If you want to build your brand with social media, it’s time to do a gut check: would you rather try to get share of voice in the sprawling country known as Facebook, accumulate 5 million passive followers on the wonky Twitter site — or engage with 35,000 passionate brand advocates on a site you own? Increasingly, brands are investing into their own communities. According to Booz & Company, nearly half of the top 100 global brands host a network of their own, including big names like Procter & Gamble and IKEA. iCrossing has been exploring the value of building a smaller but passionate community on your own site through our relationship with music mogul Jermaine Dupri and Global 14, a community that Dupri launched in January 2011. Together we’ve learned five crucial lessons about how a brand can create a closer relationship with its audience by sharing content and being personal.
Dupri launched Global 14 in 2011 as a community for people who share his interests in topics ranging from fashion to hip-hop. Since then, Global 14 has blossomed into a tight network of 35,000 members, who have developed their own specialty groups such as the “Pump It or Dump It,” where aspiring musicians post their work for other members to judge. The site is especially popular among women and the black community. Even though he has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, Dupri decided to create Global 14 because Twitter offers no meaningful way to interact with people, and Facebook is too impersonal and indifferent.
He’s successfully building a connected brand through Global 14. But do the experiences of a celebrity apply to any brand? To be sure, not everyone is a celebrity like Jermaine Dupri with access to people like Mariah Carey to spice up their social communities. And there is no template for success. But if you choose to create your own community, we believe some lessons Jermaine Dupri has learned apply to any brand.
1. Make sure your audience is ready
Dupri knew his was ready because of the response he was getting from blog content he published before formally launching Global 14. If you already operate a company blog, take a hard look at your metrics and volume of conversion occurring. Are people engaging with you? Which posts receive the most reaction? And you should survey some people who follow you already: would they be willing to join a community? Why or why not?
2. Be a content machine
As pundits such as Forrester Research have noted, brands need to act as publishers of real-time content in order to engage their audiences by being useful to them. Doing so means creating a strategy and publishing approach just like a magazine does.
It’s not unusual for people to join Global 14 because of Dupri’s reputation for music. But Dupri focuses especially on visual expression and Global 14 community members give him real-time feedback on his posts. These moments of discovery and interaction help him stay in touch with the cultural zeitgeist and fuel Dupri’s own creativity. But there’s plenty of musical content to be found, too.
It’s especially true of high-ranking executives of a brand: people do care about those little moments in your personal lives that make you human. And they will crave content at a corporate level if your content engages. For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts does an excellent job sharing images of its products in unexpected places – something we call photobombing your brand. The approach of Dunkin’ Donuts can be applied easily to a site you own.
3. Apply the personal and genuine touch
Dupri is a busy man as CEO of So So Def and Global 14. And yet – he is probably the most active person on Global 14, interacting with the members practically 24/7. And we are not exaggerating. You don’t need to be a celebrity to be personal – but your top executives should act like one. If you’re going to create a branded community, make sure your own high-profile stars take time to interact with your community. Your CEO should play an active role, not just your community manager.
4. Be the match the lights a community fire
Global 14 is a highly engaged community that was founded by a celebrity – it’s not a celebrity site. Yes, Dupri shares a lot of content of his own on Global 14, but community members share some serious issues with each other, including a passionate discussion that erupted shortly after the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Orlando. So whether you’re a Martha Stewart operating your own site or a CEO building a company brand, as yourself, What would happen if I went away? Would a real community exist without me based on the conversations occurring among members, not just with me?
5. Create a marketing and communications plan across paid, earned, and owned media
How will your community support your brand? How will you use your existing social media ecosystem to raise awareness? For instance, Dupri uses his Twitter account to create traffic for Global 14, he has launched a Global 14 Google+ account, and pursuing earned media opportunities.
He’s also done something you cannot imagine, say, Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo ever attempting: in 14 days, he visited 14 cities (primarily in the Midwest and South) to host special parties with the express purpose of introducing Global 14 members to each other in person. The 1414 Crown Life tour, sponsored by Crown Royal, was so successful he’s going to do a West Coast encore in 2012.
Finally, he’s extending the Global 14 brand by creating thought leadership for marketers.
As it turns out, Dupri has tapped into a growing interest in smaller, more engaged communities, especially those that share content visually as he does.
Facebook and Twitter are about scale. Global 14 is about relationships. It might be time for you to start thinking about creating relationships on your own community.