December 8, 2011

Social media

These crazy fans are part of Gator Nation. Talk about passion! (Image credit: Spike Jones, Social Fresh, 2009)

We have a problem in our industry. Well, we have a few, but what industry doesn’t. But this particular problem is worrisome because it has to do with how we misuse words. In an industry where we rely on words to tell our stories.

Community is one of those words we misuse. Like viral – nails on chalkboard. And influencers – I can’t think of what I’m trying to say…wait, this word looks nice?

We need to stop calling everything a community. Because it dulls the impact. Makes it less special. Kind of like a song you think is catchy when it comes out, but then is WAY overplayed. See Single Ladies, Hey There Delilah, and almost every Green Day song from about five years ago. Actually, I never liked Single Ladies. But that song is so overplayed, I had to include it.

A community is NOT…

- A Facebook page or Twitter account used to broadcast messages
- A website
- A blog
- A contest
- People who like or follow a brand to get coupons and deals
- People who enter blogger giveaways
- A campaign
- A bitchin’ digital build
- A YouTube channel
- A Twitter party
- A one-time event, online or IRL
- People who like or follow your brand on Twitter but then never talk with each other or with your brand
- The number of people that make up the circulation your media placement reached

A community IS…

- A group of people who have a passion for a certain topic that brings them together
- A group of people who have a passion for each other
- A group of people who consistently gather together to talk shop and talk about life
- Customers who frequently engage with each other via a platform facilitated by themselves or your brand
- People who gather offline regularly to discuss common interests and just to see each other
- Real Women of Philadelphia
- Fiskateers
- Tweetdrive
- #Journchat
- College sports fans
- Breast cancer survivors

In a meeting earlier this week, the topic of community came up. One of my colleagues said brands cannot create communities. Communities create themselves.

I agree, for the most part. I would say that brands cannot force communities on customers. But I would also say that if you do the research, there are likely communities that already exist around your brand or within the way customers use your products. It’s kind of like how your customers will talk about you whether or not you are listening, engaging.

The brands that understand community are working to facilitate it and harness the passion their fans and customers are already sharing.

The brands that don’t understand community are spending too much time managing it or tying to create it. If that’s your approach, more power to you. It’s not that there can’t be any value in it.

But please don’t call that community. It’s a true misuse of the word. And it ruins it for the rest of us.

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LauLau81 126 pts

I am not into this information but when I saw the title, it really interests me a lot...

My latest conversation: Hébergement Grand Bornand

ginidietrich 4288 pts

Oh great. I just wrote the chapter for the book on the pros and cons of working with a community as a brand. You had me scared...and then I kept reading. I'm relieved we agree. That could have been painful.

My latest conversation: Gin and Topics: Playboy, Siri, and a 666 Sticker

JGoldsborough 233 pts moderator

ginidietrich Glad we agree, ginidietrich . But not surprised, since after I published the post I thought that I could have gone back in and added Spin Sucks as a community example :). Cheers!

joelfortner03 25 pts

This is a good post, Justin. I agree brands don't really build communties, people do. That said, as Matt said below, I believe brands can inspire communities. Here's a thought I had after reading this post. Communities don't always get along. People fight. Fissures happen. Disagreements occur. So, should a brand engage the community when this happens or just let it be? Or does it just depend on business objectives?

MattLaCasse 103 pts

While a brand can't CREATE a community as in, "Hey fans! Come here and talk about us and be awesomez!! OMG!!!!", it can create a community in providing the blue print for how that community works. For example; Apple. Its communities are a direct reflection of its corporate culture, marketing and PR. There is an air of exclusivity surrounding Apple and those communities.

That said, I would agree that just because people are gathering somewhere and talking about your brand doesn't necessarily make it a community. Community means a substantial network of RELATIONSHIPS. If it's just a bunch of strangers talking; that's a cocktail hour.

JGoldsborough 233 pts moderator

MattLaCasse Well said, my friend. The problem is that as PR pros, we feel we need to build something or create something to show we are doing something valuable for our clients. One of best examples I can think of is building Facebook tabs or any digital build with some whiz and bang. Looks great and all, but is it helping brand A achieve its goals? Too many times, we aren't asking that.

Community exists around everything. The people who use a brand's products use them for a reason. Maybe it's because that product helps them do something they love -- like with Fiskars and scrapbooking. But this just in...Doing research, listening and then working to facilitate and harness an already-existing community so you can spread the passion even further is not a fail because you didn't build something. Btw, tons of research shows the "something built" is much more trusted when built by 3rd parties.

MattLaCasse 103 pts

JGoldsborough Absolutely. It's why endorsements are such a valuable advertising tool. It's funny how some agencies charge THOUSANDS of dollars every month and don't do anything substantial for their clients; also why goals, strategies and tactics are so important.