“Business Is A Community:” David Spinks of CMX Media on the Value of Early Adopters

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an early adopter community to grow a successful brand – one where members feel appreciated and heard. Community architect David Spinks is an expert at leading vibrant and robust communities. He is the founder of CMX Media, a hub dedicated to building stronger community-driven businesses. While speaking at Startup Grind’s 2017 Global Conference, he questioned our traditional notions of what a community is–and what it can be. Building strong relationships with your early adopters, he says, is key to growing your fan base in the long term.

The Community Engagement Cycle

“Community is about consumption and contribution,” says Spinks.

Humans naturally choose to join various groups and subgroups predicated on anything from music tastes to sports teams. We possess an innate need to belong, even within the business realm. If you examine any business, you’ll often find it’s the intersection of several communities.

But before you can think about how a community can propel your brand forward, you need to figure out how to engage with it in the first place. How? Through the iterative process of giving and receiving. Spinks terms this process the Community Engagement Cycle and names its four facets: Identity, Trust, Participation and Reward.

Spinks says the first thing you must ask is how do your customers identify with your brand? Do they like you? Do they love you? Do they want to be you? You then need to establish a level of trust, both in your brand and in other community members, to retain your customers. Once you establish initial trust, customer participation will build up over time. Finally, providing consistent value and rewarding your customers for their loyalty will reinforce your brand identity, driving them to consume and contribute even more to your business.

Building the Foundation with Early Adopters

With the engagement cycle in mind, you can lay the foundation for your community. Spinks identifies 6 steps to this process:

1. Determine who your first members are

Choosing the right members for your burgeoning community is almost as important as choosing your team. These first members should be highly curated and influential in their own social networks. They occupy a unique position as a bridge between your brand and future customers.

 2. Get buy in for your community

The more personalized you are with your community, the more hands-on and involved with your brand  they will be. The end goal is for your brand identity to be a part of a customer’s personal identity. For example, you could recognize an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) who will represent your brand’s spirit. These individuals strengthen your brand and help you cultivate a community presence offline. They also help rally new members to get on board; a strong community identity entices new individuals to join in, growing your brand.

3. Bring them together

Ideally, you should connect with early adopters in person. You could host a casual meet-up or even a dinner party. Whatever the event may be, the idea is to foster in-person experiences in order to form intimate, stronger bonds between you and your initial following. Once you establish trust with early adopters, your business will gain the credibility necessary to attract new members organically.

4. Collect feedback

Ask for their opinion. Make them feel special.

“What do you think of this feature? Does this product meet your needs adequately?” our early adopters should not only be engaged, but feel accountable in building your brand. If you solicit their feedback on your product before you launch it or tweak it, they’ll feel personally invested in its success.

5. Ask for referrals

People often tell you what they think you want to hear. To counter this, solicit more honest feedback by asking for referrals. You will then get a true response. If they agree to recommend, congrats! You have one more potential user. If they refuse, then you will have valuable, honest feedback about your product.

6. Give intrinsic rewards

Extrinsic rewards, such as discounts or other perks, are important. But these rewards can only go so far. Intrinsic rewards–such as recognition from your brand or the satisfaction of having meaningfully contributed–can be a more effective motivational tool. Intrinsic rewards help align your customer’s sense of belonging and purpose with your brand. It could be a shared sense of ownership or a safe space to let their voice be heard. By validating their presence in your community, you encourage their desire to play an active role in it.

“It’s not them and then us. It’s we,” Spinks concludes. Behind every successful brand is a loyal following. If managed well, your early adopter community can be your company’s biggest asset. By motivating them to not just consume but also to contribute, you build a strong foundation from which to scale your organization.

Ready to build stronger relationships with your customers? Read about integrating Marketo into your workflow.