If you’ve been following our blog lately, you know community is a hot topic.
We’ve talked you through 7 members every brand needs to build a diverse community. And we’ve explained 6 strategies for effective community building.
If you understand why your brand should build a community, that’s great. But it’s a whole other challenge to know how you can activate that community.
So we searched far and wide for some of our favorite examples of community building from brands and broke those examples up into 8 golden rules about what actions you can take to foster community.
- Encourage conversations that can take place without you
- Connect your community in real life
- Listen to your fan base
- Turn your users into your creators
- Reward users with loyalty or referral programs
- Get people to talk about your brand on social
- Ask everyone to leave reviews
- Create long-term relationships with ambassadors
Without further ado, here are 8 ways to activate your community and 24 brands that are doing it right.
1. Encourage conversations that can take place without you
Sephora’s online beauty community could be put on a pedestal as a great example of community that other brands should absolutely replicate. Sephora has created a space for customers, store employees and professional makeup artists to become ambassadors for the brand by uploading photos of their looks and listing the makeup that made those looks possible, asking questions about beauty products, join groups tailored to their interests, and more.
The brilliant part is that Sephora doesn’t have to actually do much. Customer support reps don’t have to moderate conversations or constantly reply to questions. The CMO doesn’t have to be ever-present. Instead, the space is run by users seeking an active beauty community. All Sephora needs to do is ensure the space remains available to any users who find it helpful.
An equally notable community effort from Sephora is its Sephora Squad, which consists of 24+ influencers Sephora hand-picks to share their own stories about beauty — that users genuinely want to participate in. Through this initiative, Sephora is able to embed itself into more intimate conversations already taking place online.
Toy company LEGO also runs a community, LEGO Ideas, where LEGO lovers can submit product ideas, participate in weekly challenges, share their unique creations, enter contests, vote for fellow fan designers, and — of course — shop.
The community encourages ideas and activities from everyone, from people who spend an hour building a themed scene all the way up to people who spend years pitching a new product and gathering support from thousands of fans. It’s a great way to make sure every voice is heard, and that conversations can naturally flow between users.
Oh, Harley Davidson. There are few brands in the world that inspire as much affinity as this motorcycle brand — I mean, what other brands can you name that users love so much that they get their logos tattooed on their bodies?
Harley Davidson has a Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) portal on its site where loyal users can connect with other H.O.G.s in their local chapters, go on group rides together, and attend rallies with members from around the world. Harley Davidson also prints its H.O.G. magazine with reviews and member stories — infusing its fan base into every part of its community.
2. Connect your community in real-life
Even though Peloton’s streaming workout experience is primarily digital, users feel such a strong connection to Peloton that they’ll travel far and wide to gather at the annual, in-person Peloton Homecoming event in the brand’s New York studio. The event offers live classes ranging like cycling, yoga, running, and boot camp; a keynote from the CEO; and mingling with other Peloton enthusiasts — a way for Peloton fans to take their shared passion for the brand offline and unite in real-world communities.
But for users who can’t take the time or spend the money to travel, Peloton still makes an effort to bring the energy from its Homecoming event to local Peloton showrooms all across the country.
While giant events like Peloton are great, sometimes it’s best to connect users to one another on a more local level more than once a year.
Take Girls’ Night In, a weekly newsletter that blossomed into a self-care community. Each month, members from around the country — Los Angeles to Philadelphia — can join a book club in their local city over wine and snacks. This meetup-style approach is a great way for Girls’ Night In members to get to know new people with mutual interests and it only furthers the brand’s ultimate goal of friendship, wellness, and creating a support system for one another.
Entertainment brand Disney gathers people a few times per year for its Dapper Day celebration. The multi-day events offer outlets for elegant outings where fans can show off their personal flair while dressed to the nines. Attendees can visit the expo marketplace, with hand-picked vintage and contemporary clothing, accessories, cosmetics, and more. There are also workshops and live bands for dancing, as well as trips to museums and park events.
