What is the best way to start a community? In “Buzzing Communities”, Richard Millington argues that creating a successful community begins with gathering the right data. Data needs to be collected on group demographics, habits, and psychographics by answering these key questions: 1) Who are they?, 2) What are they doing?, and 3) What are they thinking or feeling?
Demographics – Who are they?
Some typical identifying demographic characteristics are location, age, gender, and profession. According to Millington, a key success factor in creating communities is to create a community that is the only community of its kind (i.e. it does not compete directly with any other community). For example, even though Myspace already existed, Facebook was able to set up a community just for Harvard students, expand it to all students, and finally create a worldwide community open to everyone, which eventually surpassed Myspace.
Habits – What are they doing?
Besides understanding the demographics of your community, one must also understand the habits. One must understand how his/her community uses their time. What do they read? How much and when are they on-line versus offline? What tools or platforms do they use? What topics interest them? This is important data to collect and act upon, if your community is going to be successful.
Psychographics – What are they thinking and feeling?
Gathering Psychographic data is perhaps the most difficult task. Generally researchers look at interests, activities, and opinions, and then attempt to determine the audience’s underlying attitudes and values. Millington argues that community managers do not work at the values and attitude level because it is not their job to change these, but to pinpoint an interest and build a forum for it to be expressed. I would argue that even though it is not the community manager’s job to change values and attitudes, that it is important to understand the communities values, attitudes, and aspirations in order to serve that community in the best way possible.
Comparisons to Market Segmentation
I am finding that using Millington’s data-driven framework closely parallels the process of market segmentation. I am currently working on a market segmentation study which faces many of the same challenges as starting up a new community. If a generic demographic is chosen, say “pre-retirement age baby boomers”, is it really possible to create a single marketing campaign that will appeal to such a broad demographic? It might be better to break the broader market segment into key sub-segments (e.g. by sex, ethnicity, or aspiration) and develop a narrower, more targeted marketing campaign (or new community) aimed at a smaller group, with more specific needs. Once the more targeted campaigns were successful, new campaigns could be created for a wider audience in order to reach the broader market segment (and expand the community).
Can Small Unique Communities Still Grow up into Global Groups?
The Facebook example cited by Millington begs the question if it is still possible to do something like this today. We can see similarities with Google+, which began as community focused on “techies”, and has been expanding to become a stronger competitor in a larger arena. From a marketing perspective, global companies face similar challenges. They have a global brand they want to leverage, but in order to be successful in the local country markets, they have to effectively engage with the local culture and market to specific sub-segments within that culture. I think one of the keys to doing this may be through the use of “symbols”, as Millington called them. In today’s global environment there is a need to create a hierarchy of symbols that can be layered onto campaigns (or within communities) in order to create larger themes and eventually reinforce the global brand at the top of the pyramid (assuming that becoming bigger or “going global” is the goal of a corporation or community).
What do you think? Is it still possible to start with a very small, unique community and build it into a large global behemoth? Can the use of umbrella themes and symbols unify smaller communities and help them grow into a global community or brand?