Social media marketers understand the power of community more than most. But for a long time, communities built specifically for them have been few and far between. We set out to change that.
Brought to life in March 2022, The Arboretum (Arb), a virtual community powered by Sprout, has become a thriving hub for social and marketing professionals—from practitioners to C-suite executives. Having hosted over 30 exclusive events, featuring keynote speakers from leading brands and numerous peer discussions, the community provides tangible value to members across 69 countries.
Since its public launch in April 2023, The Arb community has experienced remarkable growth in engagement, with membership consistently on the rise. Earlier this month, we celebrated a new milestone—The Arb surpassed 10,000 members comprising social professionals from around the globe, not restricted to only Sprout customers.
What makes The Arb such a dynamic community? Read on to learn how members have found value in the platform and lessons we’ve learned so far for building a successful brand community.
The power of a member-driven community
Social media marketers continually seek opportunities to learn and connect with seasoned peers and exchange thoughts and ideas. They value the power of a member-driven community—a significant factor contributing to the success of The Arb.
Ironically, there have been very few singular, inclusive spaces for social professionals to come together, connect and share experiences. The Arb has successfully filled that void and is steadily evolving into a central hub for the social community.
Arb members enjoy the many perks the community provides, from upskilling and troubleshooting real social media challenges to having fun with community giveaways. Here’s a look at some of them.
Stay current with industry trends
Social media is one of the most dynamic spaces in marketing, where new platforms emerge weekly and algorithms seem to change even faster than that. Having a reliable brand community you can lean on to stay ahead of emerging industry trends is invaluable.
Jeff MacDonald, Social Strategy Director at Mekanism says, “I love that the Arb has programming specific to topics and trends in our industry. It’s great to hear from others doing this job and ask them questions in real time. I also love the ability to log in and read the questions others are asking, it makes it easy to keep up with the latest platform changes.”
Build authentic connections
Arboretum members find a safe space where they interact and build genuine connections with peers and industry experts. They can ask specific questions and receive support without worrying about being judged.
Members get an insider’s view into how other social teams across countries and domains operate and draw from shared experiences to reach their goals. Whether it’s about new social media tools or exploring effective customer marketing strategies, these interactions give Arb members a fresh perspective on a number of important topics.
Industry-specific connections via our industry peer groups are especially helpful because advice comes from people who understand the challenges of the job first-hand. Members talk shop and share their unique marketing challenges with peers from their industry and exchange best practices that have actually worked.
Nycole Hampton, Sr. Director, Content and Engagement Marketing, GoodRx says, “An industry, and its future, is at its most powerful when the professionals within it are leveraging each other’s expertise and experiences to learn and build not only their own careers, but the industry as a whole. The social marketing world has needed a gathering place where this can happen—I fully believe this is what The Arb is growing to be.”
Members also discover more impactful ways to communicate the value of social to leadership teams. As one social media manager says, “Conversations with a peer helped me develop a new way of measuring and communicating the importance of community management to my team’s leadership!”
Access free events
The Arb hosts an ever-growing panel of thought leaders and social media influencers who are shaping the world of social media marketing. Members tap into this expert pool and benefit from free marketing resources such as webinars and industry-specific discussion boards. These resources help them brainstorm innovative social strategies and ideate on ways to stay competitive in a constantly shifting terrain while building efficient teams.
Jenny Li Fowler, Director of Social Media Strategy at MIT and author says, “The great thing about the Arb is that it’s strictly about community, and providing a space for social media professionals to network, ask questions and learn. The free webinars offered by The Arboretum are among the best in the industry.”
Members who are Sprout customers receive previews of Sprout feature releases so they can play an active role in helping shape the product. They can submit ideas and feedback that directly reach our Product team.
Additionally, all members have access to an industry-focused job board to search for new career opportunities or source candidates.
Enhance your personal brand
Our members are diverse—we have early-career professionals, aspiring thought leaders and seasoned professionals. They all have informed, unique and rich opinions and are hungry for a platform to share their expertise. They aspire to build their own personal brand outside of the brand(s) that they represent on social.
Monthly member spotlights, speakership opportunities and our member-led webinars and peer groups help Arb members do just this. Being a truly member-focussed community, The Arb ensures everyone has the chance to discover and cultivate their voice and refine their social sophistication.
What we’ve learned along the way
Creating a successful community is one of the most demanding tasks for social teams. There are no shortcuts. But as our team discovered, with a clear focus and sustained dedication, you can establish a brand community that builds meaningful connections between its members and provides tangible value.
Below are key insights we’ve found to be critical to building a successful community of practice.
Focus on your goals
Effective community building requires a long-term, thoughtful strategy that ensures your content and programs align with your organizational goals and values. That’s why it’s important to identify a vision for your community from the beginning.
Ask yourself—Why should our community exist? Are we trying to solve customers’ problems or is our primary aim to bring our product users together? Is our objective to promote our brand? Or do we envision the community as a place to bring the industry together? These vital questions will act as your guardrails.
Community building is a long-term commitment and investment, where the trajectory can often seem like a rollercoaster. But as long as you keep your goals as the north star and focus on foundation-setting, you’ll gain momentum.
Understand your audience’s needs
Get to know why members use the community and how they integrate the community into their routines. This knowledge helps you improve community programming (such as peer groups or events) and add greater value.
Also understand what your audience’s pain points are, and how the community can help address them. It involves coming from a place of deep empathy for your audience and walking a mile in their shoes to know exactly what kind of a “third” place they seek.
Remember: The community is about them, not you. When you draw them in through content and programming, you can get them to stay for the atmosphere that you have created.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Listen to what community members are saying and track engagement. Keep an open mind and identify what areas are resonating most with members. Recognizing when an approach is ineffective and requires a fresh start is crucial in ensuring a community’s success.
“Build it and they will come” is the most flawed assumption many community builders make. Your audience owes you nothing; they are not obligated to join your community just because you exist. You have to make it worth their time by offering them tangible value, and authentic connections and conversations.
Consistently engaging with community members and monitoring their needs is key to community building because communities don’t become a habit or daily routine for members overnight.
As community managers and leaders, we must create rituals that hopefully instill that habit. That’s why the Arb regularly hosts virtual workshops, peer groups, monthly member spotlights, “This week in social” Friday videos and other touch points.
Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see a tactic do well instantly—sometimes it takes time to build momentum. As long as you know you’re providing tangible value through it, you have to stick to the course.
Be open to feedback even if it’s not what you were hoping for because listening to member feedback and actually implementing it is the most effective way to show members they matter. It tells your community that it’s truly about them. And it gives you tangible direction to pivot your strategies toward success.
People care—that’s why they provide feedback. And the more the members feel like their feedback is heeded, the more they feel a sense of ownership in the community and it truly starts to become their community versus yours.
Advance your career with The Arb
As a community of practice, The Arb transcends the Sprout platform. We have a significant number of members who are not Sprout customers or users who still find value in this community. If you’re looking to advance your social sophistication and domain expertise and form your own circle of trust within the social sphere, this is the place for you. Crowdsource best practices, stay informed on algorithm changes and find opportunities to give back to the industry through mentorship, panel discussions and speaking engagements.
Join the Arb today to connect with peers and participate in new programs we’ll be rolling out in early 2024, including 1:1 mentorship opportunities.
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