3. Listen to your fan base
Take a note from potato chip brand Lay’s, who has run three “Do Us A Flavor” contests — the latest with a $1 million prize — for the fan who came up with the next chip flavor. By crowdsourcing ideas, Lay’s can find out what eaters are really excited about, and tailor a new product specifically to them. It’s a way to tap into its community, drum up some PR, and spread social awareness when users voted on social.
Sports nutrition company Nutrabolt partnered with Mat Fraser, aka “The Fittest Man on Earth,” who won the CrossFit Games not once, not twice, but 4 times. Together, Nutrabolt and Mat launched the supplement Fraserade XTEND Elite — the highest-tier product of the XTEND lineup — where Mat contributed feedback in everything from the formula to the flavor, and even the name.
During launch, the product led to the highest-grossing sales day on officialXTEND.com ever and the product sold out within hours. Even better news: 90% of those sellouts were from new customers, proving that listening to their biggest fans opened Nutrabolt up to audiences it couldn’t reach on their own.
Retailer Nordstrom made headlines recently when it deployed developers directly to the sales floor to solve an iPad app to help shoppers select sunglasses in-store. The goal was to improve shoppers’ experiences, so the developers talked with shoppers on-the-ground about their ideas and feedback for the app. Developers then quickly built a product based on that feedback that helped buyers make a purchase decision. The result was a real-time reaction from the brand to its customers.
4. Turn your users into your creators
We’re all familiar with Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” advertising campaign. The tech titan takes photos shot by regular users and pastes them on billboards, bus stops, train stations, and even videos. The photos depict everyday activities, like scenes from a concert, swimming underwater, solitude in nature, tender moments with friends — and perhaps that’s what makes this series so special. It shows the beauty in life and reminds us that we all have the power to capture it.
Beauty brand Glossier is one of the best examples of community I can think of. In the link above, Glossier states, “Our community is a constant source of inspiration. Hear from some of them, in their own words.” Glossier regularly showcases real people, which could explain a big part of its popularity. It started as beauty blog Into the Gloss, and has since passed $100 million in revenue.
Adweek cites that in its new video, Glossier highlights seven people who are critical members of its community: Ernest who works in-store, Hannah the customer, and Paloma, a model who worked with Glossier previously. By turning real people into creators, Glossier pays homage to the people who built its brand. Clearly, the strategy is working.
Remember Red Bull Stratos? This multi-year mission was the result of a collaboration between energy drink brand Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner, a world record-setter in both skydiving and base jumping. It was the perfect partnership for an adrenaline junkie and a brand that “gives you wings.”
As the world looked on through live stream, Felix rose to the stratosphere, jumped, and became the first person in history to break the speed of sound in freefall. Redbull gave Felix a platform to do something he wouldn’t be able to attempt on his own — helping him create — and Felix in turn provided Redbull with one of the world’s most memorable publicity stunts and scientific achievements.
5. Reward users with loyalty or referral programs
The Hustle is a popular daily news digest with a fanatical following. It calls its referral program “The Hustle Ambassadors” and people are eager to share like crazy — the more people you refer, the more points you get, and those points let you access or get products and services The Hustle team admires. 4 referrals gets you into The Hustle’s private Facebook group, 10 referrals gets you laptop stickers, 25 a t-shirt, 50 socks, 100 a hat, 250 a hoodie, and 500 referrals gets you access to free The Hustle events for the rest of your life. The Hustle has set up an automated email drip sequence to encourage people to keep referring and reach their next level of their ambassadorship. This article breaks down The Hustle’s strategy in more depth and is worth the read.
The Hustle crossed the 1 million subscriber mark this year, in part because of referrals — over 10,000 people have referred at least 4 others, and some have referred a whopping 2,000. But that’s not all. When The Hustle debuted its paywalled Trends newsletter, it devised a system that rewards $50 to a subscriber for every referral. Though many brands don’t give straight cash to users for referring their friends, that may explain some of the success behind The Hustle.
