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  • Writer's pictureNithya (nith-ya // she, her)

3 Ways to Build Brand Communities

How will you engage authentically with you community?

At the beginning of March, I had the opportunity to moderate the Community Building Online: Interest, Brand or Movement panel featuring  Mike Morrison, Usman Tahir Jutt and  Farhan Mohamed at SocialNext.

Group of panelists on Zoom.
Top left to right: Nithya Ramachandran, Usman Tahir Jutt Bottom left to right: Mike Morrison, Farhan Mohamed

The reason we put this conversation together was because we have noticed a blurring of lines between hobbies, interests, brands and movements, and the communities that envelop them. We also see the proliferation of these communities because of technology and the internet, which has brought some of us together. However, some have been pushed further apart from each other.

But before “community” becomes the next entry into the corporate jargon lexicon, we wanted to unpack what it meant and how to build it.

A few definitions for consideration:

  • a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common and/or a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. – Oxford Dictionary

  • a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together - Fabian Pfortmüller

Ultimately, our panel hypothesized that what makes a community is the social contract of care and trust between all members of that community. Listening, engaging and having empathy for the members of the community is what creates the glue to keep that community together.

But why does this matter to brands and organizations? Every system we have (healthcare, economies, systemic racism in the corporate world) has been under a microscope in the last couple of years. Combining this with the rise of conscious consumerism (some two-thirds of Gen Zs are willing to spend up to 48 per cent more to buy from a purpose-led brand), has blurred the lines between profit, purpose, brands, activism and interests.

Here are three things brands and organizations need to keep in mind when rallying their communities – whether employees, customers, shareholders or fans.

1. Stick to your values and purpose and use it as your filter

There are many different types of people in the world. Your organizations’ values, purpose and what it stands for is what brings these seemingly disparate people together.

Use your organizational purpose and values as the filter to develop your ‘swim lanes’ of what you have the social license to talk about. Not every brand or organization needs to publicly comment on every issue or topic.

2. Make sure your house is in order with intentional action

Gone are the days of ‘listening & learning’, black squares and empty platitudes. People have access to a treasure trove of information and consumers, employees, stakeholders and community members are using that information to keep organizations and brands accountable.

Before drafting any social media posts, PR statements or internal emails, it’s fundamental to make sure your house is in order. Using your organizational purpose and values, make sure that there are concrete actions and steps in place before talking about it. Shifting to an "inside out" approach can help your organization make sure they aren’t just talking the talk but walking the talk. Being purposeful and intentional in your actions are big parts of building trust amongst your communities.

3. Be authentic, but don’t try and manufacture authenticity

Once you understand your organizational purpose, think about how to express, and live it out authentically. Now more than ever, it’s critical for brands to back their values through action, both internally and externally. Demonstrate the proof behind what matters to you, what actions you will take to support it, and rally your people to participate meaningfully – they are your strongest advocates. Invest the time and effort into the work to be done, and it will speak for itself to the communities you’re connected to.

Lastly, be specific and intentional in actioning what you care about. Constantly talking about everything will only dilute the message you intend to convey and muddy your stance to stakeholders. Having a distinct point of view that is reflective of your values will strengthen your ability to not only engage with your community, but garner new audiences who will identify with what you believe in.

How will you engage authentically?

Engaging communities today requires a balance of both purpose-led action, and authentic responsiveness to timely issues faced by your audiences. And conversion is happening quicker than ever – consumers see a brand they like, they follow them immediately, and seek out ways to engage; almost as though today’s conversion funnel has flattened into a pancake.

To build a truly authentic relationship with communities, brands must understand how their values and purpose translate into actions for a multitude of audiences. This starts with employees, stakeholders, and current customers first and then informs your organization’s communications strategies. If brands start first with that inside-out approach, it will build clarity in determining what you should – and shouldn’t – be talking about.

How are you living out your purpose and organizational values? What conversations will your organization participate in? What will you offer a distinct perspective on and how will you build intentional action? Click on “contact” if you want to chat through it.

(Image description : Group of panelists on Zoom.)

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