Community Building 101

How to build a fan army.

Christina Garnett
Jan 3 · 9 min read
Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

So you want to build an army — a fan army. You want your fans to grow and your share of voice online to increase. Where do you even begin? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is any community.

Community building is an investment. It’s geniunely a long game, so you need to understand that for yourself and any stakeholders, you will need to convince along the way.

Here’s how to start building your community one brick at a time.

Why

It isn’t enough to say you want a community. You need to understand why you want it to be a thing. Essentially, why will this community exist? What are your goals?

When discussing the need for community building, a primary objection is not knowing how to measure success. You need to come to the table with what you want to accomplish and how you can measure and track your progress towards those goals.

It can be referrals, an increase in brand mentions, increased positive sentiment, website traffic, or any other goals you are looking at for your brand. Like with any initiative or campaign, you need to identify your goals, KPIs, and milestones.

Once you have a list of these goals, KPIs, and milestones, you need to create SMART (specific — measurable — achievable — relevant — timely) goals, so you have a north star for your efforts.

Who

Who do you want to be a part of this community? Do you want brand ambassadors? A place for your fans to congregate? Are there guidelines?

For communities to work, there is a collective thread. A core identification that makes people feel included. Whether it’s by their work, hobbies, passions, or where they live. By pinpointing and name that thread, brands can speak directly to what matters to that group of people and determine opportunities to align with them. Don’t try to change your people. Find opportunities to come to them.

And when you find them, celebrate them.

Liverpool Football Club does this incredibly well. In a year where their fans couldn’t be present for matches, the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” club lived up to just that. When fans could not attend games at Anfield, fans were able to send banners and flags to fill the seats inside, creating a blanket of Liverpool love where fans would normally be.

2020 could have separated the club from their fans, decreasing their fanbase’s passion — but they did just the opposite. They found new ways to incorporate fans and make it clear that they are the heart of the club. There is no LFC without the fans, and they made that clear.

They are fans of the fans.

https://twitter.com/LFC/status/1275739142073311233

It isn’t enough to identify your target; you also need to know them — understand them. No one wants to be a part of something that feels out of touch with them.

Where

You know why you want to build a community, and you know who you want to be a part of it, but now you need to find them. Where do they live online?

Create a list of all the potential spots they could live: blogs, message boards, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook Groups, TikTok, LinkedIn, Instagram, anywhere. Look for brand mentions first, as a quick gauge to determine who is already talking about you.

Want a quicker snapshot to get you started? Check out SparkToro and search for your social accounts and main keywords. It will show you what blogs your audience is reading, what social accounts they follow, and what YouTube channels they watch.

Make a list of key people talking about you online and which channel(s) they live. Are they familiar names? Do you see anyone initiating or driving those brand conversations?

Now that you’ve created a list and know where they are having, those conversations decide where you want your community to live. You could create a Slack group or use platforms like Facebook Groups, Discord, Bevy, Circle, or HiveBrite.

The larger the group, the harder it is to migrate to owned channels. It exists because of and separately from the brand. The Peloton community is an excellent example of this.

Peloton offers owned channels for connection through Facebook Groups, but other groups live outside of it. They create opportunities to connect using hashtags, with the ability to add specific ones to your account so you can help find others.

You can see these hashtags used with riders across their social platforms and the ability to find their fellow riders, especially on Instagram. The trainers regularly engage with their riders, specifically doing Instagram Lives after rides so they can engage and answer questions. This serves as a brand footprint to keep engagement between fans and their favorite trainers accessible.

The ecosystem lives beyond the bike and the app. You can connect with the community outside of the classes and app, integrating Peloton into where you live online. This is also without discussing their merch line and the free shirt you receive once you have completed 100 classes (100 Club) within any of their class categories. You become a branded member of the Peloton Army.

https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/100rides/

What

What will you do to engage with them? Get their attention? Make them feel wanted?

At our core, we as humans want to be accepted. Even introverts want to be accepted and invited to be a part of something (know we want the invitation even when we know we would never go).

https://twitter.com/JulianGumbo/status/1229093949626675200

The truth is, sometimes the simplest things work. You don’t need to be fancy. You need to be inclusive.

I consider Julian’s tweet the start of what we would call a significant push for community in 2020. By specifying that he wanted to reach out to brand social media managers, he made it easy to engage. He encouraged comments by stating exactly who he wanted to hear from.

By doing this, Julian connected hundreds of brand accounts, building a community that would only grow over the year. Traditionally, it’s frowned upon for brand people to talk to each other, especially if they are competitors. It was treasonous, but why?

