Embracing Harbingers: Using Trends to Grow Your Community

Embracing Harbingers: Using Trends to Grow Your Community
Photo by Calvin Weibel / Unsplash

In today's hyper-paced digital world, being ahead of the game is everything.

Of course, we can’t all be ahead. And you don’t have to -- you just have to know the people, brands, and movements that are.

For community-based businesses, community Harbingers can unlock the ability to anticipate trends, meet evolving needs, and foster magnetic spaces that resonate with your members.

Here’s how to harness Harbingers and explore how they can supercharge your community's growth and help you stay relevant long enough to set you apart from the rest.

The Fitness Studio Harbinger Example

Imagine yourself as the visionary owner of a sought-after fitness studio.

That’s right, no small stuff in these examples!

You are painfully aware that changes in fitness trends cost real dollars. No way you can just “ditch” the 50 spin bike you bought last year…or the boxing studio you added on. Investment is real.

To help navigate the ever-changing fitness landscape, you've made the savvy choice to embrace the concept of Harbingers.

These are the customers who show up early, show up often, and are often second-in-command after the instructors. Harbingers, in this case, translate what the instructor is saying by modeling it for the others.

Out of a population of 200 people (10 x 20 in-person classes), you have five Harbingers. You’ve chatted them up and built a friendly relationship.

Unlike the average business owner, you don’t talk about what you are doing for them. You talk about what they are into. What they wear. Where they shop. What other health things are a part of their lifestyle? What they are currently reading and listening to.

Thanks to this, you have a head start on the competition. You can anticipate the things your other members will be into, and experiment with ideas that connect with their future interests. After all, you already have one person who is into it!

TLDR; Infusing these Harbingers into your strategy will position your business at the vanguard of industry trends, where you'll lead, rather than follow.

Here’s a Three Step List to Find and Engage Your Harbingers

Step One: Active Listening and Observation

To unlock the full potential of Harbingers, active listening and observation are paramount.  

Find one or two ways that you can truly hear your community members.

Active Listening

You’ll need both online and offline channels in order to be successful.

In the case of our fitness example, this could be a comment card in the studio or an instructor Q&A. Online, you could send a survey or leverage your Instagram account to get input from your ardent followers.

Passive Observation

This is where you or your staff pay attention to their conversations, suggestions, and invaluable feedback.

What are the overheads from the class? What are people talking about in the comments or the locker room?

Connect at least once per week with your team during this step to capture this information.

Note: Focus on the overheards, as it’s easy for people to speak what matters to THEM vs the CUSTOMER.

The Output

When you are done, you should have several sources of data -- survey answers, SM comments, overheards, and leader input.

Use the subjective and open-ended input to identify trends, and then sort through the data to see if your hypotheses on trends are for real.

⚡Power Tip: Don’t forget to have everyone identify the people who they believe to have Harbinger potential. We need this list!

Step Two: Cultivate the Select Few

While it’s tempting to reach out to everyone, please don’t.

Taking bulk actions will actually defuse the potential benefits of working with a Harbinger (you’ll treat them differently).

Instead of thinking Focus Group, think New Best Friend.

Just be friendly and curious.

The Steps

First, remember that interested people are more interesting. Also, this is your chance to just find the right fit.

Not in a stalking, creepy way.  Your brand baby is unique, and not everyone gets it. They might buy, use, and support…but that could still not be enough.

The Main Thing

The real question is do they have that magnetic pull for other things in the same universe?

Once you have your core group, create a path for engaging and rewarding these folks for engaging.

Roll out the red carpet for exclusive events, ask for their input on pioneering initiatives, and grant them VIP access to your cutting-edge offerings. The sky is the limit.

Step Three: Experiment and Iterate

Now that you have information and actual input, it’s time to take action.  

Don’t go all in; remember change is hard even for the folks who want it.

Think about your favorite artist’s new album. You’re not a fan at first, the new sound is just not quite right.

And yet, in 2 or 3 weeks you’ll be screaming the song in your car on the way to your next spin class.

Your customers’ tastes evolve the same way. Give them time to adapt and embrace!

Taking Action

  1. Rank the ideas you and your team have gathered.
  2. Block 10% to 20% of what you do and redirect that to your top three Harbinger areas.
  3. Each week schedule one event, activity, or collaboration. If it works, keep it going. If it doesn’t, turn it off.
  4. Make sure your Harbinger(s) are involved. They are trailblazers and already have social superpowers.
  5. Evaluate the results of these experiments. What was engagement like? Do folks want more of this? What would they keep or change?

This iterative approach enables you to swiftly adapt to shifting trends, ensuring unparalleled engagement and engaged customers.

Change is…Life!

It’s easy to be frustrated by new trends and changes, but that’s a choice.

If you are going to ride the waves of change, don’t rely on industry newsletters or your gut.

You need to know WHO to follow and HOW to follow them in order to be able to figure out WHAT is up next.

Key Takeaways

  • Embrace Harbingers to anticipate trends and meet evolving needs in your community-based business.
  • Engage in active listening and observation to gather valuable feedback and insights from your community.
  • Cultivate a select few Harbingers with a magnetic pull within your community and treat them as new best friends.
  • Experiment and iterate with ideas, involving your Harbingers and swiftly adapting to shifting trends.
  • Stay connected to influential individuals and know who to follow to stay ahead and drive innovation in your community.