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    Animal Farm, Reddit and Love Island: 5 steps for merging community and commerce

    Built around an online group of music fans, culture agency Bump knows how to grow a community (and open commercial opportunities) without alienating members. Robbie Murch shares his five rules for success – via Orwell’s Animal Farm, Love Island, Reddit and thinking from community experts.

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    George Orwell’s Animal Farm springs to mind when reading comments on the r/loveisland subreddit about Reddit’s commercial activities with the reality TV show.

    Online communities come together to discuss shared passions and interests, away from the prying eyes of open platforms such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Community-centric platform Reddit has seen a 30% average year-on-year growth and boasts 430 million users. On r/loveisland, they weren’t happy that Reddit had ‘sold’ their community as part of a sponsorship deal with ITV. Moderators were accused of hijacking and selling out. All of this was targeted at the community moderators, who most likely do this job for free or as a hobby.

    The issue is with accepting sponsorship under the guise of collectivism without consulting the wider community, just like Old Major and Napoleon in Animal Farm who seized control of the group ‘for their own interest.’ In accepting sponsorship without extensive consultation, the moderators introduced bias, hindered freedom of expression, endangered the integrity of content and threatened group dynamics. 

    I’m not here to dish out blame, compare volunteer moderators to pigs or slate Reddit. But how do collectivism and commerce interact in an age where ‘community’ is becoming ever-more relevant?

    At Bump, we’ve learned from building our own 150,000+ community, and received pushback on commercial decisions. Here’s our blueprint for merging community and commerce. 

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    1. Gain a nuanced understanding

    What could the Love Island moderators do better next time? They should have consulted the group and gained a nuanced, varied understanding before charging in with a master plan. A simple temperature check of how this activity might go down would have helped. The crucial question: what’s in it for our members? 

    Andreea Magdalina is founder of Shesaid.so, a global community of 15,000+ women, gender minorities and allies in music, working with partners such as YouTube Music, TikTok, Boiler Room and Universal Music Group. Magdalina also leads community strategy and development for Coachella on Discord with a focus on web3. Magdalina says that brands must take care to understand community members before working with them. Communities form because people want to feel like they belong, meet with like-minded individuals and engage with initiatives that align with their identity.

    Brands must gain a nuanced understanding of their audiences and ensure that their grand plans authentically align with their target markets’ interests and values.

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    2. Work to make sure community leaders co-sign

    To enable the communities’ most engaged and trustworthy members to co-sign the campaign, involve and trust them throughout the process.

    Distribute any sponsorship rewards fairly among your community, and provide tangible value to all members. Availability is key: those who participate should be those who gain; those who didn’t had the opportunity and can’t complain when they go unrewarded.

    DJ Plastician has years of experience weaving community commerce together in his consultation for Friends With Benefits, a worldwide group of cultural creators, thinkers and builders who convene digitally and IRL to collaboratively shape web3’s future. He says: “Brands have to trust that you know what you’re doing if they come on board. They come on board because what we’re doing is cool. So they should trust it to be cool if they give us control to do that.”

    Leaders who have the community’s trust can be given the responsibility to lead the campaign, as long as they distribute value fairly.

    3. Don’t just co-create; co-deliver 

    Setting the strategy with the few risks alienating the many. “The kind of partnership that we’ve done that we found most fulfilling is where we’ve come up with a creative concept with a brand together ... that can be a fruitful conversation if you’re pretty aligned on the way you think,” says David Zhou, co-founder of Eastern Margins, a platform creating a space in London for music and culture from East and South East Asia.

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    4. Be long-term allies, not short-term sponsors 

    Dipping one’s toe in does not communicate mutual trust. “The most successful partnerships take a long-term approach: they understand real impact takes time, whether it’s on a cultural or commercial level. This tells consumers that this is a brand they can trust and builds loyalty,” says Magdalina.

    Skimming the cream off of a cultural moment for short-term gain will look opportunistic, greedy and disrespectful to the community who have been there long before you.

    This is not to judge Reddit’s sponsorship of Love Island too early. There has been a reported 52% increase in subscribers (probably more by the time of publishing) and a 140% in engagement on the Love Island subreddit. But, from personal experience, numbers like this mean nothing if you lose your core support. 

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    5. Iterate your involvement  

    We hope that more opportunities will be open to the wider community of r/loveisland for next year and are confident the Reddit team will be able to pull this off. Culture moves fast, and communities are best placed to help you keep up with that change.

    Test, learn, refine. Brands should demonstrate that they’re listening and engage in platforming every corner of the community. If you want to connect and engage with the culture rather than attempting to steer its course, give people a place to relax and chat, providing additional value that does not already exist. 

    Orwell reminds us to check ourselves lest we legislate: “All animals community members are equal, but some animals community members are more equal than others.”

    On The Record is a brand-new series of insight reports from Bump. Vol 1 illustrates the rise of community, the rejection of mass influence and what this means for brands – all through the lens of music fans versus mass consumers. Read it here.

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