Influencer marketing, user-generated content, brand ambassadors, and the advantage of engaged communities have long been discussed, but seemingly only the top organizations in the world have been able to use those tactics to build their brands.

Traeger, a wood pellet grill (and my latest obsession) company, has a community of one million people with 350,000 user-generated posts across social media (350,001 if you count this article!). 

Lego Ideas is a community of Lego lovers who submit ideas to be turned into potential sets available commercially, with the original designer receiving 1% of the royalties. 

And GoPro is no longer just a product, but a platform for fans to share their passions and adventures. Their community has “at least 6,000 GoPro-tagged videos uploaded to YouTube every day.”

EVERY DAY, y’all! I’m happy when there are five posts in the Spin Sucks Community in a day. Six thousand is next, next, next, next, next level.

But it doesn’t have to be just the big brands who have this kind of success (though, I imagine if you get to 6,000 user-generated posts every day, you’ll quickly become a big brand). 

The 5 Elements of a Community Flywheel

McKinsey developed a community flywheel to make things crazy easy for you when it comes to community building. It’s easy to understand and even easier to implement.

According to them, the community flywheel has five elements: 

  1. First, know who your brand appeals to and what communities they are a part of.
  2. Second, pick just a few “hero products” that truly encapsulate the value of your brand to allow you to cut through the digital noise. 
  3. Third, support and bring to life these hero products with exciting and authentic brand and customer stories. 
  4. Fourth, feed the community with content to engage with and spur brand advocates to generate their own. 
  5. Finally, make it easy to transact, both offline and online. 

They say that brands that excel at all five elements—in addition to harnessing agile ways of working, core marketing technology, and analytics—generate a fast-spinning flywheel. This allows you to generate conversation, engagement, and sales.

Seems easy enough, right? We’ll talk through how the smallest—and the largest—of companies can use a community flywheel to build business in just a minute. Before we do that, though, one thing must happen before you begin this work.

The Top Execs Must Be Bought In

The top executives in your organization have to be bought in. If they’re not, no amount of speed that your flywheel gains will matter. Eventually, it will putter out. We’ve worked with all sorts of organizations that say they want to invest in community, but when it comes down to it, they’re not willing or able.

This comes in the form of them hiring a community manager (maybe that’s you!) or even putting a team in place. And that person or team is not responsible for events or for marketing, but solely for community. 

Most often, leaders put someone from marketing in charge of community, typically the social media person, and it may work for a little bit, but to truly scale it and create a community flywheel, there has to be at least one person dedicated to it. 

Advocate for it, budget for it, and make it happen. Having been through this very experience myself, I know it takes time. Have patience. Do what you can in the interim, but be really ready to build your community flywheel when it’s more than just talk—the execs have put their money where their mouths are.

Now that you have some investment in both time and budget, let’s get started. 

Understand Your Audience

The first step is to understand who your target audience is. And when I say understand them, really, truly get them. Your organization cannot be all things to all people, so figure out who your best buyers are and focus on them.

For instance, when we launched Spin Sucks, the blog, we assumed it was for all communicators. Turns out, it’s not quite everyone who does communications for a living. We don’t attract publicists or event marketers. We find that those who run agencies or are 15-25 years into their career are our best advocates. I suppose that has something to do with where I am in my career, too. You always attract like-minded people.

To figure out your people, you must turn from demographics and psychographics and focus on interests and values. It might be women amateur cyclists (there aren’t many of us!); or romance novel geeks, like Colleen Hoover has done; or parents who are pulling their hair out trying to put together summer camp options for their kids, like Simple Summers has done.

The point is, your community will be made up of people who have similar interests and values, not of the brand personas of old. So ditch the demographics and get really smart about what people like, why they’re attracted to your organization, how they use your products or services, and even how they like to be spoken to.

Focus On a Hero Product or Service

The second step is to choose a hero product or service to focus on. You can always add more later, but as you’re getting your community started, you don’t want to overwhelm them. Doing it this way also allows you to create buzz around one product versus diluting the world with everything.

Right now, we are focused solely on the PESO Model™ Certification. Yes, we have other coaching programs and online courses, but to build the biggest bang for the buck, we focus our community there.

L’ange, a company that sells hair products, does a nice job with this, too. They focus most of their community efforts on their brush hair dryer (which, BTW, is my favorite thing on earth…even more than my bike) and then they let you discover their other products. But if they’re in your feed at all (sorry, men, they probably don’t appear in yours since you’re not in their target market), you’ll see all of their influencer and community work is around that one hair styling tool.

Focus on one thing and flood your community with it.

Bring It to Life

The third step is to bring the product or service to life with brand and customer stories. 

A former client of ours does a phenomenal job with this. All of their stories are on video and told from the perspective of the community member (we definitely had a hand in developing that program, but their internal team has really taken it and run with it—it’s been fun to watch them grow it). 

But even more, use content to build the values of your organization and how you live by them internally. Then share with the community and let them share with their networks. With this kind of content, you can have some fun (think Wendy’s Twitter account) and the messaging can even be provocative if it fits your brand.

In many cases, the brand content will feature the founder of the business or another high-profile executive and the customer content will feature your customers, of course. 

Fuel the Conversation

The fourth step is to fuel the conversation. You’ll do this by feeding the community with content, but also motivating them to create their own. Part of your job in the community flywheel is to create consistent content that is exciting enough for the members to latch onto and share or use it to create their own. It’s also to encourage and amplify the content of the biggest brand ambassadors—and consistently thank them for their participation. 

And, as you start to better understand your community, you can go beyond customer data to engage them. You’ll begin to understand the language they use, their natural paths to buy from you and others, and what they do outside of your community. Then your community flywheel is completely focused on the members and not solely on the data.

Make It Crazy Easy to Buy

The last step, then, is to make it easy for everyone to buy from you—both online and off. This is hard for B2B organizations and for service businesses. For some reason, we make it impossible for people to buy from us.

Lots of B2B organizations refuse to post pricing on their websites, insisting that a prospect has to do a demo to learn how much their product costs. Same goes for service providers. Even I’ve been guilty of saying, “Well, it depends on the type of work they want done.”  

But the truth of the matter is that we have a minimum retainer requirement for our agency services and all of our online courses and coaching have one price. When I realized it really was that easy, everything got posted on the website and you can easily buy from us with a credit card or wire transfer. It’s that easy.

I know it’s not that easy to convince the powers that be to change their thinking if they’re in one of the aforementioned groups, but it’s worth fighting the battle. 

Make it crazy easy for your community to buy and, more importantly, refer business to you. When you do that, sales will increase incrementally. 

The Type of Results to Expect

Now that you understand how to build your community flywheel and have hopefully taken lots of notes with ideas on getting started, let’s look at the metrics you’ll track:

  • How much of the content is user generated? For the most engaged communities, 75% of it is created by them.
  • What is the influencer engagement rate? It should be greater than 2% as you build these efforts.
  • How much of the online traffic is converted to sales? It should be greater than 4%. We have one client who can attribute 33% of their sales to these efforts. That’s a really high number, but if you aim between 4% and 20%, you’ll get all the budget, resources, and glory you need.

This is the type of work that really gets me jazzed. Starting a community from scratch is fun, but so is jumping into the middle and creating the flywheel. 

No matter where you are in the journey, these five steps will help you create a community flywheel that results in sales.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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