The best companies build a community around their products, their services, or their company mission. They create a feverish fan base who takes it upon themselves to work hard spreading the word about how legit the company is. Patagonia, Warby Parker, Allbirds, Kickstarter, ShopKeep, and Voray, to name a few. It's what every founder dreams of.
Then there are the companies who recognize the power of in-person gatherings to build community. How that relationship-building magic happens face-to-face, over a drink, where you can small talk and real talk. They recognize this experience can be just as powerful as a product.
That's why I was impressed with WeWork's recent announcement about its investment in MeetUp. "By joining our two companies together, WeWork and Meetup have the opportunity to use technology to create new and innovative ways of bringing people together in person and foster greater community," said cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann.
It's smart. It's a solid investment for WeWork because they are doing everything they can to develop more meaningful community effects that ride alongside ambitious early-stage companies who are trying to build big things. By powering more community and cohesiveness, they further develop their brand while also generating massive value for their customers yielding a product that is more than simply "collaborative workspace" or spaces in the air.
More companies are recognizing this need to build deeper connections with its customers. To be more than just one thing. To create experiences that are memorable. Just look at the new Wellness floor at Saks' NYC flagship store that offers exercise classes, a juice bar, and yes, workout clothes you can buy.
This is 21st century community: It's not message boards, it's experiential brand building. It also must be a company-wide strategy. "Too often, companies isolate their community-building efforts within the marketing function," a HBR report states. "That is a mistake. For a brand community to yield maximum benefit, it must be framed as a high-level strategy supporting business-wide goals." TheKnot.com gives brides a platform to talk about everything wedding with other like-minded brides--but it's the in-person, self-organized get-togethers that are the real brand magic.
For companies and individuals looking to improve their professional and career growth, building in-person relationships is the smartest, most effective strategy. Technology is an incredible tool to connect people and distribute information (hello Facebook events), but to cultivate the most authentic relationships--to reach that consumer obsession status--we need to move community offline.