There is no community on social media

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social media community

Now that’s a headline that gets your attention, right?

And when I saw that headline reporting on a speech provided by a Forrester executive, it made me pause.

Speaking at the Lithium Technologies LiNC conference in San Francisco, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Nate Elliott dropped a bomb on brand managers: you don’t build a community on social or have any meaningful customer relationships on Facebook:

There’s no community there. This notion of “build a community on Facebook,” I’ve never seen any brand successfully build a long-term community on Facebook. Maybe around a topic for a week, people come together, but conversations aren’t threaded. They’re not archived. There’s never been a meaningful community there. Even pages that get lots of likes on posts, and comments and shares, there’s not a community there.

The notion that you build a community on Facebook, and that we call people who manage the pages Community Managers, it’s always been a pipe dream. If you want a community, you need to build a community, and that means a branded community on a domain you own.

I am generally a fan of Forrester and their research but this observation has me dumbfounded. I wasn’t at the conference and there is a chance the reporter took the quote out of context, but I have rarely seen a published opinion that I disagree with so profoundly.  Here is why companies can certainly build communities on social media and, in fact, they are doing so.

1. Go to where the people are

What happens if every company followed Elliott’s advice and focused solely on building a proprietary community? Instead of becoming part of a natural gathering of people on Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube, they only focused on driving people to their own sites? First, the resources to do that would be staggering. Second, do you really want to log in to every company’s site every time you want to interact with them? For most companies, wouldn’t it make sense to just build a community where the people are already gathering?

Here’s an example. I worked with a very large company who actually tried to create their own private community. There were two reasons for this — they didn’t want to have customer conversations in public where competitors could see them and they did not want negativity and problems from customers out in the open. Even though this was a very popular company, there was almost nothing they could do to actually get people to log in … maybe.

I did research to show them that their fears of exposing customers and negativity where unfounded and they agreed to open up a page on Facebook. Within three months, the community activity was 500 percent higher than after three years of trying to create a private community.

2. It’s cost prohibitive

Most brands are not conversational. If you work for Nike, McDonald’s, or Disney … well then yes, you can probably build a lively proprietary community. Those are conversational brands with tons of resources to create enough value to make somebody want to subscribe and log-in on a regular basis.

But what about Jiffy-lube? Or Honda lawn mowers? Or Mellow Mushroom (my favorite local pizza place)? Those are all great brands but I’m not sure I would ever think to log into their site. I might follow them on Facebook, however. In these cases, not only are you creating a private community (not cheap), you would have to produce enough content to transform into a conversational brand. That would take a ridiculous amount of money. Instead, I would probably take a fraction of that budget and create a really great public YouTube channel, for example.

3. A focus on content + connection, not platform

What builds a community? Is it merely building a presence on Facebook, or is it connecting with people there in a distinctive and helpful way?

I would argue that if you provide great content and helpful connection, you can build an effective community on Facebook more easily than through your own site. It’s not so much where you do it but how you do it.

An example is Tourism Australia. This is an organization that has created one of the most vibrant Facebook communities on earth through amazing photographs and a fun and unconventional view of engagement. I love going to their page but realistically, how often am I going to visit their website? Maybe when it’s time to plan a trip?  Which leads me to this final point on the nature of social media community …

4. Weak links and the Alpha Audience

There is some merit in Elliott’s perspective if you think in terms of activating people to create some value for your business. In my book The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business, I call this your Alpha Audience — the bedrock of your business. But I believe he is thinking about it the wrong way. Let’s dive into this idea a little.

Your social media connections are generally weak relational links. They may “like” something but they won’t necessarily buy something. A better predictor of those who actually create value for your business is determining those who are sharing your content. When people share, they are saying “I believe in this and you should too.” They are becoming advocates. I believe that this is the true community you need to seek and nurture.

You can’t own this audience, which is what I think Elliott dreams is possible if you had your own online community. I don’t believe you can own an audience by any means, and probably never could. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build a proprietary, actionable audience who collects around your content and your brand.

In this strategy, your content — wherever it is — allows you to open new doors in an unprecendented way (the weak links). Over time, you have the opportunity to turn them into stronger links that actually do something. In my mind, this is the real value of content and social media marketing today and the primary theme of The Conten Code.

