MediaVest is committed to understanding communities in order to develop opportunities for our clients. Earlier in the year, I posted a series of articles about communities and such opportunities. This month, a summary of these posts appear in Admap, titled '10 Trends in Community Engagement'.
You can find a copy of the article in pdf format here. Right click to save it. Otherwise, read on.
Reproduced with permission of Admap
10 trends in community engagement
Starcom MediaVest Group, London
The internet has helped spread communities, uniting people with common interests and likes across the globe, but brands must earn the right to intervene, says SMG's Steve Smith.
Communities are vital for our wellbeing, identities and everyday lives. They help us to find out about jobs, holidays and what brands to buy; we use them to meet people who share our own interests; and they provide us with people who become our friends and even lifelong partners. Examples of communities include those based around local interests, the workplace, professions, organisations (such as churches, charities, and pressure groups), hobbies, and life stages and life events.
Yet, communities are very different from a hundred years ago. Once centred around neighbourhoods, we now tend to choose the people with whom we want to associate. In this sense, our communities now centre upon us as individuals. Each group of people with whom a person regularly communicates forms a network. Together, these networks form a person's personal community, which we consider much more private than our neighbourhoods once did.
This means it is imperative that brand owners earn the right to intervene in and engage with communities. This article provides brand owners with ten community trends they need to know about in order to do this.
1 UNDERSTAND WHY COMMUNITIES ARE IMPORTANT
Brand owners earn the right to intervene in communities by being resources, facilitators and enablers. They need to deliver on four reasons why communities are important to people.
Feelings of belonging and security we get from membership
Impact. We like to feel we make a difference and we like others to have positive impacts upon us.
Fulfilment of goals and needs, which include security, adventure, information and knowledge acquisition, acceptance, expression, control, and achievement.
Shared emotional connection. The more we interact with other people, the more likely we are to feel close to them.
2 TARGET HIGHLY CONNECTED PEOPLE
Once these things are understood, brand owners need to think about how they can maximise word-of-mouth in communities. Brand owners can do this by targeting influential people, who also have a large number of networks within their communities. High in ‘bridging capital’, they tend to be more extrovert, educated, communicative and informed and, therefore, more able to influence, and make brand-related ideas and information relevant. They form around 9% of the UK adult population. To best identify influential people, brand owners must: identify the number of networks a person has within their personal community; what they communicate about; how often they communicate about it; what media they use to communicate about it; and how many networks are involved.
3 OBSERVE THE DYNAMICS WITHIN COMMUNITIES
Members who are most able to structure a community form a core. These are the most influential and will often be gatekeepers to communities for brands. There are members who regularly communicate with other members and others who dip into conversations. Often these are newcomers to a community who become ‘old timers’ through increasing participation. Brand owners can look at how newcomers become ‘old timers’ to help them intervene in communities, but should also target core members because of their influence. Brand owners can enable newcomers to develop their participation in the core interest of the group, and help existing members develop their knowledge and skills.
4 PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR BRANDS LIKE THEM
People have what anthropologists call ‘homophily’, which means ‘love for the same’. We intentionally seek out people and communities who are similar to us socio-demographically and according to our social and cultural interests, needs and experiences. This means people and the communities in which they participate look for brands like them. When they are like them, they are more likely to connect with them, see their value, and use them as resources and to maintain connections. This means brand owners need to understand community members’ values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours upfront, and connect them with the brand. If the brand were a person, what would his or her personality, passions and interests be?
5 COMMUNITIES ARE PARTLY BASED ON RECIPROCITY
Communities have a dimension of utility to them. Someone who wants to become part of a community needs to provide something of value in order to get something back. This means that brand owners need to answer, ‘What's in it for us?’ They have to work hard to earn their place, and be generous in what they give that may then be shared. Research SMG conducted across 27 brand pages on Facebook found sharing to be an excellent measure of brand consideration and preference, with 75% of people who share branded content preferring that brand over similar brands.
6 DELIVER TO SHIFTING LIFE STAGES
People experience different events according to their life stage. Single people in their 20s tend to have larger and more diverse networks. Leaving home, going to university, meeting new people, and starting a career are examples of where brands can facilitate this life stage. Marriage and early parenthood often necessitate high levels of commitment to family. Moving house, changing job or career and having children are opportunities for brands to facilitate this life stage. Retirees tend to have smaller networks because retirement tends to remove major spheres of non-kin contacts. Opportunities for brands include helping retirees to take advantage of the free time opened up to them.
7 COMMUNITIES ARE 'ALWAYS ON', BUT DON'T SWAMP PEOPLE
How people use new communication tools such as Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones means they are able to communicate 24/7. People expect other people to respond quickly, and they expect the same of brands. Brand owners can take advantage of ‘always on’ by providing content to maintain communication between people. However, people do not want to feel swamped by brands. One study looked at over 2,600 of the most liked Facebook pages and their posts-per-day rates. It found that brands that posted more than once a day tended to have fewer likes. The researchers found the optimum level to be three times a week. However, these are only averages, and posting frequency will change according to the brand, its characteristics and wants of its Facebook ‘fans’, and what the brand owners want to achieve.
8 EXPLOIT THE GEOGRAPHICAL SPREAD OF COMMUNITIES
People use new communication technologies to maintain geographically distributed networks that may otherwise collapse. People can stay in touch through online social network services while they are at work or on the move, and people can move across the world whilst still being able to maintain their communities. Brand owners are also able to take advantage of personal communities to disperse brand messages across distance. Facebook is an obvious medium for this, and brands such as More Th>n, Tetley, BlackBerry and Hovis have taken advantage.
9 SHARED CONTENT AND EXPERIENCES CONNECTS DISTANT COMMUNITIES
Despite the use of Facebook and the like to maintain geographically spread networks, distance is not conducive to the maintenance of relationships. Research shows that up to three-quarters of people's contacts live within 30 miles of each other, and friendships tend to be less personal and less rich as distance increases. Brand owners can aid communication, and enhance closeness and ties across geographically separated people by providing content and experiences that can be shared. In so doing, they are able to become more integral to people's lives. Content on Facebook and YouTube are obvious examples, but so is gifting via apps.
10 COMMUNITIES CAN CENTRE ON PARTICULAR BRANDS.
Brand communities' raison d'être is to focus upon a particular brand or branded product in order to benefit it and, in many cases, celebrate it. They are most likely to form around a brand with a strong image and rich history. Sometimes they openly oppose brand owners' decisions. When this happens, they create significant control problems. Brand communities are more useful to brand owners when used for customer retention, rather than acquisition, because research shows existing customers are more likely to have an already existing positive relationship with the brand and will help to create a lively, successful community.
Dr Steve Smith is head of thought leadership at Starcom MediaVest Group, London. He's a behavioural research expert with 15 years’ experience studying social trends and emerging behaviour around new media and technologies.
Reproduced with permission of Admap, "the world's primary source of strategies for effective advertising, marketing and research". To subscribe, visit www.warc.com/admap ©Copyright Admap