This year, I watched Genevieve Mazzeo of ConAgra Foods give a presentation about how her company is creating community around brands such as Slim Jim. I remember being surprised to learn that more than 400,000 people were part of that brand’s Facebook community — and even more amazed to learn that posts on the brand’s Facebook wall routinely draw hundreds of responses. After all, how much can you really say about beef jerky?

Of course, the answer is that the Slim Jim community isn’t really about beef jerky. It’s about sports and games and general guy culture. Sure, there’s talk about jerky, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. The brand understands a) what it’s customers are interested in and b) where it fits into that conversation. It’s something that all great social media brands strive to achieve — to reach the point where the brand is synonymous with a larger conversation.

  • Coca-Cola recently sent three people around the world to learn more about what makes people happy in other cultures. What does that have to do with soda? Coca-Cola isn’t in the travel business, but it does want people to associate their product with good times.
  • Kodak doesn’t just talk about film, it talks about photos and movies in a really holistic way that drives home why images are important.
  • Pfizer faces steep regulations that keep it from talking about its products, so it built a conversation around science and progress that doesn’t run afoul of regulators but still fits the feel of the brand.
  • USAA is a financial-services company with all the usual products and services, but it caters to the military and their families, giving it a natural common point of reference that becomes part of everything the brand talks about.
  • Sharpie makes permanent markers — not exactly a hot topic. But the brand knows that artists love Sharpies. And Sharpie loves them right back.

I meet people at conferences all of the time who think their companies aren’t very interesting — especially if the brand isn’t consumer oriented. They feel like no one would ever want to talk about their product or service, so there’s no point in their company joining Facebook. But they’re selling themselves short. There’s a larger conversation out there that their brand can take part in, once they find the niche that grants them access. Ask yourself:

  • What do my customers love?
  • What do they worry about?
  • What excites them?
  • What is my brand’s relationship to those things?

Once you know what kinds of conversations your fans are having, you can find a niche that allows you facilitate that existing conversation — even if your brand is always on the periphery.

How are you getting your fans excited? How are you joining their conversations?

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9 Responses to “What all great fan communities have in common”

  1. Angela Neal says:

    Great article Jesse. I love those examples.

  2. Andrew says:

    Find content in the culture surrounding your product.

    Love it.

    They have your product in common, sure, but what else do they have in common?

    Great framework for thinking. Another well-done post.
    My recent post 5 Future-proof Ideas For Your Website

  3. corecorina says:

    Great article with some good points about leveraging what makes a fan a fan – PASSION. We've become less of a brand, and more of a means to engage with their passion ( = Music!)

    I work with the 250,000+ member strong community for Supernova – our common bond? We all love music, and supporting new music talent in our local scenes. This helps get fans behind their friends and local music bands, but connect globally to a community of music listeners.

  4. Great post, again!

    It is a challenge for some brands to find one or two unifying themes that they can use to anchor their connections with customers/fans in. The questions you suggest are an awesome starting point and could be revisited often to ensure alignment.

    I like the questions because they really are asking about values and I think finding shared values are the foundation that started relationships and the glue the keeps them together. Liz Strauss has a great post about this http://www.successful-blog.com/ too.
    My recent post The Growth of Social Media – New Infographic by SEJ

  5. DavidASantos says:

    What about fan pages. Brands, people know about and will "like" regardless of activity, but author pages are a little bit harder to throw out there.
    My recent post Twitter Tuesday: Facebook Feedback..What's Yet to Come!

  6. Becci Arbour says:

    Another great post!

  7. For me, no business is ever boring or hard to sell. It's just a matter of marketing strategies, and you've simply pointed out one of the most critical but sadly often-forgotten steps: get to know your market very well and capitalize on that knowledge.
    My recent post Who’s Who in the Mobile Internet Industry

  8. [...] it. You’re trying to sell something. You’re actually trying really hard. Now stop. As this article explains, what all the best fan communities have in common is that they’re all involved in a [...]

  9. @amyminchin says:

    Great post, Jesse. You make one of the most important points that people (myself included) who are new to using social media for business need to understand and keep top-of-mind as they begin to engage stakeholders and create conversation. It's not about the product. It's about the people and businesses you serve and what is important to them. Less talking, more listening.