Communities exist wherever you look, both inside and outside business. There are groups of like-minded people who come together for a short time to support a good cause. There are groups of people who spend time helping others in user forums. There are communities that share news articles of interest and links to interesting topics. There are also people who are dedicated to helping to increase the store of knowledge on the Internet by creating articles on Wikipedia. These people don’t expect rewards for their actions.

Their desire to help others is driven by nothing more than just that—a desire to help.

There are a large number of people out there who want to help you achieve your goals, and if you want to build a community you can turn this desire to your advantage. All you need to do is find the correct people in the community and channelling it correctly.

Communities are formed when people come together to share knowledge, ideas and support each other in a self sustaining group. Communities tend to have three basic behaviour characteristics:

  • Advocacy. Members of the community are evangelists for their group and recommend products and services to other members and groups.

  • Connectedness. Community members have connections to other experts in the industry—or they know who to contact when additional help is needed.

  • Reputation. Members of the community are recognised experts in their area, they have been discovered for their skills and ability, and they have a good reputation and often a great reach across their sphere of influence.

Without these characteristics, communities often fragment and fade. The simplicity of successful communities often comes down a matter of basic trust. Community members trust other members within the group itself, and they trust other community members for their skills and knowledge within the group. The community, although often appearing to be disorganised and chaotic, actually works in an organic and simplistic way. The weak ties within the community connect with the stronger ties and glue the group together. Unfortunately, as communities grow in size, usually organically, people tend to try to impose some type of order and rules on the group.

Placing mandates, edicts or over-stringent regulations onto communities can create factions and discord within the community itself.

Sometimes the community may fragment and create spinoff groups who may work against the main community itself. These ‘special interest groups‘ are useful in some ways. For example, you might have a suite of products with a strong following (like Apple has). Apple might wish to encourage the special interest groups that form for the iPad to become completely different groups than those formed for the iPhone.

Segmenting groups into special interest groups can vastly increase the size of each community, whilst maintaining a consistent messaging framework across the product suite.

There’s a great deal of knowledge within a community that can be harnessed if you wish. Knowledge can be spread really effectively if you can find your community initiators and use their knowledge and desire to help you.

An initiator is someone—perhaps a group—with a real passion for their subject.

Furthermore, your initiators will have a desire to broadcast interesting material. These initiators may have created their own area on the web, often a website or blog, which is filled with information and often stored purely for their own interest. They will have collected as much information as they can, store it on the web and add to the store whenever they get new snippets of information. With search technologies and web crawlers the site will become visible to others and more and more people will become aware of the knowledge repository on the site.

If the site has Web 2.0 features embedded which allow comments then users will start to contribute and interact, and the community will start to grow.

Some hobby sites have come to the attention of corporations which acquire them in order to add to their advertising revenue stream. The Pistonheads forum in the UK, which is a place for car enthusiasts, is a good example of a hobby site which has come to the attention of the media.

Creating a community

If you want to create a community from scratch and don’t currently know who your community initiator could be, then you might like to think about a new and oblique approach to community-generating activities.


  • For example, you might have a website with a new community upload photo stream that you’d like to draw users’ attention to. You could approach various photographic hobbyist sites or clubs, perhaps to encourage a photography competition. You could then have the results shown on your website. This would bring new visitors to your website from the hobby site who may not have been aware of it before.

  • You might have a new product that you’d like to test on a different set of users who are not participating in formal beta downloads of technical support forums. One of your approaches could be to target other communities. You could include communities who are advocates for similar or competing products to yours and you could start to engage with them on a regular basis. You may not be able to convert them to become product evangelists for your new product, but you will be able to tap into a community with an existing voice.

  • You can try to use a new stream of advertising to find your new community volunteers. You could ask questions in existing communities like ‘Would you like to become part of a customer panel or an opinion panel?‘ or ‘Would you like to road-test some new products?‘ You could watch the responses, both positive and negative, and see who appears to be the influencer in the community. Your initiators will often respond to your initial query in order to further their search for more knowledge.

You may not find your ideal initiator right at the start as the embryonic community emerges. If you give the community time, it will evolve organically and your new community initiators will drive the community forward for you.

Community buzz

There are many different ways to create buzz about your product or brand. The challenge for a lot of businesses is that they may not have the benefit of a large corporation like Google or Kraft Foods behind them. However, with the word of mouth network, individuals can sometimes create enough buzz on their own to sway a whole industry. It’s quite interesting to realise that the major industries and corporations don’t always have the largest voice when buzz is created through use of the network and tools.

The voice of the community can often drown out the official message from the company.

Sometimes one person alone can have enough influence amongst his peers and connections to create significant buzz through his social network and his friends of friends network.

An example occurred on Facebook over a period of 2 weeks in December 2009. In the run-up to Christmas every year there is a battle for supremacy in the music industry. Each music company wants its Christmas song to make it to the top of the music charts. For several years now, the reality TV show, X Factor, has achieved this in the UK. The winner of the TV talent competition is more or less guaranteed chart success. Simon Cowell, who has great influence in the music industry, is one of the judges and also owns the rights to the TV show.

When it became apparent that again, for the fifth year running, the Christmas number one record was going to be the winner of X factor, Jon and Tracy Morter, from Essex in the UK, decided to protest. The Morters used Facebook to create a group dedicated to trying to stop the winner of the X Factor competition from reaching in the top of the charts. They wanted a music group called Rage against the Machine to get to number one instead. This seemed an impossible task. The X Factor winner in 2009, Joe McElderry, looked certain to rise to the top of the charts. What the Morters tried to do was to encourage users through Facebook to buy a different record.

Rage against the Machine is a punk band from the US who had released a single which was not expected to do very well in the UK charts. However, Rage against the Machine did have an advantage over Joe McElderry. Their single was only available to purchase as a download from the web. Unfortunately Joe McElderry’s marketing team either didn’t want or had forgotten to make this purchasing method available from the start. This omission gave Rage against the Machine a huge advantage.

The Facebook group grew to over 700,000 fans in a very short time. There were 200,000 fans on a backup Facebook page and over 500,000 fans on the main Facebook page. Both pages had the same message and the instructions were really simple. The tactic was to simply buy a copy of the Rage against the Machine single online within a limited time window. So from 13 to 20 December 2009, every member of each dedicated Facebook group was encouraged to purchase one copy of the single from the web. The simplicity of Facebook and the friends of friends system meant that all members of the Facebook page were encouraged to pass on the message and to persuade others in their networks to buy the downloaded single too. This simple method worked very well indeed.

Rage against the Machine reached number one in the UK charts on 20 December. The band were completely unprepared for their massive and unexpected success in the UK and have promised to do a free gig in the UK in 2010 as a thank-you for all the support from Facebook fans. Simon Cowell was gracious in defeat. He called Jon Morter to congratulate him on his Facebook campaign. This upset made the news everywhere. Jon found himself thrust into the limelight both in the UK and in the US, giving interviews in both countries explaining why he did this. This simple effect proves that people power effectively transcends geographical boundaries when a campaign is done well.

This demonstrates just how significant the word of mouth network is. It demonstrates the power of connections. Friends who connect with each other can share information and create enough buzz to have a greater network effect than traditional push. This particular collaborative effort has been achieved without the huge amounts of work that would have been needed in the past in order to rally a huge group like this.

Facebook has become the mobilisation tool of the 21st century.

When groundswell happens like this, it proves that the ordinary person, the man on the street, does have an influence and does have a voice after all.

Together with the power of connections and crowd sourcing, it’s a rather powerful voice’as Facebook has proved over and over again’