Pushing The Truth Behind Building A Community

Posted by

Do companies really want to build communities or do they just want to sell you stuff?

There is no straight answer to this question. The truth is, there are companies who are genuine and really do want to build a community, and then there are those who think they want to build a community but are really just looking for any opening to hit you with a sales pitch. If you want to push that truth even further, most companies lie somewhere in the middle – they sincerely want to build community, but only if that community eventually leads to a sale.

And, who can blame them?

Take a look at any real-world community. Is it run by a business or is the business one of the many functions (or cogs in the wheel) that serve a community? It might sound like some kind of semantic debate, but it’s an important distinction to identify and think about – especially if your business is just beginning to look at how engage in any of the many online communities. Much of the regular jabber you hear about building an online community for a business is the usual relationship-building advice: everything from taking your time to earning your place in the community to constantly providing value and understanding your role within the community that you’re either creating or engaging in.

But, there’s something more.

You can’t build a community after you need it. It has to be there (and it has to be solid) when you need it. So, when do you need it? That’s the point, you never know. As more and more companies let their Blog lapse, ease off on opening up on Twitter or gently step away from their Facebook page because they currently don’t have any campaigns in market, what they’re not realizing is that the community will not just wait around for them. That "community" will move on, and in doing so will heavily divested in the brand. Some consumers might even feel used.

You have to start it. You have to keep at it.

There is tons of online chatter about being relevant to your community and about really embracing not just the content you are publishing as a company, but the context. None of that will matter if you are not consistent with your frequency and pace. It can’t just heat up when you need some sales and then dissipate when you’re not selling your wares. It’s also hard to build that community today when you really needed it yesterday.

Now, more than ever, is the right time to sit down with your team members and start talking about a real strategy to engage, create and nurture an online community – one that’s always there… not just for when you need it.


  1. After your campaign finished, what’s next? Some ideas.
    Many companies struggle with this problem. As you correctly say “The community will not just wait around for them”. Many companies are aware of social media and rush to use it for campaign marketing purposes. What often times happens, is that there is no plan for the long run engagement with companies’ followers and fans. But this is where the strength of social media really comes into effect. Engaging your customer should not be reduced to pitching your products and services but rather you should be encouraging interaction. Try to direct your actions at extending human interactions and two-way conversation. This way you can keep people attracted to your Facebook Page or Blog, etc. and you will get valuable feedback and information when listening to the conversations.

  2. I think that the concept of forming communities around small businesses is really under appreciated and under used.
    There’s a lot more to customer communities than just selling or brand-building. You can use community forums of users to help each other and share tips and tricks. You can use customer communities communities to provide product feedback. You can use communities of other business owners to help navigate your market space.
    But you’re right, too many businesses see a community as an after-thought, instead of a necessity.

  3. Seems like ‘online community’ is the new ‘mailing list’. We’re seeing more and more organizations try and create their own as a way to find an better way to interact with a receptive audience rather then buying lists or doing a typical ad buy
    Stumbled across an Rogers group yesterday that’s a ‘small business incubator’ with a growing following of fans on facebook. It seems its one of countless sites trying to get customers engage and publicly proclaiming their brand affection for others to see. Seems like a good strategy, particularly since we know how peer reviews and comments help other customers make decisions.

  4. Hi Mitch, I usually agree with you but this time I just can’t.
    Is it not one of the major goal of a community ?
    I mean, a company who builds his community surely wants to sell them something in the end. Why spending so much effort to build one then ?
    It is why it is so important to have a good community. First, it is a specialized community and an secondly, an interrested one. What else do you need ?
    All right, making profits out from your community is not the “only thing” they do for you. They can defend you when a “hater” comes and talk against you or against one of your products. Some brand “evangelists” can also help you getting new members into your community, and as you offen say youself, it is the best and cheapest focus group you’ll ever get.
    But in my opinion, the goal of building a community IS to be able to get some money out of all this. They are already interrested in your products or services, they are then pretty much closer to buy something from you than any other person on the net if you push toward them “news” or “insiders infos” or “special promotions”.
    Your community members are your customers.
    Thanks for reading.

