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Needle in a Haystack? or “How do you find these people?”

While enjoying the Independence Day holiday with my family in Vermont, surrounded by farms with fields, the expression “finding a needle in the haystack” was very top-of-mind as I contemplated my perspective on community members to share with you. At first blush it seemed especially appropriate, as the most frequently asked question we encounter about members in our communities is “How do you find these people?”

Having recruited members ranging from Latino moms who purchase particular product categories, to professionals working in specific types of operating rooms, to guys who really like to wax their cars a lot, to high net worth individuals a few years prior to retirement, to women runners around the globe, and the list goes on, the criteria for community membership can be quite focused and particular. After thinking about it for a bit, I realized this is the wrong question to ask. While an interesting and understandable curiosity to inquire about how we track down these individuals, I think the real question is not where or how we find them, but rather why these members find us and choose to engage.

Seeking to fill communities with people from diverse backgrounds, view points, geographies, age ranges, professions, lifestyles, etc. is a dream assignment as you get to vicariously travel the world and constantly challenge yourself to view the invitation opportunity from the perspective of a potential member. It’s the thrill of the hunt, epitome of empathy, and science of measurement combined with the art of adjusting offers to motivate members to join. We are always curious and asking ourselves and others what will be appealing, credible, interesting, compelling, and engaging to these individuals?

As we ask ourselves and form the hypothesis for each tailored recruiting assignment, we also put in place the structure and process to measure and evaluate how close or far-off we actually were. When you nail it, you understand what Big Papi must feel like when the baseball flies out of the park, over the Green Monster (yes, working here requires a reference to the Red Sox), and it appears effortless, natural, and easy.

So what makes it work and how do you hit a community membership homerun?

In a word, relevancy. For potential community members, they need to see benefits that are relevant and meaningful to them, and these will vary by both individuals and brands. It often is about having a direct voice to a company, category, or brand they care about; or perhaps it is a combination of factors such as making a contribution to their profession, networking with peers, gaining support and possibly friendship, receiving modest appreciation gifts, satiating curiosity to participate in something new, connecting with others who share an interest, condition, life stage, experience, geographic location, etc. For many organizations looking to listen hard and learn from their customers (and also non-customers) they are very passionate about what they want from community members and have experience and assumptions about what their key “segment” wants. Approaching the membership recruitment as an outreach campaign rather than an exercise to obtain “completes” improves the success of the outcome.

So rather than thinking of the individuals you are seeking to engage as “needles” (which are sharp, static, and stationary objects) in a large pile of dry grass, I prefer an analogy which considers them as birds. They have freedom of movement and flight, which provides them choice and safety for the areas they choose to visit. We don’t find them; we set up “houses” that make it comfortable, compelling, and credible for them to come to us. And those elements that allow members to see relevant value for themselves are when the flight over the wall is possible and easy.

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