You Can't Buy Community

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It’s not possible for your brand to sell anybody anything in an online social network.

(unless all you’re doing is buying online advertising).

After spending the day with over three thousand people who are looking for ways to sell more online at the Annual Summit 08 in Las Vegas, it became abundantly clear that most Marketers think they can get engaged in any (and all) Social Media and Web 2.0 channels by simply paying for it.

You can’t buy your way into a community. You have to earn your place.

In fact, most brands will have to work even harder to create the value and trust in these social circles because people’s instincts will tingle with the feeling that somebody’s trying to sell them something (which makes them not like online social networks). Building trust, providing value and making your mark is a long hard road and it takes a fair amount of strategy, time, effort and sheer intestinal fortitude.

Find a wizard.

That was the main message of my presentation titled, Social Media and the Reluctant Retailer. One of the best ways to build trust is to find someone within your organization (or from outside) who is very interested in these channels and your industry, and would love take part in them as your evangelist – regardless of the pay. A wizard is someone with hidden talents that would love to reveal them and integrate them into their everyday work.

In his morning keynote presentation, Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics and the soon-to-be released book, Grown Up Digital), demonstrated how Millennials think (aka Digital Natives or, as Tapscott calls them, the Net Generation). Simply put one of their key drivers to succeeding in the workplace has little to do with title and salary, but everything to do with how much fun they have on the job and the speed with which stuff gets done.

Your wizard is someone who would love to have fun and work come together (because it’s what their passionate about).

How do you find a wizard?

If you’re looking to create some videos, look for the person who loves playing with their motion graphics software at home. It’s probably the same person who doesn’t want to show you home videos of their most recent family trip, because instead they turned it into a full-feature movie with credits, audio overdubs and snappy editing. If you’re looking to start a Blog or get involved on Twitter, try to identify the individual who used to write for the high school newspaper or the person who still submits music reviews to the local alternative rag. In terms of images, find the person who is a real shutterbug by passion (odds are you can identify them by their flickr pro account). For Podcasting or other audio ideas, look for someone who either is a musician that does weekend recordings or someone who dabbled in radio at University.

Your wizard does not have to be in the Marketing department.

Don’t expect the head of marketing to be the person on Twitter or the marketing coordinator to shoot your YouTube video. To truly build something compelling, the passion has to start with the person who is creating or producing the content and – more often than not – it might be best for Marketing to empower that person versus forcing someone in the department to do it simply because they are in marketing.

What other tips can you share with us to find the best wizards within a company?


  1. I think you’re spot on. At the end of the day companies want data, charts, ROI, etc. To truly engage consumers would require tremendous effort. This is costly in more ways than one. Though despite wanting engagement with consumers, I alternatively think that corporations don’t want to build overtly personal relationships with consumers. This would distract from the buying cycle and offer up more problems with respect to having to cater to more buckets of consumer types. (Should they become “engaged” in the coversation with brand XYZ.) Slightly disjointed thoughts here but I think there is some truth to the delicacy at which corporations much approach their customers.

  2. “You can’t buy your way into a community. You have to earn your place.”
    Best phrase I have read on your blog, ever. Well distilled and clear as day. Good thing it was in a header, too, or I might have missed it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. The best thing about this all is:
    Money can’t buy an evangelist.
    Whereas previously money could buy a lot of advertising space and time.
    As these are no longer so effective, the rules of the game have changed.

  4. Mitch:
    In one of your previous “Six Pixels” episodes, you talked about the importance of being a “champion of your industry,” and I think that’s what the best company evangelists do.
    And as you’re hitting on here, that excitement has to be genuine, or customers will run as fast as the can the other way. We don’t actually talk to brands; we talk to people.
    Find that champion evangelist or wizard who can produce compelling content and throw himself/herself into the middle of plenty of give-and-take conversations with the community, and you’ll be on the right start with your brand.
    –Bryan Person
    LiveWorld social media evangelist

  5. My view about marketing in this space, it’s having passion about what you’re working with and building relationships.
    This makes the difference between communities and customers.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. I’m writing this while in the middle of a Web 2.0 Expo session @ branding in the social media – and yeah – it’s all about advertising and that’s the problem in a nutshell, you can’t buy relationships.

  7. Good points all. Companies can’t purchase community. Marketers don’t create community. Community already exists outside of our investment or control and we marketers have to earn our way in.

  8. Mitch,
    Your findings from the summit continue to prove that the majority of traditional marketers still haven’t “seen the light” when it comes to the importance of putting a human face on the business. Last week, Shana Albert wrote a post about the importance of empathy and using social media to connect with people online in that manner.
    As she states in the post, Conversation + Sincerity + Empathy = Trust. Buying your way into social media doesn’t provide any of the pieces needed to build trust. Only someone like a “wizard” can complete that equation.
    Here’s a link to Shana’s post:

  9. You can’t buy your way into a community. You have to earn your place. Right on, Mitch.
    This seems to remind me about the difference between advertising (paid) and third party editorial (earned). While I am not naive enough to believe that the profit motive won’t create challenges in social media, I have faith that the intrinsic values of transparency and candor will prevail. After all, people are way smarter then they get credit for. Money might be able to buy a lot, but let’s not underestimate the will of the people.

  10. Mitch, I enjoyed your session at and have been trying to get a copy of your presentation. I have contacted the folks at and haven’t gotten are reply. Are you able to supply it? It was tuesday’s Social media and the reluctant retailer… Thanks.

  11. I chose to enter this Pixilated Conference to help spread the word about a super strain of tuberculosis.
    I have confidence that once you see the video you will want to share it with others.

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