Marketers speak often and loudly about communities. We want to establish them, support them, organize them, activate them, nurture them, motivate them and satisfy them. A dedicated community is a major marketing asset; a critical tool in building and sustaining a brand.
But what is a community?
It’s more than just a collection of people who happen to share a favorite designer or support a specific cause. A community is a voluntary assemblage of individuals seeking connection, affirmation and validation. The most tightly knit communities oscillate at similar emotional frequencies. They are happy, sad or angry at the same things at the same time.
True community members display a strong psychological connection to the group. These adherents willingly sacrifice part of their own identities so that they can embrace and defend the community.
Regardless of the form the group takes – online, in-world, active or passive – there are some core principles that foster a sense of community. Marketers would be wise to know and understand them.
Communities must be places where members can freely address ideas and opinions that they can’t explore anywhere else. This goes beyond simply sharing a space with like-minded individuals.
The necessity for emotional safety addresses the very human need for validation and acceptance. That’s why highly functioning communities are judgment-free and self-moderated.
Members want to feel they (and everyone else) have earned their place in the group. The more they have invested their time, resources, energy and emotions into the community, they more they will continue to participate to avoid cognitive dissonance. Large investments yield strong feelings of connection and ownership.
Boundaries divide insiders from outsiders. They are what separate the community from mainstream society, allowing members to be emotionally open to the group.
Boundaries can be physical (gated communities) or mental (common experience). Communities often feature rituals, processes and traditions known only to members that serve as borders to keep the “unworthy” at arm’s length. (Think any fraternal initiation.)
The higher the boundary, the stronger the sense of community it creates. An easy way to enhance a community is to raise the boundaries to becoming an accepted member of the group. (We call that snob appeal.)
People only participate in a community if they feel they can influence that community. Notice the word “feel.” Not everyone will be able to influence the community, but everyone must feel as if he or she could wield some power.
Every community must have an explicit and epic history that members can share, like the family stories mothers pass on to their children. In a solid community, all newcomers learn the group’s narrative and their places within it.
We are judged by the communities we build, and the communities we keep. (Which is why Medallion retail is proud to be a part of meaningful creative and professional communities like Market Inspector’s “Top 40 Retail Management Blogs 2017,” Fit Small Business’s “Best Retail Blogs of 2017” and Shop!)