John Tabis is CEO of The Bouqs Company, where he works on brand, strategy and tech. He worked for six years in Disney Corporate Strategy with a focus on Consumer Behavior and Brand Management. In particular, he worked on building and evaluating brand performance, the impact of technology on consumer behavior and the brand and consumer behavior side of acquisitions.
Recently, YEC spoke with John Tabis about his experiences building a community for customers and stakeholders in his business, and what others interested could learn about the process. His best advice is below.
A Strong Community Is a Strong Brand
I could write you a book on the value of building a strong community for entrepreneurs, but I’ll keep it simple: a strong community means a strong brand. Building a strong community around your business gives you the opportunity to learn and grow from customer, partner and investor insights into your business. The result: A strong, stable brand that breeds loyal consumers and consistently attracts new ones. As much as we would love to know everything about our business, good or bad, we can’t — the community is how you get better.
Community Is About Two-Way Communication
A community offers companionship and two-way communication. It’s a group of people with common interests, goals, or situations. A list of customers or subscribers, on the other hand, is just that: a static list with a one-way push of information. Subscriber lists are super important for marketing and engagement with customers, but they’re not a community. There’s little to no interaction, making that sense of community that we all strive for difficult to achieve. To build a community, the interaction has to be a two-way street. If you want to build community, foster it through open communication via customer service and social media.
Use Social Media to Communicate and Engage
My number one tip for establishing a community around or within your business is to actively communicate. Communication is key to building and maintaining relationships in life, and it’s equally important for your business. Rip down that imaginary wall that dehumanizes all companies to consumers, and do so through actively communicating and inviting feedback. Social media plays a huge role in establishing an active community around your business, and should be used as a means to get to know your customers and allow them to get to know your brand. Having a blog and consistently pushing out enjoyable and/or useful content via social channels from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest is another great way to communicate and engage with consumers.
Leverage Social Media Tools
It’s not easy to manage a large community that’s continuously growing, especially for a small company or startup, but social media tools at least makes it feasible. Leverage the native tools in platforms, and also look into cross-platform tools like Hootsuite. Also, take it one day at a time. I try to devote the first hour or so of my day to checking customer service logs and social media accounts to see what customers are saying. I firmly believe Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are an endless and free feedback loop that should be taken full advantage of to improve a business every day.
Identify Your Best Path
We started out in social media building content largely for men. And while it was great content, we found that women were much more likely to engage with us, largely because of the topic: flowers! We had great intentions to help guys be better men through flowers (and that’s still a goal of course). But ultimately, women were much more interested in the intricacies of flowers, flower arranging and our business. So we spent a decent amount of time and effort going down the wrong path. Don’t get me wrong, guys purchase from us all the time. But they tend to be less engaged with our social media content, so we had to find a different venue for engaging them. Social is all about experimentation, but with a little research we could have identified our target customer prior to going down a path on gut.
Look Outside Your Existing Community
Set realistic goals: Building a community doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to and don’t take shortcuts. Having a clear idea of what you’re looking to achieve and how you plan to go about reaching that goal will make the experience of building new communities based on existing ones much more enjoyable. Secondly, leverage the existing community as much as you can. Referrals are the lifeblood of an early stage company, and that original group can serve you well in this case. Finally, don’t force it. You can’t assume that close-knit-group-one will want to also engage around topic two. Ease into it, and don’t be afraid to look outside your existing community for the new group ambassadors.
Remain Active in All of Your Communities
Juggling multiple communities that intersect with one another is no simple feat. Remaining an active participant in each of those communities, however, will make things run much more smoothly. When managing more than one community, don’t lose sight of your brand. Stay true to yourself and your brand — your consumers will appreciate it.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.