Shaping the Community frame: Focus (model: t-shirt matrix)

large__7434014840Stage 7 is an important stage in the decision matrix. I am convinced that the focus, platform and content of a community will heavily influence the chance that you will have success or not. Do you remember the figure about the online community types that was presented in an earlier post? In this post all of these elements will be discussed. We are going to look what focus the community of a non-profit should have. Brand-focused or generally-focused?

In my post “Understanding Online Communities: What Types of Online Communities Are There – Part 1” the different types of online communities were explained. One distinction made was: a brand community focused on the brand and its products and a community community centred on other topics. The example of HarperCollins’ community Inkpop that was described in an earlier post shows that focusing on other topics instead of your brand and products can be very successful. But with the example of Oxfam Novib’s community Doenersnet, it was seen that focusing on your brand and the work you do, can also work out very well. This made me wonder what focus would be best for a possible community for non-profit organizations like UNICEF.

(The following part will be very focused on UNICEF. I hope these findings will be helpful for any non-profit organization finding the best way to build an online community.)

This inspired me to ask the community experts the following main question:

What is the focus of your brand community? Brand-focused or generally-focused? What is your advice for UNICEF (or other non-profits): should they focus on their charity, its mission, and the work they do or rather talk about other topics with their brand in the background?

I got a lot of different opinions on this topic. There was a lot of overlap in the answers as well. I decided to show you below some examples with arguments that represent the other answers as well.

According to Patrick O’Kofee (iFroggy Network), the work of UNICEF should be the focus. “You can share initiatives and details about them. You can provide ways for members to share their initiatives with their networks. To encourage people to engage around those initiatives, you can also ask for feedback and responses and, perhaps most importantly, answer questions. But if you want people to really bond, give them areas where they can engage off topic and talk about things besides your charity as well. You will need community guidelines, of course, and for obvious reasons, you don’t want to have political or religious discussions. But, that shouldn’t stop them from discussing a movie or music. This is where people bond and where community strengthens”.

Jonathan Trenn (digital marketing strategist) agreed with Patrick and said: “Make you community issue-focused, i.e. issues that UNICEF is trying to create awareness on. There is nothing wrong with UNICEF pointing to its efforts and success stories as means of educating. They are the ones involved in the front lines. Community members can and should keep the flow of discussion going. It would be a mistake for UNICEF to continually take the lead. The organization essentially needs to play the role of gracious host to gathering, where they provide a setting in which they, when appropriate, lead the conversation, but usually let those in attendance to lead it themselves”.

John Belshe (marketing analyst) did not completely agree with Patrick and Jonathan. He stated: “You must create a community that provides value to the consumers. Instead of creating a forum for UNICEF to push their initiatives, create a community for users to meet and exchange their stories and best practices as they relate to the challenges faced by the consumers or users that UNICEF is targeting. Post quick links to items they value and encourage them to connect with each other”.

Christopher Childs (community manager) completely agreed with John. He argued: “A community that is based around what the consumer needs is always better. People will be turned off the moment they feel like they are being used and only getting brand propaganda. The fact that the community is being held on a UNICEF server, or was created by UNICEF, should be enough of a plug and people won’t forget that. My recommendation to UNICEF would be not to be afraid to take part in the conversations, but always remember that they are another voice in the conversation, not THE voice in the conversation”.

Philip Wride (social media marketer) added: “You don’t want to do the hard sell, you want to be subtle about what you do or have a specific space dedicated to UNICEF activities. The rest of the space should be open for users in general with UNICEF reps adding to the discussion, offering unique insights or experiences without the “please go an donate NOW” mentality. The hard sell will turn people off. The biggest thing to remember about communities is: a lot of the time the users own the space, not the brand, the brand is just the custodian”.

According to Zachary Chastain (IT consultant and blogger), it all really depends on your brand. “If it is a well-known brand that people like to associate with  (high-end clothing is a good example of this, sports-wear as well, such as Nike) then you can have some of the focus on your brand. Still, the most well received content will always be structured around something that interests your fans. If you actually take the time to listen to and respond to each and every one of them then you will get great results from conversational content as well. For example: What is your opinion on X? Still, it’s still best to try to keep this centred on the brand’s focus, rather than getting too abstract (i.e. “What are you doing this weekend?” or “What is your favourite colour?”).

