How to Connect with Communities

How many people in Asia are interested in, say, gardening? Not that many? How about politics? Or cars? Airplanes? Music? Cooking? A few? Thousands? Millions? Maybe even billions? Let’s just agree that there are more people interested in specific arts, cultures and hobbies than one would think. Thanks largely to the internet, smaller communities can organise themselves across borders and regions, connect and collaborate and exchange ideas and experiences. In fact, many communities that were tapering off have seen resurgence as people have found others with similar interests that they can share their hobby with.

This perpetual quest for a sense of belonging is one of the most universal insights into human social behaviour. People like to interact with like-minded people. Plain and simple. And they like to be recognised as someone who belongs to a community – even if that “community” is a group of people who like to see themselves as outsiders (punk rockers, motorcycle enthusiasts, hacktivists and so on). That’s why they have different symbols, tattoos, pins or clothing to signify their affiliation to their group. Perhaps not all the time, but certainly when they interact with their peers. This shows the bond amongst them, and showcases their passion for their hobby/interest.

For every one of these small consumer niches, lies a big opportunity to connect, engage and build a relationship with that very specific audience. And with the advent of multi-level integrated social media, it is not only possible, but quite affordable to do so. For some brands it’s quite obviously all about capitalising on the communities that are interested in the segment the business operates in, such as bicycle companies engaging with cyclists, fishing gear suppliers with fishing enthusiasts, fashion brands with fashionistas etc. For other brands there is a much wider opportunity to talk to many communities, with similar, yet tailor made messaging. For instance, a snack brand could connect with gamers, with knitters, with TV fans, with war re-enactors, with reddit users etc., either at the same time, sequentially or contextually. Just because your target audience is “everyone” doesn’t mean that you should talk to everyone in the same way. The opposite could turn out to be more effective – and more profitable.

The interesting part is to identify how the connection with these groups can be made, and how interaction with a niche group can impact the reputation and recognition of a brand on a wider scale. To do that, you have to identify the drivers behind the niche – and find an authentic voice to speak to them with. Only by respecting the integrity of a group’s interest, hobby, sport or whatever it is, can you really connect with them. When you fully understand what that is, the rest is fairly simple – to come up with a creative idea that piques their interest, engages them, makes them like you and believe you. Easy!

Of course, non-linear marketing towards “subcultures” requires a different strategy and a more flexible tactical framework than the traditional campaign approach. So it’s not possible to just look at what was done last year and repeat that. Communicating with communities is a long-term play that carries a larger reward – if it’s done with the necessary sensibilities. Overstep the boundaries, and you will pay dearly. But find the right balance, the right level of interaction and you will be embraced by the community in way that will bring rewards outside the community. It is relationship marketing for the social media age. And since not many are doing it, it is a great opportunity for any brand. Right now.

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Erik Ingvoldstad is the Managing Director of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticAgency
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[Main photo by Ralph Hsu, under CC]

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