A bit of a rant.
We’re promising too much to too many.
Early branded communities were built by brands with a large, passionate, audience. It was a win for the founders and the members. If you could talk with other autodesk software users, not only do you get smarter and enjoy your work more, you’re more likely to keep using the product. Everyone wins.
The next batch of brands didn’t have a passionate audience, they had a large audience. These became the customer-service communities today. To motivate people to reply, they incentivised a core group of people to answer 90% of questions. Then they drive customer service visitors to the community to save money.
These brands had a pre-existing passionate following or huge audience which let them find huge community success relatively easily. Then communities became hot just as the technology became easy. This attracted a third group of brands to create communities. This group had neither a large audience nor a passionate one. Most of this group are failing badly.
If you don’t have a large audience or a devoted group of fans, it’s almost impossible to build a community. The war for attention is simply too great.
I say almost because it’s possible. But ‘being possible’ doesn’t make it a good idea. If you don’t have a large audience or something resembling a cult following, you’re almost certainly not going to build a successful community today.
We have to stop brands that have no business building communities from trying. That’s no slight on them. I’m never going to spend my spare time talking about my dishwasher with fellow customers (nor do I want to engage with my dishwasher online, sorry). I want my dishwasher company investing every penny in developing the best dishwasher at the best price. I don’t want them building communities.
Look around at all the companies that are in your room right now. There are dozens of furniture, electronics, clothing, utility and more companies represented in just your living room. How many of those communities would you honestly participate in? Not many I suspect.
Most brands simply don’t sell anything remotely interesting enough to build a community around, wouldn’t benefit from a community if they did build one, and simply aren’t set up to manage and respond to a community.
The more we tell every brand to build a community, the more failures we’re going to see. This hurts every one of us. We should stop doing it.
Let’s end the silly, over-optimistic, hype cycle. Not every brand should have a community. Begin instead with the idea a brand shouldn’t have a community unless they pass simple criteria. I’d begin with:
1) Do you have a passionate audience?
2) Do you have a large audience?
3) No, neither? OK, are you willing to undergo months of organisation transformation, radically change how you and your staff communicate with your audience, invest a huge sum with a return a year or two in the future, and take a huge risk with your brand to delight a tiny percentage of your overall audience while we get things going?
If we did that, the failure rate would plummet overnight.