How to Make Community the Secret To Success

community building
The word community has been with us for centuries.

A town, a church, a school, a collection of hobbyists, have all long been identified as communities.

Only in more recent years have we begun to apply the concept to business.

Every business today has a community that is made up of its employees, customers, supporters, networks, suppliers, and mentors.

The real question I suppose is whether each business realizes both the existence and power of this community.

Today, a healthy business is defined by the health of the community it draws.

Recognition of the fact that total community is far greater than a customer list is key to the most profitable business growth.

Many members in one’s business community – seen and unseen – wield tremendous influence on the growth, reputation and success of a business and intentionally nurturing community participation must be seen as a core element of business development.

A community, as described above, can serve a business in a number of ways.

A community can be a direct element of a business or it can simply be an ecosystem that indirectly serves a business.

Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Community

Here’s an example to illustrate my thinking on this.

I have a network of independent marketing consultants that make up a business known as the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.

These business owners choose to join this network in order to gain access to a set of tools and other benefits, but they are also drawn by a common point of view and network of like-minded individuals.

They voluntarily pay a fee to be part of this network as they see it as a valuable contributor to both their business and personal growth.

On paper, this is a transaction based on perceived return on investment.

In reality, the value of this network or in belonging to this network grows as each member chooses to contribute in ways that benefit other members.

Recently, we held our annual Summit at a ranch in the Colorado Rockies and session after session of the 3-day event were led, facilitated and orchestrated by various network members willing to share their individual talents to benefit the group.

New mastermind groups formed to go to work on areas of specific interest. Documents, templates, examples and other intellectual property were freely distributed to participants.

A regional leadership team made up of long-standing members was formed with the express intention of helping to assure that new members successfully tapped the benefits of the network.

These regional leaders plan to create accountability groups and hold “office hours” communication sessions to ensure that information is broadly spread across the network.

This layer of community infrastructure is what will allow this network to grow and prosper.

The World Domination Community

The second example I want to share is a community of which I am a member.

Chris Guillebeau has created what could only be called a movement that sprung out of his pursuit of non-conformity. The WDS community is one that’s unified by a simple idea that work can be what you say it is and that there are many, many people who would like to help you realize the work you were meant to do.

Each year for last five years WDS types trek to Portland Oregon to commune at the World Domination Summit.

I spoke at the event in 2014 and while I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences over the years I can say with little hesitation this is the most fun I’ve had in my speaking career.

The event itself is ridiculously well run and put together, but it’s the tribe that shows up that makes this a one of a kind event.

While I’m sure that Chris’ business benefits from the collective word of mouth, sharing and spending of community members, this is first and foremost a community curated around an idea more than a business.

Members meet, mastermind, support, push and promote each other with vigor I’ve witnessed in few other places.

The event draws over 3,000 attendees and is planned by a few paid positions, but it’s run by community volunteers willing to contribute significant amounts of time and energy to ensure the experience is unique and fulfilling.

When Chris released a new book (he’s written three to date) WDS members around the world vie to host him in their city. The power of this very active community is evident to anyone that’s exposed to it.

So, I guess the real point of all of this is ask and answer this question – If intentional community building is so vital how does one go about embracing the idea.

There are certainly those who know more about this than I, but over the years I’ve experienced the positive benefits of community by focusing on these five elements.

Communicate a unifying why

This advice is pretty mainstream these days as there’s no question that people rally around ideas, not businesses.

Whether you have the next big way to save the world or those in need or you simply want to create an innovation in your industry, you must create something worth joining.

Show me a business with a healthy culture and I’ll show you a unifying why. Show me a strong community and you can rest assured there is something that draws and engages its members.

People like to have fun, they like to feel they are making a difference, they like to contribute to ideas worth spreading, they like to be around people with similar values, they like to fight injustice, and they like to know they aren’t the only weirdoes who have been told they are crazy for going for something they feel passionate about.

The mistake many organizations make is to limit their community building efforts to marketing initiatives. When community starts with your why you quickly come to realize that community is every department.

Find your fire starters

When an idea grows big enough that divergent tribes start to form from within it’s essential to find and nurture leaders in the community. These leaders start little fires in little pockets and sometimes form their own communities. But, more often than not they help hold a community together by mentoring new members, spreading the good news and even performing functions that benefit the community as a whole with little regard for reward and recognition.

Nurture these fire starters as they hold the keys to creating a blaze that attracts far and wide.

In some instances, it makes sense to hire these fire starters and give them an official capacity.

Mike Stelzner of Social Media Examiner has done an incredible job identifying his fire starters and in some cases making them a part of the full-time team. He’s also got a large number of volunteer fire starters who help run the extremely popular and growing Social Media Marketing World Conference.

Manifest engagement

While a big idea is what attracts people to a community, giving members the ability to engage and contribute is what holds them.

You might start by forming some mastermind groups to help attack issues, contribute to long-range plans and advise on short-term initiatives.

There’s no question that live events help community members connect in ways that no other tactic can. Spending time working on problems or just having lunch with someone is incredibly bonding.

Simply asking opinions before charging ahead can be a great way to gain some valuable insight while giving people a sense that their voice matters.

