Publicis Groupe's MediaVest has completed a major research project on social communities and how marketers can effectively tap into them.
The shop is currently presenting the research to clients in the hope they will embrace community-based strategies -- through online and offline media -- that strengthen ties to consumers with their brands.
Despite all the talk (and massive media coverage) about social media, less than half of the agency's clients devote resources to marketing to communities, said David Shiffman, senior vice president, research director, MediaVest. "And some of it is almost by accident, without clear thinking around what the community is all about," he said.
And doing it is not as easy as it might sound, Shiffman said. There are different rules of engagement for almost every community, he notes, and marketers won't succeed unless they know the rules and abide by them.
Ironically, one of the key takeaways from the research, said Shiffman, is that clients "have to think of themselves as members of the communities, not marketers. Clients have to understand how things get communicated and shared" within individual communities. "You have to understand what people are trying to get for themselves."
And, Shiffman added, "there has to be a true value exchange" between the brand and community. "You have to give to get," he said.
The research found four basic reasons why people participate in communities, including simply wanting to belong out of a sense of relatedness. Also, members want to make difference; fulfill certain needs and share emotional connections, the last perhaps being the best bond builder.
"Every marketer ought to be doing it in some form," said Shiffman, in regard to community-focused marketing. Executions can and ought to go well beyond online social networks, he said. "Every media is social now," he added.
That said, digital technology has been a huge driver of getting people more involved in communities than ever before. "Technology has been enabling deeper and more frequent connectivity," Shiffer said. "It's easier to find communities because the technology allows it. Barriers no longer exist, and you don't have to get together face to face."
Shiffman said the research uncovered some fundamental guidelines to help marketers successfully tap into communities. Among them: "be relevant and authentically connected and symbiotic in all you say and do." Also, "behave like a human and follow the rites and rituals of membership."
Long-term commitment is essential, he said, "making a difference to the group and it members."
The research was qualitative and involved in-depth interviews and focus groups with nearly 100 community leaders and organizers, as well as sociologists and anthropologists.