Regardless of the industry your online business is in, all brands ultimately have very similar processes and structure towards their growth goals. It is pivotal for every business, both online and offline, to understand your product in order to differentiate it from the rest of the market and establish a clear mission, vision and value set as a foundation for the brand to grow. The relationship and connection you have with your community is one of the best approaches to ensure your customers that you are involved and are sensitive towards catering to them with utmost awareness and understanding.
James, former GM of Airbnb UK and Europe identifies 4 core values that have helped Airbnb set up a strong root towards its’ community growth.
- Provide ability for your customers to understand and identify your brand and its uniqueness. You must ensure that your brand is well represented to your employees and the company, so their understanding and relevance reflects onto your customers.
- Uphold and support your company’s mission and relate to its culture with genuine belief and sense of passion.
- Take risks and work hard to meet your company goals while leveraging your strengths to ensure any obstacles are overcome.
- Embrace the adventure and be prepared for whatever the outcome may be.
Get Your Community Involved in Your Decision-Making Process
When focusing beyond your employees and company, it is important to stay close to the feedback that comes from the external party, that is the community that relates with your customers. The most opinionated feedback and ideas are generated through the voice of the external community. The community can really be the most effective and genuine marketers in building your company’s process as someone who consumes the product, than the people who work for you.
“It is important to identify how you can engage your distinct community in the direction of the company and how the product fits”
James McClure, former GM of Airbnb UK and Europe
Focusing on the community’s ideas in the core of your decision making and transforming some of your brand values to help the people in your community realize that they are included is a big part of Airbnb.
Not every business will be able to fund big budget ads, and even if you could, it would help your business to get that special affinity of your existing community by having your marketing be more than just pushing the product. And instead, find like-minded people who are already there.
Overcome Challenges With Your Community, Through Your Community
As a great but also controversial brand that is doing something new in a space that is also old or highly regulated like housing and space, Airbnb has naturally faced many government-imposed laws and regulations that were put in place to protect the community. Abiding such statutes were more important for the company than maximizing short-term profits at the community’s expense. However, collaborating with the community and regulators has brought the business more success and potential in the long term than it would have if they pushed towards short term gains. As James puts it well, your end goal for any business should be to get to the top of what you are trying to achieve, not to get to the intermediate way station.
What you could do in one country or city in comparison to another can be very different in terms of regulations as well as the expectations of the consumer and community. Therefore, as a brand that is focused on growth, you should be adaptable and open to accommodating the demand and supply in the best possible, or rather acceptable form.
All the positives that come when engaging and building with the community are great, but you should also be open to trying and working out the best response to when things go wrong. It is important to be honest, transparent, direct and represent your brand in a tone in an understanding manner to clear the challenges. Be open enough to tell what is happening, what has been done wrong and what you are going to do about it regardless of whether the situation is handled publicly or privately.
A common mistake that is made when working on community engagement is assuming you can bucket your community into one single person. Unfortunately, you will have a variety of personas that will be using your product or service and you should be able to differentiate and tailor to them accordingly. Accommodating a wider reach would naturally build a larger community.
Reward and Connect With Your Community
A combination of social media, emails and blogs are good ways to keep your community up to date. The content you share does not necessarily have to be on selling your product, but around the space your business is in. That way you can increase community engagement by educating them about your brand’s expert areas. Even though they may not be using your product or service at the moment, when the need arises, they will naturally relate your brand with it.
Other than the above channels, Airbnb keeps their community connected through offline groups such as community clubs in major cities of operation and host forum with country or city specific pages that includes moderators who help answer any questions the people might have. Eg:- Pairing new/first time hosts with experienced hosts to help them adjust and familiarize themselves on how things work.
When you are starting to build a community or looking to improve your existing community, take a look at other people/brands that have already established great communities, even if they don’t seem too relatable. The most important factors to consider would be 1) Does the brand share similar values to your brand? 2) Do they have a community you admire? 3) Is there a way you could collaborate with them to work out something fun for your community?
For example, Lego was opening a new museum in Denmark and Airbnb was able to arrange for their best hosts to have a stay over before it opened. Such initiatives really help your community to have a good time, reward their efforts made on behalf of your brand and encourage others to become a part of your community or to be more engaged.
Further, people can be quite competitive and drawn towards recognition. For example, a reward system such as giving the Superhost title to hosts that had high review scores, very good response rate, etc was a good strategy that was implemented by Airbnb. Likewise, devise a method to improve your engagement, give them better access to your products and team that is a bit more thought through than just offering a discount.
Focus On Your Growth, Not Your Competitors'
When you are trying to do something new or trying to grow your brand, there will always be similar brands that will piggyback on your success and credibility to grow their own business. However, if you are in an emerging stage in your business, or the overall market is growing, it is more important to focus on that and remain on the path to reaching your goals than trying to eliminate your competition.
Most of the time, when competitors try to invade your domain, they would not have a proper idea of how to handle the challenges, regulations, customer support and other factors that arise in your area of expertise. Therefore, it is important that you are confident and trust that your target audience wants something more than what your new competitors are offering. On the other hand, when there is more competition for the space that you are in, it means that you are on the right track, and it may increase the demand for the overall market, which will ultimately be a benefit for you.