Waiting for consensus on every decision is a sure path to paralysis, but letting people participate in and fight for things they believe in is how you create loyalty and commitment.

Create ownership

As a community grows and fire starters shoulder more and more work a sense of community ownership must evolve.

If members of the community are to become more deeply committed they must also feed a much deeper stake in the planning and outcome.

This step may indeed be the greatest test for any leader in a movement or business. This step requires letting go in a way that may feel both foreign and frightening, but without it a community will plateau.

Start by letting go of things that don’t work like they should. Look at the things hold you or your business back. You may just be surprised at what an energized group of individuals tasked with tackling a community constraint just might come up with.

Protect and serve

As a community grows that role of leader or leaders comes full circle. While you may indeed spark the fire that attracts people to rally, you eventually need to step back and perform a more strategic function.

The leader of any successful organization starts as the visionary, builds a team of leaders and then transitions to the role of story or brand leader.

Your job is to protect the vision, tell the story, and be the voice of the unifying why.

That’s how you serve a community that has matured to the point where the founder is more of an advisor and cheerleader than an implementer.

I don’t mean to suggest that this role is passive in any sense. If the core values of the community veer from a vision that serves, the leader must jump in aggressively to protect the community.

Community is a hot term in business these days and rightly so. In the past, community was about place, but today it’s about belonging, regardless of physical location and that change has the power to transform any business that embraces it.

I would love to hear about the communities that you belong to – the ones that make you feel you are part of something worth joining.

How to Turn Your Best Customers Into a Growth Engine

I’ve said repeatedly that building a vibrant community is the most important objective of any business these days.

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

While this may sound like some social media laced feel good sentiment it’s actually quite practical.

Making your business customers, prospects, suppliers and partners feel like important members of a bigger community simply makes long-term business sense and is the key to long-term growth in ways that you not have even considered.

Many businesses get the idea treating customers in ways that make them want to return and refer, but you should also look at your best customers as collaboration partners able to help you formulate plans for growth.

Creating new products and services and making plans for growth is tricky adventures. Why not systematically involve your customers in every decision you make? Why not create new products and services with your customers? Why not include them in content creation and marketing campaigns?

Why not get your best customers to tell you what they need and then help you create, iterate and perfect it?

Below are five steps that can help you build systematic community involvement into your growth plans

Champion personas

The first step is to segment your business customers into personality types. Not every customer group is right for this approach and you may likely have completely different segments, such as B2B and B2C, and may need to build entirely different approaches for different segments.

Additionally, you’ll want to identify customers groups or types that are more open to this level of involvement. One of the best places to look is for customers that already refer or evangelize what you do. Can you identify them specifically or can you at least come up with a description of common characteristics?

These are what I refer to as you community champions. This is the first group to focus on as you try to expand your community reach.

Ongoing mining

Next you’ll want to dig in and figure out what this group might be lacking. This is sometimes a little tricky as if they really knew they probably would have told you by now, but I find that posing a series of questions around what they wish they had, what they can’t find or what doesn’t seem to work, even about your current offerings, is a good place to start.

After you do this you’ll want to audit your content, touchpoints and revenue streams in an effort to identify a handful of potential growth and involvement opportunities.

Many times you can find ways to involve your customers by simply creating content opportunities such as guest blogging, case studies and video testimonials.

Consider events you might create where your customers can do some of the education. Host peer-to-peer roundtables and let your customers facilitate discussions among prospects.

Consider additional revenue extensions where your champion customers could moderate other customer groups and help add ongoing value.

Innovation circles

Once you’ve established some working rapport with your community champions get them involved in helping you build, test and refine new offerings.

Create what I like to call innovation circles to use to build with your customers. Take rough product, service, packaging and pricing ideas to your circles and get feedback. Then with this feedback create a beta test group that agrees to help you get it right. Then use these testers as case studies and early evangelists for your now much improved offering.

You don’t have to stop here either. You can use this same approach for all of your marketing initiatives, copy and positioning.

Accountability tracking

The final piece is the glue that holds this entire approach together and keeps your community champions coming back for more.

You must create a way to religiously track the results your champions are getting from their relationship with your organization as well as their greater involvement in the community.

This just makes good business sense, but it will also help reinforce the value you bring to the table over and above the somewhat empty claims of good service and low pricing used by your competitors.

One of the best ways to build this into your community is through game mechanics. Create ways for your community champions to participate in contests. Get them to compete with each other. Teach them how to help each other through tangible acts such as linking swapping, sharing and guest posting.

Make the use of your progress and services something they must report and even incentivize them by creating awards for people who come up with new uses and best documented results.

Partner platform

One way to take this notion up a notch is to teach a group of strategic partners how to do the same and then start cross-pollinating your communities.

When you create a common language and process, such as “innovation circles,” you make it easier to teach the methodology and create even greater participation as you and your partners are promoting the same approach.

Imagine how much more value you can bring to your community by building this kind of best of class partner platform, Further imagine how interested potential partners will be to learn how you plan to shine the light on them throughout your vibrant customer community.

Your customer champions want to help you grow and, while making referrals is one powerful way to involve them, when you take a formal approach like the one described above you’ll not only make it easier for them to refer you, you’ll create a team of business partners eager to help you plan and grow.

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