Why Your Community-Building and Social Media Efforts Aren't Working...

Paul Chaney was nice enough to interview me recently for his upcoming book on social media marketing. One of the things we talked about was how companies that use social media need to align their goals with how their customers are using social media. Many companies want to use social media as a channel to push marketing messages at customers, while those customers are using social media as tools to connect with and communicate with others. They have almost zero interest in receiving marketing messages via social media, so predictably, companies that try to do just that, see their efforts falter.

Along these same lines, Aaron recently had a post asking if you would join a toothpaste community. This is another area where many companies fail. They want to 'create' a community because they want to use that community as a way to generate revenue for their business.

Problem: Communities do not come together around the idea of being monetized.

People do not come together and form a community around a particular product, at least not in most cases. They come together because of a 'bigger' idea. They have a common association or feeling that's related to that product.

So if your company is wanting to use social media, or if it is wanting to participate in or 'create' a community online, you have to align your goals with those of the people you want to reach. People aren't going to interact with you via social media so you can beam marketing messages at them. And they aren't going to come together and form communities so they can promote your product and grow your business.

Remember that social media is a great way of making things happen indirectly? What this means to companies is that they should take their direct goal (making money) for social media, and make it their INdirect goal.

Think about how your customers are using social media, and more importantly, think about WHY they are using social media. They view social media as communication channels, so you need to as well. They are creating and sharing content that they find valuable, so you need to as well.

You need to use social media in the same way that your customers are, and for the same reasons. That needs to be your DIRECT goal for using social media. If you do this effectively, then you'll also meet your INdirect goal, of growing your business and making more money. But if that's your DIRECT goal, then you are screwed.

The same thing with online communities. You have to give people a reason to come together and form a community. Don't try to form the community around your product, form it instead around a shared association and something that people find value in. Why does The Fiskateers community work, because it's a place where Fiskars customers can come together and talk about orange-handled scissors? No, it's a place where scrapbookers can come together and talk about and share their passion. Someone once asked me if you could create a community around paperclips. No, you probably can't. You instead try to create a community around how people use paperclips, and try to create something of value for these people.

If you want to use social media, consider why and how your customers use social media, and align your goals for your efforts accordingly.

If you want to create an online community, don't view it as a money-making venture, instead consider how you can attract customers by creating something of value for them.

Remember that at the end of the day, you are wanting to reach people. Respect them and their time, and you'll be rewarded for your efforts.

Pic via Flickr user cameronparkins

posted by Mack Collier @ 10:21 AM,


At 11:49 AM, Blogger Dr. Wright said...

Its so true, people do not want to join a community so you can continue to market to them. Large companies do not seem to get that.

Even smaller business owners dont get that hence stuff like magpie and twitads are around. It would be great if users created their own community.

Large companys have never had to have a real voice before. Unlike Zappos who started out real, most of these companies find the best they can do is ghost writtern blogs.

They dont really want to get their hands dirty and talk to customers.

Dr. Wright
The Wright Place TV Show

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Steven Devijver said...

Excellent observation. Most companies see themselves as factories whose mission is to push products to people in exchange for money. They only thing working against these factories is that the people who should be buying them don't understand they need those products and consequently don't buy them.

That's why these factories set up special educational departments called marketing. And this is where things went wrong, historically. These departments figured out early on that if they would shout hard and long enough the people would realize their mistakes and correct them in the shops or through catalogs. But the factories got the wrong message.

What these educational departments have to do is not explain people they need their products. They need to explain people what can be done with these products, and to do that people need to be offered real learning experiences and not just lectures. These real learning experiences include exploring, discovering, improving, winning, gaining, achieving, meeting, growing.

Problem is that teaching in this way is completely different from giving unanticipated lectures, and that the factory needs to be completely reformed to bring about the real learning experiences.

Much more on this can be found in my recently published free e-book: "A Strategy of Constant Change". Download here.


At 12:33 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

The best example of an online community built by a company is Nike's Nike+ running community. It meets every need of the consumer: ease of logging workouts, running accountability and connecting with others who have running in common. Most runners already use an online training log, so the only adjustment they must make is to use Nike+ equipment (really a runner's dream)!

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Zack Steven said...

Mack - Great post. So true that communities don't come together to be monetized. But people do need to buy and sell, and prefer to connect with people they can trust.

That's why we created http://www.buythechange.com, a social COMMERCE network that just launched in early beta in the Twin Cities, MN.

buythechange is all about buying and selling - locally, with friends and neighbors and 1/3 of all member fees go back to local non-profits as chosen by each member.

