You May Not Own Your Community

When it comes to where and how consumers spend their time, the options couldn't be more infinite. TV or video game? Magazine or e-reader? Facebook or Twitter? With so many options, it shouldn't come as a surprise to marketers when consumers don't want to spend a great deal of time hanging out with them online.

If We Build It...

As media has fragmented, marketers have never had more options either, especially when it comes to building communities for consumers to get together, interact and bask in a brand's presence. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wordpress MomsLikeMe and other platforms all provide quick solutions for brands looking to create an online "place" for consumers to come to them and interact.

Still, creating something, doesn't mean anyone will care or even give it a chance. A  community isn't what it used to be in the good ol' days, but maybe we need to rethink what a community is because for better or worse, your customers will never care as much about your community as you do.

The Ubiquitous Community

Being connected no longer comes with an on/off switch. Mobile devices allow consumers to always be “on” as they share their opinions, gather information and create content. The communities easiest to access through mobile devices are the ones that succeed and will continue to do so.

Not all communities will be focused on you, your category or your competition. Still,  your brand may become the focus on an ongoing basis or for fleeting moments on communities you expect and on some that may come as a surprise. The key for marketers is being there when it matters. Just because people aren’t discussing you in the walled garden that is your community doesn’t mean what they say doesn’t matter. It may even matter more.

There is a need to identify how to leverage the tools that are out there to allow access to communities from anywhere, while keeping in mind that putting boundaries on our communities means missing big opportunities occurring everywhere else.

Give to Get

Even though communities are everywhere, there are still times when building a community and bringing people together makes sense. However, so often the number of people interacting in a community becomes the focus, but perhaps, communities need to be exclusive to create real value for brands and those involved. The more exclusive, the more brands can give back to participants. Implementing methods to say thank you to those who interact with you on an ongoing basis will keep them engaged and give them a stake in the success of the community. I’m not talking bribery here either. Get creative. Figure out there passion, and zero in on it.

We also have to show that what is being said turns into action. Track the insights revealed by the community and show how those insights are turning into action. Merchandise what you do in response to the community to illustrate that you care about the opinions of those dedicating their precious time to you.

Listen. Reward. Act.

Building a community is no simple process, and getting the right people there is easier said than done. That doesn’t mean people aren’t talking and sharing from anywhere at any time. Understanding that our brands may not be the center of communities other than they own but can, instead, become a topic of conversation, which means a potential opportunity that can only be leveraged if we’re listening. In addition, finding a way to reward those who actually do join our communities and showing how their ideas are turning into action will be essential to make the communities sustainable.