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Corporate Communities: from offstage to centre stage

What would your company be like if the customer community was at the heart of your business?

Instead of community management being an extra thing that you do, what if the company empowered the community and was core to everything you did? A small company from San Francisco does exactly that and their example holds lessons for companies of all sizes.


The Lyft Community

Lyft is a realtime ride-sharing service that’s grown its business via community building. According to Lyft co-founder John Zimmer:

Building community is what drives me and makes me so happy to work on this… We’ve really invested in this sense of community.

It is this community focus and the distinct characteristics within the community that is setting this company apart from its competitors.

As Director of Community Engagement, Emily Castor acts as the linchpin in the Lyft community. Reading through Lyft’s blog and social media channels, you’ll find the usual content: customer feedback, press articles, safety information. Mixed in though, are photos of people, fun games, and lots of visual links (pink is big and there are moustaches everywhere). These visual identifiers and overall sense of fun connect the community and create an identity that people want to be part of.

And their customers see it too as evidenced in this quote from Nithya Anantharaman.

I have both Lyft and Uberx installed on my phone but I think of Lyft first when I need a ride.

Lyft’s passionate and loyal customer base is also starting to be very handy.

Fending off the competition

The collaborative ridesharing industry is a competitive market and the company with the largest share is Uber. (NB Look out for Uber in NZ soon.)
With a current valuation of more than three times that of Lyft and backers such as Google Ventures and Jeff Bezos, Uber has the funds to take on Lyft and engage in competitive tactics. Tactics such as anti-fistbump Facebook campaignspoaching of drivers via mobile billboard ads and offering customers free rides.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick is happy to state he thrives on this competition:

Competition is fun…You have to be a fighter, you have to be a warrior, and if not, you should go do something that is a little less disruptive. I’m bringing it, I’m not sleeping.

Zimmer’s response?

By focusing on community, we’re able to attract the highest quality drivers. It makes sense that our competitors would try to recruit them as they try to catch up in peer-to-peer…What we are doing with community, the peer-to-peer model, and sitting up front is resonating.

To compete against companies that have more resources or more market share, you may need to do things a little differently. For Lyft that means promoting their secret weapon, their community.

Celebrating Lyft drivers

Lyft has recently launched the “Lyft Creatives” initiative that highlights the individuality of the Lyft drivers themselves. Meet some of the drivers in the video below to see the passion.

Organising for a purpose

It is not just other ride-sharing competitors that are threatening Lyft’s livelihood, regulations and the risk of being outlawed are serious concerns too.

In August 2012, the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) sent Lyft and other ride-sharing companies cease and desist letters. Emily Castor wrote to her community and asked for help and the community responded with community stories, campaigns and pep rallies. When things got really competitive, it was the community that fought back.


As the battle with city officials continues for both Lyft and Uber, these loyal evangelists just get stronger.

Transparency and Safety

Aside from the competition and the threats, the community also helps with something more fundamental – promoting an element of trust and safety. At the core of the Lyft platform is a two-way review system which allows customers to choose the driver they want and drivers to choose their customers.

Thanks to our two-way rating system, our community stays safe and positive for everyone. Just as passengers are able to rate drivers, drivers are able to rate passengers at the end of every ride. You can give a five star rating to great passengers, and reserve the lower star ratings for passengers you want to flag in the system. If you rate someone three stars or lower, you’ll never be matched with them again.

With everyone accessing the service through their Facebook accounts and the transparency of the review system, people are able to decide for themselves how “safe” someone is. Add that to the very visible pink moustache on the front of the car and the breaking of the ice with a fistbump when entering the car, each of these elements and rituals add to a feeling of safety and one of belonging to the larger community. For a ridesharing company designed to connect strangers, this community vibe becomes vital to their survival.

These are just a few examples of how Lyft has embraced their community as the core of their company. While some companies view their customer community efforts as just another support channel, Lyft shows how a broader view of community is good for customers, good for employees, and good for business.

What would your company be like if the customer community was at the heart of your business?