Over the past few years, I would have most likely focused this post on how your business needs to embrace the online community, however this is aimed more at physical businesses and the hybrid online/offline communities they need to survive in the 21st century.
For the last 6 months I’ve been working out at EliteU fitness in Miami, a crossfit style gym which specializes in so called unconventional functional workouts. This isn’t a large gym, nor is it a cheap gym, however it is reflective of the challenges that many non-commodity businesses face these days. During the 6 months I’ve been a member of Elite U, I’ve seen many of the same faces over and over, but a number have come and gone as well. So what makes the core group stay? What makes the others disappear? Social bonds.
The most fervent, regular members of the gym are the ones who’ve established social bonds with other members of the gym. They have added a layer of peer support and motivation, as well as a layer of entertainment (seeing your friends is fun) to their workouts. By establishing these bonds, the core groups of members have reinforced their connection to each other as well as the business. No longer are you going just for a workout, but because your friends expect to see you there, and you are striving to achieve a shared goal or milestone with your colleagues. Those who disappear after a few months have their reasons (injury, financial, or lose interest), but from my casual observations are usually the ones who did not establish relationships with their peers at the gym.
So as a business owner, how does this apply to you? How can you foster these bonds? Well in the case of a gym, you need to understand that the common social object for your members is a shared fitness goal, and lifestyle improvement. Large gyms, of which I’ve been a member of several in the past, do not emphasize relationships between customers, they make their money on you NOT showing up, and just paying the $30/month ad-infinitum. A premium, non-commodity offering can’t rely on people paying out a triple digit monthly fee without using it.
Maybe you aren’t a gym, but these concepts apply to everything from a local watering hole (bar), to a salon, to sporting good stores, to a clothing boutique. Any business where there is an object of desire that can inspire customers to discuss and connect over can foster a community. A smart business owner will provide their community with the tools necessary to interact with each other (think newsletters, bulletin boards, interactive websites like blogs) at little or no cost.
What are you doing to foster your customer community?
p.s.: see how this wasn’t about social media per se