Step 3.2: Is your online community brand or community led

Brand or community?

What came first the chicken or the egg? When the question is the brand or the community the answer is normally simpler. But, this is not always the case. Some communities don’t have a commercial brand at their heart. For example, this can be seen with charity communities. But even a charity has a brand and a purpose. One way of looking at community growth is to consider whether the community is brand lead (sometimes called brand first) or community lead (community first). This perspective enables us to consider the most effective management strategies.

Brand led communities

Brand-lead communities are formed around a distinct brand.  This could be brand like Starbucks, Lego or Harley-Davidson. It could also be lead by a well known person such as Rod Stryker's yoga brand, the author Derrick Jaxn or Lucy Mecklenburgh’s Results With Lucy. The core purposes of these communities is revenue generation, brand growth and customer relationship. The brand drives and shapes the community and growth approach. The community can be used to extend the brands reach beyond the current customers. This can create stronger bonds with existing customers exclusivity and a sense of belonging. 

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One of the keys to community success for brand lead communities is a clear role within the brand. Also, understanding the benefits for the key stakeholders within the company functions concerned. Good integration with the company, (especially for communication like products announcements) is vital for the long-term health of the community within the brand.  For smaller brands, the main issue can be a lack of time/prioritisation for content creation. Especially in the early development phase of the community.

Community led

Community-lead have the core purpose of supporting the community itself. They do this by providing a place to focus on the community's shared theme. Also, they provide a place to exchange support, advice etc.  An example of this type of community is Mum’s net. They may have associated brands that benefit from and support the community.

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However, they are driven by the community itself and its leaders not any brand. Generally these brands are focused on a cause or interest. Brand members are often emotionally attached to community purpose. This means that they are more willing to generate content, but also that more active moderation is needed than in a brand led community. Long term growth depends on continued relevance and the value delivered to members.  

Finally, when setting up your community you must decide whether you want it to be brand or community lead. This will have a lot to do with what the purpose of the community is. We hope this post helped you make your decision!

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