🐚 The Salty Shell: How I Created a Transformational Approach to Community

Published about 1 month ago • 5 min read

The Salty Shell

Welcome to 🐚 The Salty Shell. Was this forwarded to you? Anchor your spot here.

I’ve always believed that the true measure of a brand’s vitality isn’t only found in analytics but in the depth of its relationship with its community.

Numbers tell a part of the story; the full narrative unfolds through genuine interaction and understanding.

From focus groups and personas to advocates and influencers, there are a multitude of ways to learn about your consumers and community – but how, why and what’s most impactful? I’ll tell you, but first, let’s get a few terms straight:

Marketing personas are a superficial and stereotypical representation of a target audience segment. They often oversimplify and miss the fluid and evolving nature of real community members.

Speaking of personas - I get into this on my new podcast with Kevin Berry that launches today 👀 The link will be on socials when it's live - couldn't pre-publish/link here 🥳

Focus groups have their place in market research, offering structured insights into consumer behavior. I think it’s a sterile and calculated approach that fails to capture the spontaneous, authentic experiences and preferences of participants. It’s a snapshot influenced by group dynamics, rather than a deep dive.

Focus groups and personas cannot capture the depth and complexity of real community dynamics.

Advocates are your brand’s loyal customers who genuinely love your product or service. They may not have the massive following of influencers, but their recommendations are deeply trusted within their personal networks. Advocates share their experiences out of genuine satisfaction and enthusiasm for your brand.

Influencers are individuals, often with significant followings on social media, who can sway the opinions and behaviors of their audience. Brands collaborate with influencers to leverage their reach and credibility to promote products or services. ⚠️ Influencers are not always actual customers of the brand they are promoting.

Community is a cohesive group of individuals who share common interests, actively engage with each other and the brand, and foster mutual support, trust, and authenticity through open dialogue and participation.

Everyone likes to preach that you need community and you need to know your audience, but what does that mean? What does it look like? I talked about how to build a thriving community in one of the first issues, here.

🧼📦 quick soapbox moment: if you are reading or posting top-level thoughts like “you need community” with no explanation, insights, or actionable items - are you really learning from or teaching anyone anything? No. You might be turning the lightbulb on, but that’s it.

Sounds like a wannabe thought leader 🙄. 🧼📦👟

When was the last time you asked your community for their opinion, and how did you do it? I don’t mean at the end of a caption or in an Instagram story sticker (we all know you’re doing that for a numbers boost on your report).

In search of deeper connections, as far back as 2010, I established new ways to connect with and learn from brands’ communities. Through community management, I identified brand advocates I’d like to learn more from. I didn’t necessarily have an agenda or an objective going into talking to them, which is best otherwise it’s a focus group. 🤢

How I Created a Transformational Approach to Community

Hangout Highlights

I held monthly Zoom (yes, Zoom existed before C*vid) meetings with our advocates – individually and in group settings. That group was always evolving, some couldn’t make it, some referred friends to join, and I continued to identify advocates on social.

There was a loose agenda, at first, to break the ice – I wanted to get to know each person on an individual basis and let them speak freely about themselves and how the brand/product/service fits in their life. It was fascinating.

You can research and stalk users online as much as you want (I’m better than Catfish the show btw), but we all know we don’t put it all out there and we filter our lives on social, understandably.

Pinpoint Passion

This was not a planned tactic. Through talking with our community, I was stunned that these burly, outdoorsy men were using Pinterest! We had everyone, who wanted to, create a private Pinterest board, share with me, and any time they were on Pinterest and saw something that really resonated with them, they would pin it. They could also upload their own pins/photos to give us a snapshot of their lives. We had Pinterest boards of our advocates that we didn’t create. Marketing personas, who?

This approach offers a unique window into what truly motivates and excites your audience.

Taste Test

What better than treating fans to an immersive experience?

At Rubio’s, we invited our advocates to the test kitchen. They got to meet Ralph Rubio, get the inside scoop on their favorite restaurant, try tacos that were in development – even some that never made it to the restaurants, and give their input, feedback, and ideas on new products all while sharing their love of the brand and feeling like VIPs. This was very informal and not focused on research, but it’s where we learned the most.

This approach goes beyond traditional marketing strategies by building trust and loyalty that numbers can’t achieve. It transforms passive observers into active participants and co-creators of your brand’s journey.

That was fun, now what?

Reporting, duh! After each session, compile reports not just on the feedback but on the nuances of these interactions. During the Zooms, I took a lot of notes on the side, not writing like crazy, more like bullet points. This is data gold for refining your strategies, content, and product development.

The insights gained from these initiatives were profound. We learned about packaging preferences, lifestyle trends, and even how our products fit into the daily lives of our users. This wasn’t just about feedback on the products but about building a community that felt invested in our brands’ journey

We’ve all been to a conference and gotten the lame swag and always wonder why it’s not better. We didn’t have swag for one of the brands I was working on, there was no need. Well, WE thought there wasn’t a need. Our Zoom buddies politely asked if we could make them swag – a specific style of t-shirt, a beanie, and whisky glasses. So, we did and they loved it! Then we started incorporating that swag into our marketing, giveaways, events, etc. We would’ve never known it was desired, or what they would actually like.

Marketing is not just about selling a product or service, it’s about building relationships, trust, and loyalty. This approach values the voice and experiences of community members, leading to more impactful, relevant, and sustainable brand growth.

Reply and tell me how you get to know your customers, target audience, and communities.

Next week: paid vs organic social and why they need to speak to each other. While you wait 👇 learn from Mindy + Brianne!

Chelsea

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Your weekly practical advice, insights and strategic guide to social media, community management, marketing and freelancing. Created from 16 years of social media strategizing and community building. My approach is simple: lead authentically, solve problems, connect, and make a difference.

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