The sense of belonging.
If I had to use one word to define a community, I would unquestionably say: belonging. Human beings are essentially social animals that constantly crave belonging, connectivity, and closeness. So when we have a mission or maybe form a hobby, we would love to share it with others.
Communities are living creatures in the need of nurturing. And when you care for the community, it pays you back big time. This argument is valid for individuals and surprisingly for businesses. Investing in a community can lead to amazing results and be vital for a company’s mission.
What is a community?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of community is;
The people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality.
Common interests… This leads to another 21st-century meaning of community:
On social media, a group of people who have similar interests or who want to achieve something together.
We will talk more about the digital world of social communities, and you probably see where I’m heading.
Why do humans need communities?
There are tons of significant research studies conducted by sociologists and psychologists exploring the evolutionary ties of why humans are social and how we became as attached as we are today.
Well, it lies in our genes. The dangers and threats the Homo sapiens of the ancient eras encountered (like predators everywhere), their lifestyles, and their needs were almost completely different from the life that we are living. However, our emotions and behaviors were shaped around those requirements. People love being supported, appreciated, and liked. As soon as you guarantee you will fulfill any of these for others around you, you are a must in that circle right away. As this argument implies, communities are mutual places, places where the lives of the members are enriched — ideally. You get and you give.
Why is it so important for brands and thus products? The desire to be a part of communities, to be social, and the feeling of belonging is one of the essences we carry throughout our lifespan. But how is it related to many businesses from various verticals or how we use digital apps and platforms?
To explain community in business terms, we need to tweak the above definitions. The dictionary definitions are mostly built on the sense of belonging. In business terms, however, there is the “generated value” and the notion of “benefits”. And benefits always overcome belonging.
Businesses that invest in building communities are lucky to be able to share the responsibility of creating value for their consumers with their consumers. Healthy communities provide amazing opportunities for the members to take a step and contribute. The first thing to be done is to activate the users. Communities are not audiences; they are alive and the platforms (apps, websites, etc.) need to attract the members’ attention to take active roles. The roles may be regular members, power users, moderators, ambassadors, or influencers even; no matter what the role is they need to be active to develop value. Building and maintaining a community takes money and time, but it is worth the effort if you have a well-defined mission for the future.
We said there must be benefits for the users. What does it mean? Businesses have to offer something to the users to see them in the field. To kickstart the community and activate the passive audience into a community, the key rule is to understand what your users would expect from a community. Do they want to be supported on the platform? Do they desire to be seen and appreciated? Do they want to leverage the tool fully? Do they want to earn money? Once the needs are on the table and can be aligned with the company strategy, it is just a matter of connecting the dots with;
- The right tools for community building ✨
- The talents to manage the community (community management is a fast-growing career discipline)
- The users with the most potential to be activated — the ones who belong the most deeply.
A business with a solid community can observe the benefits in many ways. Just to list a few:
- Build better products and perfect existing ones, thanks to the always-on feedback mechanism.
- Improve customer satisfaction with the community’s sense of helping and supporting each other.
- Get new users — there is nothing as sweet as word-of-mouth and watching your consumers help you grow your user base.
- Scale the content creation by letting your community contribute to your content.
- Excel the customer satisfaction with community experiences, because people love “coming for the tool and staying for the community.”
- Onboard the users with the new features and services easily.
Take Strava for instance, it started as a single-player platform where a user can track her running performance periodically. Today, it offers a multi-player world in which the users can follow their friends, join groups, and support each other’s progress. The activity posts of the Strava community members get 8x more engagement than Twitter posts. Strava is a social networking platform now, with an enormous community.
And whenever we come across the term community, and everything related; there is the notion of authenticity.
Authenticity and realness
People crave community, and community only grows through authenticity, sincerity, and realness.
Think about the influencers with millions of followers on social platforms, you will not believe them if they promote a $7 mascara. You would know they never use it in their daily lives. This will bring a level of awareness, but will not get you there as the brand. On the other hand, when your college best friend tells you about the product or a creator with 1K followers on Instagram uses the product in their stories; you would believe them and be more interested in the mascara.
Consumers want context and real-life examples. Communities should be authentic, and need to be formed with people who just “show up as they are”.
The brands should start the conversations, and in order to build a healthy community or revitalize their community, they need to break the artifice. Because brands should exist in the culture, in their users' daily lives. That’s when you can talk about an intimate community.
One well-known example of the authenticity of brands is the works of e.l.f cosmetics. We had the chance to attend a session by Ekta Chopra, Chief Digital Officer at Shoptalk 22 in Las Vegas. She was talking about having real relationships with the community. And through the lights of their authentic community, they are keeping their “feet on the ground” and being told where they need to go next. They built a very vocal user base and engage the community with different touchpoints, and run programs like “Beautyscape” where they let their enthusiastic consumers influence others and share their love for beauty and makeup. They stream live shows with real community members. They highlight their consumers as creators. The brand invests a lot to build and preserve a healthy community.
What is a healthy community anyway?
Community health check
A healthy community means a growing and sticky user base. No one would want to miss that chance if there is an investment in community building.
There are tons of ways to see if a community is doing okay, but in a nutshell;
- Check the activity of the members — Are they contributing regularly? Are they sticky to your platform?
- Check the reflection of the value you are offering them — Are they getting what they expected? Are they happy with the benefits?
- Check if they feel like they belong to the community — Do they feel safe, supported, and appreciated in the community? Do they feel included?
Surveys and interviews are great for quantitative and qualitative community health checking respectively.
It would hurt if I did not refer to one of the greatest songs ever written, as the core of any community, in an exaggerated way:
Together we stand, divided we fall.
Below are some useful resources that helped me understand the concept, write this article and build a product that embraces the community builders:
- Attachment Theory :) — cannot put specific articles or books here.
Note: I did not talk about the world of Creators and Creator Economy in this post, since this topic deserves a full article on its own.
As always, any feedback and discussions are welcome. Reach me on Twitter @cansutet