Starbucks’ loyalty app is legendary. It enables coffee lovers to order ahead and pay via mobile, receive free drinks, enjoy a birthday treat (unicorn frappuccino, anyone?), and more. The app is wildly popular, and one study cites that it’s the most popular restaurant loyalty app ever. What’s more, this loyalty app is responsible for 39% of Starbucks’ chain sales in certain locations. If you’re looking for a case study that breaks down all the reasons this loyalty program is so successful, this article is a good place to start.
In April, Starbucks revamped its reward structure to include tiers, so users can receive an extra espresso shot in their drink or milk alternatives for free instead of the usual upcharge. The coffee brand also added rewards so users can buy more things, like prepackaged coffee, and now, points never expire.
In terms of retail brands, Michael Kors does a solid job of building loyalty through its KORSVIP program. There are 4 tiers users can graduate to as they gain status: Studio, Backstage, Runway, and Red Carpet. The rewards start out simple enough, with free shipping, early access to sales, and private styling appointments. By the final tier, shoppers gain exclusive access to a reserved phone line (goodbye wait times with customer support!), private events, and surprise gifts, like trending handbags.
The part I find most interesting is that customers can do more than purchase items to elevate their status. Customers receive points for submitting reviews, adding items to their wish list, and signing into the app. Michael Kors understands that the value of a customer goes beyond buying products — customers have influence in more ways than one.
6. Get people to talk about your brand on social
In my first shipment from pet delivery service Chewy for my two cats, Chewy slipped a note in my order. It asked me to share a photo of my pet playing with the Chewy box on my social media pages with the hashtag #ChewyBoxLove. This request is part of Chewy’s campaign, “Stop, box, and selfie!” which encourages proud pet parents to snap adorable photos of their fur babies — and a Chewy-branded item — for their networks to see. It’s a clever form of free promotion for the brand. Cats, dogs, and hamsters have all weighed in that it works. Just one post on Facebook from Chewy asking pet parents to join in generated 1.5K comments.Chewy understands the power of social media beyond Facebook as well. More than one customer has bragged on Reddit about an oil painting Chewy has sent them. If you want to join in on the social sharing, but you’re not sure how to take a decent pet photo, Chewy has you covered in that department as well with its blog post, “How to Take a Good Selfie With Your Pet.”
Domino’s has made waves for being one of the most innovative fast-food chains today. When it comes to engaging its community on social media there are three Domino’s campaigns that stand above the rest.
The first is Domino’s tweet-to-order system, where Domino’s regulars could order a pizza by tweeting the pizza emoji 🍕 to the @Domino’s handle. The next is the pizza brand’s #letsdolunch campaign, where the more users tweeted at Domino’s, the cheaper it made its pizzas for a mid-day lunch order. Finally, we come to its Pizza Legends website, which allows pizza lovers to customize their own pizza and then share their creations on social media. All three campaigns encouraged users to post on social media, raising awareness for the brand and creating two-way dialogue.
At last count, 6,000 GoPro-tagged videos are uploaded to YouTube each day. As a viewer, if you saw such a massive amount of footage showing people living their best, most adventurous lives — wouldn’t you want to buy a GoPro?
This isn’t quite the same as what we discussed in the beginning of this post, fostering a community of people via online forums or meetup events, where you can take your brand out of the equation and let users lead the conversation. But it’s close. GoPro set users up with everything they need to contribute high-quality content that gets other fans and potential buyers excited. And all GoPro needed to do was set up a webpage that explains how users could upload their content, a #GoPro hashtag, and a tempting call-to-action encouraging people to get started. So, fairly low-maintenance on the brand’s part, with a big community engagement reward.
7. Ask everyone to leave reviews
When you think about community, it’s easy to imagine customers at the center of it all. But the truth is, community is comprised of more than just customers — so don’t overlook the absolutely critical role that your employees play on-the-ground.
