Nicola Swankie is an Account Director at Host and an active member of the Sydney Community Managers Meet-Up and writes the great blog Happiness we share
"You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want." (Zig Ziglar)
(HT to Scott Drummond for sharing this quote)
Brand communities have been around for years, Tupperware parties, Harley Davidson conventions, I believe I may have even been a member of the Spice Girls fan club somewhere back in 1990s… Even things like your favourite coffee shop or the fact you spark a conversation with another Mum at playgroup about the fact you both have the same brand of buggy.
People connect around brands they like because we enjoy finding people who like or use the same stuff as us in our lives. This stuff is part of our identities, how we view ourselves as people. So having that in common with someone else helps us connect, which is great, because as human beings connection and feeling like we belong makes us happier people.
The internet has made this all even easier.
“The internet was supposed to homogenize everyone by connecting us all, but instead what its allowed, is silos of interest.”
Seth Godin – Tribes TED talk Feb 2009
Now we’re seeing more and more brand communities emerge online. What urls are the ones you go back to time and time again? My Dad spends more time on findafishingboat.com than watching TV now. These silos of interest, have become the places in which we like to spend our time and we want to connect with the communities we find there.
“The point is you can find Ukrainian folk dancers, and connect with them, cause you wanna be connected”
Seth Godin – Tribes TED talk Feb 2009
But, communities need people to lead and facilitate them. It can happen organically, but generally there needs to be people building a sense of community around these interest points. How do you make sure your communities stay thriving and happy? Dipping back into my university Social Science books I found this definition, even though it was written in 1986 – I still found it very relevant for what is going on today.
Sense of Community - McMillan & Chavis theory (1986)
Membership includes five attributes:
▪ emotional safety
▪ a sense of belonging and identification
▪ personal investment
▪ a common symbol system
Influence works both ways: members need to feel that they have some influence in the group, and some influence by the group on its members is needed for group cohesion.
Integration and fulfillment of needs
Members feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community.
Shared emotional connection
The "definitive element for true community" (1986, p. 14), it includes shared history and shared participation (or at least identification with the history)
My favourite barista does all of this brilliantly in his business, making me feel completely at home in his shop every time I pop by and I always leave with a smile on my face.
So taking these principles and thinking about what we like to experience in real life, who’s doing this for our online communities?
Community Managers are the people working hard in the online communities you are a part of, perhaps without you even realizing. They are the ones managing and building that sense of community, fulfilling their members needs, solving problems, answering questions and dealing with the inevitable frustrations we have too. But the thing I love the most about all the Community Managers I know? They are the most passionate people I have ever met about making people happy.
You know how you have that one friend, that no matter what’s happened they have some sort of amazing ability to see the bright and seem to thrive on helping people solve their problems? That’s them.
I am lucky enough to get to hang out with these happy people on a monthly basis at the Sydney Community Managers Meet-Up. We had our latest meet-up this week and had a pretty open discussion about just what online Community Management was all about. A multitude of areas were covered, but what came through strongly was their shared motivation in why they do what they do. Their collective desire to create emotional connections with people, not just problem solve for them, relishing the challenge to turn haters into champions, to create places of play and relaxation and overall to make and keep their communities happy.
With more people choosing to spend time in online communities, there’s a big opportunity for brands now to become something more than just a service or a product provider for their customers. Threadless are one brand who are now placing more importance on their community rather than the sale. Zappos are another famous for their community approach. Whilst this may not be realistic for every brand, I think it does demonstrate a positive shift. Yes, some brands have practicalities with their products and operational service issues that will inevitably bring negative sentiment into communities, but when problems are aired in this space with proactive people trying to solve them, done right, it can have a positive effect.
Overall, it is really exciting to see brands realising the potential they have to make a difference to people through enabling connection, and with the work of the Community Managers, make these communities a positive place to strive for happiness for the greater community, a community that includes the business too.