Building a community: from saying it to doing it!

The community narrative appeals to many companies. It is on everyone’s lips more and more often and companies are trying to experiment, but in most cases without any real awareness or investment. In the best-case scenario, after the first events or the launch of yet another social channel, one ends up with a group of highly engaged people that one does not know where to lead, or, in the worst-case scenario, with a group of people that one does not know how to involve and on what. The result is often that people prefer to quit before they even start. The literature on communities and the various case studies tell us, however, that there is now the knowledge to experiment by structuring a conscious strategy, which first of all involves understanding why to launch a community and what benefits it can bring to an organisation.

So let’s start here: why launch a community?
What business advantages can a functioning community (i.e. one that co-designs and co-manages with the company) bring to an organisation?

Community, engagement must be based on shared value

The first advantage of having a community is that you can count on greater engagement compared to what we once called customers — and are now citizens who demand commitment and useful solutions from brands. Members of a community are more engaged than customers almost by definition: by feeling part of a shared value, people are more involved. It is no coincidence that word-of-mouth is the true test of a functioning community, and that it is the main means by which a community initially grows (with consequent initial savings on marketing costs). When Etsy started, word of mouth and blogs were the tools that, more than any other, made the platform grow. The interest of each artisan corresponded to that of the organisation. The more the platform grew, the more opportunities increased for those selling their crafts; this was so true that the Italian team voluntarily translated the entire site into our language.

Product innovation and the role of feedback

Product innovation is another of the main benefits that a community can generate. This happens not only when the community is built around the product itself, but whenever there is an open dialogue with members and feedback is managed. For example, ten years ago Lego launched Lego Ideas, a portal where enthusiasts can propose their own product ideas and the community can vote for the most interesting projects. In this time, Lego has brought 34 new products to market and 41 more have been announced.

Customer support leverages the sense of belonging

A third benefit generated by a community is support or, as it was once called, customer support. Mutual help is one of the values on which a community’s sense of belonging grows. Those who feel they belong to a group are willing to assist other members: those who are in trouble, those who need advice or those who have just arrived.

In one week, the Spotify community produced 646 conversations, resolved 71 issues and generated 247 new ideas. Support is one of the main benefits generated by a community and also one of those that saves money and offers a better service. According to an article in the Harward Business Review, it is 72% cheaper to answer a question through the community than through customer care. The same article reports that the vast majority of customers prefer to turn to the community instead of customer care.

Business grows better with co-production

Communities can also help a product/service to grow exponentially if members are enabled to co-produce value with the organisation. Adventures in the World (AnM) coordinators, for example, can propose or modify a travel itinerary and submit it to the organisation for approval. If accepted and participants are found, the trip starts. In this way AnM can present more than 1400 itineraries worldwide with an offer that no other tour operator has the ability to provide in terms of originality and completeness.

More talents through community recruiting

A fifth benefit of community design is the emergence of talents (recruiting). Hundreds of conversations take place in communities that work: by listening and observing not only what is said but also the behaviour, it is possible to see who is more active, who is more popular, who is more competent, who is more involved. In this way the organisation can understand who to focus on not only to grow the community but also to grow the brand itself.

ScuolaZoo, a company of the OneDay group, for example, recruits young people from the community who respond directly to instagram messages addressed to the community. Another company in the group, WeRoad, finds young talent in the community to add to its workforce. “Recruiting staff is very difficult,” says Fabio Bin, WeRoad’s digital and marketing manager, “because we demand a very high level of involvement and an unbridled love for WeRoad. That’s why we often recruit directly from the community.

Benefits can be achieved only with a clear strategy

Here are some of the benefits that communities can bring to an organisation. Not all benefits are achievable at the same time, and it is not possible to assume reaching all these advantages just by having a community. Each of these gains requires a specific strategy and detailed actions. Those who, for example, want to generate innovation must design tools and functionalities that facilitate the exchange of ideas, the input of new proposals, product testing and so on. If, on the other hand, one wants to advance a product, one should work on structuring a flexible offer to which community members can easily contribute.

Understanding the main advantage to gain is therefore directly related to the business objective to reach. Knowing this allows putting in place a strategy that involves specific activities, functionalities, services and metrics. Only through these can one begin to understand what works and what doesn’t, and move forward. It is no longer time to improvise. To launch a community you need clear ideas and a strategy, otherwise it’s better to just forget about it.

Originally published in italian on Digital4.biz on September 14th 2021

Marta Mainieri is a consultant, trainer and speaker expert in the field of Sharing Economy, platform design and community design.