Community is the New Advertising

By Courtney Feider

There is a sea-change afoot in the way the world connects. For a couple of years, this has been brewing in the share economy, manifesting in an explosion of B-Corp businesses, and surfacing in self-published dialogue via social media. In 2016, it’s reached a tipping point and has taken root in the business world, showing up in corporations and small and medium businesses in equal measure.  

Here’s today’s truth: Healthy, sustainable organizations depend on an established community that trusts them. Businesses used to communicate through third parties to their marketplace and with flashy, sexy advertising campaigns. But now “provocative” is defined by the depth of connection an organization has with its core audience.  Specifically, companies are striving to connect with the two audiences that rule both conversation and purchasing behavior—women and millennials. These groups value connectedness and authenticity. Most importantly, they will loyally and repeatedly refer trusted brands to their friends, family, and their entire social worlds.  

Here’s the heart and soul of what they want.

Transparency Must Be Total
The audience wants to know what’s happening.  They want to know what makes your heart pound; how you felt when someone you love kissed you yesterday. They relate to humanization.  And they expect—nay, demand—this across all ranks, from the top leader to the new intern.

Start With Personal Conviction, Then Mission and Brand
Your audience is seeking brands they want to “represent” with their recommendations on social media or in their personal networks. They are looking for a personal creative voice from the leader at the top of the company. They want clarity, but they also want accountability and someone to turn to (or blame) if things go badly. If things do go badly, they want the company they believe in to take the blame with honesty and talk about the remedy and the path ahead. Advertising isn't linear anymore.  It's an endless circle.

Not Loyalty Versus Authenticity, Loyalty Via Authenticity
Today’s consumers want to see companies evolving, changing and making progress. They support companies whose choices serve the health and the good of the brand, and do so with heart, authenticity, and a focused respect for the creative humans who push the boulder up the hill every day. They want to know that a company takes care of its people. If the peek behind the curtain doesn’t reveal what they believe is being represented, prepare for the audience to revolt. Don’t feign authenticity. It will not go well. 

Playground Rules Rule
The simple path to success in the world of the Communication Community is really based in simple playground rules: Be nice. Be honest. Be sincere. Share. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Say you’re sorry.   

Successful modern businesses will retreat from complexity, return to basics, and build something new and fresh based on daily practice of simple human kindness. Create, develop, and invest in your community and exercise compassion and respect. Ego and self-interest are out. Today’s best boost for the bottom line is genuine connection.  

Begin with the steps above, and then operate with a balance of heart and returns-oriented action. When in doubt, analyze the vision, mission and brand and make sure you're still on target. And in all cases, relate back to the humanization factor—make it real, make it tangible, make it emotional, and communicate with detail and personality.  

Massive amounts of visibility and transparency are entering our world and that quality is here to stay. Attention spans are short and getting shorter. Treat your relationship with your audience like your personal relationships. Value them that highly, and you'll get sincere loyalty, long term adoption, and a growing community of vested supporters as a result.