THE BLOG
08/11/2013 06:43 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:53 GMT

The Art of the Storefront

Hop on your Facebook or Twitter streams anytime during the week, and you'll come across a collection of accounts bleating about their latest number of Likes or Followers. It's not uncommon to see account owners express love or admiration towards their audience, thanking them for their support. As Facebook and Twitter continue to justify the value of building numerically mighty fanbases, other companies are using these same platforms to organise and activate their fans through dynamic events in real-life spaces. Through hosting these events, brands have created opportunities to touch and converse with fans, fostering a degree of loyalty at the lowest level.

The idea of customer base activation might not seem a natural fit for businesses that talk in terms of tens of millions of users. However, travel website Vayable has made a point of setting in motion a pop-up project to visit and collaborate in a number of major hubs in North America and Europe. Vayable posted from their site the following:

'We are going to open up pop-up offices in Paris and New York to co-create our product, operations and network with a community at-large. We will be developing our product in a collaborative, open studio environment where people can drop-in, share ideas and contribute.'

For an active tech company to code on the move and interact openly with a local community is both novel and resoundingly sensible, especially when you consider the consumer-facing nature of Vayable's business. By demonstrating commitment to a lifestyle, employees and users get an idea of the company's connecting mission, one that just so happens to be solved most effectively by a website.

Fundamentally, the idea with Vayable's pop-up HQ is not merely to sell the platform but to demonstrate something physical about company values. Companies that build products wrapped around activities afford themselves the privilege to organise events that are very relevant to their target market's interests. These companies allow customers to interact with the company and its employees without feeling like they are being sold something, or that they have to buy anything at all.

As a good example, last week Gore-Tex partnered with the American Alpine Club to host an event in Berkeley, California. Gore-Tex were there about their new Pro Shell, a technology that is stimulating to people who like alpine activities, precisely the same group that the American Alpine Club want to interact with to grow their membership. For good measure, the event was hosted at an outstanding venue, a LEED platinum-rated building which became the talk of the night amongst the environmentally-conscious attendees. The event took place form 7pm to 10pm, allowing guests to attend the event without it getting in the way of the work week.

Meanwhile, Portland-based cycling apparel brand Rapha are one of the best in the industry at activating their customers to get cycling on a more regular basis. Every weekend, their stores in New York, Sydney, London, Osaka and San Francisco become the meeting points for rides in the surrounding areas. Riders drop by, grab a bite and a coffee in the store and roll out with company employees. Rides are free, open to anyone and help bring together like-minded people who love to associate themselves with performance and an athletic lifestyle.

Aware of the interest in low-cost, pop-up events, startup Storefront has entered the events sector by offering a marketplace for short-term retail space. Storefront currently lists spaces in San Francisco and New York, inviting retailers to go through the platform to connect with partners, insurance and the site's 40,000 pop-up fans. For retail brands looking to get an insight into a new market, the pop-up event is a great fit in quantifying demand in a given area.

As the facilitators of small, spontaneous retail opportunities, Facebook, Twitter and other large consumer-facing tech products could do well to create real places for their own fans to interact. While fan contact in physical spaces is bound to be just a tiny proportion of userbases in the hundreds of millions, the existence of Twitter bars and Facebook gyms could reinforce company missions of connecting.