What Does Community Mean To Your Brand?

Influencer Marketing

What Does Community Mean To Your Brand?

If one word has dominated the lexicon of business and marketing over the last 20 years or so, I would say it’s “Community.” There was an Internet for a good decade or more before the word surfaced. Social media … forums, message boards, then social networking sites, introduced first consumers, then businesses to the idea of forming communities.

If you threw that term out in the early 1980s to a CMO or CEO they would have rolled their eyes at you and said, “We’re members of the Rotary Club.” In the mid 2000s, the marketing thought leaders were encouraging businesses and brands to “Join the Community.” 

That’s the context that predicated how we think of the term today. Consumers were gathering on social networks – largely to flee from annoying advertising on other mediums – so brands were encouraged to chase after them. The social norms in the online community world were different and many brands struggled to understand what joining a community meant. But today, most understand the concept:

Find groups of consumers, or stakeholders, or just people who your brand would like to connect with for whatever reason (sales, insights, collaboration) and assimilate with them. To do that, you have to listen first, participate without an agenda, be useful and contribute genuinely and generously, and if you do all those things you’ll build trust.

Now a brand can be a member of the community. 

The Types of Brand Communities

But forward-thinking brands, or perhaps those more plugged into their own customer’s needs and mindsets already, spun that around and built their own brand communities. One of my favorite examples of early social media community building was the Fisketeers community – a social network site built by Fiskars, the scissors and crafting brand. 

Fisketeers was an invite-only, private social network of scrapbooking enthusiasts. It was created out of the identified need for a safe haven for scrapbookers to share ideas and collaborate online. Apparently in 2006 other informal scrapbooking communities were full of judgmental, negative Nancy’s … think YouTube comments for the craft set. 

Fiskars build a site, invited the first cohort of influencers in, though they didn’t use the term influencers then, and let them each invite a few friends. Within 24 hours, they exceeded the membership goal for the site for the first year. 

There, the brand teased out new products and collected feedback for product R&D teams, plus they built an army of marketing ambassadors to take the brand’s new product launches and campaigns outside the community. It was wildly successful.

But that’s an example of a formal, brand-built and owned community.

The social networks liked Facebook and LinkedIn offered groups which allowed individuals and brands to build semi-formal communities on those networks. There are thousands of brands now that manage their community efforts on social platforms much in the same way Fiskars did their own. 

The brand doesn’t have to spend tons of money developing and managing a website for their community, but they are limited and beholden to the social network in question for features and functionality. 

Then there are brands that have a community around them, but it’s just an emotional or rational connection between the brand and its fans and customers. Apple doesn’t have a customer community site or even formal social networking groups it runs beyond its customer support function on its website. But walk into any public place … or even office … and you can quickly identify people in the Apple community. 

What Community Should Mean

Our definition of a brand community at CIPIO.ai is the collective of each of a company’s stakeholder groups. Those can be formal, like customers or employees. There is a transaction or employment agreement that makes those individuals officially tied to your brand. They can also be informal, like people who talk about you online but aren’t customers or employees. They can also be tangential, like those who follow brands like yours – either competitors or non-competitive brands with similar audiences. Those are what we call affinity brands. 

A good example of an affinity brand to, let’s say Hall’s Beer Cheese, which is one of our clients and my favorite spreadable snack. An affinity brand for Hall’s Beer Cheese would be Club Crackers, which by the way are made quite tasty with a little Hall’s Beer Cheese on them. They don’t compete against one another but each would love to connect with the other’s audience.

Certainly within this definition, you can have formal, Fisketeers-like subsets. In fact, I would argue that the end result of great community building is to map an ecosystem of stakeholder groups that include members of your formal, ambassador community site, which are separate from the casual fan who engages with you on your public Facebook Group. Then you have social media followers. There’s overlap between them and customers, but you can have followers that aren’t customers. 

Then there are vendors, partners, employees, those who talk about you online, competitor followers, affinity followers and so on.

When you can map your full community, you now have more clearly defined stakeholder groups which you can then develop more effective and directive marketing communications for. 

The Power of Community Mapping

Take a look at this community map which I’ve pulled from one of our customers at CIPIO.ai:



This brand’s map includes a group of brand followers, customers, affinity brand followers, competitor followers and similar hashtag users. It’s nice to see that totals 2.64 million people and probably makes the CEO and CMO proud they’ve got such a big community.

But now put this map into strategic thinking for your marketing efforts. Today, you connect with social media influencers or create advertising campaigns that blanket everyone within eye or ear-shot of the communication. 

But wouldn’t you talk to customers differently than you would talk to, say, followers of an affinity brand? The latter may not know much about you. They haven’t bought from you. That marketing communication is going to be different. Shouldn’t each message to each subgroup have its own nuance?

They’re more relevant if they do. 

Our advice and CIPO.ai’s Community Influence Marketing or CIM technology, directs brands to identify those subgroups, find the influential voices within them, and leverage those known community members to refer and recommend your product or service to their friends and family. But we’re also building more applications to help brands ignite growth through each stakeholder group using direct referrals, cultivating community generated content and beyond.

The calling card of 2023 is one dripping with caution. The economy isn’t at its best. Marketing budgets are either frozen or being tempered a bit to withstand any recession or down-turn. 

But we still have to market. We still have to grow. We still have to drive revenue and sales and awareness. 

When you have a better connection to and understanding of your community, no matter how formal it is, you have a better chance of recession proofing your work. And your brand’s success.

CIPIO.ai would love to help you map your community and find ways to recession-proof your marketing efforts. We not only have software to help you, we have smart thinkers here, too. We are the leading Community Commerce Marketing platform with an array of applications to help your brand identify and activate your community to ignite growth.

To learn more, we would love to invite you to a free webinar called Unlocking the Power of Community Influence Marketing to Grow Your Brand. We’ll be presenting it each Friday through March beginning this Friday, January 27. Head to the link in this post at CIPIO.ai, or look for the link on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels to register. 

If you want to cut to the chase and see a demo of our CIM platform, head to our website at CIPIO.ai and schedule one. I might just walk you through the platform myself. 

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