Communities are bullsh*t. That’s right, I said it. Go ahead … think about that Twitter page you manage. Consider the amount of time it took you to build your first 100 followers, let alone your first 1,000. You are feeling pretty high about your ability to grow a “community”, aren’t you? I hate to burst your bubble, but for all your efforts (I know the hard work firsthand) how much is that “community” affecting your brand’s bottom line? Chances are, not a whole lot.

 

For most Social Media professionals, the dreaded words “Return On Investment” are difficult to explain. Time-and-time again, I’ve read blogs and watched videos of people talking above the clouds with fluffy words like “brand awareness,” “community,” “curate” and “conversation.”

 

A popular response to people requesting the ROI of a community management campaign is, “it’s difficult to show the ROI of a conversation.” I completely agree with that statement, because there is none.

 

Recently, Mashable posted an article that stated 51% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that they follow / like. Well duh! Was that really news to any of you? If you like or follow Subway, it is likely because you first tried a Subway sandwich – not the other way around.

 

While I will say that Community Management exists to continue the relationship, reach an extended follower network (the followers of your brand’s followers) and manage reputation, seldom does a brand directly gain a loyal customer or advocate due to the community. In fact, getting someone to click “like” or “follow” on the brand page of a product or service they have not tried is the most difficult thing to do in our industry. You FIRST like something in real life, THEN you like it on Facebook. Not the other way around. Unless your brand has a people discussing it independent of your efforts and outside of your own Twitter update, you do not have a community.

 

So if not community, what is this all about? Google and Bing are integrating a Social search aspect to the results they provide you. This means that if one of your friends likes something on Facebook, or +1s something on Google, your search experience is tailored to include whatever article or website they approved.  There is a tremendous amount of power in this semi-new feature (Bing has been integrating the likes of your Facebook friends for over a year) but it is still early in its development. Also, as I stated above, Reputation Management ­– sustaining and engaging of an online community – is a critical task for a Community Manager. Thus, your job is not in danger.

 

Some brands are inherently more “Social” than others. There are varying amounts of success one can have with building a community, and I understand a lot of you have had some wins you would consider big. This article is not meant to discredit your efforts, but more importantly to show many of you that your focus shouldn’t always be on community building. There is a tremendous amount of time that goes into organically building a community.  Are you seeing the return? Imagine if your primary focus of all that time were to dominate the first page of Google for an organic search of your brands name. Have you even searched your brands name? What types of reviews show up? Do they dominate the entire page when searching for them by name? Start there, and then plan accordingly.  You may find that your time is better spent elsewhere.