We're a for-profit that's enriching communities through "Classifieds with a Conscience". Please check it out. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Online Marketer said...

Good points, but I think it needs to be expanded to individuals and small businesses that use social media for marketing. I get a lot of spam from "friends" who simply use social media to constantly push their book or product. I naturally delete those "friends" from my list, so it does them little good.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Mike Ashworth said...

Hi Mack, Insightful as always. I think the word you mention, goal, is a crucial one.

I see many Companies, especially smaller ones, leaping into the social media pond, because they've been told they simply "must" be there, as its 2009 and they wont be around if they don't, blog, tweet, or whatever the "latest" thing is....

This is of course, complete nonsense. The thing that any Company must do first, before it spends any hard earned cash on Marketing is to understand the customers.

Assuming they are not a start-up they should already have a customer base and money spent on surveying (by whatever method - with incentives if necessary) is money well spent.

The more that is understood about the market, who they are ,where they are, the language they use, the places they hang out (online and offline), the more likely a company will be to engage in a manner which benefits the consumer.

I see so many so called "social media experts" forgetting this important component of goal setting.

take care


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Impact Interactions said...

Wow, I'm amazed at the views of the first two comments here. Companies get their hands dirty every day talking to customers in their call centers, their sales, etc. Communities are just an extension that provides the customer or prospect or member with an alternative to old line communications. As for the second comment, if you believe that marketing is shouting loud and hard enough to get someone to purchase, you haven't studied marketing very much in the past ten years. Your assumption is the same as those folks who believe that all sale people are on par with the used car salesman stereotype. (And after your comment, you market by pushing your ebook... priceless!)

But all fun aside, most community efforts fail because they take time, commitment, and resources to develop. You cannot build a successful community without passion and without understanding the needs of your audience. A good community team needs to understand demographics, needs, content strategy, metrics, facilitation, technology, outreach, ppc advertising, behavioral modification, etc. It's not so easy to do nor is it easy for 'organic' communities started by users to maintain growth and their focus. The list of these types of communities that survive more than two to three years without a heavy change towards monetization is very small.

Getting back to the original post, you are correct in your thoughts about companies needing to align thier goals with how their customers are using social media. But to claim that they have almost zero interest in receiving marketing messages through social media ignores the huge B2B market where prospects do want to build a relationship with the company and learn more. That's marketing...

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Well thanks for II for swooping in and informing everyone how wrong we all are ;) Most people don't want to be marketed TO via social media. They want to use social media to connect with and talk to other people.

If the marketing is done well, then it doesn't SEEM like marketing.

But most people don't want to feel like they are being marketed to. Is that an absolute? Of course not.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Aaron Strout said...

Mack - thanks for the shout out. I'm getting a lot of interesting discussion around the "toothpaste" community post. I'll be interested to see how you answer the question when your turn is up on February 18th in the http://budurl.com/45in45 "Experts in the Industry" interview series.

Aaron | @aaronstrout

At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Paul Chaney said...

Mack, I'm calling my editor right now and telling her they have the wrong guy writing the book. It should be you my friend. If you did I'd buy it for sure.

I do believe II had a good point in that community development does take time and commitment. It's easy to start these things, but much more difficult to maintain them. It's almost like pastoring a church. You have to devote time and energy into encouraging involvement, responding to member's comments and questions and making sure enough solid content continues to be published to give members a reason to come back.

As to your point, I agree wholeheartedly. Recently, I attempted to start a community reaching out to AdFed clubs. It went nowhere. They didn't feel any sense of ownership and suspected there was an ulterior motive.

I did learn a great deal from the experience though and will be wiser the next time around.

At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Millionaire Maker said...

This is very interesting blog . I just wanted to say thanks you for writing and giving your knowledge to such an informative helpful blog.
So thanks!

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Impact Interactions said...

Swooping in? Me? Naw...

Let me clarify the comment on B2B:

In more than ten years of survey data from three of the largest B2B online communities, it is clear that members want to build relationships with the company offering the community. They also expect to see marketing materials and marketing play a role in the community. That is very different from selling in the community. Perhaps its just semantics to some, but marketing in a community is very different than selling in a community. One is expected and can be effective, the other dooms your community.

Mike Rowland

At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Jules Pieri said...

Great post. I think one missed opportunity in all of these corporate marketing experiments in social media is actually giving people interesting content that is worth sharing. If you accept the idea that news/info is the second most important currency of social media (the first is simply connecting people to each other), companies could do well to give people something worth sharing.