Nellie Newman (director and advisor at interactive shops) confirms Zachary’s opinion. She answered: “If the brand is a high-affinity brand (like Nike, Apple, Bare Escentuals), engaging with a community about the brand and letting them contribute in some way (e.g. suggestions, improvements) can be very successful. Communities of relations/passion (e.g. people affected by breast cancer) generally drive themselves and brands take a back seat. Highlighting your brand as part of the accomplishments is not a bad thing either as long as it aligns with the goals of the community”.

Analysis and discussion of the results

I found it very interesting to hear all of these different opinions. When comparing all the answers (also the ones that I did not mention here) it can be concluded that the focus of a possible community can be centred on issues related to UNICEF, yet in a subtle way. Focusing on the interests of the community members will strengthen the community. Allowing your community members to go off-topic – with some nuance – is another insight that we can derive from these answers. There is an overlap in what Christopher, Philip and Jonathan say: UNICEF should be present in the community, but let the community members take the lead. Zachary and Nellie explained their answers by giving examples of high-affinity brands, such as Nike etc.

Designing a new matrix to support non-profits in choosing the focus of an online community

The results of my findings on focus inspired me to design a matrix (see figure below) that can help UNICEF and other brands decide on their focus. I call it the ‘Shirt-matrix’.

Model: T-Shirt Matrix


Explanation of the Shirt-matrix:      

Nellie’s and Zachary’s answers inspired me to make a matrix that shows the relationship between the focus of your brand and the affinity of your brand. I conceptualized it using the example of a T-shirt. The Shirt/No Shirt element symbolizes the extent to which people would like to associate with your brand. In other words, the extent to which people think your brand is “cool”. I think walking in a shirt with a huge logo of a brand on it shows the ultimate “coolness” of your brand. That is why I used a shirt as a symbol in my matrix. If your brand is a high-affinity brand, people like to relate/affiliate to your brand and would be willing to walk in a shirt with your brand logo on it. Well-known existing examples include Nike, Apple or Starbucks. Many people like to be associated with these brands and they use it to express their social identity towards others. Harley Davidson is another example. Some HD fans even go a step further than walking in a shirt with the logo of HD on it – they tattoo their entire body with the brand name. From the views of Nellie and Zachary we can conclude that if a brand is a high-affinity brand, the content on your brand community can be more focused on your brand and products. Starbucks, Apple, Nike and Harley Davidson are examples of brands that can be classified in my matrix as: Shirt (high-affinity) and thus a high brand focus in their community. Dell is an example of a brand that people also like to associate with (it is a good, well-known brand), but people probably won’t buy a shirt with its logo on it. Because Dell does have a huge base of fans of their products, they can afford to focus a lot on their brand and products. As could be seen in chapter 4, the brand community Ideastorm is very focused on their brand, product and services. Dell can be classified in my matrix as follows: No shirt (low-affinity), but a high brand focus. In chapter 2 HarperCollins’ community Inkpop was briefly described. This is an example of a brand that is a low-affinity brand – people will probably not want to walk in a t-shirt with ‘HarperCollins’ on it. They might love the books that the company is publishing – but they do not want to associate too much with the brand. HarperCollins probably realized this as well, because their brand community is not focused on their products at all. Thus, HarperCollins can be classified as No shirt, low brand focus.

Deciding on UNICEF’s desired focus with the shirt matrix

I have classified UNICEF as: Shirt, middle-brand focus. I think that UNICEF is definitely a brand that many people would really like to be associated with. Walking in a shirt with the logo of UNICEF on it shows that you care about their mission and work. For some, it would show that they are a “good person”. Given the arguments of the experts and community managers, I have classified UNICEF as middle-brand focus. I think it can be concluded from their insights that UNICEF can focus on their work, yet in a subtle way. They should focus on what the young generation interests and allow them to take the lead in a while and at the same time stay in the background in the community. Only talking about your work and encouraging people to donate will probably turn (potential and existing) members off.

I hope this post was inspiring to you!

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: internetsense via photopin cc

Photography: Philip Wilson

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