One of the buzzwords these days is community. Most brands struggle with creating community, and the first reason is that most brands want the community to be about them. I like to take a different approach, why build one at all? Or, why not join an active community where you can be an influencer or a very active a participant? Below is a list of criteria that I think has relative value to this idea and could create some interesting thoughts when we are looking at our engagement process.
- Understand your Customers: We have been trying for decades it seems to become more customer-centric, and we keep putting the customer at the end of the rainbow sort of speaking. If we look at the communities our customers participate in what better way can we engage with other likely prospects? As my saying goes, playing in the customer’s playground is our best marketing and innovation strategy.
- Look after Key Accounts: You should be able to engage in the “playground” of your Key accounts quicker than any other community. It is the one you know best and as a result will have the best opportunity. Your value proposition will also be more aligned with this group.
- Find and active community: Whether we are looking online discussions, trade conferences, local meetups and other community organizations, it is much easier to participate in one that is already active. Trying to create our own is a long and enduring process. I would rather have it evolve from an existing one versus trying to go at alone.
- Hire Connectors before Technology: In this day and age, we first look at technology to solve many of our problems. We will look at LinkedIn, Ning, Facebook, and think that the technology itself will create community. Most efforts are dismal failures. However, if we put people first, just as any successful community might do, they have a habit of creating conversation.
- Participation& Content: Not only do we need to participate; we have to have the necessary content to back it up. Blog Posts, Pictographs, Flow Charts, all those visual things that people gravitate to will help you create conversation and establish yourself as someone that can help and eventually influence other parties. I hesitate in using the word expert and solutions since that might have a tendency to isolate you versus increasing participation. Error by asking too much versus providing answers most of the time.
- Do more than have a discussion: Most communities do things. They participate in trade shows. They have projects or do work together. The important things are that they create through doing relationships. However, I will mention, starting a conversation is the best to place to start. It does not happen without one.
- Be Consistent: You need to participate regularly and establish what I might call a rhythm to your efforts. Being infrequent or not consistent reduces your efforts dramatically. You might not be able to be at every weekly meeting but if you participate twice a month, do it twice a month. The alternative of not going for a month and then showing up four months in a row seldom produces the results. It seems obvious when I write but in actuality, it is not that uncommon.
- Outline a Plan: Understand the shared interest of the parties and create a plan of whom you need to connect with not necessarily to sell to but to learn from and whom you might assist. This sort of seems like networking 101 but this is about achieving business goals and creating opportunities to work with customers in a product way.
- Productivity Tools: We have a tendency to leave this area alone in community building and after item 4 you might be thinking I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, but not really. We need to look at how we can support and engage further with the community by using the right tools. And, primarily I am talking about technology. If we cannot capture what we are talking about and whom we are talking with, we are not building a business process and will have difficulty improving on it.
- Evaluation and Monitoring: Just as in any form of sales and marketing, we need to monitor and evaluate. For example, I would put this in a context where we might be looking at where this community fits into our overall engagement and outreach and position different communities accordingly. Maybe this is a community where we expect innovation or partnerships or sale opportunities to come from. But if you evaluate and monitor, you can learn how to or how not to engage deeper.
Not much more than common sense in these 10 steps but how common is common sense?