This post was co-authored by Bill Fanning and Aaron Strout.
A conversation I have somewhat regularly with our sales guys is the concept of whether or not a company can build an online community around a non-passion product or brand. The example that inevitably comes up is whether someone would join a community that focused on toothpaste? My guess is that 999 out of 1,000 people (dentists excepted) wouldn’t be that interested in signing up. After all, even though most of us use toothpaste two or three times a day, it’s not something we are passionate about. The same can be true around similar products such as banking, food manufacturing or feminine products.
As my colleague, Bill Fanning, likes to remind me, building a community online is not a dramatic departure from how communities are built offline. For example, Bill belongs to a group in Texas called the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (GRTU). As you can imagine, the community serves those who love fly fishing for trout. To that end, the GRTU sponsors a variety of events for members to congregate, stay informed on a variety of topics, share ideas and lie a little about the GIANT fish they’ve landed while no one was around to witness.
This offline community is quite successful in that is has a lot members who are highly engaged and purchase products and services from GRTU and affiliated service providers. You’ll note that in the case of GRTU, this offline community isn’t built around fishing poles, flies or tackle boxes. It’s around the concept of fly fishing which is a passion for many folks who comprise its membership base.
Similarly, successful online communities often share some of the same traits as a offline community like GRTU:
- First, instead of focusing on a product (e.g tackle boxes), an engaging online community might focus on a topic that people are passionate about (e.g. fly fishing).
- Second, an online community should give value to the community by educating them on topics of interest (fly tying courses, fly casting lessons etc.)
- Third, good online communities often provide a variety of ways for the community to connect — either through discussion forums, ratings and reviews, blogs or even in different channels like conference calls or webinars.
That brings us back to our original question of whether or not a successful online community can be built around a non-passion brand or product. In addition to toothpaste, the three examples I gave of products that weren’t known for their ability to inspire were financial services, breakfast cereal and feminine products. Amazingly, there are examples of successful communities that have been built around each of these products:
Does that mean you could build an online community around toothpaste? Likely not if it just focused on a particularly brand of toothpaste. It might work if it centered around oral health. Even then, it might only interest dentists and hygienists but at the end of they day, they are an important constituent of the toothpaste companies.
Rather than ask you the traditional, “what do yout think?” question, I’m going to issue you a challenge instead. In the comments, feel free to offer up any product, service or brand and I’ll brainstorm with the Powered team to come up with a relevant online community. Are you game?
NOTE: Thanks to Peter Kim for providing examples via his excellent (and now famous) list of companies engaging in social media.