I think today we must focus on building community wherever our customers want to be. Connect with them through content that creates interest and eventually inspires loyalty. That is the possibility and promise of social media community.

Your thoughts?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Franciso Orsorio

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  • William Cosgrove

    I also read this the other day and had mixed feelings about his statement. I believe and have been writing about the advantages of having an onsite community for about two years.

    However, an onsite community, if properly implemented can provide benefits that nothing available today can match but should be used to compliment not replace your activity on social networks.

    If anyone is interest on how an onsite community can compliment and energize your marketing efforts go to my LinkedIn profile you can read some of the articles I have written on the subject on Pulse and get an idea of the many benefits that having an onsite community offers.

  • Interesting points from the source and your thoughts echo my own, Mark. Very much like you, I found the quoted statement unsettling and only 50% accurate.
    Having said that, you didn’t touch posting of or archiving topics or posts, which can be found on social media when people search for specific person or topic. If there is conversation going on about something, it’s definitely being discussed on social media, and those terms can always be searched for online in one way or another.
    Blogs are great places to build a community too, and authors will link back to their blog and things will be talked about, discussed, and be acted upon there. Blogs are easier to find, and community members can interact with each other there as well.
    One thing social media does is allow anyone to be a part of community while a closed system on a website is more of a club membership only community which takes more time and effort to grow.
    So, to help your point (not that you need it, but) is that a community can be built and sustained on social media, it only depends on whether a person who is building the community wants to earn membership money, earn money through some other way through that community, or just wants to help out local/global community using his own or get a local/global audience to help a certain cause together.

  • Robert Brooks

    I totally agree with you, Mark, about social media communities.

    It is absolutely possible to build, manage, and maintain active and thriving communities on social media, just as it is possible for communities to self-aggregate in social media.

    Like-minded individuals will always seek one another out, and social media allows them to do that in a way that was impossible before the advent of digital technology.

    Like you, I worked with an extremely large and popular company that had the resources to build and manage its own very active community.

    However, I am currently involved in an ongoing project with an extremely active and passionate community that has zero monetary resources, but is just as lively and engaged as the multinational.

    You are absolutley correct – “Go to where the people are” – and then engage with them there.

    Content and connection are indeed key. I have had tremendous success with the aforementioned community in various channels, primarily Facebook and Twitter, and augmenting that activity with Tagboard, G+, and YouTube. The content has been a varied mixture of my own content and user-generated content, both with great success.

    And I also agree with your reference to (Granovetter’s) weak links. The vast majority of my connections in the community in which I am involved started out as weak links. A few of those connections, over time, became strong links, which have given me access to further weak links, thus growing both my network and the reach of the community.

    I think Nate Elliott’s comments are indicative of an outdated attitude that smacks of an “owning” mindset rather than a “sharing” mindset.

    As as we all know, the more we share, the more we receive.

  • Thanks Robert for this very thorough and insightful comment. A good blog post in its own right.

  • Very good point Sean. This addition about archiving and search add a lot to the discussion. Many thanks.

  • We see this all the time in community management with MMOs, actually, though it’s nowhere near unique to those communities.

    Official Forums are nigh-universally recognized as the -worst- place to go for enthusiasts, because of the tight and often draconic moderation, usually by third parties who don’t understand the nature and norms of the community within the product use segment (ie; the Official Forums are not run by customers/gamers, they’re run by PR).

    What that leaves us with is tools such as Reddit, Facebook, and – recently – Google+ communities. The natural moderation provided by being in a room with your real peers is much more valuable there – and smart companies (Square-Enix does this well, as does Blizzard) will have listening posts within those communities as well. They pipe up and weigh in, but by and large are treated as *members* of the community, not outsiders.

    Think of it like Fight Club. At a certain point, the narrator gets to quit his job and focus on walking – faceless and nameless – through the crowd. That’s community management in a nutshell; being part of the community, rather than behaving as its parents.

    I think that’s what this Forrester comment misses the most – I’d bet heavily that Nate Elliot’s simply never had a Fight Club moment, and as such, believes they don’t exist.

