Want to go viral? Build a community

Rafat Abushaban

- Tips and How-to's #  O 2.4K views   اقرأ بالعربية

A thin line separates between startups and businesses that succeed and go viral and those that remain small and eventually die out, and yet it is a critical line to understand in order to be on the right side of it when building your business.

Going back to the origins of what entrepreneurship is all about and business in general, we find that it focuses on (and directly relevant to) the customers and what they want and seek. The customer community is what makes or breaks the business, if they are engaged and satisfied then great, if not then the business should reconsider its value proposition or targeting.

Understanding brand communities

Advertising used to be the main channel that helps a business generate sales, but with a crowded space of online and offline offerings everywhere, innovative businesses have started at looking to building communities around their brands, called 'Brand Communities'.

Brand communities can be identified by their commitment to the message or vision held by the business, and the products or services sold. This can be obviously visible utilizing the Technology Adoption Curve that outlines how customers react to a certain technology or product. Diffusion of innovations curve

In the above curve, we can easily identify 4 communities for a given products or service:

  • Innovators: Those who come first and are driven by the new product or technology. These tend to be highly motivated and proactive in sharing their experiences of a business's product or service with others.
  • Early adopters: A community that is larger in size than the innovators but are also interested in being proactive about the products or services received.
  • Early majority: The community at its peak. Those are not very motivated community members about the products or services but personally like what you have to offer.
  • Late majority: A large community that is not motivated and only uses the products or services offered as long as they satisfy their needs. They are not interested in sharing or contributing to the expansion of the market for the business.
  • Laggards: The final community that opposes the products or services you offer. These are only forced to use your products and services when there are no alternatives.

So as you can see, not all communities offer the same value for the business.

Brand community as a business strategy

Building your business around a community goes way beyond being a marketing tactic and changes the core of the business strategy. Think of online crowdfunding platforms that allow communities to engage in early stages of product development, or online brand communities that can suggest changes on products or services.

This means that the business strategy should be flexible enough to allow parts of it to be influenced and developed by the community, and thus the community is seen as an essential decision-making force in the business.

Brand communities can create some benefits for the business, such as:

  • More ownership for the community in the product or service provided, which leads to more insight and sales.
  • Improve engagement for the community and thus, improve the chances that your products will go viral.
  • Better understand the customer problem and the solution that customers are looking for.
  • Can lead to less support services required, as customers feel themselves part of the business and can provide support and help for other fellow community members.
  • Lower traditional marketing costs and more room for introducing new innovative products and technologies for the community.

Steps for building a brand community

Building a community is not easy but it yields many benefits that it is worth the price. In order to correctly build a brand community you should consider following the following steps:

  1. Determine the look and feel

    For people to join a community it has to appeal to them in one way or another. The first thing that you can do in this regard is giving the community its look and feel. Are you seeking people who are open, technologically savvy, foodies, or any other groups? Are you looking for a community that is open, collaborative, or creative? this all relates back to the branding of the business and its vision and mission on what it seeks to achieve, and thus should be aligned with your value proposition.

  2. Embrace a cause

    Once the community has a certain look and feel to it, consider what values will connect the community members together. Are you targeting an environmental cause that you need your community to be passionate about, or are you seeking to spread awareness on a certain educational topic amongst the community? Once again, this answers the business problem and the need for the offered value proposition.

  3. Start small

    Launch your community starting with your team and close people that you know very well. This can act both as a test-bed for the larger community where you can test things and see how the community reacts, and it can form the seed of a larger community.

  4. Engage community

    Keeping the community alive and running needs context and content. Try to engage your growing community using online tools (online meetups, videos, social media groups) and offline (seminars, brainstorming sessions, meetups). The more you engage the community the more it becomes effective.

  5. Empower community

    Community members need to feel something unique that attracts them to this community and separates them form the masses. Other than the shared visions and causes, community needs to provide some sort of value to its members to improve their engagement and their empowerment. Try offering perks, free counseling sessions, support services, and other forms of value for your community and see how it can be empowered.

  6. Lead community

    Once you have taken the above steps you will find that the community is becoming more mainstreamed and in need of real leadership. Leading the community towards the shared goals and visions is essential to make sure that your business benefits from this community as much as possible.

  7. Grow community

    The only step left now is to grow this community. By now, you should have everything you need for the community in place, and the focus should be directed at expanding and growing the community organically using viral marketing, or commercially where the business finds an opening to invest in marketing campaigns to attract more community members.

Rafat Abushaban

Founder of Riable and consultant to several international organizations in entrepreneurship education and researcher in innovation systems and seed funding methods with 10+ years of practical experience in the MENA region, Europe, US and S.Korea
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