McKinsey declares community to be the big idea in marketing for this decade

Online communities - the bid idea in marketing for this decade

You might not be familiar with the term Community Based Marketing. I wasn’t when I first heard it. Community is important for the future of public relations and communications. According to McKinsey the “big idea” in 2020s marketing is community.

When I discovered what Community Based Marketing (CBM) was I realised it was something I’d been doing for most of my career. I’d just never called it that or joined up all the different things I do into a specific community service offer. The term CBM was coined by Ashley Friedlein and Michelle Goodall of professional community platform Guild.

They’ve just updated their ‘What is Community Based Marketing (CBM) Best Practice Guide‘ which is available as a free download (no registration needed). A big thanks to Ashley and Michelle for asking me to contribute some thoughts and ideas.

If you are in public relations or communications then the new guide is a must-read as online communities will be important to the future of the profession.

Quote from Stuart Bruce in CBM Guide
What is Community Based Marketing (CBM) Best Practice Guide

What are online communities?

The CBM guide starts by defining online community as:

“An online community (also known as a virtual community, internet community or digital community) is where people come together digitally to interact, share knowledge and build relationships.”

Ashley Friedlein/Michelle Goodall – Guild

“These communities are made up of people who share similar interests, goals or a purpose, whether that’s working on a project together, sharing best practice or simply sharing a passion.

The word ‘community’ suggests connectedness, togetherness, people joining in and becoming something bigger than the sum of their parts.

As a team, we define community at Guild as something much deeper than a network or a group of people with weak ties, or people connected by the use of a hashtag in social media.

Community is an ever-evolving entity that is much more about the ‘we’, and what the collective can achieve together, than the ‘I’ and what a single person can get from belonging.”

Ashley Friedlein, Guild blog, September 2022

Ashley has published a long read blog post where he defines Community Based Marketing and explains why it is the “big idea”.

  1. B2B marketing tactics are getting stale, saturated and expensive.
  2. Marketers increasingly value first party and zero party data.
  3. The rise of the Creator, Knowledge and Passion economies.
  4. The pandemic and economic uncertainty.
  5. Trust in government and institutions is declining.
  6. Technology businesses are acquiring ‘ready baked’ communities.
Quote from Stuart Bruce in CBM Guide
What is Community Based Marketing (CBM) Best Practice Guide

Guild argues there is a strong business case for online communities which can be used to support a variety of business objectives.

  1. Thought leadership to drive inbound leads.
  2. Extending the value of your content marketing and events.
  3. Creation of a reputational moat and mobilisation of fans and advocates.
  4. Engagement to improve customer retention / reduce churn.
  5. Revenue generation through supporting recurring revenue models.
  6. Revenue generation through the creation of new revenue streams.
  7. Premium customer service for top customers.
  8. Market / customer / audience insight and intelligence.
  9. Impacting your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.
  10. Raising investment and improving investor relations.
  11. Improving talent pipelines.
  12. Supporting Environment Social and Governance (ESG) strategy.

Ashley’s article goes into all of these points more comprehensively and the updated ‘What is Community Based Marketing (CBM) Best Practice Guide’ delves into the detail.

Quote from Stuart Bruce in CBM Guide
What is Community Based Marketing (CBM) Best Practice Guide

Connect with me on Guild

Stuart Bruce Guild profile

If you are already a member of Guild then please connect with me. If you aren’t a member (it’s free) then you should join as there are lots of interesting public relations and communications communities to join, including one that I run.

Additional thoughts on online communities

When I was asked to provide quotes for the CBM Best Practice Guide I shared some additional thoughts with Guild, which I’ve included below.

1. What are the big trends (or bubbling under trends that will break through) in community in 2023?

There are many macro political, economic, social and technology trends that will impact communities.

Some of the big political drivers are privacy and protection of data, regulation of ‘big tech’ and legislation around harmful content. Social and economic trends include the ‘great resignation’ and increasing staff costs, remote and hybrid working, awareness of and the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion. Technology trends include ever increasing cyber security threats and Web3, even if most of it is at the peak of inflated expectations or trough of disillusionment on the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Many of the most successful online communities are running on legacy platforms that originally weren’t built for private, brand or corporate communities.

The trend that I’m hoping to see is that new communities are established and grow on specialist community platforms, and even that well established communities migrate to better platforms. Existing generic community platforms have multiple issues ranging from privacy and ownership of data, to poor user interfaces and a lack of relevant analytics.

