In the days of old: circa 2007, social-media marketing meant monitoring the blogosphere and managing forums, but today marketers are jumping in by actively creating and managing brand communities. Dave Balter is the founder and CEO of BzzAgent, a word-of-mouth media network headquartered in Boston. His company recently launched BzzScapes, a network of brand-centric communities, created by advocates and dedicated to the collection and ranking of the most relevant digital content for each brand.
I asked him what it takes to create a truly exceptional brand community, and these are his top ten tips:
1. Focus on your customer’s needs. Major brands have realized they can aggregate hundreds of thousands—even millions—of customers, but real engagement and meaningful interaction are still unattained goals. Focus on answering the question, “Why would consumers form a community around our brand?” rather than “How many people can we sign up?”
2. Foster many-to-many relationships. A brand community is not a one-to-many relationship—that’s brand autocracy. People need to interact with each other and not simply “the brand” if you want to create a successful brand community. Therefore, build peer-to-peer communication into your structure.
3. Think local. Brand communities are not just for companies or products with huge budgets. It’s just as valuable for your local favorite ice cream shop or funky costume store to create a vibrant community as it is for a major brand. You never know: with a successful brand community, you may become a major brand. Isn’t that the goal?
4. Don’t create “more.” Massive amounts of information is being created about your brand and distributed across the web everyday. Rather than spend time asking people to create more content, make it easy for people to enjoy and engage with the stuff that already exists.
5. Foster peer celebrity. Whether your brand community is for Oscar Mayer or Lego, advocates love it when others recognize their expertise, experiences, and passion. Find ways to cheer members who give a little extra. And nix the anonymity – if someone’s a true advocate, they’ll want to be known for it.
6. Say “hey.” Advocates want to know you’re doing more than just silently observing them or commercializing the relationship with coupons. Instead share “insider” information and offer a preview of what new products are being developed.
7. Let your advocates advocate. The only way to inspire your best advocates is to let them work their magic without interference except in issues of ethics and legality. Your advocates are not pawns—they are your partners, so treat them that way.
8. Don’t merely moderate. Creating advocacy is more than providing a place for consumers to congregate. If your primary job is deleting “f-bombs” and ‘keeping things clean’ you won’t inspire advocacy. Don’t be afraid to get deep into the dialogue.
9. Keep it simple. Just because you can add a feature, doesn’t mean you should. Centralize on enhancing single most important reason people keep coming back. Offering the hodgepodge of polls-messageboards-blogpost-videoplaylist-statusfeeds-avatars can lead to brand – and advocate – schizophrenia
10. Observe the 1-9-90 rule. This new rule, pioneered by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li in their seminal book Groundswell, is quickly becoming a standard: 1% of your population will create content, 9% will comment or engage with it, and 90% will just browse. Voyeurs rule the online world, so keep this in mind.
According to Dave, a few years ago the big idea was that brands were being forced “let go” of control. Today brands are being invited back to the party, with a formal invitation from consumers to be more than just a wallflower. So make sure you show up to socialize and dance – your consumers are ready to get down! To see how Dave’s company can help you build a brand community, go to Bzzscapes.