How brands can create a successful single purpose community

By Tamara Littleton

Single purpose communities, or communities of purpose, differ from other online communities in that they have a common and clearly defined goal, which community members work towards – either collectively (such as the Facebook group that propelled ‘Killing in the Name’ to the UK Christmas no.1 single), or as individuals aiming for their own targets and coming together to support each other (communities like Weight Watchers).

In fact, small offline communities have always been around – from groups fundraising to repair the church roof to student protest groups). Social media takes these groups online and allows them much wider access to potential members. People may have found it difficult to find niche interest groups in the past, but now individuals can come together with like-minded people from around the world and build their community online.

David Cushman’s blog post “Communities of purpose are the business units of the 21st century” highlights how easy it is for people with shared goals to create interest groups on sites like Facebook, exposing them to a larger audience – but the interaction of groups formed on social networks is limited by the platform itself.

Brands want to take these groups and develop them beyond the simple discussion group, and so are starting to establish their own communities away from social networks. But why the interest? Brands recognise that single-issue campaigning is extremely popular. The Hansard Society has published data charting the rise of single issue political campaigning, and polling data that shows the tendency of the young voter to cast their vote based on single issues. As seen in our own white paper “How to Moderate Teens and Tweens” cause marketing can also have a strong impact on young audiences. In short, brand marketers see the trend towards single-issue causes and are, unsurprisingly, capitalising on this trend by creating their own single issue communities (such as Pampers Village). As long as these branded communities are set up and run with the right strategy and expectations, there is no reason the community should not be a success.

How brands can create a successful community of purpose

Firstly, any single-issue community must have a clear purpose at its foundation and a clearly defined timeframe in which to achieve it. The timeframe proves a useful motivating factor when dealing with a shared goal and this combined with a strong purpose creates the ‘burning imperative’ that will keep users coming back to the community.

The community must also add value to the lives of its members (and potential members). There has to be a reason to come to the site, from exclusive content or offers to the chance to connect with others who share the same goal or purpose. What your community offers has to be unique in someway. As Richard Millington says, “having a good product is not a good enough reason to create a community”.

To remain credible, the community should be relevant to the brand. For example, it would not be credible for a chocolate brand to set up a community for slimmers, even though the two issues may be targeting a similar audience demographic.

Keeping the timeframe in the mind of community members – for example, by setting smaller goals that lead to achieving a bigger goal – helps to motivate members and create avid fans that may become even more valuable to the community as “power-users” and advisors.

Lastly, brands need to set clear guidelines for the community. People work best when there is some structure to their environment, and although censoring contributions would be ill-advised, moderating them is a vital component of a strong, durable and successful single-issue community.

For more advice on creating and maintaining a branded community of purpose, see eModeration’s new white paper, Communities of Purpose.

About the author

Tamara Littleton is CEO of eModeration, a moderation and community management company which works directly with clients including MTV, ITV, Lifetime Games, 02, and ESPN as well as with agencies such as Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, Euro RSCG, Wieden and Kennedy and Publicis. She is a member of the Home Office Sub Committee advising the British Government on moderation of communities to help safeguard children, and is currently revising the guidelines with the Moderation Sub Group as part of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. Tamara was also the Chair of e-mint (2006-2007), the online community for community professionals. She regularly speaks at conferences and contributes white papers to aid learning and development within the social media industry.

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