Brands and businesses develop communities to assist them in achieving business outcomes like encouraging engagement and brand evangelism, deepening their understanding of customer needs, efficiencies in support and customer care, increased brand awareness, customer retention and loyalty, aligning the brand with ultimate aspiration and even establishing or becoming associated with a movement …. But how do you build a community that really thrives? One that actually makes a difference in people’s lives and provides exceptional value, both to its members and to the underlying business? The answers seem to lie first and foremost in fundamental aspects of human behavior, with savvy business strategy a close, but nonetheless, second place.

 

Incorporating community into your business strategy is nothing new. Business owners have been doing it long before the internet or even the printing press were invented and, in the current age of information, it’s certainly re-emerged as a way to stand out and meaningfully serve our customers. It’s also arguably much easier to do than ever before, thanks to technology. But technology and business strategy aren’t all there is to it. So why do some communities thrive while others dive?

Brands and businesses develop communities to assist them in achieving business outcomes like encouraging engagement and brand evangelism, deepening their understanding of customer needs, efficiencies in support and customer care, increased brand awareness, customer retention and loyalty, aligning the brand with ultimate aspiration and even establishing or becoming associated with a movement ….

But how do you build a community that really thrives? One that actually makes a difference in people’s lives and provides exceptional value, both to its members and to the underlying business? The answers seem to lie first and foremost in fundamental aspects of human behavior, with savvy business strategy a close, but nonetheless, second place.

 

A leader with a clear vision

Communities that thrive are lead by a visionary with a balanced perspective. That perspective will have two sides. One, a clear understanding of how the development of this community fits onto the business plan and what outcomes will be achieved by this investment. And two, that intentionally nurturing this community to be genuinely welcoming and inclusive must be a priority, not an afterthought. In other words, both sides are necessary, but if a commitment to genuinely nurturing that community is a lower priority than the business strategy, then there won’t be a community to feature in that strategy.

 

Shared values

The desire to belong is a basic human instinct, and at the end of the day, we’re emotional beings. We’ll band together with seemingly very different people as long as we have shared values, which is a much deeper bond than common interests alone.

 

Communities aren’t tactics, they’re people

Building business communities can definitely deliver fantastic results and opportunities for brands and businesses, but losing sight of the fact that they’re a group of real people, not a bunch of business tactics is a sure way to leave a community feeling hollow and unable to provide either any real value or meaningful outcomes. Following on from the previous point about shared values, communities are people first and for people to stay, they need to feel included, seen and heard. It’s the underlying reason they’re there at all.

 

Communities aren’t a means to an end – they’re part of your core philosophy

A thriving community doesn’t operate on some investment versus return formula – they’re real people, potential long haul partners along for the experience, the evolution, the journey. It’s about growing together and experiencing that journey together.

 

Products, services, events and even ‘experiences’ can be replicated – communities can’t.

Because they’re made of actual people with real values. Recognising this, embracing this and finding ways to nurture this is a way of doing business, not a destination. To create a truly welcoming and inclusive community, you need to be in it for the long run. It won’t happen overnight and neither will it pay dividends overnight, but in a world of prolific products, services, content, brands, events and tribes, it might actually turn out to be the one thing you can differentiate your business with.

 

It’s not about the company, it’s about the people.

The heart of every community is engagement with each other. It’s not about your brand, your products, your services – it’s about the people and the ideas, values and interests that bring them together. Never treat your community like your company’s personal billboard.

 

Make your community a rich & reliable experience.

Engagement, contribution, and discussion is important, but you’ve got to build more than just a discussion board. What other experiences and sharing would be fantastic for your particular community and how can that experience be reliable? Think outside the box and think big. Custom events, products and custom software development could be the ticket to creating something truly remarkable.

 

What about metrics? What should we measure?

You can look at attendance numbers for your events, social media shares, comments and likes, how many members your groups and forums have etc – all of these will tell you something about your community, the success you’re having with it and the value you’re providing, but you also want to look at how strong that community is becoming.

Consider the success, transformation and growth your members have experienced because of what you offer – there is no greater measure of your success than the success you have enabled in others. And what about the relationships that members have formed between each other as a result of being part of the community? How much are they talking to each other in your groups and forums, sharing their work, that of others and offering introductions? This kind of activity indicates a very strong community culture that’s expanded beyond the leadership of one person.

 

Embrace and encourage a diversity of opinions

Valuing a diversity of opinions not only strengthens a community in terms of core values and a sense of acceptance, but it expands the collective mind of the group. Exposure to different perspectives and schools of thought enables a community to think more critically and creatively and acts as a breeding ground for original ideas.

Solve a real problem

That may sound incredibly obvious, but it has to be said. If you already have a community, it would have started by offering some kind of solution to some kind of shared problem, even if it was a kind of ‘ancillary’ problem not directly related to your products & services. The problem might simply have been that people developing this particular kind of software, or producing this specific kind of photography didn’t have a place to connect with one another. But as your community grows and develops, you’ll be able to listen to and discover other problems they’re experiencing, which gives you the opportunity to develop more solutions and offer even greater value.

 

A sense of community

Last, but definitely not least, communities that thrive have a strong sense of community. A feeling that possibly comes from a combination of all of the above points. At the end of the day, a community thrives when it provides some basic human needs – the need to belong, to be valued and be part of something we believe in. If you make these a priority, I believe the business outcomes will follow.

Building a strong community can be an incredible asset that’s pivotal in achieving exponential growth and longevity in your business, but it has to be about the people first. It can be easy to lose sight of what really matters and even why we start some things in the first place, but finding ways to circle back to having a positive impact on people’s lives and always leading with value will have you on-track to creating something truly extraordinary. Not just in terms of business, but in terms of life and in leaving a truly positive mark on the world.

 

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