    Alexandre Poitras

  5. Great post Mitch!, as always…
    Some companies do genuinely want to develop a community around their brand, and like you state others do it but then through in a sales pitch. I think companies can have the intention of building communities to solely achieve sales, but they can’t force anything in the sense of pitching. They’re only intentions. You still carry out with sincerity, and through being genuine. Though I think the best, and should be only, route is having no intentions of a return and just being active and authentic. I think there is a much more return in this than anything else. As you state in your book Mitch, which just nails it on the head… “If you build trust and community by providing value to others, good things (like more business) do happen.” pg. 123
    Being active in your communities only during campaigns is cheating and misleading your audience… you don’t really care about them. You don’t have a best friend only during football season because you know he always has an extra ticket for the game, then once the season is over ditch him until next year, NO. That is using your “trusted� relationship to better yourself…. It’s not genuine and it’s greedy.

  6. Excellent article, Mitch. One of the best things a community can do for behemoth companies in particular is to humanize them. Your guidance is perfectly applicable to what should be a goal for all large companies. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  7. Building a community of people which have a real interest in what you have to propose or what you have to say is very powerful. I started a blog three weeks ago, following the basic principles as of integrity, keeping things on purpose, be consistent and doing it with passion and I can already see the result.
    However, I have funny results, people send me email instead of writing comments on the blog, but it’s OK for now I can still handle this small volume. But most interesting is the fact those people use the blog to keep in touch with what I have to say and use Twitter and Facebook to send me some comments or ideas.
    Being a big company or a small one, like me, is the same for those people. What I learned is people want to talk (by writing) to someone on the line, someone to connect with.
    I’m still a baby “onliner”, but since I started my blog using clumsily the different tolls available on the Net, I saw a big difference in my business and I’m sure that if a business learns to integrate those tolls in their communication process, the result must be incredible. I hope to get there fast, but for now I am my own show stopper to speed up this integration. (lack of finance and knowledge for now).
    To drop online tolls is a serious decision, especially if your community get used to it. Moreover, some people prefer one tool and some others prefer another. That is why the integration of those tools may give better result than trying to convert everyone the one or two your want to impose on your community.

  8. I guess that depends on whether we’re talking about “user communities” or “developer communities” (there may be other types as well).
    If you form your community for the purpose of selling products, then sure, its purpose is selling products.
    But not all communities are like that. Some communities exist in order to create products. If there’s a commercial backer, they certainly have an interest in selling things (that’s why we called them “commercial”), but that doesn’t mean the community purpose is primarily, or even significantly, about that. Developer communities, particularly in the Apache model, are voluntary, often sponsored contribution pools that exist primarily in order to remove barriers. Often, and perhaps most successfully, they’re about creating infrastructure or support structures, not the primary product (in the old saying “the things we agree to so we can get on with the interesting stuff”). With such goals, the community health is really the only goal of community management; someone else, somewhere else, worries about selling stuff, but not here.

  9. Great post. I would venture to guess that most companies THINK they are forming communities in order to build brand loyalty and eventually make a sell (excluding pure open source communities). The problem with this kind of community building is that its too shallow and lacks any real passion for engaging with the customer. I believe the true mission of community building should be to show leadership in your space and to build personal relationships with your customers that transcends brand building and pulls the customer into every aspect of your company’s processes from product management to support. If every facet of your company is not 100% behind your community efforts and engaging with your community regularly you’re efforts aren’t going to have the impact you think they will.

  10. Mitch,
    I think you have offered a real gem. “You can’t build a community after you need it” – it’s too late. Community building takes time. It’s like an Army. You build, train and support so when you really need them – they are ready.
    You don’t sell to the community. They are already fans. You train your community to help sell for you.

  11. Mitch, great post! I think consistency is critical here. Companies have to be consistent and be in it for the long run to truly build a meaningful community. thanks.

  12. Great post Mitch.
    Do you think that companies will eventually “take over” communities that have been build by hard working fans?
    Let’s say someone has built a fan page on Facebook for ABC company and it’s tens of thousands members strong. Can they come up one day and say: “This is our brand and we want it back”.

  13. Good stuff, Mitch. I’d like to add that I think companies do want to support communities (I avoid the use of “build”) but it is as much a role and budgeting problem as anything else.
    Community supporter isn’t a real role (widely recognized anyway) in your typical corporations. They try to stuff it into places like customer support or Marketing roles. The former leads to overly specialized communities that focus on support and are bounded by goals like “controlling costsâ€? and the latter leads to the problem of budgeting in marketing. In Marketing, each year, you wipe the budget clear and re-invest in new campaigns. And since community isn’t a campaign you often de-invest.
    I like your point, Mitch, that you can’t build community the moment you need it. Supporting community and creating connections is a social infrastructure job. As social media grows as a space I expect we’ll start to see a transformation of people from those old support and marketing positions into a class of employee better suited to the task.

Comments are closed.