This week we’re talking about Public Relations and community! No not that NBC show with Chevy Chase (although you should check that out too).
Community is when a bunch of people untie over shared interests and common goals. Sometimes communities lives together, other times they are driven by a similar upbringing–or as Guth and Marsh prefer to call them, “geographic communities” and “psychographic communities,” respectively. Come to think of it, communities are a lot like families. There are communities you are born into whether you like it or not and ones you choose to join. Regardless of the circumstance, the concept of “community” effects how individuals behave–and that’s important to communications professionals like me!
One thing that struck me about this chapter in Issues in Public Relations, was its description of the virtual community as “a fairly recent creation.” I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, this is not the most recent guide to communications studies, however, it does show how rapidly things change in this business. Rather than focus on past instances of community relations, I’m going to look at the not-so-recent development of the virtual community.
Facebook is a community. Twitter, also a community. LinkedIn, Pintrest, Tumblr, blogger–need I say more? And within each of these major online communities, are millions of even more targeted segments. Virtual communities are an advertisers dream come true because they bring specific demographics together and make them accessible.
The best brands don’t just tap into existing communities, they create their own. In doing so, they control what and how messages are delivered to community members. I saw this concept in action at one of my past internships with a mid-sized marketing firm. For legal reasons, I’ll just call the firm MKT.
MKT created a Brand Ambassador program on behalf of a client to establish a virtual community. The MKT team updated a blog and Facebook page daily to maintain and strengthen the community. The posts ranged from random comments about the brand, to poll questions, videos, and even exclusive competitions/challenges. Unlike many other brands, MKT remains transparent throughout their communications. In a meeting, an MKT team member talked about how all the Ambassador’s knew him and even called when they had questions.
The MKT Brand Ambassador Program is the perfect example of how to utilize communities in Public Relations practices. The community gives its members positive feelings toward the brand, and as a result, the ambassadors spread the love.
Yet, I ponder…
Where should a brand draw the line of intimacy between the customer and the organization? And what are the ethical implications of Brand and Ambassadors? What can brands do to prevent overstepping their boundaries?
OR ARE THERE NO BOUNDARIES LEFT?!
Just kidding. Of course there are. Brands have a right to mediate their messages and virtual communities–or any communities really–are fair game. With that said, brands should be careful not to overstay their welcome or else they may not be invited to the next family reunion.