The definition of community has been stretched to breaking point…and a little beyond. Almost any online social activity is now referred to as a community.
There are three elements to a community. 1) A specific group of people who have 2) developed relationships with each other through a 3) strong common interest. Specific people + strong common interest + relationships, that’s it.
So lets highlight 5 activities which aren't communities.
- Online customer service channels. Customer service channels are fantastic. One person asks a question and another responds. They’re scalable and everyone benefits.
- Facebook fan pages. Fan pages can be a great promotional tool. They can increase loyalty and deepen engagement with fans. But they’re terrible at building relationships between fans. Fan pages encourage their audience to interact them, not with each other. Even those that can encourage their fans to interact with each other, struggle to develop these conversations into relationships.
- Twitter followings. A twitter following is similar to a fan page, it’s a great promotional tool, but your audience interacts with you, not with each other. The author creates a message and a few recipients reply. Most of the time, you can’t see who else replied to the message.
- Fundraising campaigns. These are some exceptions here, but most fundraising campaigns aren’t communities. They’re people giving to a particular cause. They don’t interact with each other. Even the platforms of Avaaz and Causes struggle to get their vast audience to build relationships with each other. There platforms can, and often are, tremendously successful, but we do a disservice to call them communities.
- Blogs. Some blogs are communities. Mashable, TechCrunch and co have developed an audience in which many members have gotten to know each other. They’ve organized offline meet-ups and developed a true sense of community. However, these are very rare exceptions. Most blogs, like this one, have a following. They don’t have a community. They have a group of people who have a shared interest. But this audience doesn’t interact with each other.
Some organizations such as GiffGaff, GetSatisfaction and Lithium Technologies do an incredible job here. However, they rarely build long-lasting relationships with each other. Most people visit, ask a question, get a reply then don’t return. Using community software doesn’t means your building a community. Developing relationships between your target audience means you're building a community.
Hashtags, however, can be communities. Jenn has done a great job with #cmgrchat. Each week, people come to talk to each other about an established community topic. Over a period of weeks they begin to recognize each other and get to know each other. They build relationships, a sense of community has begun to develop.
Knowing the difference matters. Imagine if you got sales and PR mixed up. Each is a different approach with a different benefit at a unique stage of the customer life cycle. The same is true with communities. As our social field grows we need to know what approach to use in each situation.
I hope we become better at differentiating between the two.