A 14 step guide to successfully engage with existing communities.

As I wrote in one of my last posts, there are many benefits to engage with existing communities compared to traditional marketing techniques which consist of sending out sales messages through mass media campaigns, hoping that some people will pick them up.

Engaging with communities is not about business or sales anymore, it’s about passion and authenticity. It’s tricky to achieve, but extremely rewarding as it will enable you to build long lasting relationships with potential customers.

Here’s how I do it. Make sure you let me know if you disagree or take a different approach.

  1. Like defining target demographics in traditional marketing, the first step is to define existing communities that share your brand’s values and passion.
  2. Before members of an existing community can become part of your brand community, you have to become a member of their community. You as a person, not as a representative of your brand.
  3. Be helpful. Reply to people’s questions, share your knowledge.
  4. Identify and get to know the key persons of that community. Understand their values and what drives them to be active within the community.
  5. Identify what the community is missing. What are common frustrations? What could be changed to make the community go forward?
  6. Identify these same things for the key persons within the community. What are their dreams, things they want to achieve within the community? What keeps them from doing so?
  7. Once you understand what a community and it’s individuals are missing, identify what you or your business can do to help.
  8. Discuss these frustrations/problems/ideas/opportunities with the community and offer your help. Or throw in ideas yourself, mentioning your brand and see how people react to that idea and the fact your brand could be involved.
  9. From these discussions, identify members who are motivated to participate or even lead the project.
  10. From day 1 on the project make sure every step is documented publicly somewhere. Be it on the project website, the community’s website or your brand’s website (or other channels). The story of the project should be told by a community member. If that’s not possible, tell the story yourself – as a community member, not as a brand employee.
  11. Make sure everyone who’s actively involved in the project get’s exposure. Make them proud to participate and make other community members want to participate on this or future projects. Or even come up with their own project ideas.
  12. Keep in mind that when you communicate you don’t describe the project as your brand’s initiative, but as a community effort of which you and your brand are part of. (Example: Google’s ’20% time’)
  13. Also keep in mind throughout every project: Every member of that community is a potential collaborator. If not on this project, it might be the next one or the one after that. It takes time to ‘activate’ a community member to become a contributor or even initiative taker.
  14. If the community is missing a key player to do a particular task on a project: Don’t bring in someone external to the community yourself. That will feel very intrusive. Try to find someone within the community or ask them if they know anyone who could do the job.

To give you a very simple example:

My cousin Melanie recently started her own equine veterinary practice. She heard of a nearby training facility that closed and left dozens of horse owners without a place to exercise their passion. So she decided to transform the field behind her house into a training field. She invited her neighbor who was a member of the training facility that closed to use her field till he found a new one and told him he could invite his friends too. After a few weeks the entire group came to train at her facilities. She was always there if one of the horses needed care and built great relationships with all these horse owners.

This took her about 3 months and a few thousand Euros to adapt the field but gained her over twenty new clients. Passion and helpfulness will get you a long way.

If you have other examples, feel free to share them in the comments section below. I’m really curious to read them and will probably use some in my book. If that’s ok with you of course.