Communities come with a strong set of benefits for the companies that maintain them. We discussed this more in depth in a previous article, “Why you need to build a community and how to use it to reach your customers“, but the short explanation is that community building is the most effective form of promotion and outreach in today’s market. Businesses become more human, more relatable in communities – and that’s exactly what’s needed to reach consumers these days.
Businesses may be able to link communities directly with increased sales and engagement, but business isn’t the only beneficiary of a strong community. Community members also get to enjoy certain perks. Communities turn a business or a product into a democracy of sorts (or at least more of one). Consumers come together to discuss the company, product or ideas behind and contribute to making all of these things better. Products become more fun, easier to use, more engaging and everything feels more human.
In real-life communities, however, communities don’t measure their strength by the effect they have on a product. No, communities are all about building meaningful relationships. Without this important element, communities allow consumers a few laughs here and there and bits of interesting information sometimes, but nothing to grab hold of and stick around for. So, the million-dollar question is, do brand communities actually create meaningful relationships?
Well… they certainly can under the right circumstances. Perhaps a better question is, how can brands build communities that foster meaningful relationships? Building a community isn’t easy work, but building a truly successful community – one that creates meaningful relationships between members who may start out as complete strangers – is far more difficult.
In order to build this kind of community, brands must have an unbreakable sense of identity. Take Harley Davidson, for example. The Harley Davidson brand doesn’t just sell cool-looking motorcycles and reach their audience by giving tips or where to get the cheapest gas. The company has established itself as representing a completely unique lifestyle and culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Buying a Harley isn’t just buying a motorcycle – it’s becoming a biker.
The Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), otherwise known as “The World’s Greatest Motorcycle Riding Club”, is the community where Harley customers come together and where meaningful relationships are created all the time. Identifying with the Harley brand and lifestyle brings together total strangers and creates an instant bond between them – a point of interest that makes them trust one another and know they hold at least some similar thoughts and values. This manifests itself in real-world meetings between Harley owners and even long road trips together.
Which brings us to the next important point: Strictly online communities often don’t cut it in the long run. Online communities are great places for information and maybe a quick laugh. Meaningful relationships certainly can develop in these spaces, but the best way for brands to promote real connections is to push for as much offline action as possible. Otherwise, it’s mostly just a happy accident.
Most members of online communities are anonymous and/or hesitant to share too much of themselves with strangers they know too little about. That’s why Nike created its Nike Run Club, getting like-minded fitness enthusiasts together for runs in your local area and helpful coaching from ambassadors within the community. People meet and coordinate remotely, but get together and have the chance to form meaningful relationships with one another, in person.
Like we said, building a community of that caliber isn’t easy. Most of the companies that have done it either did so unintentionally or had the advantage of being a household name before even building a community. But it’s certainly an ideal that every business should be striving for. To grab consumers’ attention these days, you’ve got to offer them something of real value. A quality product is great – meaningful connections with others is even better.
And that’s the good news for businesses looking to build communities: people are looking for new ways to make these connections. The current inundation of online activity in everyday life has left a lot of people feeling that they lack a solid identity in a big wide world. Certain social norms have broken down and a lot of people want to find a place to meet new people and form meaningful connections. Brand communities can give that to them.