How To Build A Community

The secret sauce behind the likes of Bumble, Glossier and Depop? Engaged user communities. We break down how to cultivate a community around your brand

By Florence Robson

2 February 2022

rom Harvard University to the London School of Economics, some of the world’s foremost academic institutions have investigated the root of happiness and have identified a common thread: meaningful connections with others.

When these connections form around a brand, they create a powerful ripple effect. Research by the University of Michigan found that customers spent 19% more with a business after becoming a member of its community, while another study found that online communities generate an average marketing ROI of 6469%.

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“Be the glue that binds your community together by providing experiences that only you could make possible.”

Community is at the heart of The Stack World. As well as connecting at events and via a dedicated Slack channel, Stack World members can now cultivate their own micro-communities via Clubs based around their skills and passions, from angel investing to skincare to bougie dining.

But community building is not limited to social platforms and membership organisations. From Glossier to Peloton, many of today’s unicorns have their communities to thank for their success. The good news? All businesses have internal and external communities within them; you just need to own them.

So, how do you tap into the power of connection to supercharge your brand? Read on for the key principles of building community authentically and turning customers into brand advocates.

Discovering your community

When looking for the burgeoning communities within your users, focus on the early adopters – those people who were into your brand before anyone else. Early adopters will be most likely to test your V1 products, share honest feedback and even give you free marketing.

Once you’ve identified the early adopters, you can start to group them by asking more specific questions:

Are they the leaders of their packs?

Are they part of the same peer groups?

Would they consult each other before a purchase?

Would they hang out with each other socially (unforced)?

Do they use the same adjacent brands?

Drill down as far as possible to narrow down their common ground (for example, if you have a group of early adopters that love movies, can you specify their favourite genre or director?). Don’t focus too much on location; remember, you are building a global business!

Get clear on your purpose

Make sure your brand stands for something. Having clarity around your purpose allows you to cultivate a community that feels authentic and the people within it to create genuine, lasting connections.

Think about your early adopters: now you know more about them, can you translate their profiles into user personas? What are their passions and problems? What will your community give them that they didn’t have before? Keeping these personas in mind, together with your purpose, will help you stay focused as your brand and community grows.

Be a good host

As a brand, your role is to be the host, rather than that guest that dominates the conversation! Be the glue that binds your community together (not just the product) by providing experiences that only you could make possible.

Don’t be tempted to overdo it on the marketing chat. Instead, foster opportunities for connection by providing space for your community members to interact with each other. This could be via Slack or private Facebook groups, meet-ups, dinners or even cultural days out. If possible, though, do include some IRL experiences; it helps to cement bonds, galvanise momentum for launches, get feedback in real time and even test geographic expansions. For digital brands, pop-ups can be a great way to bring your community together (think By Rotation’s 2021 pop-up in Westfield).

Finally, part of being a good host is making sure everyone feels comfortable to be themselves. Make sure that you and your team are clear on community responsibilities up front. If you have an online space, who is monitoring any abusive messages? Do you want members to sign up to key principles or ways of operating? Get these in place early on and enforce them so that your users and team feel safe.

Give users freedom to play

Some of the most successful online communities allow their users to curate, aggregate and share content, taking cues from social media platforms. Think optional public profiles, wishlists or even moderator powers. The more that users can customise their experience, the more likely they are to stay engaged. For example, Glossier super fans can curate their ‘power edits’, sharing their top product picks with discount codes.

Make it educational

Your community should be a place where people can expand their knowledge alongside their networks. Consider your users’ challenges and find ways to help them address them. Educate them on worlds that are peripheral to yours, or areas within your customers journey that lie outside of your actual product. This could be content and workshops on anything from personal finance, to photography, to nailing your CV.

This is also a great opportunity to empower your users to share their own skills and knowledge with each other, whether by writing articles, hosting events or simply swapping tips and recommendations.

Recognise and reward

Celebrate your community members! Encourage them to share their achievements with each other, acknowledge their successes and showcase your ‘power users’ via editorial and social content, badges or even speaking opportunities. Bumble’s Queen Bee ambassador programme, for example, turns power users into guerrilla marketers by asking them to spread the company’s message of women empowerment.

There are any number of ways you can reward ‘best practice’, from discount codes to newsletter shoutouts and merch. For the latter, think strategically; used properly, merch should be like a ‘membership card’ to your community club. How can your users visually recognise each other, without having to communicate directly? Think Monzo’s distinctive neon cards, cult gossip site Deuxmoi’s sweatshirts, or Glossier’s pink makeup pouches.

Listen and learn

Early adopters are your most valuable source of feedback – so give them space to talk! This could be via curated WhatsApp groups, office hours, dinners or even away days. Allow your users to be an active part of your brand development by taking the time to really listen to what they have to say. As well as accelerating your product innovation, this is also one of the easiest and most effective ways to identify and solve problems.

When you act on community feedback, keep users in the loop by telling them what you’ve done and why. If they can see you’re taking their input seriously, they are more likely to keep the conversation going.

Building a community doesn’t happen overnight so be prepared to play the long game. Keep listening and learning, track interactions in your CRM and tweak as you go. Most importantly, don’t force it! Stay connected to your mission, create space for genuine connections and be guided by your users’ needs.

The Short Stack

Looking to build an authentic community around your brand? Focus on your purpose, engage your power users and foster opportunities for genuine connection.

By Florence Robson

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