Oct 29, 2015

The Law of 3&10: How Brand Communities Scale

A community transforms every time it triples in size.

The organization and expectations of a group of 30 people is very different from a group of 3,000 people.

The Hutterites, for example, naturally understand this principle and divide their communities when they reach 150 members. Malcolm Gladwell writes in the Tipping Point, “At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens — something indefinable but very real — that somehow changes the nature of community overnight. In smaller groups people are a lot closer. They’re knit together, which is very important if you want to be effective and successful at community life.”

Understanding how communities grow and scale is very useful for branding. A community is one of the most effective ways to build relationships and scale your brand, because it unlocks the power of networks.

But community building is different from most marketing campaigns. A community thrives when its members are able to purposefully connect with one another.

The Law of 3&10

Communities make brands sticky, but growing a community can be quite challenging.

After I published my ebook, Nobody Likes To Dance Alone, I was asked frequently, “Why is my Sticky Branding LinkedIn Group so much larger than other groups?” I dug into the question by studying communities and membership groups, and I noticed a pattern: communities transform every time they triple in size.

The discovery led me to develop the Law of 3&10. The law argues that communities transform at logical points: 10 people; 30 people; 100 people; 300 people; 1,000 people; 3,000 people; 10,000 people; 30,000 people; 100,000 people; etc.

Every time a community triples in size the infrastructure and organization of the group shifts. For example, a group of 10 to 30 members can self-organize, but a group of 100,000 members requires a clearly defined shared purpose with defined methods of contribution.

This is an important model for marketers to understand. To grow an engaged brand community is an evolution. The tactics and systems that get you off the ground won’t carry your brand forward into a national or international community.

The law also explains why some communities plateau and falter. When a community outgrows its infrastructure the individuals become isolated, because they do not have clear opportunities to participate in the group.

A community thrives when it’s built to serve its members.

Communities Are a Collection of Tribes

The 150 Rule of the Hutterites is an interesting application of the Law of 3&10.

When a group grows beyond 150 members personal connections begin to naturally divide into subgroups or cliques. The Hutterites avoid the symptoms of cliques by dividing once a community reaches 150 members. They’ve institutionalized the process through shared values and organizational principles to sustain close, personal bonds.

The Hutterite structure leads to multiple levels of community:

  • The broad community of people who self-identify and organize as Hutterites
  • Regional or local communities that interact with one another
  • The community, the group of 100 or so people who live together in close proximity

When you examine large brand communities you will see a similar dynamic. Large communities are organized by smaller tribes: chapters, events, projects, discussions, or something else.

Habitat for Humanity creates participation by focusing members on construction projects. Some construction projects are larger than others, but they are never vast. Every member of the build team has a role, and everyone has an ability to make a meaningful contribution to the community and its objectives.

For communities to thrive there have to be clear bonds amongst its members. There is no way a person can know 10,000 people, therefore the community has to fracture into smaller groups — tribes.

Focus on Participation

Communities make brands sticky, because they support participation.

Most marketing and advertising is passive. Content is created, promoted, and consumed. But communities require action. Members gain value from the community because they get to participate in a group they identify with.

The Law of 3&10 provides a model on how you can examine your brand community:

  • Is the community organized to foster personal connections?
  • Is the community organized for every individual to participate in a meaningful way?

The larger your brand community grows the more you have to consider how your infrastructure and resources facilitate member participation.

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