  • I think the Forrester quote was on the right track but ended with a thud.

    I generally agree that we aren’t really building a community on Facebook — particularly with Facebook pages — at least in the way we’ve defined communities in the past. It is fleeting and that community is more or less on a post-by-post basis. Now you can certainly create a Facebook group to build community the way Nate would want it.

    But I agree the answer is definitely not building a community on your site. Good luck with that. No one wants that. This isn’t 10 years ago, and unless you’re a big brand it’s just not going to give you anywhere close to the results that Facebook could (particularly a well engaged Facebook group).

  • I’ll agree and disagree. 🙂 As a long-time community builder, I think you can build a community on any platform you choose. I’ve seen successful forum communities, Facebook and LinkedIn communities, blog communities, and even email list communities.

    The key is how interested members are in the topic. A brand community would be hard pressed to create its own platform, login, etc. since the interest among most consumers will almost certainly be too casual. Building on a platform that is easy for people to access and join, and has built-in engagement tools, makes sense.

    On the other hand, topical communities about anything from technologies to frequent flyer secrets can thrive on independent sites.

    I’ve built communities that generate millions of monthly pageviews, and having control of your platform, UX, features, etc. is important to establish barriers to competition. If you build on someone else’s platform, your business metrics can change at their whim. And, you may have a difficult time offering a unique experience and special features for your audience. Monetizing your community traffic on someone else’s platform may be particularly challenging.

    So, as with most things in life, it depends… 🙂

  • The community management fight club. I like that! Thanks for the very thought-provoking comment sir. Well done.

  • Agree Jon. I actually had Groups (LinkedIn too) in mind when I was writing this so thanks for the addition and clarification. Much appreciated my friend!

  • Very good points. Fantastic comment. Thank you so much for adding your wisdom Roger!

  • Whoa, that title raised a few hackles. Is there community on Facebook? Rarely but not never. Yes it’s hard work, but it can be done. The thing is, many brands want a pop-up community and that doesn’t exist except around really hot topics that people are passionate about. Find your alpha audience and nurture it and you’ll have community wherever you are.

  • “It is absolutely possible to build, manage, and maintain active and thriving communities on social media, just as it is possible for communities to self-aggregate in social media.”

    I don’t happen to believe “communities” can be created online. Communities are built offline. Groups, and networks are built online.

  • Carrie

    The problem here is you and Nate Elliott are operating off of two very different definitions of what “community” even is. Unfortunately, what you’re talking about is not actually community. Community is not conversation and content; community is sustained relationships between members that grow over time as members become leaders. Fortunately, this is a very common misconception that is easy to identify and clarify. Also, your approach has value as well. It just isn’t community per se. I build community professionally for clients and with CMX, and I’ve come across this lack of clarity hundreds of times.

    You say, for instance, that you launched a Facebook page for a company full of perceived detractors and “the community activity was 500 percent higher than after three years of trying to create a private community.” But Facebook page activity does not create a “community”. Here are the 4 defining factors of a community, as stated in Dr. David MacMillan’s Sense of Community Theory. His work laid the groundwork for all professional community building: 1) Clear membership (just because you comment on a Facebook post once does not mean that you’re a “member” of a community). 2) Influence on other members and other members have an influence on you, 3) Shared emotional connection (EMOTION is so key here), 4) fulfillment of needs.

    You’re right. Most private communities fail to launch. I’m actually a big proponent of starting community on Facebook groups (NOT pages) because it’s a way of proving a community concept and a basis for relationships that can form offline and deepen in private spaces down the road. The private space is not the issue. It is that the companies who launch them fail to carve out a healthy community vision at the cross-section of what is good for the company and what is good for potential members. They try to serve up marketing messages or make the community all about their brand. For the record, even Nike’s forums failed at this, even though you suggest they’re a “conversational” brand.

    I’m really glad you brought this up. This is such an important conversation to have. Thanks for giving us the space to discuss it. 🙂

  • So I was at the conference and saw this presentation.

    I’ll note that everything I say below is what I took away from it. If you want to hear it from Nate himself, there is a webinar he did on the topic with Lithium –

    Nate talked about Communities meeting the second and third of their pillars of social marketing – social depth and relationship.

    To the point made by Carrie previously, it’s about your definition of Community. Community is not just an interaction between the brand and consumer, it’s a collection of users with similar interests who will interact with the brand and each other.

    Places like Facebook fit the first pillar of reach – but he noted even less so given that organic reach is now as good as zero. True community can’t be built on Facebook because the platform and the algorithm work against it. People don’t turn up to a brand’s page and hang out there for periods of time to to talk with each other. The focus is on the brand creating content to engage the audience rather than the audience engaging with each other.

    This is why he talked about branded communities as community in the truest sense of the word because the format and function facilitate long term and stronger relationships between users.

    I didn’t take from it that it was about owning the audience, for me the message was about creating a stronger community through bringing audience together

  • I 100% agree to what you have written above. You can build a community of your own by just starting out on your own website or blog. You have to go where you can find people who will be interested in reading your content, and eventually buying your product. At Cloudways, when we started a blog, we were getting around 200 visits a day and there were only our team members who were sharing our content.

    What we did to change that is that we identified the small communities on Facebook, Google+, Forums, Reddit etc and started helping people with their problems. Not only we built trust quickly but our community managers become influential and been able to built relationships.

    Those relationships that we built with the people in community and the people influencing those communities have benefited us in a huge way.

    Its always good to go where your prospective customers are. When you help them, you build trust and loyalty/advocacy comes with it!

  • I think that is the important distinction Janet. These things take time and do not necessarily conform to quarterly sales objectives.

  • I don’t think there are two widely different definitions of community here. Elliott talked about people who actually buy things, I am talking about the Alpha Audience — the emotionally-connected, actionable loyalists who have a strong link to your business. I’m sorry if I was not clear in the post I wrote. Nevertheless, I agree with your comments and assessment and am most grateful for this excellent and intelligent contribution to the discussion.

  • Thanks for your support. I actually do believe you can build a community on a blog. I did it. : )

    I think companies can do it too. Fiskars, CAT and Patagonia would be examples. But I think the main point is that it is also possible to build community on social media as you have demonstrated so well. Thanks very much for sharig your wisdom today! Nice to see you back in the comment section!

  • If you go by Carrie’s definition of “community” above (which seems pretty robust) I would contend that there is a community associated with this blog. Online.I could go into the details to support this but it would come out as another entire blog post or more in length : )

  • This sounds like an ad to me. I’m glad you joined the conversation but it is hard to discern if you are helping or promoting. I appreciate the effort that went into writing the comment and hope you will returrn.

  • Thanks for the encouragement @businessesgrow:disqus. I meant to say that you can built a community of your own but it takes time and you need to first find people who will be interested to read your content and become a regular reader. To find those people, you have to go to the existing communities. Social media is the best place. 🙂

  • William Cosgrove

    Mark, I apologize if my comment sounded like an advertisement but I intended it more as an attempt to educate. I feel that onsite communities are a viable alternative and versatile tool that combined with social networking can bring more utility, purpose and function to websites as a whole.

    Also, onsite communities offer an effective way to communicate and nurture without intruding on the consumer’s privacy which is becoming a legitimate concern. It is an inbound marketing concept that was not very long ago the recommended way to market until technology provided news ways to push messages to the public disguised with terms like retargeting and geolocating-a topic for another discussion.

  • Full disclosure: I’m VP/Mktg @Sprinklr so I have a horse in this race.

    Hey Mark…great post.

    Of all the points you raise above, the one that I like the most is #3. Community is not a place. It’s a shared set of connections. Now, there may be a “home base” but the community can exist outside of that.

    I’m not a Yankees fan, but let’s use that example (hope Red Sox fans and others will forgive me).

    For Yankee fans, the ‘home base’ is Yankee stadium, but if you’re in LA or Tokyo…you can get together with other Yankee fans to watch a game (or not) and still be part of the community b/c it’s about connection and content.

    For a brand, the “home base” is the web site, but there are other places where the community may gather and the brand will want to do what it can to nourish those ppl even if they aren’t at their home base.

    In the case of the Yankees, by making sure fans can watch on TV/online, buy merchandise, etc. And the Yankees will want to do everything they can to know who that fan is, regardless of where they are.

    Now, this is where it comes to the Sprinklr part. So consider yourself warned.

    What you’ve also outlined is the critical need for a brand to maintain a singular view of the customer across all social touchpoints.

    For example, wouldn’t a brand want to know that the person who engages with them on a Facebook page is the same person who logged into their site the previous week? Or vice versa.

    If they want to view that person as Mark in both locations and the same Mark who is a blogger/influencer, can this be done by using multiple, disjointed systems that don’t keep the context of the customer relationship across all social touchpoints?

    I’m biased, but I don’t think it can be.

    So, to wrap it all up, community-as you point out- happens in multiple places. Taking the full range of community members’ experiences into account so that when they show up at your website, a brand can deliver the most salient experience is non-negotiable. And doing what you can, as a brand, to nourish the customer journey at places other than your home base is the key to driving community.

  • Carrie

    The Alpha Audience can be born from the community. I agree with this.

    But an audience and a community are not the same thing. Language is crucial here: An audience implies a theater with the brand on stage. A community implies a space where anyone can take the stage, pitch in, and meet each other around a common cause/passion.

    Just because I eat KIND bars, for instance, like their FB posts, and am loyal to their brand does not mean that I call myself a KIND community member. I never would. BUT if they launched a KIND community of yoga enthusiasts, where I could meet other yoga enthusiasts at meetups (who just so happened to eat KIND bars too), I might consider joining and meeting other people in this Alpha Audience. Then I might form connections to start the early stages of a community. This could happen online too. Fiskars is a great example of this. Glad you brought that up.

    I think the approaches you described above have enormous value, but I don’t think they’re building community. Let’s call it something else, like social marketing, and reserve the word community for where it really applies.

  • I must admit I don’t agree with Nate’s sentiments on this topic, at all. I oversee large editorial brands with circa 3.2m fans/followers etc and our audience has a sustained presence on our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts etc – we know this because whilst our engagement might fluctuate we retain an engaged audience every month that growths alongside our community size.

    We have a personal relationship with our audiences and we know they get our editorial tone as they regularly reflect on what types of artists we cover. They even create meme’s off the back of our brands and the content we make.

    I feel like this is a comment thrown forward in time from the 90s, it’s really archaic as on-site communities simply become graveyards. The joy of social media, from a brand point of view, is the ability to reach outside of your traditional sphere of influence, into where the masses are and introduce them to your brand. Sure, you’ll have an audience split of the evangelists who follow everything you do on-site and on social, the subscribers who might not come to your site everyday but sign up for your updates in their newsfeed and then the casual audience, the biggest audience who you want to try and entice in and then covert up the chain to the former.

    Of course our goal is to get people back to our site, into our ecosystem and finally into our paid membership service but social is a massive part of this and so are the communities we’ve grown and maintain on a daily basis.

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    Great post. That guy must not hang out where the people are. I have some great communities on Social Media. There are people I’ve never met face to face, but we help each other all the time.

  • I don’t know enough about this audience/habits/strength to comment one way or another on the topic of whether what you have is a community or something else.

    Have you met any of these people in person?

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  • vampituity

    Great post Mark. My horse in this is: I’m a community manager. I build communities. The platform doesn’t matter, it’s what the participants are getting from interacting with each other. They come drawn by the brand hosting the private community or the Facebook group but then, step back and let the participants connect with each other. What the industry keeps on stumbling with is that the term community is very hot- everyone is using it to replace words like “audience” and “customers” and “brand advocates.” Brushing off all of Facebook to say community is not possible there isn’t accurate (because of Facebook groups). Typical Facebook pages where engagement outcomes are sharing commenting or liking, Elliot has a measure of accuracy there. But typically commenters and trolls around a Facebook story posted by a business aren’t going to go seek each other out to engage more deeply–that strikes me as what drove his generalization.

    I address this early on in my post here:

    Thanks for taking our comments! If I find myself making friends with one of your commenters here based on what he or she wrote, I’ll go seek out some crow pie to eat. 😉

  • Well said my friend,

  • As many as I can. It is the best part of my job.

  • Right. That reinforces my point. THAT’s the community aspect. Once members of a group/network start interacting in the real world, only then can a community begin to form. The strongest communities, are the ones with a LOT of friendships/experiences in the physical world.

  • I believe this is needs to be the number one focus for analytics in the future. The Alpha Audience is in the little data, not the big data. I’m encouraged Sprinklr is thinking that way.

  • Tom we are really fortunate to have your on-the-ground and experienced view as a contribution to this discussion. This thorough comment is a real gift and I thank you!

  • Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute today Pauline.

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  • Wow. I’m with you @businessesgrow:disqus & am shocked to hear such a thing. Maybe he can’t build community but I am a part of and lead numerous communities that either started or started and have remained on social media! We work with brands who have small to hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook with a thriving community. We also must hire community minded people who see the value in community to help them manage the conversation, trust, etc. In no way would most of the community members on these platforms move to a private branded network and have the same conversation. Going to where they are is the key, they feel more comfortable there in early stages of the relationship building.

    To state you can’t build community on Facebook, Twitter or G+ is just nonsense to me.

  • It is awesome that you attended and shared this with us. I understand the points but this is still too broad of a characterization to be accurate, There are certainly groups of people hanging out on LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, even Facebook pages. I don’t know what he means by “social depth” as a pillar but when i get off the road and have a moment I will listen to the webinar. I get the impression that too many consultants have a very narrow view of the world. They look at a few big brands, talk to a few people (often very few people) and then make a declaration that is simply out of step with what is really going on out here.

    And I’m a social media skeptic by nature. Often the business case for social media marketing is very limited and very narrow, especially with the reach issue you mention. But I also do see successes that would refute his premise and the idea of successful branded communities seems remote for all but a few huge brands

    Thank you so much for your contribution to the discussion.

  • I’m glad you’re here, I don’t recall seeing you before so welcome.

    Yes, people connect here. Businesses have been formed between commenters, as well as collaborations, friendships, and partners. For a few years I ran an event Social Slam. It started as a small gathering of friends from the blog. By the third year there were 650 people in a room eager to connect and meet each other. That could not have happened any other way. Very cool.

  • Thanks for adding your view Pam.

  • vampituity

    Thank you Mark…I follow you a bit more on Twitter vs. actually making it here to your owned content. I wish you even greater success with building community here around your blog. A great story- thanks for sharing for those hoping for community building from a blog- good to have it out there.

  • vampituity

    Thank you Mark…I follow you a bit more on Twitter vs. actually making it here to your owned content. I wish you even greater success with building community here around your blog. A great story- thanks for sharing for those hoping for community building from a blog- good to have it out there.

  • Yes Mark, you did but I’d be willing to bet if you added a forum discussion community underneath, you’d gain even more traction as blog discussions are limited to the originating blog which in reality are only a small part of a much bigger discussion. Forums tie the discussions together and link all of the contributing posts. BTW, just for grins, at a conference I attended last week Disqus itself announced a new service to enable forums underneath the commenting platform to enable just that kind of concept.

  • Yes Mark, you did but I’d be willing to bet if you added a forum discussion community underneath, you’d gain even more traction as blog discussions are limited to the originating blog which in reality are only a small part of a much bigger discussion. Forums tie the discussions together and link all of the contributing posts. BTW, just for grins, at a conference I attended last week Disqus itself announced a new service to enable forums underneath the commenting platform to enable just that kind of concept.

  • I totally agree. Communities are not and never have been platform specific. They are broad groups of people with like minds and common interests participating in discussions over literally tens of thousands of sites.

  • I totally agree. Communities are not and never have been platform specific. They are broad groups of people with like minds and common interests participating in discussions over literally tens of thousands of sites.

  • Mark thanks for the post, I definitely think it is a “horses for courses” policy. There are brands that thrive with communities like many of the sports teams we work with but sometimes you need to assess the return on effort in building a community around a product or brand. I agree with the notion of not building a community for some brands and products as they don’t fit or need a community to prove you can sell using social platforms. As with all posts on the internet if you don’t spark some controversy you won’t get the clicks and commentary I think Nate got the result he wanted but it doesn’t apply for all.

  • Great post Mark, as always. Well, social media was invented to bring people together and create communities. And then brands decided they want a piece of the pie too. So saying there is no community on social media is denying the main purpose of social.
    Brands should definitely be where their audience is. However, that doesn´t exclude having their own blog where to continue the conversations started on social and vice versa. In the end, communities on FB, TW, G+ will exist as long as those platform exist, so you want to have something of your own to send people to and be smart enough to keep them there.

  • Robert Brooks

    The transition from online communities to offline communities is a natural progression, and is indeed well documented in academia and elsewhere. I feel that I understand your point, Drew, but I’m afraid I disagree with you.

    If I understand you correctly, you are claiming that “community”, as an abstract concept, can only exist offline and between real people who physically interact. I think this is far too narrow a definition of community.

    One can define community as “sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”; surely this state of affairs can exist without the neccesity of occupying the same physical space?

    If we accept the above definition to be accurate and generally applicable, then community exists anywhere there are people who fulfill the criteria of the definition.

    How strong the ties are between the members of a given community is a seperate question.

  • CurryPRProf

    My dinosaur-era self continues to have a problem with the term “community” when referring to individuals whose sole connection is via a product or service. “Community,” in my mind, is human beings interacting in real life with each other. That being said, Mark does make some good points here. Even dinosaurs can learn! 🙂

  • Wow, I’m really struggling with this one. Although Nate’s comment might have been somewhat skewed to the audience, he was only defending the marketing position of the vendor who hired him to speak. But, when you go beneath the “Marketing Speak” to the depth of the message, I tend to agree with him. Mark, your rather “targeted response” suffers from much the same but once one reads between your lines, you are also correct. The real issue here in my mind (as squirrelly as it is sometimes) is that it’s not about a “Community” but more about “Communities”. The social domain consists of millions of interconnected communities of interest scattered across the planet. Many certainly reside on Facebook, Google, Twitter and others but they are not limited to those platforms as each has functionality specific to their own interests and value propositions. And, they all have limits which may not address the specific needs of targeted use cases.

    Companies like Lithium, Jive and hundreds of others provide alternative approaches for companies to build out specific communities (forums) within the greater social domain. Contrary to your point, most are actually “publicly accessible and can be found through all primary search engines. These types of services actually provide deeper functionality to deliver specific value than the more generic approaches of a Facebook, Google or Twitter. Many are used as drivers for shopping, “how to”, product reviews and other customer orientated discussions specifically related to the site owner’s business. And, most are connected to corporate Facebook pages and other larger sites where people gather so the site owners can provide deeper insights and consumer information in ways not technically available in the larger platforms.

    Fundamentally, the giants (FB, Twitter, Google, WeChat etc.) are all trying to enhance functionality to provide these kinds of capabilities as well. But, as always, the world needs choices and the demand for choice will always prevent any one platform or strategy .from becoming everything to everyone.

  • Very interesting. Thanks for sharing that Steve!

  • I love that you are so passionate about the precise language we use and perhaps I have been cavalier by using words interchangably. As a business owner, the only thing I really care about long-term is creating an actionable audience. In fact, that is what any business should really care about. If a business is not meaningfully connecting with people who eventually create business benefits, you and your community will eventually go away. Community alone can’t drive a business. A group of people with a shared interest can’t do it either and neither will a goal of “conversation” or “engagement.” At some point people in a community have to do something to move the business along or what is the use of the effort?

    I have a feeling this comment is going to make you go nuts. : ) But I love the diversity of views and the discussion.

  • I was with you until the comment about needing to spark controversy to be successful. That is a dangerous strategy which I cover here:

  • I appreciate the simplicity and clarity of your comment Corina. Well done!

  • I don’t understand why you don’t believe deep and meaningful connections can’t form online. I think you just have to look at the number of people who meet strangers and end up having affairs as an example that you don’t have to be face to face to inflame passion. That is an extreme example but there is no question that I have a very strong relationship with many people on this online community who I have never met. Included are commenters @Steve_Dodd:disqus in Toronto — one of my very first blog readers, @corinamanea:disqus who has become a friend in Spain although we have not met and @muhammadsaadkhan:disqus who has desriibed me as a cherished mentor and father figure even though he lives 10,000 miles away in Pakistan.

    There are also at least six people in this stream who I HAVE met in real life but that never would have happened if the door had not opened online.

  • Thanks for the very thoughtful and complete response Steve. I don’t think we are far apart.

    I don’t disagree that private or branded forums would not be ideal but my point is that they not always practical or necessary and in fact there are many, many examples where organizations have communities established on the public web (which is why I am so puzzled by the original view from Forrester).

    You make a good point that this blog is in fact a branded community of sorts. When I started it, I am somewhat embarassed to say there was no strategy behind it, which was probably apparent to you, one of my readers from the early days. I did it because I like to write and this was my outlet and experiment. If LinkedIn Pulse was around then, perhpas I would not have started a blog. If I lvoed doing video, I would have set up camp on YouTube (and in fact, many people have created passionate and thriving communities there!)

    Thanks for the great comment and thanks for being one of the charter members of the {grow} community. And yes, it is a community!

  • Totally, we are in full agreement! One shoe never fits all! I think the real issue is that when “experts” are paid to present, they need to be more careful with their positioning to protect the credibility of themselves and those who contracted their services. Buyers eventually see through the “Spin” and when they do, they bite hard.

  • Carlos Cata

    Hi Mark, I completely agree with you. From my perspective these private communities have been in existence for quite some time, they’re called Forums. Most people are not, as you stated, going to take the time to visit all these different forums in order to sustain conversations and interactions with a brand. People want to interact where they are most comfortable and where its the simplest for them. That’s going to be by becoming available on the social networks that they are already a part of.

    Every person’s Facebook, Twitter, Google or what have you creates an individualized hand-selected community for that person. In that cyber world, they control who can see them and who can talk to them. Therefore, even if you’re in agreement with Nate about not being able to create any meaningful long-term communities within Facebook, if a customer likes your page, if they interact with it at least once, then they are giving the opportunity to periodically drop in for a visit. They are inviting you into their world. And I believe that as long as that person can identify with your brand then there is a meaning relationship that can be nurished through social media with meaningful content.

  • True dat, Pam.

  • Good read. Also about focusing on the content and not the platform is something we can ALL learn from. If you’re creating valuable content people will share it on whatever they share it on. That’s so darn true it hurts, I like the idea of giving people the options to share on their platform of choice. You’re right thought, look at those sadly 15 google+ shares you have here, compared to the others. Also, yes – “weak links” because let’s be honest, everyone has their own intentions, and needs – I think the real new goal is to make your content titles so specific and how it can apply for the masses. (unless it’s SUPER niche).

    Thanks again for sharing!
    J Hunter

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  • MargsC

    That quote from Nate really resonated with me – I think the crucial point he makes is the lack of continuity specifically with a Facebook “community” – it is impossible to build a true community of interacting people when there is no thread that can be followed.

    So, we do a really helpful series of posts on something topical, but only 1 in how many people will see it on their news feeds? And they’re unlikely to see all the articles in the series, so they will never get the thread or the point of it. And even if they visit the page to read more, it’s such a mission to find stuff on a busy page that they will drop off pretty quickly, no matter how useful or insightful the content is.

    The only community sites that really seem to work are the true communities – your local area groups that give the heads up on electricity blackouts, crime, good carpenters etc. Those are real communities, but even then – I remember seeing a post about a really good workman, but when I go to the page I simply cannot find it as it’s a really busy community. The page has failed in achieving a part of it’s purpose. But then, I could always post on the page and ask for the details and am bound to get a good response, because the community is there to help!

    I specify Facebook because certainly LinkedIn circumvents this issue by creating a true blogging site and content hub. And G+ (unpopular as it is) does the same. These are the places to go and build your communities (if, of course, they fit with your business model).

    So, in my humble opinion, Nate has a valid criticism if not really a workable solution!

  • Mark, I agree that community is difficult for many brands to achieve. What is missing is the human connection. If a brand shows themselves as authentic and engaging and responsive to their customers, then community is possible.

    P.S. I enjoyed meeting you briefly as Social Media Marketing World. I look forward to a longer conversation someday.

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