Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to hear David M. Chavis Ph.D speak on the topic at the Virtual Community Summit here in London. He talked about how networks, at their core, are about relationships whereas communities are formed over a common interest.
While this is certainly the case with personal social networking or the hobby/niche communities we join, I want to answer the question of what this means in the marketing space.
Most brands have an online presence, from the corporate giants to family run businesses in small towns – it seems like everyone is on the web. The question is why? To sell. On social, you’re always selling – whether it is a product, a service or simply an image (i.e. yourself) that you want to get across. These brands ultimately want business from these avenues.
So what, then, is a community? What sets apart a brand’s social media presence from their community and what is the purpose of having both?
To me, social media is more media than social. There’s nothing social about a company page that does nothing but sell. Mass media is about reaching a larger audience on a larger scale. Social media does just that – you put up a well-crafted piece of copy with a call to action to get people to buy from you and that’s okay – there is no shame in selling, as long as you’re offering something worth buying.
Community, on the other hand, is what happens after the sell. An effective community manager focuses on the experience; turning that visitor or customer into a regular member and subsequently, a regular buyer.
Neither of these channels – be it on external social media or in-house community platforms – should ever be a one-way conversation, but you must recognize that they do serve different needs. Your Social Media team should be bringing you business and your Community Team should be engaging, educating and essentially retaining that user base.
Social media is about reeling them in; it is the cold call of selling, whereas community creates that real rapport that turns a sell into a loyal customer.
TL;DR – social media should help us reach new audiences and customers, whereas community is about forging and nurturing relationships with those customers to increase lifetime value.