I don't mean just humorous Blend-tec type videos (although those are great on their own). I mean seeking to provide content that is fresh and relevant to whatever community a company or product is targeting.And not just one-shot deals. But really investing in a consistent, useful presence.

We're doing some cool experiments with this in my startup www.dailygrommet.com We tell the story of one really unique, or new product a day, via video, text, and a discussion board. It's not traditional marketing...because it is all sincerely driven by passion for the products and their stories.

I'd welcome any feedback on this from the smart people who hang out and chat here. jules@dailygrommet.com

Bottom line, we're trying NOT to be the unwelcome guest at the party, but rather the friend who is always there, ready with helpful ideas.

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Jason Breed said...

We talk about these communities of social gathering places. when you show up at a party and it sucks, you leave.

Consider the investment that companies make in their networks of consumers, employees, partners, etc. These networks are traditionally very under-utilized. Focus on making your party great for the right people with clear expectations and outcomes and they can choose to spend time where they feel they can make a difference.

ROI in Social Media is real but it's more than throwing features and functions at people!

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason Breed's comments are excellent!

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Ethan Yarbrough said...

Really insightful post, Mack, thank you. The brightest "light bulb moment" for me was around this point: "Communities do not come together around the idea of being monetized". What I think you're warning people against is the sin of self-interest. Communities will come together and even accept monetization if they feel they're being given something useful and of greater value to them that what they're being asked to give themselves. That's perhaps an easy observation for me to make, but I think it's a much harder thing to achieve: to accurately determine what the community values and to earn their trust by selflessly delivering that. I don't think people begrudge you a monetary goal if they sense you are leading with a servant's heart, but you have to prove that to them for some time before they'll accept you asking from them. Thought-provoking; I'll need to keep thinking on this. Thanks again for putting this out there.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"What I think you're warning people against is the sin of self-interest. Communities will come together and even accept monetization if they feel they're being given something useful and of greater value to them that what they're being asked to give themselves."

Ethan you are brilliant, that's exactly what I am talking about. And also from the company's perspective, don't think of it as 'We need to create a community in order to make money from it'. Instead, think about it this way 'What can we create that will be valuable to our customers, and give them a reason to want to come together?' Because you can do that, a BYPRODUCT of creating that value for your customers, will be that it will become a tool to help you grow your business, and ultimately make more money.

But it's all about understanding the goals of your customers, and aligning those goals with your own.

At 7:46 AM, Blogger cpetersia said...

This post and what Zack Steven and his team are attempting in the Twin Cities both are very much in line with the realities of the new relationship economy outlined in What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (which is really more about us and our relationships and organizations than about Google).

No company can define a community, or what it needs. All we can do is provide a platform, and tools, to allow the community to strengthen itself.

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Danbec said...

Lots of great things already said, I would just add: it's about passion.

If a company is driven by real passion for something, then this will get across in the products it makes and in the way it markets them, and ultimately can build a brand with loyal followers.

There is no fundamental difference online vs offline vs community vs tv ads and for marketers, it comes down to simple ROI arbitration.

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Ryan Miller said...

This is one of the best posts on how to NOT abuse the SM tools we have at our disposal. So many companies look at these networks as just another way to advertise and that's so far from where the real opportunities lie.

Its also important to note that many companies don't need to play in this space. If they cannot help to create community or conversation, then I think they risk doing harm to their brand by spamming or only talking about themselves. Its not for everyone.

I've been trying to get more people to understand this concept so thank you for presenting this in such a straightforward manner.


At 10:25 PM, Blogger Shallie Bey said...

Thanks for a very astute conversation. Many people and companies are heavy handed about this process. They come at you as though they are shaking one hand and reaching into your pocket with the other hand. I appreciate so much more the people who search for common interests and then see where things may go.

Shallie Bey
Smarter Small Business Blog

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Adam said...

Great post and valuable insight to social media. Love the examples too and also some of the comments.

Yes, I have to say that we still need understand that it's not around a product but value that enriches the community. A micro purpose which benefits the community.

Great tips and insight but it really does need to be expanded, as someone here said.

Even how to steps. I keep seeing a lot on social media and what it can do but not enough step by step strategies to help people, try it out and come back to share how it worked out.

Hope to see more articles on this. Thanks.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Social Media Strategy said...

"If you want to create an online community, don't view it as a money-making venture, instead consider how you can attract customers by creating something of value for them."

-sums up the main point. If you communicate openly, honestly and add value to the customer experience, there is no need to market in social media.


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