How brands can build micro-communities as cures for social isolation
Facebook’s recent TV commercial showcasing the social network’s Groups capabilities shows us that the digital age has not eliminated our desire to spend time together in the physical world. The spot’s tagline, “Let’s find more that brings us together,” should be an anthem to consumers and brands alike—bringing people together and creating a sense of inclusion is what society needs now, more than ever.
Ironically, our addiction to digital connections could be partially responsible for pushing us further apart. Research has shown that people who spend more time on social media can be twice as likely to perceive themselves as socially isolated. This increased sense of isolation creates a need for more face-to-face interactions, which is why brands like Facebook recognize that community-building in the digital sphere isn’t going to cut it anymore. People need real-life connections.
How brands can bring people together
Micro-sized communities are the key for modern businesses as smaller channels allow them to connect with highly engaged audiences. Influencers provide one way to access organic, tight-knit communities, but marketers are now moving beyond the digital world and building these communities in the real world.
This is because influencers, when used improperly, can pollute micro-communities—particularly if they seem more motivated by a paycheck than by their audience. Sprout Social found that 14 percent of consumers will un-follow brands that use influencers only to hawk products. Events can act as a necessary counterbalance to influencer marketing to ensure authentic bonds are being forged around the central purpose of a community.
For a great example, consider Red Bull Flugtag. Since starting the competition in 1991, Red Bull has hosted more than 160 global iterations of Flugtag. From student engineers to at-home aviators, the teams that compete at each Flugtag are a diverse crowd—but they unite under a community built not only around an energy drink but also on the brand’s value proposition: Red Bull gives you wings.
Leveraging audiences to create new communities
To bypass stale strategies and begin to build the sort of communities that audiences crave, follow three key principles:
Include, don’t intrude. It’s painfully obvious when brands simply inject themselves into “cool” events and try to ride the wave of momentum without making meaningful contributions. Brands shouldn’t infiltrate big-name festivals and assume their attendance offers value.
ComplexCon’s growing popularity, for instance, has led event organizers to be pickier when it comes to brand booths. Most brands cannot attend simply to push their products—they must add value for attendees. HBO did this perfectly at ComplexCon 2018 by setting up a barbershop that mirrored the one used in its series “The Shop.” With free haircuts and shoe cleanings, the booth furthered the streetwear culture of ComplexCon rather than co-opting it.
Fulfill audience members’ fantasies. Understand what your audience members desire, and then give it to them on a silver platter.
Gamers might dream of being “inside” the games they play, for instance, so companies in the gaming industry should help them live out those dreams. In 2018, Epic Games put on a show at the Electronic Entertainment Expo by creating a real-life version of “Fortnite” for attendees to explore. Just remember: Your audience should connect through the brand, not to it.
Let local heroes guide the way. Brands often harp on about commitment to their values—right before caving to bureaucracy and selling out to bring in revenue. To avoid this pitfall, identify pre-established leaders of micro-communities and hand them the reins.
Companies need money—and audiences get that—but the relationship should be between patrons and creators, rather than between sponsors and advertisers. Well-known, respected community members can help bridge that gap and change the audience perception of your brand. Provided you aren’t asking members to “sell out,” of course.
In our digital world that is simultaneously more connected and more isolated than ever before, brands have much to gain from connecting like-minded individuals. Not only can they build communities based on shared interests while encouraging the real-life connections society needs, but they also can earn a loyal and trusting fan base.