When 2020 hit, we as people lost our usual forms of connection. We needed and craved it more than ever. Working from home, our work-life bled further into whatever work-life balance we already didn’t have. Not only did this tweet connect people, but like-minded people who knew what it was like to struggle this year. Those bonds were priceless.

https://twitter.com/ThatChristinaG/status/1334486296018948102

Building off of this further, there are many people who work in social that just don’t have large account followings. It may be that they don’t have time or energy or that it was never really something that mattered to them in the past. As they say, cobblers’ kids have no shoes.

This changed with a tweet I shared that specifically targeted an audience that worked in the marketing industry that didn’t have 1,000 followers or more. Many of these people either don’t feel worthy because of their follower count, or they are afraid or unaware of how to best engage with others. Just like with Julian’s tweet, it removed that barrier.

We want you here. We want you to engage. That was enough.

Soon people started introducing themselves and sharing. Those who were already a part of the community joined in, welcoming others and amplifying. It took a platform that was a full doomscrolling mess of breaking news, hatred, and politics and turned it into a feed of positivity. It shifted the user experience and made the community see Twitter differently.

Soon the conversations existed outside of Julian and my tweets. It became bigger than all of us, as it should. It grew and changed how people engaged there. It took all of the nonsense of 2020 for us to collectively come together with a positive purpose to be there for each other — to lift each other.

It shifted the user culture for many.

How

So how do you do this for your brand?

ENGAGE. ENGAGE. ENGAGE.

Who is already talking about your brand? What is your brand doing when you see those mentions? Are you ignoring them? Liking or commenting, or amplifying?

There is a reason why UGC (user-generated content) has become a major opportunity for brands. Brands get content created for them by super fans who highlight what they love most about the brand. It makes the fan feel like a part of their favorite companies. They will tell anyone who’ll listen that you featured them.

Additionally, many brands can make their audience engage by merely asking questions. Use polls and questions in your content to make it clear that you want to hear from your audience. Give them opportunities to feel connected to your brand instead of just posting content that is one-directional.

One major first step is to look at conversational content instead of just posting organic ads masquerading as social posts to build a community. Posing questions and providing opportunities for your audience to share their thoughts on things encourages future engagement and also provides priceless market research from your audience.

They engage and let you know more about them, for free!

They can help inform product needs, new features, and share insights that your brand’s team might not have ever thought about. Your audience is an untapped resource for your marketing team.

When

You have the foundation for your army, but when do you deploy them?

Do you have a major event coming up or a sale? Do you have a new release or something that you need to ensure gets substantial organic reach?

Adobe does this masterfully through their brand ambassador program, Adobe Insiders. You can always expect creative professionals across social to share announcements and their thoughts during Summits and Adobe Max events, lead by thought leaders and creative practitioners that use and love Adobe products.

Selecting creators and influencers to share their experience creates a unique opportunity to capture attention like a brand account can’t. When brand accounts tell you how great something is, it doesn’t carry as much weight as when users say it’s wonderful.

You get to harness the power of word of mouth with the added benefit of brand approved hashtags, messaging, all wrapped with an already engaged audience of followers. It’s the not so secret sauce.

https://karenfreberg.com/blog/heading-to-adobe-summit-as-an-adobe-insider/

If you want to empower your army, have brand ambassador generals to help lead the charge for major events and campaigns.It can supercharge and accelerate community growth and see you move towards reaching many of the SMART goals you created at the beginning.

Adobe creates a mutually beneficial platform where they select creatives that align with their goals while also providing brand clout and resources for creatives and influencers. Together they lift each other up through their content, and a community is empowered.

In the end, all humans want to FEEL included, wanted, and important. It doesn’t matter if you get the rest of the structure right if the heart isn’t there.

Community thrives when its members know there is value for them and also feel like they are appreciated. You can’t have community without humanity. For other marketing efforts, you have to develop your tech stack. For community, you have to develop your heart stack.

Communities are living, breathing things that need to be nurtured but also listened to. Your community’s needs may shift based on economic issues, news events, or anything else the world can throw at them (see all of 2020).For this reason, you can’t just build and think that it doesn’t need further fostering.

It’s a long process but incredibly rewarding when you consider that this time and energy leads to trust, loyalty, and a community of customers who love celebrating you.

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Christina Garnett

Written by

Community Builder + Strategist | Social Listening Analyst | Featured in The Startup, Better Marketing, and Digital Vault, and The Next Web | In The Trenches

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Christina Garnett

Written by

Community Builder + Strategist | Social Listening Analyst | Featured in The Startup, Better Marketing, and Digital Vault, and The Next Web | In The Trenches

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

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