July 16, 2021
4 minutes reading
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In 1960, you may have seen and believed a clever Mad Men-style advertisement in the newspaper. Some doctors said smoking was healthy, some dentists said Coca-Cola was great for kids. Fact-checking was difficult and sales were strong.
Years later you found out that they had lied to you. Smoking causes cancer. Sugar gave you cavities. The era of advertising was dead. Ads would still be used, but trust was damaged. The abuse was now visible.
Enter the internet, a new way to reach potential customers: digital marketing. You can easily place a physical 2D ad in a digital display format. Then came Google, Facebook and the social media advertising platforms. They were interesting in the beginning, maybe even useful because algorithms preyed on your utmost desires. Privacy started to become an issue for consumers and once again trust was lost. The tracking was rampant.
Then influencer marketing hit the market and grew almost overnight to nearly $14 billion in revenue in 2021. Instead of directly telling people why your business is interesting or why someone should buy your product, have a trusted person tell their followers. The followers will trust them more than the company that hypes its own wares. And then a lot of influencers started sharing products that they didn’t really use or didn’t care about. Authenticity in a normal authentic medium was troubled. Again, trust was lost, but the lesson learned was the value of one’s community.
Today ‘the community’ is becoming the medium of choice for large and small companies. Often this mode existed before, but beyond the reach of a company: a forum, a subreddit, a Facebook group. But now companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to provide real value to their communities, a place to collect online and offline, even monetary incentives (fiat or crypto) to deepen their engagement. It finally feels like a real conversation is taking place between the wants and needs of the consumer and the desires of the brand. But this is where things can go wrong.
Community growth is one thing, but community marketing needs to be approached with caution. If you reward your products and services in vain, your community members will be turned off and they will likely leave. Just like spam emails before, community spam is responded to in a similar way. Often companies want to cultivate a community to help them grow, but if you don’t already have a product that people love or have a common interest, you’ll fall flat.
My warning, or should I say advice, is threefold:
1. Treat your community with care. They are people. You are human. Address them as such. Stimulate their passions. Find ways to support them. Don’t blow them up that won’t help them. Build relationships. And if you don’t know what your community wants? Questions.
2. Promote conversations. Whether that’s one-on-one or through surveys, ask your community what they want to see in your product, platform, or industry. Encourage feedback loops. Provide clear community leaders and avenues such as Slack Channels or direct messaging where community members can support your common mission. Building together. Build in public. An example of this is Commsor’s Community Club, which explicitly states that it will never sell its platform to people in the community unless they choose to. That keeps the Slack community open for community professionals to meet and learn from each other rather than overt marketing.
3. Encourage play. Don’t forget to have fun and experiment in new or weird ways. Boring is so 2020. I often see company values of “Integrity, Responsibility, Dare”, but I don’t see “Enjoy Your Work” or “Have Fun On The Journey” nearly that often. Perhaps business leaders believe that these slogans can be misinterpreted as “Don’t be harsh”, but I disagree and think that corporate cultures that encourage collaboration, brainstorming, team retreats and outside meetings, and more human connectedness are organizations that be preserved. and nurture their talented employees over the years by building their profiles, careers and personal development. This point also has a direct impact on the growing mental health epidemic in business and drives employers to support their teams in a positive, creative, flexible and uplifting way.
Our communities are the most valuable thing we have. They are our neighborhoods, our cities, our businesses, our teams, our hobbies and our places to belong. Cherish them as you would your own. Keep mutual respect, authenticity and trust above all else. If we do that as marketers, community professionals, executives, and startup founders, we’re on the right track.