If you are a business owner, a marketer, a concerned individual or all of the above it probably occurred to you that “community” is a buzz word that is generally misunderstood depending on where you stand.
Building a community is hard work. And, like any endeavor, without clear goals the chances of success are slim to none.
When defining a goal there are usually more questions than answers. What can easily be missed is in this process is the underlying intent behind the action.
Are you honest with yourself about why you want to build a community? Is it for money? Is it to satisfy your ego? Is it altruistic? Is it to amass power?
It can be all or none of the above.
Beyond understanding the building blocks needed to create a community (barrier to entry, influence, shared emotional values etc), it is important to be clear about your underlying motivation as well. Clarity of purpose (intent) and motivation will guide your every move going forward. Success will require following a predetermined road map along with enough gas in the tank to get you there. Intent and motivation provides the fuel needed to make the journey.
It’s a funny thing about human beings: we all perceive information differently and to a large degree will spin information so that it falls in line with existing beliefs (confirmation bias).
In “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell talks about our innate ability to determine truth from fiction based upon facial muscles, instinct, context etc. No longer is “do as I say, not as I do” a valid strategy. This falseness will be apparent to everyone. Like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, let’s hope you are not the last to know.
Building a sustainable community requires being clear about your intent and motivation. The quickest way to discover that is to look inward with honesty. Your audience/community will then be able to determine if the value you offer warrants their attention. If they choose to participate it will because they perceive that membership is of higher value than the real or implied “barrier to entry”.
What is community? How do we define it? Do we actually know what it is? Ever thought about why we as humans think it is important? With a big h/t to Greg Lexiphanic here are a few thoughts to consider. I will try to paraphrase this great ebook. For more detail please go here
Key criteria to establish a “sense of community” (as defined by David McMillan & David Chavis- “sense of community: a theory and definition”) are:
1. Membership 2. Influence 3. Fulfilment of needs 4. Shared emotional connection.
For a community to exist members must experience a sense of community.
How can you create a community around who you are, your business, your interests? Take the time to understand how these 4 elements relate to each other and what they mean individually.
Membership implies exclusivity (a barrier to entry or boundary). Either you are in or you are out. Implied in membership is a trust that you will be safe and taken care of within the boundaries and definitions of the group.
Influence is gained by having an affecting change on the group. Influence is only achieved by listening as well as expressing your beliefs.
“People who acknowledge that others’ needs, values, and opinions matter to them are often the most influential group members, while those who always push to influence, try to dominate others, and ignore the wishes and opinions of others are often the least powerful members.” —McMillan & Chavis, 1986
The fuel to drive a community is reinforcement. To receive reinforcement requires participation by the members. If participation focuses on the betterment of the group then reinforcement and a “sense of community” can be achieved. it is a two way street of give and take within the boundaries created by the group. No matter which side of the coin you are on (giving or receiving), if you feel fulfilled by taking part, the group will fill satisfy your need to belong and a bond will develop.
Shared Emotional Connection. There is a great line from the film Local Color that talks about art: “A shared experience is more meaningful than one experienced alone.”
Why is it we seek out group experience rather than isolation?
Intimacy, acknowledgement, sharing of views in a defined format, reward for your investment of time and energy and spiritual bonding ties us together in groups creating a more powerfulexperience than trying to do it alone. Its why we identify with an join groups in the first place. We are tribal animals…it is intrinsic to our nature.
Attempting to create an online or offline community is difficult and time consuming. However, the rewards can be far outweigh the investment. The pot of gold will come from the bonds you create in your community.
Look at your business and personal relationships. Question the drivers and quality of the interactions, what value you derive from feeling connected and reward you receive in return.. Most of us blithely stumble into situations that are driven by habit and conditioning rather than conscious thought.
The opportunity for all of us who are interested in creating community is not only to succeed but also the learn more about ourselves.
Ever give much thought to how you present yourself when you met someone? Do you stumble over words? Do you maintain eye contact? Does your body language indicate warm and inclusive or guarded and remote? Are the muscles in your face relaxed or tense? Do you ask questions and listen? Or, do you talk over the other person?
If you are in sales you have probably thought about these things. If not, it may have never given it much thought.
PRESENTING YOURSELF ONLINE.
Even though online interaction is primarily text driven, your choice of language, photos, which posts to comment on and which to avoid is essentially a reflection of who you are and defines your online presence. These interactions are how you will be judged and will determine whether or not the reader will choose to engage.
Successful social media interaction requires you to understand “why” you are posting/commenting/likeing etc prior to making the post. Once you click return you lose control of your message.
Best be focused if you want to get your message across.
How do you stand out? How do you become memorable?
Think about the waitress who has a spark in her eye…the one who goes out of her way to make you feel special, the one who you think is best at what she does. If a specific person comes to mind it means she has been successful in creating a connection with you. This connection will appear effortless and authentic. You understand who she is, her passion for what she does and the value she places on her relationship with you. Her “brand” has made an impression.
Branding is about how you are perceived and how other people feel when they recall the experience of their encounter with you or your product. Therefore it is the experience of the human connection that is important.
Today the consumer is in charge of the conversation…not the business. An online “conversation” can literally happen in a millisecond. We scan because our attention is our most valuable asset. We engage only if it is important enough to invest our time and attention.
GETTING YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS
Focus is everything. The reader must be able to determine who you are, what you offer, how you do it and whether or not they choose to participate in a matter of seconds. . Following basic branding principles helps you focus your presentation. It will help you discover what makes you unique by forcing you to think differently about how you present yourself.
Ask yourself these questions:
What are your core values? How do you support these values? What is your promise to your reader/client? Can you define the culture of your business? Describe your personality? What do you aspire to? Define how your characteristics makes you unique?
Asking yourself these questions (going through a branding process) will keep your messaging clear and concise.
You are not an inanimate object. You are a person. Branding is only a tool to help you express yourself. Make connections with people (through authentic, concise messaging) and your brand value will rise.