Community Strategy— A Community Building Framework

Strategy, content and community are where I do my best work. I’ve spent my career building brands and creating experiences on- and offline, from launching the first community for mind sports with Red Bull, to rebuilding Uber Austria’s social ecosystem and producing an award-winning storytelling campaign, shaping the creative community events from Working Not Working and developing a community & members program for Brooklyn-based co-working space The New York Project.

My approach is to dive into communities and culture, conducting cultural research and help brands develop strategies to find ways to communicate with their audiences and communities via the platforms they love and in ways that resonate with them.

Communities have always been a topic that gets a lot of attention. But it’s also a topic that people and brands have often struggled to understand and put value behind.

But over the past few months, we’ve seen the rise and power of communities taking shape in a whole new form. Covid has forced us to be re-inventive in the ways we get together, connect with our friends — and for brands & companies, it meant finding and connecting with their people in a new way.

What especially caught my interest over the last few months were the small communities — those small digital get-togethers that popped up everywhere.

When I held a Community Trends Report at General Assembly in February (when IRL was still a thing), Intimate Digital Spaces were actually one of the most interesting trends we discussed and explored. And this came to life in a way that we would never have imagined.

As many of our conversations have shifted online, we are seeking more meaningful connections in online communities. We embrace smaller and more intimate digital spaces that facilitate respectful and meaningful conversations, let us interact with like-minded peers and allow us to truly be ourselves.

This also goes back to mainstream social media often being toxic, full of bullying and harassment. At the same time, people get increasingly fatigued with having to perform online — and with tools like Instagram Close Friends, Facebook Groups or a new community app called Geneva Chat gaining traction — the open feed feels less and less important.

So both consumers and brands are building and joining the conversations with new communities where activities are organized so that they can find that sense of belonging.

While sheltering in place, I thought a lot about how we connect as humans, what matters to us as a generation and how we can shape and — especially for brands — connect with communities. I have joined and observed many of them and have also built a new, small community and digital space — Out Of Office Network — myself.

What I learned from the last weeks of building, researching and exploring communities is:

  • Building a safety net for the community & be OK about being vulnerable. Especially during times of uncertainty, people are looking for a safe space to facilitate respectful and meaningful conversations, which lets them interact with like-minded peers and allows them to truly be themselves.
  • Decentralize your community. A community shouldn’t just be focused on a person or brand. It should be focused on a mission and shared values. Even more than this, it’s important for those who are part of the community to be able to get involved and take center stage, or even become an expert helping other people within the community. Looking at one of my clients, Working Not Working, for instance, they created a space for creatives to share their work, vouch for peers and show off their latest projects — this drives and remains at the core of some of the most engaged communities. Ultimately, people gravitate towards communities because there is something about them that their current group is missing, or that they don’t feel comfortable talking about with them. To fill that gap, they join new spaces.
  • Brands need to act like friends. Consumers want brands to be authentic, inclusive, and understand their generation. With the current shift that’s happening — from cool, minimal, and internet-y to intimate and cozy — people want to feel safe and connect with a smaller circle of like-minded people who experience the same things. This should be reflected in branding, positioning, tone of voice and every other touchpoint between the consumer and the brand/community.

Through that process and my past work experience, I defined a community-building framework for community leaders as well as brands that I would like to outline here.

The core concept is to:

  1. Explore the community spark: Listening, exploring and testing what the community needs are and getting a pulse check of what the community cares about. If you’re not building your own brand community, but want to connect to the members (your audience) of a community, think about who these communities are, what they care about.
  2. Re-defining the North Star: Re-defining the community values, mission and finding the intersection between the community needs and what your brand stands for.
  3. Community Experience — putting it into action: Define the offering, channels and content or service e.g. products, event offerings that they need. For brands who want to connect to communities, this step is about developing a plan to find ways to communicate with their audiences in ways that resonate with them.

Below, I outline what these three stages in building a community look like in the case of my recently launched project Out Of Office, a newsletter and platform to shape our work culture and the way we work and play today.

Exploring the community spark ✨

I launched Out Of Office at the end of last year. Over the past months of COVID, I started hosting a weekly virtual get-together to provide an intimate online space that allowed to connect with like-minded people who work in the creative industries. Together with my friend Terry, who helped me organize these events during Covid, we opened a space to be vulnerable, explore ideas and give each other the opportunity to — even under quarantine — connect to new people and expand our network and feel understood. The weekly get-together was hosted on Zoom, and each week we brought together 8–12 people, allowing them to get to know new people, have a dedicated time to take a break from work, talk about and brainstorm/co-create on different topics. And someone even found a job through it :)

The lesson for brands and businesses here is to start small. Start with a core group of people who really care. Stop trying to talk to everyone and be everything, but instead focus on a small group of people that you can be relevant for and provide them with the content, experience or product they really need and that gets them excited. Based on that first user group, it will be much easier to build a community and you can learn what they really care about.

Re-defining the North Star 🌟

While this small community had a very specific purpose and was targeted at that current need, the bigger mission with Out Of Office is to create a space to educate, inspire and provide guidance for those seeking to create a better work-life culture for themselves and their teams and find inspirations for their downtime.

The lesson for brands and businesses: While your community might start with a spark, it’s important to re-evaluate and find out what it truly is that the community cares about and you, as a community leader or brand want to provide. Part of this process is to define a North Star that helps brands and community leaders find their “community purpose”, and based on that develop strategies and formats to engage communities in the online & offline space (Step 3).

Community Experience. Making the community flourish 🌼

The experience is what your members do/feel/see in your community. With Out Of Office, content and community go hand in hand. Our focus is our monthly newsletter, which provides our readers with insights and inspiration as well as educating them about new ways of working and the importance of downtime as a creative outlet. Additionally, we use Instagram, to create regular content to engage with our community, provide daily rituals, thought-pieces and inspiration, and collaborate with brands and communities that we love and that follow a similar mission.

Put into practice, these are the three stages I go through with you when creating a Community Playbook or help companies develop a strategy to find ways to communicate with your audiences via the platforms and communities they love, and in ways that resonate with them.

  • Step 1: Cultural Research & Community Audit: Getting a pulse check of what the community cares about: Analyzing the current community and relevant market; identifying themes, engagement opportunities and community leaders through member interviews and research.
  • Step 2: Strategy Session — a period of rebuilding: I embed myself into organizations or communities and work closely with teams to revise/define the brand and community mission, which will act as the North Star for the brand/community presence and be the reference point for all content created and curated for the brand.
  • Step 3: Playbook or Community/Brand Experience: We develop an actionable guide and next steps to onboard, engage and empower the community, and define the offering, channels and content or service e.g. products, event formats etc. that they need.

If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to chat. I start with a 30-minute free session to understand your/the community’s needs and see if it’s a fit, and then head into creation. Email me at hello@alicekatter.com

About me

I’m a Strategist & Brand Consultant with a background in Social & Consumer Psychology, originally from Austria, now based in Brooklyn, NYC.

I craft social-first strategies and creative ideas to shape and engage communities, build culture and tell stories through strategy, positioning, content and communications.

As a trained social psychologist (MA) I am fascinated by the human psyche and its different facets. I have developed a keen passion for models and strategies that help us shape and build culture and communities and strive for new ways of thinking, working and collaboration.

I’m also the creator of Out Of Office, a monthly newsletter and thought-platform exploring ideas and offering resources & guidance to shape our work culture and the way we work and play today.

Curious optimist currently designing culture and community programs + tools at Dropbox. Writing about community, future of work and out of office culture.