with your current customers—get active on social media and encourage feedback. Always listen to your customers and audience. It will shape your brand and help it continue to evolve. – Wendi Weiner, The Writing Guru®
2. MEET YOUR AUDIENCE WHERE THEY ARE.
To successfully foster authentic connections, organizations must first get to know the community itself and establish a deep understanding of who their audience is and where to meet them. For example, we know that the majority of youth today are digital natives, so The Trevor Project offers support 24/7 to LGBTQ youth via phone, text, and chat, while also engaging them on social media platforms. – Amit Paley, The Trevor Project
3. POSITION YOUR CLIENTS AS THOUGHT LEADERS.
In medical marketing, we work hard to position our clients—or their clinical users—as thought leaders. We ask them to blog, post on social channels, author white papers, conduct podcasts, pursue time at the podium, and publish in peer-reviewed journals. These assets are gold in marketing’s hands. We then promote them heavily to educate and build a following. – Lisa Bichsel, Bichsel Medical Marketing Group
4. CO-CREATE A “SECRET LANGUAGE.”
Use your brand, culture, and word choice consistently—extra points for verbs and proper nouns that include your company: for example, “We will be ‘MyVillaging’ together to tackle taxes.” The key to good co-creation means listening intently to your audience’s word choices, jokes, and phrases. When they start hearing their own words in your language, they know they belong. – Erica Mackey, MyVillage
5. DEVELOP A SOCIAL MISSION.
Create a social mission for your company that aligns with a cause where there is an existing synergy. It should also be something you as a founder are truly passionate about. Commit to raising awareness on all platforms—the media, your company’s website, and both your and your business’s social media channels. Otherwise, the partnership will lack authenticity. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing
6. IDENTIFY YOUR SHARED PURPOSE.
What makes us human is our ability to form communities to pursue a shared purpose. The more important that purpose, the stronger the group’s identity. Brands that connect to purpose create the ability to align with that sense of identity and create connection. For example, CHERRISK in Germany is recreating an original risk-sharing community that formed the insurance industry in the 17th century. – Andrew Binns, Change Logic LLC
7. LET YOUR AUDIENCE BE PART OF YOUR BRAND DEVELOPMENT.
Provide an open “uncensored” platform or be a part of a platform where your consumers gather. It’s critical that you define your purpose in the world and allow members of the community to actively ideate, criticize, and cheer on your brand. This gives them a way to measure your authenticity and rally around not only your product or service but your beliefs. Embrace their opinions. – Antonio Patric Buchanan, Antonio & Paris
8. HOME IN ON WHAT SETS YOU APART.
The issue of building community is about inciting passion in users. Stoke passion and the community will follow. Be highly focused on your USPs and the benefits you provide to a highly defined target psychographic. Community builds around the passion of this core group. – Todd Miller, ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning
9. LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO RESOLVE ISSUES.
Really “hear” your community. All too often we cheer the great feedback and acknowledge the not-so-flattering comments with a standard “Thank you for sharing … we value your input.” How often do you circle back and inform the community what the company actually did to address their concerns? Showing meaningful actions that cost the company real money and not just words goes a long way. – Joe Watson, Joe Watson
10. CREATE AN AMBASSADOR PROGRAM.
Ambassador programs are a great way to reward and incentivize early adopters. Ambassadors amplify your business in local markets, serve as strong sources of feedback, and build brand equity. – Melissa Barash
11. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.
Brands need to be faithfully authentic about their identity and values. In the overstimulated world of social media that we live in, people have developed a keen sense for detecting what’s heartfelt and what’s superficial. Be true to your authentic self and your values if you want your community to be true to you. – Rhoden Monrose, CariClub
12. FOSTER OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONNECTION.
Building community is all about connections. Whether it’s a planned event or serendipitous moments, creating the opportunity to meet someone and the right environment in which to do so is how networks are built. It’s important to be authentic to your brand while putting your community first. The relationships that develop naturally will build stronger connections to other members and to your brand as well. – Ryan Simonetti, Convene
13. SHARE YOUR TEAM AND CLIENT STORIES.
The best way to create a community is to share your stories—including client stories and employee-led stories—and do it in an authentic way. Your customers will appreciate that you celebrate their accomplishments and will respond with engagement. Focus on the impact your client is making by using your product. This allows you to engage with a community and elegantly promote your services. – Ximena Hartsock, Phone2Action
14. SET UP ONLINE COMMUNITIES.
To effectively create a community around your brand, you first need to provide a space for it to happen. Create private Facebook groups, start a Slack workspace, or build your own membership site. By creating an exclusive space for people to talk and fostering conversations, you’ll develop your community over time. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
15. UNDERSTAND WHY YOUR BRAND EXISTS.
Building a community starts with building a brand worth standing up for—a brand that understands why it exists, not just what it makes. A brand that appreciates its customers beyond the dollars they spend, recognizing these customers propel the greater vision. When executed correctly, these brand attributes ring true and, in turn, are readily reciprocated by the brand’s growing community. – Bill Kenney, Focus Lab
16. FOCUS ON SERVING EACH PERSON WELL.
To create raving fans, you need to worry less about the broader community and instead focus your time on serving each person. Take care of your clients and the word will spread. – Liza Streiff, Knopman Marks Financial Training