That’s why I love publishing company Simon & Schuster’s Off the Shelf website, which features book reviews from employees, authors, and editors. It also offers endless listicles of recommendations, from short and exciting reads to enchanting books for readers of magical realism.
On a smaller scale, mom-and-pop bookstores around the world have taken this approach to heart for years, offering employee recommendations for readers meandering their stores. Take Green Apple in San Francisco, which has a floor-to-ceiling shelf filled with books customers have asked the staff about the most. Green Apple also leaves handwritten index cards by certain books around the store, explaining which employees love them and why, so customers can discover something new and get excited about snuggling in between the pages of a soon-to-be favorite.
Really, this could apply to any ridesharing app — Lyft, Uber, Via, etc. — that you use, because they all work the same way. After every trip, the app immediately prompts riders and drivers alike to rate one another, creating an instant path to feedback. If a rider loved their driver, they can leave praise for other riders to see. And if the rating is low, a representative from Lyft will respond to the user quickly, ensuring rider safety is top of mind.
This provides a direct line of communication from both customers and contractors to the brand. As a result, everyone can feel heard, safe, and rewarded, building brand affinity.
Airline brand Southwest encourages travelers to leave feedback on social media — a dangerous move if angry travelers tweet their displeasure publicly, but essential to building trust and transparency. Southwest’s 24/7 “Listening Center” employs 31 members who monitor social networks for mentions of the brand and respond to thousands of posts each day, from lost luggage to heartwarming moments.
As a result of these efforts, Southwest has earned its title for responding to users’ on social media faster than any other airline, in an average of 15 minutes. For Southwest, the goal isn’t to collect 5-star reviews, but to genuinely listen to and connect 1-1 with customers.
8. Create long-term relationships with ambassadors
Rent the Runway has seen explosive growth through its organic channels, and a big reason is due to its ambassador program. The program is simple: ambassadors get a unique referral code, plus how-to resources for bringing in new customers. For each new successful customer, ambassadors receive perks, like unlimited rentals, personalized products, and invites to retreats.
Rent the Runway currently has a college ambassador program, which encourages students to “kickstart the renting revolution on your campus through social media, IRL events, and word of mouth.” The program helps students beyond making them the best-dressed though, with mentorship and career assets and marketing experience.
Ambassadors who create their own product line within a brand and rock its products in public are a brand’s best friend. Take Kanye West and the shoe brand Adidas. It’s reported that Kanye’s shoe line, Yeezy, reached $1.5 billion in sales for Adidas in 2019. But it’s not just revenue that this ambassador has helped generate. Some cite that Kanye’s influence is the biggest reason for Adidas’ comeback, its stock leaping 50% and earning the title of Yahoo Finance Sports Business of the Year during the height of this partnership.
It’s not just Adidas that takes a page from the ambassador playbook. Nike’s Air Jordan collaboration is timeless, and equally notable is Under Armour’s celebrity ambassador roster of Misty Copeland, Steph Curry, Lindsey Vonn, and more.
Audio company Beats by Dre is no stranger to ambassador collaborations. When it partnered with Justin Bieber to produce a headphone line that stood up to an artists’ standards, it caught the eye of Apple, which later purchased Beats for $3 billion. Later, when Beats launched its Power Beats Pro line, it partnered with Serena Williams, Simone Biles, LeBron James, and more to showcase how its well its earbuds stay in place — even when you’re upside down in the middle of a world-class gymnastics routine. And those same celebs regularly co-create with Beats, producing playlists they love to inspire their fans.
Beats CMO Omar Johnson knows that understanding what makes your partners tick helps build a great connection with ambassadors and the brand. In an article from Marketing Week, Johnson explains how during the Rugby World Cup, “We saw people asking [players] not to wear Beats but they said this is a company that supports me and is telling my story from my point of view so I’m going to wear them.”
Now that’s the kind of ambassador loyalty brands usually only dream of.