I was surprised by my co-workers yesterday with an office celebration for my birthday (which was technically Monday, but I worked from home that day to edit some videos and therefore wasn't in the office to receive cake, flowers and singing on my actual birthday).
Though I promise not to prolong my birthday too much longer by blogging about it repeatedly, when yesterday's offline surprise turned into tweets, Twitpics and Facebook posts, it made me want to blog about community and how companies go about building them.
This weekend, I blogged about how Anthropologie builds community by bringing customers into the Anthro lifestyle. Along similar lines, Catch Up Lady recently blogged about how Patagonia builds community for the eco-conscious outdoor enthusiast. I was also privileged enough to hear Kristian Bush from Sugarland talk about building community in a declining music industry through homegrown YouTube videos and authentic fan interactions. I think it's also safe to say that Apple has not only built a community, but a whole culture around its brand.
Yesterday's unexpected birthday celebration showed me that Ogilvy builds community by valuing its employees and celebrating them (the birthday surprise is only one example of many nice gestures). The company doesn't have to, but it does.
This gesture reminded me that community building goes beyond creative ideas and clever campaigns. Building community is about paying it forward and remaining loyal to your audiences. It's also about recognizing that your target audiences are real people who should be treated as such.
For companies that follow these principles (like the companies and band I mentioned above), marketing and PR become vehicles by which brand enthusiasts can discover, explore and glean inspiration.
For Rob BonDurant, VP of Marketing at Patagonia, building community is about creating a tribe and selling a story. The story, however, also inspires intent to purchase. Does this mean a company's goals can be reached by building good karma?
Marketers often approach me asking how to best use social media tools. They don't often ask how to build and cultivate a good community. They focus more on one-off campaigns and less on relationships built over time, an ROI which is tough to measure. And yet, I'm fascinated by the relationship of offline activities over time to online word of mouth and community building (see my blog post on how American Express builds authentic customer communities with Meetup).
As a result, I'm now inspired to explore this topic more, perhaps via a series of interviews and blog posts. Stay tuned and, in the meantime, tell me: how do you build community?