It is January 2020: the sporting calendar is ramping up towards a summer of international competition, music festivals are teasing their lineups, and businesses are welcoming employees and customers back from their festive holidays.
Fast forward to March and all public events have been cancelled and global businesses are in lockdown, igniting the biggest remote working experiment in history. This is the scale of impact of COVID-19.
But customers, fans and enthusiasts all still exist. There is still a desire to connect and share – and businesses can’t go on hold forever. So it’s at this time when people are being driven apart by a global pandemic, that technology may finally work to bring communities together like never before.
The communities brands have built over months and years still have the same core characteristic holding them together. The reason these communities have grown is not simply a product or service, but a passion that their members all share. So, as physical locations like stores or stadia shut down, the value of brands must shift away from products and places and towards the actual communities themselves. Without being able to rely on performing on stage, in a stadium full of fans, or during the latest pop-up store giveaway, brands must focus solely on the digital community space to retain their engagement and build on the shared passion their communities thrive on.
While building a digital space for communities isn’t a brand new concept, brands owning communities themselves is. Facebook groups, Instagram pages and YouTube channels all share the problem of being limited by the platform owner. In order to discover the full value in communities, especially in times of uncertainty, the brands must own the communities themselves.
Democratise the ownership to centralise the value
A primary benefit of democratising communities and shifting ownership and control to the brands is that the community will be centralised. Often communities are split across various different platforms, making it difficult for brands to communicate coherent messaging and for members to keep up-to-date and connect with their peers. This is solved within a central, brand-owned community that has all of its members in one online space. This increases accessibility, diversifies the content everybody can see and allows for a unified messaging and a single marketplace for all monetisation and engagement with the users.
The power is in the passion, not the algorithm
By moving away from platform-owned communities, brands can also regain the value they have lost to the platform algorithms. It won’t come as a surprise to anybody to hear that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and all of the other social platforms are money-making machines. One way that this manifests is by holding communities at ransom from the brands that have invested time and energy building them up.
For example, Facebook only serves organic (non-paid for) content to around 6% of a group or someone’s audience on average. That means to unlock the other 94%, brands need to pay for advertising. While the natural user-base may seem like a reasonable trade-off, to begin with, it is coming to light that people are willing to let go of the traditional social media platforms. Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was revealed that 35% of people are already using Facebook less. With this, brands can find confidence in the knowledge that it is people’s desire to share their interests that connect them, not the power behind large social media empires.
This has been brought into stark relief recently as doctors and nurses have been using custom platforms to communicate with each other during the crisis. This displays how progress can be made by connecting people in a way that truly benefits their shared goal, whether it be furthering scientific knowledge about a global virus or in sharing videos of your favourite band or the latest offering from your favourite shop.
Capitalise on the opportunity to refocus
Moments of clarity are often hard to come by in modern business. With social media and globalisation come global communities that are always active and engaging. However, COVID-19 has decreased the pace of many industries. This is an opportunity for brands to reset their focus to provide a better community experience and realise their true value. Communities have been focussed around buildings for hundreds of years, whether it be religious buildings, stadiums, shops or offices. Now, however, brands have an opportunity to become focussed on the people and passions they are built upon.
COVID-19 has become the unexpected catalyst for the second era of social media and online interaction. This new stage will be defined by brands, creators and entrepreneurs opting to build their own single-interest social networks so they can receive the value from their community and deepen their relationships with their most valuable customers, fans, and users. By providing an opportunity to reset, reclaim and reposition, brands can realise the true value in the communities they’ve built.
About the Author
Benji Vaughan is CEO of Disciple. Disciple is where communities thrive. Our community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Create your own unique social space today. www.disciplemedia.com
Featured image: ©Lekkyjustdoit