Firefly had some very interesting ‘community’ experiences recently which got us thinking. As brands struggle to win the attention of their friends, fans and followers, they need to be more inventive to draw people towards them, go and find them individually or reel them in voluntarily. A PR agency is no different: we have our business development needs as well.

Our own community experiences were a couple of sad occasions which brought our alumni together for all the wrong reasons, and more recently the occasion of our 25th anniversary gave us the opportunity to track down, connect with and build an extended Firefly family. We organised a campaign to reconnect with many alumni, all wonderfully talented people, many of whom have gone on to enjoy glittering PR careers and are now PR industry luminaries. As part of this, we held a private event for people who have worked with or for us over the years. For a company that is 25 years old, finding ex-clients, colleagues and other alumni that pre-date social networking is more challenging than you might expect!

Firefly Community

We have lists of clients and prospects, as would any business, and our own LinkedIn networks served up a good number of ex client contacts and ex Firefly alumni. Facebook caught alight quickly at the mention of the party and we soon began building numbers of attendees in the hundreds. These were all from our dispersed community, but people who had a connection, an affinity, perhaps even affection for our brand. Bringing so many people together for the evening was wonderful, watching friends and colleagues recognise each other and exchange stories and contact details, meanwhile asking about Firefly’s fortunes and future. The Firefly community is strong and vibrant and in time I am sure we will all meet up again. Meanwhile the posts, updates and comments flow and interestingly it’s the two minute photo album and two minute video­ that have reached four times as many people than who attended the party – so, virtually, the party lives on (even though the bar bill is thankfully closed)!

In developing this campaign and bringing together our community we learnt a number of lessons. Here are some of them:

It’s personal – your company doesn’t own you: Everyone has their own personal business network and that in itself is a community – this is best served through LinkedIn. My LinkedIn network has been a huge source of strength and opportunity over the tricky recessionary years. People like to do business with people they know – and trust.  Firefly has spent a fortune on CRM systems in years gone by, and there is still a need to capture that data, but everyone’s LinkedIn connections are your personal resource. They should be nurtured and travel with you to your next job – those contacts and relationships are yours (restricted covenants notwithstanding).

Don’t under-estimate Facebook: Many marketeers will tell you that Facebook is not a business-to-business social networking tool, but that’s not been my personal experience. While some people shy away from connecting with colleagues and clients on Facebook, this is often relaxed when the business relationship ends or someone leaves. Assuming you get on personally as well as professionally, this is a great time to connect and stay in touch. You never know when the wheels go full circle and they might become a professional contact again, either directly or to make a recommendation.

We saw the effect of these personal connections with our 25th anniversary celebrations and one of the places where we saw most engagement and content views was through our company Facebook page.

I’m in a graveyard community, ‘get me out of here’: We are lucky that our recent 25th anniversary campaign worked well for us and we worked hard at making it a success  for everyone. But sometimes communities can spiral off into dangerous negative areas, in which case you need to communicate even more and take heed of what is being said. Just ask British Gas!

It’s a sad moment when the unifying bond is a shared dislike or dissatisfaction for a brand or business but at least there is passion there, and you need to turn it around.

Worse still is when your community doesn’t connect at all. Without common ground such as a passion for something or a shared experience, communities quickly become virtual ghost towns with tumbleweed blowing through the months and weeks of no engagement. These deserted communities do more harm than good. No-one wants to be the only person at the party. If this happens, you need to reignite that community, find a different location or vaporise that community fast (metaphorically speaking of course).

Claire Walker is founder and CEO of Firefly Communications. Get in touch with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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