Do you know what they call businesses who don’t engage their interest communities? Closed.
Getting connected with people who share the same ideas or philosophies and getting involved with groups who share similar missions or goals is critical for a brand or business reaching out into the world. Being connected to your brand’s interest community will give you market insight, market foresight, and market nimbleness.
The fast definition of an interest community is a loosely organized or unorganized group of individuals who share an interest in a particular subject, product, or activity in a common medium.
So why would these loosely or unorganized people matter so much to a brand? Because they talk. They share information and share experiences. The research the finest details and they discuss the smallest points. They do this not out of financial reward, but out of passion. They’re sharing their expertise and insight with others who are equally passionate. They spend lunch breaks and late nights hanging out on discussion boards or post reviews to retail outlet sites and without your business even knowing it—they rule your brand.
Who are they? They are everybody. Young and old, rich and poor, and from every race or culture. They are held together by two of the most overlooked threads of commonality—shared interest and shared medium.
The fifty-something African-American executive from Southfield, Michigan and the twenty-something white trades worker from Princeton, New Jersey both have a passion for all things Harley Davidson. They know details about every model that would make an engineer blush. These two very different individuals share the same passion. They share the same medium and they make a great example of an online community bound by interest.
If you are Harley, how would you reach them? What mediums to these two very different individuals share? Think of the shared interest online. Think how they may share their knowledge and thoughts online. Think of how that community of owners band together both online and offline. Finally, you (Harley, in this instance) and brands in general, must come down from the mountain and engage your brand followers—in short, you must join the community.
Joining or engaging is paramount for interest communities. Communities are just that, groups that exist, communicate, and collaborate. To be a part of a community you (as a brand) must do all three.
A brand must exist to the interest community. Simply put, you must be visible. You must be real to your community. Your fellow-community members should know you’re there, but the reverse is also true. Acknowledge the people who make up the community by responding and connecting wherever possible. These are the people that will turn from simple consumerism or interest into real brand evangelists.
Using social media as a broadcast-only platform isn’t communication. Communication is a two way street. A wise man once said to me, “you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.” While he had intended it for a leadership lesson, it applies to branding equally well. Brands need to listen and participate in conversations online. Not simply about themselves, but about the industry and the everyday lives of the community. Being engaged doesn’t necessarily mean being business only. Communication is personal. Make sure your brand is, too.
The colorful Gary Vaynerchuk has repeatedly made the statement, “you gotta get in the trenches, bitches!” This statement can apply for any of these categories about engaging interest communities, but collaboration is an important point. There are many in your brand’s interest community who will have as much, perhaps even more, knowledge and expertise as anyone inside your business. Being open to opinions, experiences or ideas will give you the valuable position of getting feedback quickly and from relevant sources. Imagine the power a software company might wield with a community of developers that are able to spot the tiniest glitch? While “giving away” proprietary information isn’t recommended, communicating and collaborating ideas will give your brand the edge.
This concept is not ours, but it is a culmination of numerous influences. Chris Brogan goes into significant depth in his book, Trust Agents. He describes in riveting detail how relationships and trust is built in these interest communities. Brands must be true to their spirit. Brian Solis devotes an entire book, Engage, to interacting with interest communities. And the ever-colorful Gary Vaynerchuk perpetually reminds brands to “get in the trenches” with their consumer base. Don’t forget to pick up his book, Crush It!
Whether getting a new brand off the round or getting an existing brand out into better light, defining and connecting with your surrounding interest community is critical. Before running out and shouting to anyone who’s there, take the time to look, listen, and as Brian Solis puts it, engage. Becoming a part of your own brand’s interest community will be the best connection you can make.