This Is the Era of Digital Communities

Today’s consumers are no longer passively digesting marketing content. In this post, we will talk about the kind of professionals most small or enterprise companies lack. Digital courses or books on solid community management tactics and strategies are rare. Let’s fix that.

Empower your customers by turning them into community members. Doing so will benefit your bottom and top lines as you increase consumer loyalty, not to mention that converting your most loyal customers into brand ambassadors is a new medium of mass communication. ~ Dessi Popova

The modern customer is all about digital content; except they don’t need you to create it all for them. No, they do not just consume it! Your community members need to be allowed to participate in the sharing, creating and editing of the content.

A community expert is an absolute must for any business striving to succeed in this highly competitive digital market. The community professionals work closely with skilled storytellers. They create a heart and soul for your brand and then build a community of supporters around it. The CM’s are marketing strategists with the business development and people skills necessary to build a loyal user base that will proudly guard your core values. Think of your CM as a political campaign manager whose strong leadership skills will get you elected.

There is so much noise about the importance of community building, yet globally only a few people are getting the job done properly. It is not the social media manager’s fault. The problem is that a SM gets to wear a ton of hats and hardly has the time to be a community leader. A social media expert should not always be a community manager. Stay tuned for a post that will discuss the differences between social and community managers.

There is also one more unsolved problem, there aren’t sufficient training materials or courses teaching people how to be strong community builders and leaders. In the next three posts we will be talking about the key skills and knowledge needed to become a skilled community professional.

Good-bye Marketing Guru, Hello Chief Community Officer

Chief Community Officer (CCO) is a title you will be seeing more of in the near future. Time to part ways with the Chief Marketing orchestra leaders and welcome the multi-dimensional community officers. They are senior pros skilled in the practice of management and core business principles. They can apply these skills in a global context and have an entrepreneurial mindset that enables them to facilitate executive innovation within a brand.

I’ve got news for you. It is the end of anxiety-based marketing. Let me explain to you what this term means. You focus on an issue your audience may not have seen before. This raises their anxiety. Then, with careful timing, you reveal the solution. It happens to be a product that you have for sale. In their heightened emotional state they are receptive to the idea of making a purchase.

The modern world is personal; people want to know intimate things. Today’s consumers are smart. They demand emotional connection and genuine care. They want to know you are Earth and animal-friendly. More importantly, they expect you to turn them into the protagonist of your story. They want to have a say in your business development and would rather see you treat them with a dose of empowerment instead of anxiety. For decades, companies have made us feel inadequate in order to get us to buy. No more.

The Chief Community Officer understands the importance of letting the customers make decisions for the company. They function as a bridge between the community members and departments across an entire organization.

A Community Is Not a Tribe

Seth Godin popularized the term ‘tribe’ as a business analogy in his book, Tribes, we need you to lead us. In the book, he convinces us that in a progressively connected world one needs to find and cultivate a digital tribe, an army of followers. He says “a tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.”

In 2008 he began talking about the importance of companies surrounding themselves with tribe members and building tribes to connect with their followers. He says having a tribe is a powerful way to start a digital movement.

I love Godin’s marketing work and teachings, but I feel he went for the wrong word. I started to create digital communities in 2009 and what he spoke about had quite a bit to do with community building. So was tribe building a synonym to community building? It seems that many marketers tend to believe so. In my opinion, they are not even remotely synonymous.

I was wondering if I was the only one convinced that he didn’t go for the right term until I accidentally ran into Alan Weiss’s comment that Godin had “painted himself into a corner” with the use of a wrong term. For those who don’t know, Alan Weiss is one of the most successful consultants worldwide. He has published more than fifty books and worked for some major brands, some of which I am not a fan of, but we have to give him the credit.

It was Michel Maffesoli who first started talking about consumer tribes. In the late 1980’s he published a book called: The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Yep, before the time of the World Wide Web. It should not surprise you, because we humans are social creatures. But, we are complex. It is easy for us to engage in acts of loyalty and cooperation primarily toward our inner circles, but we do so at the expense of people outside those circles. Our behavior is influenced by hormonal processes taking place in our brain. By nature, we seek a place of belonging. We could say that our primal instincts are tribal, but being primal doesn’t mean optimal. This is why I strongly believe there is a better way to build digital worlds, be it around a brand, hobby, interest, profession or a person.

Here is the difference…

Tribes are exclusionary, they have an us vs. them approach. Just try to get a Mac fan to get a PC. In tribes, the members of one side can often sound demeaning and condescending about the other tribe.

Building a digital tribe can bring great success to a brand. Apple is a good example of tribal marketing. But, building a tribe and a community require two very different approaches.

A tribe is focused on their ideal client. Brands who build a tribe craft a character that would appeal to their target audience. They have a very clear idea who fits in their group and who doesn’t. They are happy to have a transactional relationship with an outsider, but this is it. A flaw of creating an exclusionary tribe is that some of the leaders may go too far and push away a large segment of their target audience by over-focusing on exclusion rather than on attracting their perfect customer. A tribe environment is not ideal for social learning as it can often be limited to the beliefs of a single leader.

Communities are all about inclusion.

They are built around common interests, attitudes and goals. Their members can apply different approaches and tools, and are welcome to have opposing opinions. They are more dynamic and allow for experimenting and growth. Online communities are the ideal setup for a learning environment.

A perfect community building formula is a cross between both approaches. This doesn’t make them one and the same thing, it means that we can strategically take what works well from one and implement it into the other.

The fastest growing communities have a bit of us vs. them mentality while being open to new members. Having a highly targeted customer is a requirement for every business striving to deliver positive ROI.

The perfect digital environment is dynamic, and not a reflection of a single leader or brand. The best digital communities out there are shaped by the community members and grown organically. A community of practice is the ultimate way to surround yourself with like-minded people and to learn and progress in your personal or professional life. I apply a mix of tactics inspired by digital tribes, communities of practice and mastermind groups. A community is built by the people and for the people with the help of strategic digital leadership coming from one or more individuals.