Marketing Content Strategy

True Audience Development Happens When You Move From Simple Engagement to Lively Communities

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We often talk in content marketing about the idea of audience relationships. We want to get to know our audiences, interact with them, and hopefully establish some kind of community that will extend beyond an individual transaction.

If only it were that easy.

When it comes to audience development, defining and building a community is a much harder pursuit in practice than one might think. Many brands try to get by with email sign-ups for “insider” lists, encouragements to follow social pages, or comment sections meant for people to engage in lively “conversation.” The result of these efforts tends to be lackluster at best, which is why we continue to struggle bridging the gap between audience engagement and audience community.

What does it take to turn simple, individual audience interactions into a vibrant, ongoing audience community?

Singular Interest

Our target audiences are rarely—if ever—a homogenous crowd of lookalikes. While audience members may share a number of qualities in common that make them a good “fit” for your brand, each audience member is personally distinct from each other. So to build a unique community for your brand, you first need to identify a single core interest that is uniform throughout your target audience and make this the focus of your community. The closer you can tie this singular interest to your brand, the better the connection between your community members and your brand will be.

We have a fantastic example of this sort of community in the B2B space courtesy of Salesforce. While Salesforce’s CRM is used by a wide range of professionals from a diverse swathe of industries, the company has defined a singular interest that ties very closely to their brand’s interest: achieving technical expertise with CRM software and the Salesforce platform. Building off of this theme, Salesforce created the Trailblazer Community for users to interact with each other in a forum style context. Within the community, the Trailhead encourages users to engage with educational content in a gamified way and to compete with each other, and community members can also participate in a whole slew of conventions and conferences that span the globe.

All of this combines into a successful effort on a very impressive scale. Much of this success is due first to the fact that the brand kept their focus on a single topic area. Secondly, they made the space accessible to anyone with either an existing Salesforce account or anyone who wanted to make an account to interact with the communities without purchasing a Salesforce product. This combination of open access and narrow focus allows Salesforce to nurture an interactive community with a shared interest that their brand can support in a unique way.

Screenshot of the Salesforce Success Community

Unique Interaction

The second element of successful community building is supporting audience interactions with each other.

Two-way communication is a hallmark of good community interaction—both between a visitor and the brand and between a visitor and other visitors. Existing platforms like forums or social media can facilitate this sort of conversation, but it can be even better to support a unique form of interaction that audience members can only find with your brand.

Take for instance the beloved hobby brand LEGO. LEGO hosts an online community called Ideas where the LEGO brand and audience members can share news and projects related to LEGO. Central to the Ideas site is a mechanism where users can upload a concept build of their own devising that the community can then sponsor for consideration by LEGO R&D. This is accomplished through a fun and simple system of voting, which lends an entirely new layer of interaction to the LEGO community in addition to the familiar mechanisms of commenting and messaging.

This combination of unique experience and interaction that connects users both to each other and to the brand makes for a winning infrastructure that is sure to support long-term lively community engagement.

Screenshot of the LEGO Ideas Community

Establishing a History

When we think about relationships in our everyday lives, we often measure relationship quality by the length of time. “She’s been my best friend for fifteen years,” or “We’ve known each other for decades,” or “I’ve bought my groceries there ever since I was a kid” are statements that lend importance to the value of relationships we hold.

Towards this end, successful brand communities typically have a mechanism in place that allows users to mark the passage of time or rewards them for consistent interaction with the community.

Take for instance Under Armour. The famous athletic apparel brand purchased a fitness app and community back in 2015 called My Fitness Pal, which they’ve nurtured as a space for various healthy-lifestyle-minded folks to connect and challenge each other to eat better and move more. The exercise app offers numerous reminders and rewards (such as badges) for users who consistently log food intake and exercise progress. These systems of reward encourage users to interact with the brand over a longer timespan and keep the community relatively stable.

Screenshot of the My Fitness Pal Community

A Formula for Community Success

Moving from base-level audience engagement to true community is no easy task. It requires a deep understanding of what drives your visitors and an investment in time and resources to offer them something meaningful enough to warrant consistent engagement over time. But if these brands we’ve looked at are any indication, this sort of healthy audience development is absolutely attainable so long as your brand focuses on the core tenets of a good brand community: a single shared interest, a unique mechanism for interaction, and user rewards for engaging over a long period of time.

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Featured image attribution: Raw Pixel

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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