Marketing

3 Examples of Community Marketing & How to Start Your Own

community marketing

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Phil Grossman

30 Apr, 2020

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With so many ways for people to connect online, it’s surprising just how few genuine connections are actually made in our #modernworld. Despite billions of people logging onto social media each and every day, loneliness is ubiquitous. 

While there isn’t any evidence that social media has led to an increase in loneliness or that the world is lonelier today than it was a few decades ago, any amount of loneliness in our society is a problem, and that means there’s a solution. 

And that’s where you (and community marketing) come in. Look, there’s no secret here: people want to feel connected to others. They want to feel that they belong. It’s just human nature.  So what can you do about that, and how can you help others while helping your business?

The answer is community marketing, a form of marketing that strives to build a community around your brand. Basically, you’re making a fan club — think The Grateful Dead’s “Deadheads,” Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters,” etc. 

By giving your customers a platform to interact with, you further cement yourself as a part of their daily lives and gain another channel to push updates and promotions to.

In this guide, we’re going to go over the basics of building a community marketing plan. We’ll look at what makes a good community, examples of businesses that are doing it right, and we’ll give you the steps to develop your own community marketing strategy. 

What is community marketing?

Community marketing (aka community-based marketing) is a type of marketing that uses community building to increase brand awareness, improve customer retention, and enhance customer-brand and customer-customer relationships, and build brand loyalty

Unlike other forms of marketing, community marketing’s primary goal is not to bring new customers on board. Instead, it serves to further develop existing customers’ connections to your brand and cement it as an important part of your customers’ lives. 

A community can provide a space for your customers to talk amongst themselves about upcoming developments, how to get the most out of their purchases, etc. Plus, it can also act as a public forum where team members interact with customers to get feedback that can improve your products and help improve the customer experience even further. 

At its best, community marketing can help your brand become a part of your customers’ identities. And that runs pretty deep. Once you’ve done that, you’ve hit the customer-retention jackpot. 

What are the characteristics of a good community?

To get a good idea for what makes a good brand community, we’ll first need to establish what makes any community a good one. Luckily for us, David McMillan and David Chavis already gave us a pretty solid roadmap in their 1986 article “Sense of community: A definition and theory.” 

In their analysis, they laid out four recurring themes:

  • Membership: People want to have a sense of belonging to a group.
  • Influence: Community members want to feel like their voice is being heard and that they can weigh in on decisions that will affect their community
  • Integration and fulfillment of needs: People want to feel like their community provides them with opportunities to meet their basic needs (this part isn’t relevant for community marketing), social interaction, and recreation. Think events, meetups, and forums. 
  • Shared emotional connection: People want to feel emotionally connected to their fellow community members. They want to have a sense of pride and history. 

So, let’s put these all together and see what we get. A good community is one that people feel like they belong in, makes them feel heard, gives them recreational and social opportunities, and makes them feel a sense of pride and shared history. 

Obviously, it can be hard to fully recreate the effects of a strong, organic, real-world community in a somewhat artificial brand community. Sometimes taking yourself too seriously can backfire — just think of all the gag-inducing attempts you’ve seen companies make when they try too hard to impose a sense of community. Don’t be like them. Sure, you can call your community a family (although it’d probably better to find a more creative name), but remember that your community members are still going to have a deeper connection to their real families. 

So, how can you find the balance? Start by taking stock of how important you can ever really expect to be in your customer’s life. If you’re a religious organization, musician, sports team, fashion brand, or some other type of business that people tend to strongly identify with (again, think Deadheads and Little Monsters), you can go further. But if you sell a drain cleaning product, realize that your customers are likely going to find an attempt at calling them “Drain Family” more off-putting than endearing (although The Drainy Bunch does have a certain ring to it). 

But that doesn’t mean that community marketing won’t work for a drain cleaning product, it just means you have to do it differently than you would for a sports team. No matter what type of brand you run, you need to make sure it’s:

  • Responsive: Ensure that someone is responding to discussions, even if it’s just a team member.
  • Safe and inclusive: Set guidelines that prohibit hateful or derogatory speech, and enforce them with a moderator. You’ll have to use your own judgment to determine what’s likely to be acceptable to your users. A community for an adult card game like Cards Against Humanity will likely tolerate a lot more insulting language (within limits) than a community for a religious book publisher. For example, banning all swear words in the former will likely turn off your customers, but that may be perfectly acceptable in the latter community. 

Community marketing examples

Let’s take a look at a few examples of brand communities that are doing it right.

