I was asked last week if I wanted to join a brand’s secret club.
Was it the illuminati? Was it a secret community of advanced community builders? Was it an invitation to join the robot takeover of the world?
Sadly, it was none of those things.
Also, sadly, it was not actually a club at all. Though that is what the brand called it.
Exhibit A: The Invitation
I had been searching the web for some help on Instagram for my side business, and I found an agency that piqued my interest. So I poked around their site a bit and left. The next day, I decided to revisit the site to check back on a resource I remembered reading. At that point, this pop-up interrupted my experience:
A secret club? That sounds pretty damn cool.
The community builder in me was curious how an agency was building community, and I got a little giddy at the thought of it. So I hit “Send to Messenger”.
This is when my heart sank.
It turned out to be an invite to talk to the brand’s bot on Facebook Messenger. Not a community or club at all, though I searched high and low.
Exhibit B: The Bot in Action
This bot was rather clever, having aggregated and organized the brand’s content for my use case. But this was not the club I was hoping to join. This was not a club at all.
Every few days, I would get another ping from this bot, which was tracing my activity and personalizing its outreach via that data.
Here are some examples:
I’m impressed, honestly. I don’t find this bot to be obtrusive, and in fact it’s allowed me to pace out how I read the agency’s content. From a marketing point of view, it’s genius. But I’m still deeply disappointed.
What’s the Big Problem?
I’ve written about how brands are ruining the term community by throwing it around recklessly. It hurts the entire community industry. Their usage of the term “club” hurts not only community professionals though.
In fact, my major problem with this misnomer is that your prospects are people, and people are almost always walking around the world hoping to be loved, to belong, to be seen and understood. When you invite me to a secret club, I think maybe your brand has understood me on some level, and I’m about to meet other people who are on a similar path that I am on. If the Internet is all about discovery (which I believe it is), I believed for a moment that this brand was going to help me discover “my people”. This, I know, is the most powerful thing a brand can do.
Here’s What The Brand Could Have Done Instead
I know it’s possible for companies who make these mistakes to backpedal and fix some things to truly reach their potential with their marketing and community efforts.
I’ll tell you what I expected to see here:
- Invite to a group (on Telegram or Slack or Facebook)
- Knowledge base (all their content organized in a way that made sense for newcomers)
- Meet other users (as soon as I’d join said club, I’d be thrown into a room and greeted soon after or automatically)
And the idea of this truly excited me. Not because I thought I wanted to hire the agency right then and there, but because I knew if they were confident enough to have their clients talk publicly and to answer questions publicly, that would say something about the value they bring to their paying customers.
I would want to be one of those paying customers.
But this brand is not yet ready to invest in a community. They clearly don’t have anyone on staff who would have vetoed the word choice, so they’re unable to make an intelligent investment in community building. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just a missed opportunity.
Here’s what I would suggest instead:
- Continue inviting people to chat with the bot, but call it what it is
- Only invite people who have checked your site 2-3 times
- Stop sending the invite after they join (I’m still seeing this ad interruption on the page as we speak)
- Ping prospects about once per week, no more. And give them the option clearly to opt out, just as they would if you were at a meetup and felt like you were in an awkward salesy conversation you wanted to get out of…
- Wait for the highest ask (“speak with a member of our team”) for at least 1 week, unless the user is consistently clicking on all bot communication
- Have the bot ask questions that actually get to know people’s goals and focuses (What industry are you working in? How long have you been building this account? What are some of your favorite Instagram hashtags?) — segment content that way, not with generic 101-level content
- If you actually have a community, once your prospect has connected with the bot, then you might mention the community or club as one of the resources after 2-3 weeks, for those who are more invested in their journey with your company (otherwise your members will likely get annoyed by the constant influx of newbies)
I implore brands using the latest technology and trends: Just be clear. Don’t enmesh community with marketing or sales.
Use your bot as a way to raise awareness. Use your online community (if you have one) as a way to cement understanding, application, and bonds between your customers and prospects. Both are powerful, but very different, uses of technology.