We also need to see a professionalisation in the running of communities so they have measurable objectives that clearly relate to business objectives. This needs platform analytics and the ability to export data for external analysis. It also needs the ability to integrate with other corporate tools such as CRMs.

Automation and AI also offer potential, all be it in the medium to long term rather than here and now. For large communities automation in moderation is an obvious need. However, even smaller communities could benefit from AI tools that alert members to important posts or predict the engagement of a post. That’s different to algorithms that restrict and change what users see when scrolling, but rather a mechanism for them to have a place where they can find important content they might have missed.

However, many of the benefits of specialist community platforms acrue to the owners of the community. It will take concerted effort to change the mindset of users and convince them to use a ‘better’ platform and install yet another app, rather than sticking to their familiar social media apps.

A trend that we won’t see soon is communities moving to the Metaverse. Technology such as VR headsets are still too rudimentary, expensive and cumbersome, which means they won’t have widespread adoption until they are more accessible. A good analogy is mobile phones. Smartphones existed for a decade before Apple launched its first iPhone. But technology such as the Palm Treo, Blackberry, the Nokia N95 and the Windows Mobile Xperia X1 (based on a partnership between Sony Ericsson and Microsoft) were all too inaccessible to be mass market.

2. What does Community Based Marketing mean to you? Do you have examples of best practice (your company or others that you admire)?

Today LinkedIn Groups are almost universally derided, but one of the real world communities I’m involved in grew out of a LinkedIn group. The Yorkshire Mafia LinkedIn group became so big and successful it spawned annual real world business conferences with hundreds of delegates and countless smaller events where members met each other for drinks and networking.

It’s a great example of community based marketing. The original community was online and free, but it created lots of paid for spinoffs and the real world community continues to be successful, even if the original LinkedIn community has declined along with LinkedIn groups.

Some of the best online communities are based around the concept of the MVP or most valued professional. One of the earliest online communities I remember establishing was for Sony Ericsson where we created a community of fans and bloggers who we gave exclusive access to insider information and people. Community members were able to share this externally, so gained kudos for their knowledge and expertise. One of our objectives for Sony Ericsson was being able to compete with much larger companies such as Samsung and Apple who were able to do global launches in multiple languages at scale. Our community did some of this work for us.

3. Community and Marketing – will marketing ruin everything that’s good about community?

Many people react with horror at the idea of marketing polluting online communities. They are meant to be spaces for interesting and relevant discussions free from the ‘pay to play’ pollution in social media communities. Yet, that’s not true. Private online communities can be pay to play – if the pay is people to create quality content that informs, entertains and simulates debate. The cost is time and expertise.

The new rules of community based marketing are the same as the old rules of community based marketing.

I remember a brilliant  cartoon by the talented Hugh McLeod – “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people they’d punch you in the face.”

Don’t be the jerk that walks into the bar and starts selling stuff. Be the one who tells the witty jokes and clears the table to help the busy bar staff who are too busy serving.

Most community members won’t feel it’s marketing if people take the time to become valued and valuable members of the community.

4. Is there anything else that you’d like to say about the state of community today?

Online communities aren’t new. The first generation has existed since the dawn of the internet with BBS (bulletin board services), forums and email lists. The second generation was the big public social networks such as Friendster, Friends Reunited and MySpace, later eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter. The third generation was private messaging in apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.

The fourth generation is specialist community platforms that are actually designed for community management.

The public relations industry has continually failed to understand what it’s good at and therefore has consistently missed out on taking the lead as new sectors emerged. PR professionals are expert at creating compelling content but missed out on being the first to dominate creating compelling SEO content.

The growth in private online communities provides yet another opportunity for the public relations industry to squander. Ultimately every community is about relationships. The relationships between community members and the relationship between the members and the community owner. The clue’s in the name. Public relations is about relationships which is why we should be in pole position for creating and facilitating successful communities.

It’s why we are now focussing on helping clients to meet the challenge of the trend for increased professionalisation of communities, so they deliver on tangible business and organisational objectives.

One Reply to “McKinsey declares community to be the big idea in marketing for this decade”

  1. Yes communities are a big thing but don’t always align with the core business of some brands. So in that cases is building communities truly worth the effort?

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