The return of the community
By Matthew Gidley, Momentum UK
Historians have long recorded shifts in social behaviour resulting from political or economical change. The turbulence of the past four years has provoked one of the most prolific social reactions known in recent history: the return of the community.
This time, things have changed: people are uniting not just in families or neighbourhoods, but also by geography, interest, profession and principles. The structure of brands’ audiences is changing and marketers must reassess their strategy to fulfil an increasing need among consumers to feel part of something as the things they value continue to erode.
It seems the age of the individual is receding and the value of social capital and collective action is at an all time high. A picture is emerging, in tones of light and shade: from the revival of street parties in celebration of the Royal Wedding, and London’s Olympian exuberance, to last year’s countrywide riots (and those broom-wielding citizens who emerged, squinting, in to the smoke-filled streets of morning) – we are coming together in a spirit of common conviction in ways we have not seen for many decades.
Uprisings themselves are an indicator of this change in global currency and a shift in power. Twitter begot a political uprising in Libya, many of the UK’s rioters appear to have communicated via BlackBerry messenger, and the inexorable rise of Occupy movements globally are all examples of groups of people united by a common interest rediscovering their influence. The connected protagonist is the new political power and the impetus can be either political, ethical or simply an expression of collective opinion. Needless to say, much as in former times the trade unions proved their power in industry, the connected protagonists have realised their weight in society and have a collective thirst to participate in what they believe in and effect change where they see fit.
The connected protagonist is to be embraced, not avoided, by brands. In order to survive and avoid the pitchfork, they must support, collaborate and co-create with them. Community exists on its own terms, it is a real thing. It is worth remembering that marketing is not (how many times have we heard of the need to ‘create authenticity’?).
For brands to understand the new community and harness the opportunities available to it, they must embrace the real world rather than try to build and shape it. Can we influence the course of people’s lives, what they care about and what they stand for? Doubtful. Can X Factor producers really decide the hashtag parentheses for the Twitter community to engage within? See #McDStories.
Just as the Occupy protests bubble with contempt for a government agenda perceived to be cynical and exploitative, so there is a similar distaste for the shameless manipulation of consumer thought for which the connected protagonist will not stand. The community won’t be told how to behave by those who rely on it.
Listen. Find passion points in the new community. It’s no longer enough to just produce; brands must stand for something people actively care about. Does it need to be something that relates directly to your product? Not necessarily. Does there need to be proof that your business actually cares? Absolutely.
Cream editor note: here are 4 examples of brands that show they stand for something and how they care: