Am I the only one who is tired of hearing “social media experts” tell companies to use social media to build a community? Enough already with the abuse and dilution of such a meaningful word.
When I think of community, I think of my neighbours, my son’s school, local businesses, the food bank, municipal government, the baseball team that I coach. We are a community because we work together to improve the lives of people around us. We are doing something together that makes belonging matter. I help a few charities as best I can, which also gives me a sense of community. I also consider myself to be part of the community of Canadian marketing professionals.
But when I buy a TV or a box of cereals, I don’t feel like I am part of a “community”. Even if I like the product, and even if I gave it a “Like”, I honestly don’t care about being part of their community. Even if I buy the same box of cereals every week because it strikes the perfect balance of deliciousness and healthiness, it doesn’t make me feel like I am part of a community.
Audience and community are not the same
The company that sold me the TV might think that they have a community of clients, but I would beg to differ. A “Like” or a “Follow” doesn’t translate into a feeling of belonging or loyalty. Having people hit a button is nice, and it gives you permission to engage with them going forward (well, until you get unliked or unfollowed). But don’t put too much stock in your “Like” count – it’s a simple action in time, one that will likely be forgotten a few hours later.
If your content is interesting or useful, you can build an audience over time. In other words, a group of customers and potential customers that want to hear from you. But don’t kid yourself, most will never feel like they are part of your community.
Don’t forget rule #1 – social media is social. It does provide channels that can be very powerful community building tools for organizations such charities, governments, associations, schools and so on. But don’t jump into social media because you were told that you need to build a community. Use social media if it makes sense and if you have a plan and the resources in place to sustain your engagements. Use it if it can help achieve some of your business objectives.
The last time I checked, Neilsen’s Social Media Report 2012 did not declare ‘joining product communities’ as a key motivator for participating in social media.
The fundamentals of marketing have not changed
Marketing is still about being relevant to the customer journey. It is still about understanding your target market, creating awareness, communicating your value prop to help the customer during the evaluation process, converting a sale, then delivering a quality product/service and customer experience that will improve your odds for retention.
Start by defining your marketing strategies and objectives, then determine how social media will fit. There are many success stories of companies that have successfully used social media to create top-of-mind awareness for their brand, or to generate sales, or to improve client support. But these examples should be used as inspiration only – to help you build the right social media strategy for your company. Beware of cookie-cutter tactics and promises.
“The formula for success in social media begins with first defining what success is and how it will be measured. This is one of the most important steps in any social media strategy, yet it is the first step that many businesses miss. The truth is that there is no formula for success. It requires something special for each strategy and it’s dependent on the people you’re trying to reach, their expectations, your business objectives and how this engagement ties specifically to your organization (sales, marketing, service, products, etc.)” – Brian Solis, February 19, 2013
If you are selling cereals, use social media to make conversations (not speeches) with your customers. Listen to them to make better cereal or a cooler looking box, use social media to make it easy for your best customers to spread the word, use social media to monitor your competitors and consumer trends…but enough with the community stuff.