Waves Audiophiles

Waves is a company that makes professional audio software. Its customer base is largely music producers, and its products are used by people in all levels of the industry, from newbies all the way up to Grammy-winning producers. 

Waves set up the Waves Audiophile Facebook group as a place where “everyone can enjoy, feel welcome and receive the help they’re looking for.” For the most part, the group consists of posts asking how to use Waves products, with users weighing in and offering advice. But Waves is careful not to overstep their boundaries. In the rules, the group states: “We realize there is more to audio production than just using Waves, so feel free to ask any general audio-related questions.” This helps keep the community more down-to-earth and approachable instead of forcing some sort of artificial brand identity.

The group makes a big effort to make sure users feel like they’re being heard. One of the rules states: “We want to hear your stuff and see where you make your magic happen!” Another sets some guidelines for what a discussion should look like: “If you post anything about illegal downloads, whether you’re asking for links or trying to sell them, you will immediately be banned from the group with no second chances.”

Overall, this is a fantastic example of a community done right. 

Miyoko’s Creamery Taste Mmmakers

So, right off the bat, this is a great name. Let’s be clear on that. Miyoko’s Creamery is an all-vegan “dairy” brand that makes cheeses and butter out of plants. On their Taste Mmmakers Facebook group, the brand encourages customers to “share heart melting stories, swap creamy recipes, enjoy delicious discounts, and be the first to know about the many exciting updates Miyoko’s has for the future.”

This provides a great space for people who are interested in cooking with plant-based and veganism to chat and discuss something that unites them. 

Lego Ideas

Lego’s community is a logistics feat on a whole other level. Unlike the last two brands that have their communities focused on Facebook groups, Lego Ideas is a website that lets community members upload their Lego creations and share them with the world. Other users can comment on creations as well as share and support them.

The best part? When creations get enough supporters, Lego will actually produce some of the creations and put them on store shelves! That means that community members don’t just get to give feedback on the company’s products, but they can actually design some themselves. 

How to develop a community marketing plan

In many ways, developing a community marketing program is much harder than coming up with any other type of marketing effort. In a sense, you’re actually creating an entirely new service, not just an advertisement. While a piece of content or a Facebook ad just needs to be consumed, a community needs to be used: it needs to become a real, living, breathing community for it to be successful.

This is clearly a challenge, and it will take a lot of work. But if that doesn’t scare you off, here are some of the steps to building your own community marketing strategy. 

1. Find your users

Before anything else, you’ll need to make sure you have a customer base. Although you can build communities for brand new businesses (no pun intended), it’s not as easy as leveraging an existing customer base and directing them en masse to a new community hub. 

But even when you have users, finding a way to get their attention can be difficult. To do so, you’ll have to use all the tools you usually use to get your audience’s attention: email, social media marketing, etc. 

2. Pick a platform

There’s no shortage of social media sites out there, so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to platforms. When making this decision, you’ll want to not only take into account which platform is most amenable to the type of community you want to create, but also the demographic of your users. 

For example, Facebook is more popular among older generations these days, while Instagram tends towards a younger demographic. If your customers are Gen X or older, you may see better success on Facebook. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s something to take into account. Cross-reference the demographics of the social media platform with your audience’s demographics for maximum synergy. 

Outside of that, make sure you can achieve what you want on your platform of choice. To make a community à la Lego Idea’s, you’ll probably need to design a web app, not just make a Facebook group. 

3. Get the conversation rolling

As the community founder, it’s your job to break the ice and get people talking. Once your group gets rolling, you can take more of a backseat, but at the beginning, you’ll likely need to make posts that will spark conversation. Plus, even when things are going smoothly, your community members will likely enjoy knowing that the brand is active and responsive and that the community isn’t just an echo chamber of users. 

4. Decide on roles

It’s not an easy job, but someone’s got to lay down the law. The internet is troll territory, so if you want to have a successful community, you’re going to need to make sure there’s some degree of moderation. To achieve this, you’ll need to find moderators. You’ll also likely want to assign other roles, such as someone who starts conversations, someone who provides brand updates, etc. 

5. Promote, promote, promote

This is still marketing after all — promotion was bound to come up. Whether you’re still planning out your community or it’s already assumed a life of its own, you’re going to need to make sure people know about it, so get out there and promote, promote, promote. You can go about this any way that you see fit, but if you need some help, be sure to check out one of our many guides on marketing

And that’s all, folks! Building a brand community is tough, but the fruits of your labor can be well worth the effort. There are few things as satisfying as knowing that you’ve made a real impact on people’s lives and helped bring people closer in what can be such a lonely world. 

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