The Art Of Developing A Loyal Community


Say what you want about the cable network, TLC, and their eccentric selection of shows.  While there is no denying they need a rebrand, they are definitely not “The Learning Channel” anymore. I have become absolutely addicted to their semi-scripted reality show, Breaking the Faith. It follows a group of young adults as they break out of the FLDS cult and enter the “outside world.”

I find cults to be fascinating. Not in a creepy, “I want to join one,” kind of a way, but in a strictly psychological perspective of trying to understand the mindset of the folks who are in them.  In a country as free as the U.S., it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that there are people, who are willing to be completely controlled by others.

While no doubt a radical example, cults are at it’s a very core a great way to learn and understand the fundamentals of engineering extreme community loyalty. Community managers can learn a lot by studying this cult mentality, and then adapt it to turn consumers into loyal brand evangelists. Some of the best examples of this are Bieber fans or Apple users. They have a found a way to build a community of raving fans. In order for this level of loyalty to flourish, it needs to be centered around four fundamental community principles.

  • People not ideas  
  • Shared identity 
  • Rules and Guidelines 
  • Similar Values 

Albeit extreme, one of the best ways to understand these community principles is to study a cult.  As I’ve been hooked on TLC’s Breaking the Faith, I’ll use the FLDS as an example.

People not Ideas

To anyone not in the FLDS, Warren Jeffs is quite possibly the creepiest man. TLC airs some of Jeffs’ recordings on the show and hearing his voice is enough to make my skin stand up on edge and keep me awake for hours after watching the show. But to the people inside of the FLDS, he is without doubt the leader of the cult. He is the one that draws people in and then keeps them in the cult under his tight control.

Takeaway: When building a community, new members are going to be drawn to the people (most likely the leader) first and then the ideology and/or shared values will grow on them as they become more immersed in the community culture.

Shared Identity 

In the FLDS, all the folks ban together to “protect themselves from the outside world.” They live in a rural compound in Utah completely isolated from outside influences.

TakeawayThe whole luster of being in a community is about being in something that’s bigger than yourself. You have a shared purpose or goal that allows you to come together and bond as a group.

Rules and Guidelines 

In order for a community to flourish and not turn into pure chaos and anarchy, there needs to be some guidelines and/or rules. The FLDS is a pretty extreme example as they have rules guiding just about everything they do from – how they do their hair, the clothes they wear (literally right down to their undergarments), what they can and cannot do, etc. For a glimpse into this life, check out this 1 minute clip from TLC’s show, Breaking the Faith.

Takeaway: When establishing your community, you need to have some shared guidelines that everyone in the community must follow. It could be as simple as “Be respectful” and “Don’t troll.” in an online community. Or it could be a bit more elaborate based on the community you are building. The only key is that you agree and communicate on the guidelines, and then enforce them as needed.

Shared Values 

This is pretty connected to the shared identity point. Your shared group identity needs to be based on some core values. While watching TLC’s Breaking the Faith, my heart breaks for these teens as the cult’s values are clearly brainwashed into them at a very young age. They are pretty much taught that they will go to hell if they leave the compound and interact with any outsiders. Here’s just one example.

Takeaway: In order to form a collective identity, your community members need to have at least one or two similar values.

When building an online community, you need to make sure you have these four principles established early on in order to have the best change of building something special that is scalable and bigger than any of its’ members. That’s the essence of understanding the principles behind the cult mentality and then applying them to turn consumers into raving fans of your brand.

About the author

Jessica Malnik