“If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And here I make a rule — A great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” –John Steinbeck
During the Great Depression, the classic trifecta of tales by John Steinbeck set in Monterey, California “Tortilla Flat,” “Cannery Row,” and “Sweet Thursday” became popular as an escape from the daily grind of the prevailing circumstances. What these stories had in common is they shared how the colorful characters were bound together by loyalty and their own search for a sense of belonging.
The rapid paradigm shift we are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic has posed a real struggle for individuals to connect in meaningful ways. And people have been relying on online platforms more than ever before to link them to like-minded community.
What are people searching for? What do they really need? This question has come into high focus during the pandemic while the majority of people have been home and remain isolated from physical social contact. Similar to the historic circumstances of the Great Depression era, when a majority of people were hit by hard times, friendship and a code of honor become like gold.
We’ve heard it time and time again throughout the pandemic. Consumers and customers are seeking participation and authentic, human connections. While traditional marketing is about how to approach, engage, and suggest solutions to match customer needs. Establishing a brand community on one or several social platforms is a consistent way to reach customers in an impactful way, inform and teach them, and give them a sense of belonging.
Why building a Brand Community works
While the buzz words “brand community” have been relatively recent to crop up, belonging to a community is a concept as old as human existence. A study of any ancient culture reveals the ways humans have built communities to improve their living conditions and secure their needs for survival.
When it comes to building brand communities, researchers McMillan and Chavis identified the key attributes which make them thrive.
A Sense of Belonging and Identification
People lean toward each other and share and validate traits and ways they are like-minded. They are compassionate, kind and empathetic with one another.
Traditions and Practices
These encompass ways people find each other by displaying similar behaviors and perceptions of the world. They invest in one another’s safety, establish boundaries with beliefs and provide emotional safety.
When people come together under the umbrella of values, they share moral obligation provide access to resources and be of service to one other.
The way brands form communities around their product(s) or services is to provide a value exchange on social platforms. They do this by creating relevant content on a consistent basis that engages a like-minded following and fosters connecting and opportunities to connect.
How to build an online community
Building brand community requires understand the lifestyle and thinking styles of your ideal customer and knowing what motivates them. The content you produce on social media will mirror them and their behaviors.
Choose a relevant social platform for customer engagement.
Are customers in need of education on how to get the most from a product or service or grow their business? YouTube videos can give instant and easy access to information anytime a customer needs it, and deliver it for free.
Paying it forward matters.
People want to associate and follow brands that care about the things they care about and demonstrate their values.
Reminding customers they are in the right place and giving them a sense of belonging is paramount. Treating people with kindness, empathy and compassion supports their overall sense of belonging and supports their loyalty and willingness to share information with other like-minded customers.
The brand community tells the story.
The great thing about building a brand community is it takes us on a journey as the story continues to evolve. Brand stories are told in authentic and unique ways by the community or followers and influencers that share their interactions with a brand. GenZ and Millennials have grown up engaging with each other in this very transparent way and creating communities on social platforms.
Community members become an essential part of the story of the brand as they co-create and contribute engagement to the content. Likewise, mentioning your community members and validating their contributions will fuel the community’s engine and growth.
Author Seth Godin said, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”
And he’s right. In building brand communities, we need to be asking what transformation will your product or service give them? What journey will interacting with your brand send them on? What feeling will they have when they see your brand in a social media feed and think about your brand?
Mary Ellen Schrock is the CDO and Chief Disruptor of Floh Creative. As a bright, intuitive creative she has a passion for solving complex design and marketing challenges. Mary Ellen loves building successful brands! She created Floh Creative as a place to put her talent to work to build brands and provide knowledge and strategies for clients who want to grow their business.