In my previous post on communities, I looked at what people want from them. In this post, I'm going to give an overview of why brands need to carefully identify which people to target, and how they can go about this.
Brand owners need to identify and target people who are most connected and most influential. These tend to be people who have 'weak ties'.
Weak ties between people are traits of modern society. On the one hand, these types of relationships are characterised by less intimacy, commitment and trust. Examples of weak ties include between many work colleagues, and in many interest, activity and neighbourhood communities. On the other hand, people with many weak ties act as bridges between different communities - being high in what is called ‘bridging capital’ (see Figure below).
- People with high bridging capital are valuable to brands because they are able to amplify brand messages. They tend to be more extroverted, educated, connected, communicative, informed and influential than people without it, and therefore more able to influence, and make brand related ideas and information relevant .
- The above Figure shows that by securing the attention of the person at the centre, information has a chance of being passed on to a variety of people across different networks .
- To best identify influential people, brand owners must, (i) identify the number of networks a person has within their personal community, (ii) what they communicate about, (iii) how often they communicate about it, (iv) what media they use to communicate about it, and (v) how many networks are involved
In some small face-to-face communities, strong ties and corresponding high "thick" trust are generated by intensive, daily contact between people . They tend to be socially homogeneous, tightly knit, mutually caring, well supported and exclusive, and tend not to link to diverse groups. Examples include some rural communities, small churches or religious organisations, some gated communities.
- Gaining access to a close knit community can be advantageous to brands because members tend to interact more frequently and exchange more information than weak tie communities . Members also bear greater influence on receivers due to greater trust. However, information is unlikely to move beyond that community of people.
- Nevertheless, brand owners will tend to find gaining access to close knit communities more difficult than to weak tie communities. They are more likely to gain access if they are trusted, considered authentic, and able to provide something valuable to that community.
- Brand owners are able to facilitate the closeness and intimacy of such groups, such as through communication or providing space and time for members to come together. An example might be a hotel, holiday or through food and drink activities.
Different types of membership within communities
Communities tend to have different levels of membership. People who are most able to structure a community and its norms of behaviour and participation form a core. These members are nearly always the most influential and will often be gatekeepers to communities for brands.
Outward from these are members who regularly communicate with other members, and who participate in the everyday life of the community. However, it is not always the case that each of these (and other) members will communicate with every other member. A study of communities in Toronto found that on average, only one-third of all possible connections were connected.
At the outer edges of many communities are peripheral members who ‘dip’ into the community but who do not participate in its everyday life. Often, these are newcomers, many of whom become ‘oldtimers’ through increasing participation.
- Brand owners should look at newcomers for inspiration, and investigate how they become ‘oldtimers’ in order to help them intervene in communities.
- Brand owners need to make sure they target core community members because of their influence.
- Brand owners can facilitate and enable newcomers to develop their learning and participation in the core interest of the group, and help existing members to develop their 'capital' i.e. their knowledge and skills. Examples are youth tribes in which particular sensibilities, taste, style of dress and talking are often important.
Next time, I am going to look at what people look for in brands that want to intervene in their communities
Steve is Head of Thought Leadership at Starcom MediaVest Group, London