Building a community is hardly the first thing most entrepreneurs think of when drawing up a marketing plan. Earlier this month, Christina Teo — founder of gig economy marketplace Want Things Done and Chief Community Builder for Startup Women Asia and Asia Corporate Women — spoke at Arcadier Inspire, a virtual summit and competition for online marketplaces, about how she came to see the importance of communities through her corporate and startup experiences.

The former Vice President of Asia for O2 and Chief Marketing Officer at CSL delved deep into how a community can be a valuable asset for your brand and what it takes to set up and scale a sustainable community.

1. Why are communities important?

Christina’s first encounter with the power of communities came during her tenure at telecommunications service firm O2. In the early 2000s, O2 sold its first Windows Mobile PDA phone. Christina admitted that although she didn’t invest on advertising, it was the “nerd” and “geek” community — the early adopters who like to tinker with hardware and solve bugs — that drove initial sales for the product.

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When Christina stumbled upon the startup world through annual startup event SLUSH at the end of 2016, she spoke to many women entrepreneurs and discovered there is so much to know a bigger startup ecosystem, a larger community that provides fundraising, mentorship, and networking resources, among others. This ecosystem was the thing that helped startups, even those started by young people without any corporate or business experience, to grow.

With an aim to draw on her corporate experience to help women entrepreneurs and early startups and encourage corporate women to embrace the startup world, she then built her own communities, Startup Women Asia and Asia Corporate women. “Today, communities are about value, people who share a common cause and vision, sharing, and collaboration. It’s more participative, inspirational and aspirational than ever before,” Christina remarked.

2. Purpose and positioning

“Because of social media and sociability of consumers these days, you could leverage on communities to pull them towards you. At the same time you can’t define too many rules. You have to allow the community members to feel like they can be themselves, to express and contribute. So a lot of the times, you can’t fully anticipate what’s going to happen, but you grow your community through purpose and positioning.”

Purpose

What you do and what your purpose is and how you maintain it is going to attract the kind of people you think would be part of the community … As much as you can’t dictate what all community members should or can do, you want to make sure that you’re reinforcing your purpose. As a leader of the community, you need to be very authentic and walk the talk — really demonstrate the purpose you support on a consistent basis … It’s not just about you and the community member, but how all the members feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Positioning

Whether you’re positioning yourself as a leader or positioning your community versus other communities, you should tie that to a purpose. Women as a community or a general audience has been a big draw. But when you’re building a community about women, you should tie that to a purpose. Building a community as a sole means of selling a product or service would not be deemed as the right positioning.

Christina adds that sometimes, you can’t be too sure you know who your community attracts or who becomes part of your community. Data review and direct interaction with the community is crucial to see what kind of people you have drawn in. She suggests mixing up physical or face-to-face activities and meetings with virtual communication channels to get to know the community.

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3. Creating and maintaining the community

“You need to put in quite a bit of work to sustain [a community], especially when they have so many communities to choose from,” Christina fesses. “If you are leading a community, you have to be tenacious, creative and animated, because even if people share the same cause or mission, they want to grow with you. They want to believe that you know more than they do and you can open up their horizons.”

Other than that, she says that the ability to connect the members is an important trait of a community leader. To maintain her communities, she swears on staying grounded on the pillars that she built her community on, and making sure that she is always giving the community something new, by encouraging engaging conversations and creating interesting content, through events and the things she shares. These serve as a strong incentive for people to come back and engage more. To put it simply, “it’s like maintaining online relationships and conversations.”

4. How brands can leverage communities for their own benefit

Consumers trust recommendations and reviews from real people to help them make a purchase decision. A community can thus give potential and existing customers an inside look into what other people have experienced with the same product or service.

Communities can certainly be a great tool for brands, but only when you can see the bigger picture. Christina gives an example, “If you keep selling the same product, how much about [the product] can you talk about? But if you were thinking about maybe launching a green natural product and you are building a community around health consciousness or saving the planet, you would be able to attract a lot more people and engage a lot more conversations. People have the chance to give feedback as well. Again, you still need to be mindful with how you design the community, its purpose and positioning, so that you can reach out to the right audience, but never think to only reach the audience that you want to sell to.”

Watch the entire Arcadier Inspire Summit talk by Christina Teo:

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