In 2009, the Harvard Business Review published an article, Getting Brand Communities Right. Of course, it is very applicable still – whether you are a business or nonprofit. Communities fuel success – but what makes a successful community is likely to counter common business practices.
The HBR article busted several myths. Below is a summary of the realities:
1) A brand community is a business strategy. Community-building isn’t just marketing.
2) A brand community exists to serve the people in it. Successful communities help people first – “to find emotional support and encouragement, to explore ways to contribute to the greater good, and to cultivate interests and skills, to name a few.”
3) Engineer the community, and the brand will be strong. Community affiliation takes three basic forms: pools (shared values or goals), webs (one-on-one connections), and hubs (shared admiration of an individual). Combine all three for the strongest communities.
4) Smart companies embrace the conflicts that make communities thrive. Politicians who have passionate opinions have passionate fans. The same is true for communities – strong support around a product or cause, placing it above its competitor (Dunkin’s Donuts vs. Starbucks; Apple vs. Microsoft) builds strong communities.
5) Communities are strongest when everyone plays a role. They are more than influencers and evangelists.
6) Online networks are just one tool, not a community strategy. And using the tool well takes strategy, discipline, and going against business norms.
7) Of and by the people, communities defy managerial control. Brand communities are not organizational assets, but organizations can be cocreators by creating conditions where they thrive.
Of course, the full article is rich with examples and advice. You can read it here.
And to dig in further, read Jono Bacon’s book, The Art of Community.