Does your company have a community? Here’s why they’re magic.
The swirl of reasons a customer joins a brand community can be measured, stress-tested, and ranked, but there’s another reason people join a community. It’s less science and more magic.
Illustration by Nick Levesque
What sort of transformation happens to a person when they go from being a customer to an advocate of a brand?’
What has to happen in their brain? There are motivating factors that have been tested and ranked in scientific studies, as you might expect. The reasons have been broken down to their atomic elements, which is one way to answer the question. One 2015 study in the Journal of Business Research, cited more than 300 times, identifies eleven different reasons customers are motivated to join a brand community.
Workback reader, ask yourself how many of these factors would influence you and to what degree:
- You want to influence the brand.
- You have passion for the brand.
- You want to connect with other customers.
- You want to help other customers.
- You want to have a like-minded discussion with other customers.
- You’re swayed by entertainment, fun, and VIP treatment.
- You like rewards like price discounts and access to new features.
- You need help from the community.
- You want to express yourself and share your views or opinions about the brand.
- You need the latest up-to-date information about the brand.
- Hey, you just want to be validated. The community can do that for you.
The swirl of reasons a customer joins a brand community can be measured, stress-tested, and ranked, but there’s also maybe a less scientific-feeling reason people join a community for a brand. It’s maybe less science and a little more magic: People really like it.
Joshua Zerkel, the Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana, has built brand communities throughout his career. When asked how he heard about Asana in the beginning, he puts it this way:
“I was aware that there was this thing called Asana and that people really liked it,” Zerkel tells The Workback. “Anytime there’s that sort of groundswell of excitement, there’s an excellent foundation for building a community on top of it. You can’t fake people loving what you do or what you build.”
In the past five years, Zerkel has helped to grow the Asana community from a single text-based online forum to live events worldwide. We had many questions: What does it take to start a community? What’s a real-life community event like? How do well-established companies start a community?
Below is an abbreviated conversation with Zerkel about how he built the Asana community and what business leaders can do to create their community. And also, where does community marketing fit on the org chart (“it kind of fits in between all the moments of a customer’s lifecycle,” Zerkel says.”)
How should companies think about starting a community?
I’d ask them what the main goal of the business is now: Is it to gain brand awareness? Is it to deepen customer relationships? Is it to generate more sales? Those things can be fostered via community, but they are all very different.
The main thing is to get really clear on what you’re trying to achieve. Because the challenge with community—because it’s often very new for most companies—is that it can do many different things. Whatever you’re building, stakeholders may think the most important thing to them is what you’re building the community for.
Is there a finite amount of time when a company can think about creating or fostering a community for a product?
It’s never too late. However, it is easier at certain points in the lifecycle. If you are building something new, or you’ve launched your company or product more recently, usually there will be people who really, really are excited about it before others have become aware of it.
That is an excellent opportunity to start fostering a community, even if it’s a more informal one, where you just have a group of people you’ve identified who really like what your company is doing.
You could ask them, “Hey, we’re thinking of starting a community program. What might you like to see in it? How could we help you?”
What was it like when you joined Asana?
We had this groundswell of customer love and support, but there just wasn’t a framework for people to build on that in any meaningful way. There wasn’t a way for the company to feed into this support. We had started a community forum a couple of months before I got here. And that was looked at—as many community forms are—as a customer support deflection tool.
We asked, “What are the places where they want to connect? And how do we facilitate that happening?”
I’m a marketer. I think about things through a marketing lens. And so I looked at the customer forum as, “OK, this is one channel we can use. What are the other channels? What are the other ways we want to connect people who are excited about Asana with each other?”
That led to our Asana Ambassador program for the most excited advocates. It led to the foundation of our community events series, which evolved into the Asana Together World Tour.
In the beginning, we were looking at this population of people that like this thing called Asana. We asked, “What are the places where they want to connect? And how do we facilitate that happening?”
Why are roles like Ambassador important for a community’s health?
There’s the lowercase-c community, and there’s the capital-C community. These are people who are raising their hand and want more involvement. There are different ways to look at the profile of the type of intent. People attracted to being an Ambassador have a different level of intent toward the brand than those who don’t. We want to ensure we are meeting people where they are with the programs we put together.
What makes you enthusiastic about doing this kind of work?
The part that’s really energizing is when I actually meet customers, especially those who are self-selected into our community, like Ambassadors, or those who come to one of our community events.
They talk about their connections in the Asana community in a way that feels really authentic to them. We’re not putting any words in their mouth. This isn’t a structured, user-research type of interaction. It’s them saying what’s going on for them and their experience. And for me, that is awesome.
Can you describe an Asana together World Tour event?
My old boss described it as a revival—people are so excited to be there.
People genuinely come because they’re really interested in Asana. Many of them are already using it and using it successfully. But the thing that connects them is they want to learn more.
It’s casual, educational, and valuable for the people there, and it checks many boxes in a way that is unique to the type of experience you can have at events.
Healthy communities have a “secret language” or slang. Why is a secret language important for a healthy community?
I’ve seen this from time to time in different communities that have led. I think it just creates a feeling of belonging.
In his book, The Business of Belonging, David Spinks observes that thinking like this—“this is our language; this is how we speak”—is a powerful way to indicate, “I’m part of something bigger than just me. There are other people who speak the same language that I do, and it’s special.”
And I have yet to meet the person that doesn’t want to feel special.
This article includes Asana customers, partners, or employees. The Workback’s policy is to be fully transparent about the business relationships between our sources and Asana, Inc. We have identified those instances within the article as well.