Creating an Authentic Community With Your Brand
There is an increasing focus on finding ways for brands to form connections with their demographics. However, too many of these efforts are superficial. It is not enough for your company’s social media “personality” to share memes or get into entertaining yet staged spats with other brands. This approach is so obviously insincere and clearly out-of-touch.
Most importantly, these kinds of marketing antics are generally not what consumers want to engage with. For your customers to be keen to make long-lasting and genuine connections to a business, they need to feel they can trust the company. This involves your interacting with customers in a meaningful way and building a solid and authentic community.
Though authenticity may be a straightforward enough principle, you’ll find some significant work needs to go into creating a sustainable and positive community around your brand.
Strategies to Create an Authentic Community
Let’s take a look at a selection of the strategies you can implement along the way.
Gain Clarity on Values
Your ability to build an authentic community around your brand can’t just be predicated on a mutual connection to your products and services.
To develop long-lasting relationships and forge strong community bonds there needs to be something more substantial underpinning the business-to-customer interactions. Often, the most positive and authentic approach to this is by basing your efforts on a shared set of ethical and cultural values.
To have the best impact here, you need to gain internal clarity on what your core values are. You can’t take the route of identifying what principles are important to the largest demographic cohort and ape these — it’s unethical and can lead to disaster for your brand.
You only have to look at Pepsi’s ill-advised attempts to piggyback on genuine social activism to see how inauthenticity can damage your reputation and relationships.
So, you need to gather your team together to understand exactly where your ethical priorities lie. This can’t just be an approach directed by you as the leader of your organization.
Your staff will be instrumental in making connections with consumers through these values, so they need to genuinely support them. Seek your staff’s input into what elements are important to them, about the values they feel are present in what they do every day.
From here, you can reach a clear and authentic set of company ethics, gain a greater understanding of your shared mission, and move forward together to build your authentic community.
Aim for Consistency
Authenticity and consistency go hand-in-hand. When a company states one thing and acts another, it will negatively impact trust. This causes both your staff and your burgeoning community to feel there is no solid basis for your relationships.
Especially if you’re trying to enact positive change through your community, there can be no room for hypocritical behavior. This means you need to place a focus on adopting measures to keep your messaging and actions consistent.
You can begin with just the simple components of your brand identity and marketing. Make certain the images and blog posts you present to the public mesh with the ideas you intend to build your community around.
Create content to delve a little deeper into how your core values are consistently present in all your business activities and interactions. Form social media guidelines for your staff about your brand voice and messaging so your communications with followers are reliable and trustworthy.
Beyond your branding, consistency is particularly vital in instances where you’re rallying your staff and your community on relevant social activism projects. Keeping all team members on the same page tends to improve the positive impact you can make.
Alongside setting proposals to outline your goals within the community, you should make certain all the relevant stakeholders have access to the planning documents. This includes any marketing and legal materials.
Make sure all staff, community members, and leaders feel confident in their full knowledge of the situation and activities at all times.
Building an authentic and positive community around your brand can’t be predicated on a single social group. After all, you can’t claim to have welcoming values if you actively or passively discourage engagement from marginalized portions of the population.
Not to mention that communities tend to be stronger and more socially coherent when their contributors are from varied cultural backgrounds.
However, you can’t expect to build an authentically diverse community if you approach the challenge from a monocultural perspective. As such, you need to begin by getting a diverse range of staff to spearhead your efforts.
You also need to give them a certain amount of autonomy here, as they’ll have more informed opinions about what connects with their community and how to proceed positively and inclusively.
A key aspect of this approach is making certain your brand materials and content are accessible to all consumers. You should seek to ascertain and address hurdles to those living with disabilities and learning challenges.
It’s also important to avoid anglo-centricity by creating content in multiple languages. It isn’t enough to focus on body text here. Translations can impact some web design and graphic elements, especially where users are utilizing interpretation software.
Treading carefully here can ensure everybody who wants to engage with your brand and community can do so easily.
Maintain Full Transparency
Your ability to build an authentic community around your brand is unlikely to work if your consumers feel you have a lot of walls up.
Let’s face it, many consumers and communities already find it difficult to trust businesses they don’t already have a solid relationship with.
A recent study found 44% of consumers stopped buying from a company due to a lack of trust. One of the most effective ways to develop the kind of trust resulting in community engagement is to maintain full transparency.
In effect, this shows the community you’re attempting to build that your company has nothing to hide. You can develop trust by being on the level with them at all times and showing your efforts to engage with them are coming from an honest and open place.
This starts with making some company resources available to the community. This should include your annual financial records alongside details of your business partnerships, investors, and suppliers. Make it clear who is involved with making decisions and who the companies you’re comfortable associating with are.
This transparency should certainly extend to issues impacting your target community. You may need to be open about your wage structures and your attempts to attract and retain diverse staff members at all levels.
Some brands find this difficult as not all businesses are as successful as they may like in these aspects. But building a solid community is also about allowing them to hold you to account. Share your information and be receptive to their feedback.
Establish an Open Dialogue
An authentic community doesn’t thrive by dictation. Sure, you want your brand to be at the center of the mission and driven by your values.
But you need to remember that holding hard lines is more likely to disrupt your activities and send consumers away from the relationships you’ve worked so hard to build. To have a better chance at success, you must establish an open dialogue within the community.
This means giving all community members the chance to influence its direction and contribute their ideas and concerns. This is particularly when it comes to projects related to your mission.
Most top business leaders recognize the most effective way to solve problems is through open but organized collaborations.
This allows for a more agile approach to your shared mission, with the outcomes benefiting from different perspectives. The potential for shared success may also be key to bolstering the community itself.
Even on a day-to-day brand interaction basis, make it easy for the dialogue to flow. Provide accessible channels for community members to raise ideas and concerns with senior members of the organization.
Make sure there is always a member of staff taking care of the social media channels to respond to comments. This helps to demonstrate your brand has an authentic level of care about your community’s thoughts and ideas. When people recognize their input is valued, they tend to contribute more.
Activate Your Audience
In some ways, it is best not to be in full control of the community you’re building. Yes, you should have a certain amount of brand presence in your interactions.
But often these are at their most creative and impactful when you step back a little and give the members room to lead.
In the best-case scenario, you should seek to activate your community so they can grow and perpetuate themselves. You’ll provide support, but it will be applied authentically and positively.
This can start quite simply. Invite members of your community to produce user-generated content you’ll share via your website and social media channels.
This can include providing some rewards or even allocating resources to ensure they can keep producing content that is positive for the community.
Don’t be too strict here unless the direction starts to head away from the core values of the brand. Rather than push your priorities, you must empower the community to grow on its own terms.
Community partnerships can be a vital part of this process. Listen carefully to which organizations consumers feel are important to the mission you want to engage with. Reach out to these to establish where you can help — don’t seek to lead, particularly when these organizations have history and expertise you don’t.
Think of it as your brand impact as starting by planting seeds, then empowering the community to find better places to plant those seeds. When done well, there’ll be a forest that your community has, which has your brand’s DNA through each leaf.
Your business can be both a commercial success and a force for good if you commit to growing a community around your brand.
You must take an authentic approach to this through actions such as encouraging diverse contributors and maintaining a strict level of transparency in your efforts.
Remember, some of the best communities don’t need to be controlled by your brand, rather you should work to activate, support, and empower them to thrive.