Many businesses today are eager to leverage the power of community to benefit their organizations but don’t really understand the difference between audience and community. Far too many believe community consists of the people who like your Facebook page, or who follow you on Twitter or SnapChat. Building engaged, thriving community hinges on purposeful relationship-building. This panel of movement-builders shared their expertise with panel host Ayelet Baron.
Panelists agreed upon the definition of a community member as individuals who are actively involved with a company, but who may or may not actually be customers—they could also be observers or advocates. A community member is engaged and typically feels an emotional affiliation, either positive or negative, with a company.
Ayelet Baron talked about the era of 21st century business where there is new emphasis on creating trust, building relationships and community. Panelists offered these insights on how they’ve built community:
- Renee Hopkins noted the success of in-person experiences. The Business Innovation Factory anchors their community around their annual Summit by building momentum for it year-round using social channels.
- As the community builder for online video conferencing service Blab, Brittany Metz shared how important it is to be a member of your community. She says she personally has real friendships with her community … beyond just being a designated representative for the company.
- Savannah Peterson recalled a past Shapeways experience where “the relationship saved the day.” As the largest 3D printing platform in the world, the company drew on the power of its community to navigate unexpected site down time just days before Christmas. By rallying customer relationships, creativity and empathy, the event was eclipsed into an entirely community-driven Christmas eve celebration.
- As community builders, Rachel Medanic noted the importance of noticing the level of commitment for interactions online such as liking a discussion versus commenting and sharing. She referenced the wisdom in Douglas Atkin’s Commitment Curve in her recent efforts to curate Songs of Community Managers (in honor of Community Manager Appreciation Day).
In building community, the ultimate achievements come in creating movements—experiences that ultimately go beyond what a brand creates but that can positively affect brand loyalty. For Metz, Blab leads by example and continuously evangelizes how users can shift from being guests to becoming creators and hosts. She points to the practice of letting users in on product discussion talks (to give them inside access) but then asking user to step up and offer to help in return.
At the Business Innovation Factory, storytelling is the glue to how the non-profit creates movements. When people emotionally connect and are inspired, that helps them turn around to then go innovate healthcare, education and government. Emotional extremes are what to look for, says Medanic. She experienced watching IT professionals share both triumphs and failure on the Cisco Learning Network. Pride in the community’s purpose and mission is also the essential glue that also helped Peterson and Shapeways usher in the first ever National Day of Making.
Baron herself is most passionate about purpose—something far beyond vision and mission statements. “A lot of times we spend our lives finding our own purpose and then finding others to share purpose with.” She sees a gap in natural community-building abilities rise up the moment community-building efforts shift online. “People forget what community is. Every single person on earth is part of a community.” Peterson challenged leaders of communities to embody purpose by thinking of community architecture as the spine in a body but where the nerves and neurons running off this central architecture is created by those interacting within the community. Hopkins insights supported this, “In order to have shared purpose, everyone has to understand and to be able to work toward that purpose in their own way. We believe in stories and that they are the narrative for how you change the world. People have to be connected by purpose (especially across industries).”
Shared purpose can also take the form of wanting to help prevent others from having negative experiences. Medanic talks about seeing this motivator in a support community she worked on. External contributors were motivated by preventing others from having the bad experiences they had. Shared passions among customers may involve individuals who are outspoken and not necessarily positive. For Blab community’s, Metz saw the community drive the creation of their own awards show, including its marketing and promotion. “They came together, dressed up, had singers and did a whole event to celebrate the community. It helped us understand the importance of acknowledging great creators.”
But community building can be very challenging when you can’t always be together physically. Fostering conversations between events requires tools and content. The Business Innovation Factory archives its Summit videos and then re-shares and repackages the stories to enable experiences year-round. Metz uses tools like Twitter and Medium to ignite discussion; she also believes community managers themselves have a wealth of experiences that can be shared to enrich the profession. Peterson uses closed private groups on Facebook to continue specific conversations a provide a sense of safety in “knowing” all the other contributors. Also, it’s key not to overlook the people inside your company and move beyond identity as “what department do you belong to?” Community should belong to every part of the company and evangelism from across the organization will help create online experiences to carry a community through between events.
Baron is on a mission evangelizing community and community managers. She believes it is one of the most important roles for the 21st century. She and co-creator, Tim McDonald are busy working to build community for business as a force of social good and to bust the work/life balance paradigm. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are, or where you live. Each of us wants to show up as whole people in life and have work be part of it. I just do what I’m passionate about and the biggest, most important currencies in the 21st century are trust, relationships and community. I commend all of you amazing women doing such important work building community and creating shared trust and purpose.”
Latest posts by Rachel Medanic (see all)
- Building Relationships to Ignite Movements - February 22, 2016
- Keepers of the Fulcrum:Community Management and the Future of Digital Engagement - January 24, 2015