One for One: How TOMS develops community while helping others

At Communispace, it’s no secret that we think a lot about developing communities: how best to facilitate them, keep members engaged, and create a safe comfortable environment for members to share thoughts and feelings that they might not share elsewhere. It’s something we pride ourselves on and honestly, we’re really good at it.

As a community facilitator, I’m always looking for great community development examples and am naturally drawn to participate in communities that I feel share and live my values. For those who know me then, it’s not surprising that TOMS is a community that I pride myself on being a part of.

TOMS was started by Blake Mycoskie in 2006 after his trip to Argentina where he realized that due to extreme poverty many kids were walking around without shoes – which can lead to preventable illnesses. Adopting a simple shoe style from his trip to Argentina, Blake came back to the US and began TOMS shoes. His business model was simple: One for One – for every one pair of shoes sold, another pair would be donated to a child in need. TOMS partners with NGOs and charities for the shoe donations and films their “Shoe Drops” for their consumer base to see their impact in action. (In several interviews Blake has shared the fact that there is no actual Tom, but rather TOMS is the idea for a better TOMmorrow.)

Since launching in 2006, the popularity and enthusiasm for TOMS has skyrocketed and it’s even been dubbed the “TOMS movement.” TOMS brand advocates, otherwise known as TOMS consumers, led the “TOMS movement” by posting pictures and videos of how they wear their TOMS shoes, tweet where they’re wearing their shoes and even starting “One Day Without Shoes” to raise awareness of those who don’t have shoes and the impact of a simple pair of shoes. It’s working – last September, TOMS was able to give out its one millionth pair of shoes to a child in need.

Earlier this month, TOMS announced that it wasn’t just a shoe company, but rather the company was expanding the One for One model by expanding the product line to include eye-wear. For every pair of glasses sold, TOMS will work with local NGOs and charities to help find ways to restore people’s vision. If you’re interested in learning more about TOMS eyewear, check out this video:

The beauty and brilliance of the TOMS One for One model is the community. Let’s be honest, you’ll probably never see TOMS shoes on a major runway, but that’s not why people buy them. By purchasing and wearing TOMS products, people are making a statement and becoming part of a community of people that want to make a difference and a larger global community of people who wear TOMS. I love wearing my TOMS because when TOMS wearers come across each other in the real world, there’s an instant recognition that we’ve helped someone in need.

So what can we learn about developing communities from the TOMS model?

  1. Find effective ways to help consumers feel like they’re making a difference. In the post-recession haze, consumers want to make smarter purchases – and when the purchase goes beyond themselves, it becomes something they can feel good about. Also important is closing the loop: making sure to share back how their contribution makes an impact in a tangible way – from photos or videos to newsletter updates.
  2. Trust your consumers to be your brand advocates. The Toms movement is so successful due to its brand advocates. Once consumers get a taste for how they are making a difference, the TOMS model demonstrates that advocates want to be sure that their friends, family and others are “in the know.”
  3. Empower your brand advocates and give them creative tools to get the word out. TOMS provides its advocates with fun and easy ways to get the word out. Tools range from a documentary that explains TOMS’ mission to the availability of “Style your Sole” party kits where friends can design their own TOMS shoes.

At Communispace, we’re continually researching how to cultivate engagement online, in order to develop communities that help brands truly get to know their customers. We’re giving away three reports that explore the nature of community engagement, including how engagement differs in public and private online communities. Download this free bundle and take your understanding of your customers to a whole new level.