Communities are Bullsh*t

Social Media Marketing

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.

Share Your Thoughts!

3 Responses

  1. I agree that few people like Subway on Facebook before actually eating Subway. But there’s also an element of marketing beyond attention and interest and action… Nowadays the action is searching the internet for information.

    While I think the idea of a “community manager” is a little weird, I do think that any market-aware company would like to manage their digital brand space.

    This probably means more than just posting to Twitter. A brand community probably means various Twitter, Facebook, email, website, forums, chat, video, blog, etc… not only projecting information, but also listening for potential customer queries and current customer satisfaction.

    Technically you’re right. If you’re just posting to Twitter, you don’t have a community. But if you’re advertising and informing potential customers while serving your present customers in a friendly, personal way, then you have a community. (this supposes you have customers and are advertising a valuable product or service.)

    A couple months ago I posted a tweet asking which product was better, the SmallHD DP6 or the Manhatten LCD HD5. Within an hour I returned to find my query retweeted by an employee of SmallHD… followed by many great reviews of their product… Guess which one I bought.

    Then, a month later I received an email from the very same sales/customer persona as the original retweeter employee asking for a photo of me shooting with my new DP6…

    Now I’m no rocket scientist but I can assure you SmallHD can measure their ROI on their community. I’d say that anyone who can’t probably doesn’t have anything to measure.

    • Brad Bogus says:

      Brent, I disagree a bit with your definition of a community. Advertising and informing potential customers is just marketing. Serving your customers in a friendly, personal way is customer service. These are elements within a brand’s community, but until those followers and customers are having conversations with each other, sharing media together and functioning around your brand without your guidance or direction, then you don’t have a community.

      It’s a society surrounding a particular topic, interest or location. If you take the textbook definition, it’s just a congregation of people. But we know that is of little value. The communities most Social Media managers speak about are tight knit groups of followers sharing within and evangelizing externally. However, we don’t find that to actually be the case. What they’re calling a community is only functioning as a target market. I believe that’s what Andy is pointing out in this article.

      I’ll leave you with this thought: communities are a product of great customer outreach, marketing, a good product and fantastic customer service. Community is not a marketing plan.

    • Brent,

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment on my blog. I appreciate it.

      Communities are absolutely pointless for some brands and not as effective as most Social Media experts would have you believe. Brands are not made successful by their communities, but buy their product. This is not to say that the aspects of monitoring sentiment, addressing reviews (good and bad) and locating relevant conversations about your brand are not important. What I am saying is that this is NOT square one. Communities are a piece to a complex puzzle of Social Media marketing. The problem is that most Social Media professionals think of the community as the be-all-end-all. I am in the trenches every day for brands that are very well known. While I would love to tout the success of my company’s clients as wins due to the community we have built, it is simply not the truth. The truth is, we are successful because we socially own the first 2 pages of Google and Bing results for these brands.

      I would also like to say that your experience with SmallHD is not an experience of its “community”. Rather, you were the object of their targeted marketing through monitoring efforts. An example of “community” would be when you tweet a question and someone you follow that is NOT the brand answers you.

      While I do not have access to their numbers, I completely disagree with the notion that they can track the ROI of their community. This is difficult, if not impossible to do. Especially when you factor in the man hours it takes to grow an engaged followship.

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