Community is not marketing.
Community is part of your product. It’s part of the User Engagement Cycle.
In the cycle, marketing drives users into the cycle. Users connect with your product, then with your brand, and then a community is formed when they connect with each other which will then improve your product. How will it improve your product? Well lets dig in.
Community integrates with and improves your product in 3 ways:
1. Community as a feature
When you buy a product, or become a member of a website, you get access to the features of that product. The amount of value you get out of being a customer is strictly limited to the physical value that you get in return.
When you have a community, you get something more. Now, by being a customer, you’re not just getting the features of that product, but you are now a part of something. You have a group of people where you can ask questions, get help, give help and build real relationships.
So by becoming a customer, you’re also becoming a part of a community and the user experience is enhanced. That’s an emotional connection to a product that is hard to replace.
2. Feedback collection
Perhaps the most important contribution to the product is the lessons you learn from users talking with each other. It’s very rare that a product doesn’t change again and again before finding it’s fit.
The best way to learn what your product needs to be in order to provide real value is to listen to your users talking to each other.
When you can hear what they’re saying to each other about your product and brand, you get a really candid look at what people like or don’t like about your product.
You can identify their true problems and work on solutions moving forward. You can find your product market fit.
3. Increase user activity
Lastly, by creating a positive emotional connection between customers, you can increase their actual activity. Think about brands that you care for on a deep emotional level.
When given the option to buy from them or somewhere else, you’ll almost always go to the product that you trust, especially if you feel like you’re a part of that community.
When people are part of a community, they want to be perceived as a valuable member of that community (increase their “social equity”) and so they will aim to improve their status by being better contributors.
On the surface, it might look like what many people call “gamification” but the scores, badges, stats etc. aren’t what drives people to contribute more value. The recognition of their community is what increases activity. Gamification is just how it’s displayed.
So as you think about community, what it means for your company and how you’ll track it’s success, realize that the ultimate goal is to improve our product and find your product market fit.
Marketing is still very important, obviously, because you have to get people into the cycle in the first place. But once there, it’s up to your product and community programs to drive user activity and improve over time.
Image source: Matt Katzenberger via Compfight