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Trace Cohen 


Brand & Digital Strategist

Organizations have had mixed to poor success building online and offline communities, both pre- and post-social media, and you’d think with the “IRL gone digital” promise of the Metaverse they’d finally be set to get it right. But it will only get harder to create authentic experiences that get people coming back, and brands will have to create a high value reason to participate. 

In a world of disconnect and hurt, community is the new currency to see us through. The feeling of being inextricably linked to others who feel the same as you, and with that a sense of belonging and connection. It’s also the emotionally rich territory that makes it the holy grail for marketers. And building rich connective experiences for a brand’s beloved must be treated with the care it deserves to get it right. 


Principles for the future of Community 

Humans, not data

Businesses showed total disregard for user data in the early days of community. In the pre-social media days a community was typically a tab that lived on a brand’s website. I launched dozens of them as the founder of a community startup, hosting conversations about a brand’s category and products that sparked quick and sure-fire connections.


But when Social Media came along, businesses got bamboozled. They ported their communities to Facebook so their customers would think they were cool and relevant, and in so doing passed on their user data to Facebook, too. Not only did brands lose the trust of their audience in the long run, they experienced a double whammy: their media spend paid the same social platforms for the privilege of reaching the very users they had handed over. In a Web3 world, identity will lie in the hands of the individuals, who will have the choice but not the obligation to share their data.


This time, the value offered by business-sponsored communities will need to be highly apparent and relevant, because customers are done being treated as data, not humans.


It’s give, not take

To that end, we need to think anew about an equitable value exchange. Joseph Jaffe, five-time author and visionary marketing thought leader, gives notice to corporate brands that they’d better be thinking about how to deploy community in a shared ownership kind of way. He argues Web3 should build on “Read, Write, Reward” experiences with a focus on the reward. Brands will need to offer up value in return for the attention consumers give. He’s taking a note from his own playbook with the launch of his book Forever Changed: How a global pandemic changed my direction, my purpose and my life, the first book in the world to offer royalties to readers, which will launch in 2024. He addresses the long tail of community, where the participants will reap the rewards with the brand through shared ownership. He calls the concept “Community Capitalism”, an economy in which companies thrive by bringing everyone along for the ride.


It’s your playbook, not Facebook’s

“The Metaverse is for Boomers,” scoffed my savvy nephew Dillon when I asked him about next-gen community, adding “Why would anyone go to the Metaverse to play a game of chess with their friends?” He sees through the picture that Zuckerberg has presented of a virtual world - complete with modern furnishings and superlative vistas - reserved for the rich and famous IRL, but yours to own in a ‘fake it till you make it’ kind of way. But community doesn’t come pre-packaged, it grows. Yet another fake world with fake values. But this time, let’s stop buying what Zuck’s shilling. He’s led us down the garden path more than once now, gathering more market power each time. Instead, start listening to what your community really wants from you. You’ll find there are countless ideas on ways to build participation and connection that don’t involve a pay to play model.


Don’t be swayed by the hype. Your community is drawn to you for who you are and what you represent. By keeping it real, offering experience that offer up value in return, and align directly to their desires and needs, you’re going to be fast on the path to build lasting and meaningful connections with those you care about most.

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