Rethink: Why we need to build platforms with community purpose

COVID-19 is the biggest disaster of our generation. But it is also a wake-up call for many industries. As traditional business and real-estate models collapse, a lot of companies are being forced to rethink their approaches.

Companies will need to think about new ways of creating long-lasting customer relationships and move away from one-off purchases or “space for money” models, such as booking a hotel room, desk or meeting room for a day. On the other side, consumers will be looking for different experiences than before.

Here is what will make the difference: Communities and, with them, access to like-minded people will be more important than ever.

A community starts with human beings with a similar passion or purpose, who want to connect with each other. The connections that communities build between individuals, one another and companies can be profound when done right.

Whether it’s an entire product devoted to bringing people together (e.g. Girlboss) or community efforts providing an outlet for bonding over a mutual love of a product (such as Notion’s power user meetups), it seems as though more and more startups are seeing the value of community building these days.

In a , nearly 80% of startup founders view building a community of users as important to their business, with 28% describing it as their ‘moat’ and critical to their success, and 26% describing it as important for building brand awareness.

The value of having strong communities is universal. We all flourish when we live, share and grow together. Communities give support, let us exchange knowledge and skills, make new connections and experiences, and give us a sense of belonging.

For brands, it means they are something bigger than just a product or service and can expand the consumer journey to long before and beyond the purchase/service.

So how do companies tap into this sense of community and connect with audiences and customers on shared human and cultural values that provide them with additional benefits for now and beyond Covid?

1. Re-evaluate your purpose

As mentioned in my , consumers turn to brands that represent their own values and needs and offer them spaces to connect with like-minded individuals. It’s key to find an insight-based purpose that aligns with your audience’s beliefs and values. To do so, analyze who your audience is, what they stand for, what challenges and pain points they face.

At this time, it’s not only important to have a purpose, but also to think about how you can be relevant for your community/audience and what it needs right now. To create a true community and be relevant, brands need to stand out and stand for something, find an insight-based purpose and enable their audience to engage and participate in the brand.

Ask yourself: what motivates your company and your most passionate customers? What’s the sweet spot where your incentives align?

In order to define how your company can be relevant for your community, it’s key to think about your community story, why you are building this community, and how it will help your customers.

2. Define the customer value

A brand community can be relevant for many types of companies, ranging from hotels to booking platforms, co-working spaces to airlines.

The entire focus of any business plan for a new community, however, must focus on the purpose of the community and the value it will provide customers.

Why should customers care about your community? How will it help them? What value will you be giving customers? What’s currently missing from the company offerings that you can address with a community?

A traditional co-working space might now become relevant, by offering members a digital space, where they can engage and exchange thoughts, fears and information for small businesses, help each other out and collaborate on projects.

A restaurant might become a way to connect food lovers all over the world, offering them a place to exchange recipes and their latest culinary discoveries.

A booking platform might in the future become a place to connect like-minded travellers who are looking for travel companions.

A great example is Airbnb, who now to keep users entertained at home, and at the same time enable their hosts to connect with their audience and continue their business/side passion.

3. Organizing and empowering like-minded people

Now, with consumers having a real stake in a brand’s success, it’s time to rethink engagement models. Brand management becomes community-driven — it is about building around like-minded groups, including consumers and fans, as well as employees and influencers. Think about how you can enable the audience and community to engage with and participate in the brand. Perhaps customers can act as event partners, or participate via crowdsourcing to fund new innovations/products, or even invest in a company’s growth. There’s no harm in asking consumers to commit more or do more on behalf of the brand.

Also, think about this:

Not every brand should focus on building its own community. There are a lot of communities already out there to partner with. For brands to create awareness and become closer to their desired audiences, they have to identify the communities their tastemakers and audiences are part of, engage with them or add value to them.

The future

As the virus continues to cancel events, concerts and conferences and makes retail space less affordable, we will probably see a shift in and re-evaluation of our thinking. Digital, especially social, has enabled us to keep connected and connect to customers in a time when we’re being told to stay away from each other.

By harnessing it and building communities of like-minded people, we can create global networks of inspiration, support and connectedness that will last much longer than the Covid-19 crisis.

As many brands and communities experiment with digital experiences out of necessity right now, it will be very interesting to see how many permanently incorporate community and digital-first engagement strategies into their long-term business models.

Have you seen any brands responding to this shift and re-thinking their consumer engagement models?

About me:

Alice Katter is a social brand & community strategy consultant with deep roots in social media and consumer psychology. She inspires teams and keep brands culturally relevant & respond to a rapidly changing world by re-imagines their marketing, storytelling and communication approaches.

Want to work together or have a chat? Get in touch via Messaging or email me at hello@alicekatter.com

Originally published at .

A Brand & Community Strategist between NYC + Vienna, currently Design Program Manager at @Dropbox.Design. Writing about community, work and anti-hustle culture.