We’ve made it over the hump in our eight-part series on succeeding in platform-based marketing. In this fifth article, we will discuss how an economy takes shape within a particular community and what that means for a brand’s overall platform marketing strategy.
So where does the role of the brand operate within the community/economy dynamic? Being a part of the community is the strategy behind your brand’s engagement with platforms. But understanding the economy provides you with the tactical tools you’ll need to do it well.
Essentially, the economy starts with understanding value: what is important to the community? It isn’t always apparent to someone on the outside looking in. To really understand the communal value, you need to be a part of that community, especially because in the age of the internet, social media, memes, virality, and trends, what is deemed valuable – and how value is expressed – is in a constant state of rapid and organic evolution. So, if you identify something of value, and then your internal marketing team takes six months to execute a marketing plan for it, the value may not be there by the time you arrive. So, what kinds of things have value?
The most obvious value to any digital community is its influencers – popularity. An individual who has risen within their community and has earned some serious equity. And unlike the traditional media landscape of yesteryear in which a small group of executives conspired to propel into the spotlight one personality over another (seemingly overnight), hoping they would get some traction in the mainstream zeitgeist, influencers have typically come to prominence because of a groundswell of popular sentiment. In a sense, on platforms, the people have chosen who has value within their community. Also, influencers don’t have the pressure to be all things to all people (as do film or TV superstars). Influencers can have highly specialized value, which can help brands reach their audience more precisely.
We will dive into the actual creation of content in the next article, but here let’s examine how certain kinds of content can possess value. Counterintuitively, the amount of money that is poured into the creation of content doesn’t correlate to the value of that content within a community. In fact, sometimes (as is often the case on, say, Tik Tok), there is an inverse relationship between budget and value. Also, the whole idea of rarity in accessing value doesn’t necessarily apply to content on platforms. It is true that if a particularly notable musician suddenly jumps onto a Twitch stream, there is an indisputable value to how rare that is. But more often than not, it is persistence that gives content value. The fact that there is a bingeable abundance of content from a particular creator (and this goes for brands as well), a content library, a content ecosystem…the very gravity of that has value. An influencer who is on Twitch five days a week can sometimes be of greater value than an influencer who is on two days a week. Oddity also gives value, or perhaps more accurately, content that has the capacity to surprise holds value. Platforms favor content that is unique, content that seems weird, content that shocks. As we mentioned before, value can shift rapidly, so persistent content that can stay ahead of the community is going to achieve value.
The value of commitment
Community members themselves also have varying degrees of value, which are directly tied to the level to which they give back to and support the community. This can primarily emerge out of the chat feed (accepting and looking past the presence of trolls). Certain members are elevated in the community for having a positive impact on the chat conversation. It’s also why moderators are often celebrated within these communities because there is a deep recognition that moderators are tirelessly working to keep that community safe and supportive for everyone. Subscribers who like and share creators’ content help to expand the community, Patreon audiences can help support creators as they transition to making content their full-time job, and fans who purchase, wear, and post individual influencer merchandise continue to build the brand and reach of the creator both on and offline. The key for brands to achieve that kind of value within the community is to analyze which community members hold it and what kind of engagement is respected and encouraged within the group.
Now that we have wrapped our heads around value within a community, what does it mean to then exchange value so that the community can operate like an economy? It is less about the exchange of currency (though it certainly can include that) and even less about power dynamics and exploiting disadvantages. You know, the things that tend to drive the global economy. Within platform communities, the economy runs on a system of trust and support. There are of course examples of dysfunctional communities, in case we are sounding a little too idealistic here, but when they work effectively, these economies gravitate toward a more positive environment.
One of the most direct ways to grow value is by following. Community members taking the moment to follow each other, asking to be updated about activity on a particular channel, and basically saying “yes, I like this and I want more of this in our community”, is what generates a larger digital reach. Channels that rack up a large number of followers now have value and can exchange that value for other kinds of support, which is where brands can most effectively enter the economy themselves.
Direct support for influencers
The next level up, of course, is to give influencers actual money. Twitch, for instance, supports many ways to do this: monthly subscriptions, one-time gifts, etc.
But there are also systems within some platforms, Twitch notably, that provide exchangeable value that isn’t backed directly with cash. Channel points (points accumulated for spending time watching a particular channel) are a way to “spend” value in interesting ways. The influencer usually establishes events or feats that can be triggered through the expenditure of channel points.
Tokens, badges, and emblems
Most platforms also have a system of tags to reward certain types of behavior: attending an event, hitting a milestone, or winning a contest, for example. These tags are usually displayed next to a community member’s name in the chat feed or might show up on their channel page. These are badges of honor within the community, and are a way for a channel or platform to give value as a reward for supportive behavior.
And perhaps the easiest – and most direct way – to engage in a community’s economy is by sharing content. Whether this is reposting content, hosting a live stream, or simply telling someone to check out a video that you really loved, the proliferation of content throughout a community (and even beyond it) is the purest form of economic exchange within the platform ecosystem. It’s not just that the content itself adds value to the community but the very act of sharing it also contributes value in and of itself. This is why virality is such a powerful element of media in the digital landscape. This shines a spotlight on another big question we will ask next time when we discuss the creation of content: what is the sharable aspect of what we make?
The role of brands in the platform economy
In the previous article in this series, we noted that brands can be most effective in attracting potential customers by being a genuine part of the communities they hope to reach. This also means being a part of the economy. As mentioned before, this could mean sponsoring an influencer or event, or having your brand’s name associated with some of the most fun content.
But in addition to that, form a channel, engage in the community, accumulate genuine value within that community, and then help make that economy pulse, for everyone. Make the community a better community and make its economy stronger. Find ways to promote exchange. In subsequent articles in this series we will present some of our thoughts on how to do this, but start thinking about it now. Start thinking about what your brand can mean to the community and what it can do to add value to that economy.
Cover image source: Eyestetix Studio