With a background in membership and subscription businesses, I love communities. They’re the nearest thing I’ve ever seen to a silver bullet for organisations. Witnessing the alchemy of a community starting to take hold is a truly wonderful experience. But why do I think online communities are particularly important now?
1. The loneliness epidemic
It’s official - loneliness has recently become recognised as a major issue in our society. The pandemic taught us new tricks like WFH and how to share a drink (on a screen) without all that pesky stuff like waiting for buses and trains, finding a decent pub or working out how to split the bill. Although the world of work has largely opened up again, most of us have never got back to where we were socially, and - big surprise - it turns out TikTok and Instagram do not a relationship make. People want and need connection and, in the absence of “analogue” opportunities to make new connections, they are turning to online communities to find them.
2. Rise of purpose and value
A few years ago we were happy to enter into purely transactional relationships with our e-commerce choices. I buy from you and then leave. I have no real investment in who you are and what you do - I just want the product. Nowadays customers are much more concerned with whom they are buying from. They want to be part of your journey as well as their own. They want to be heard and recognised - just like they might expect in their favourite neighbourhood restaurant - as well as getting great customer service. This in turn encourages savvy enterprises and other organisations to develop strong community-focused strategies.
3. It’s noisy out there
There’s been an explosion of new product and service offerings and a proportionately steep rise in activity on platforms for reaching new customers. How can your brand get heard among all this noise? If you have an authentic, inclusive community which is answering the needs of your potential customer, you’ll have a much greater chance of achieving cut-through.
4. Getting your community working for you as well as themselves
Communities are not just about flying the flag for you and driving new sign-ups - they offer numerous other benefits, from saving on customer service time / spend, to content creation and generating new product ideas. Strong communities can also be powerful advocates and can magnify the impact you are trying to make.
5. Customers v Members
Times are looking uncertain: in the words of the song, there may be trouble ahead. Our discretionary spend is likely to come more into focus and there will be a sharper distinction between “nice to haves” and “must haves”. Bringing a strong and authentic community element to your business will help protect you from being on the wrong side of this divide. Personally, I’d be much more likely to cancel a subscription to something where I’m just another customer than leave a group of people I feel really part of.
TINA is a useful - if occasionally annoying - acronym. But truly sometimes There Is No Alternative. So remember this - if you don’t develop a convincing community strategy, you’ll find your competitors have and, sooner or later, you’ll have to follow suit. So it just depends on how much a lead you want to give them before reacting. The tortoise only wins the race in fables.
7. It’s not just business
Most of the points apply equally to not-for-profit and other non-commercial organisations. You may be running an outfit with a ready-made internal community - your own staff. Developing a purposeful community internally will reap huge rewards too.
So how are you doing? Take our simple quiz to see if your business could benefit from developing a community strategy.