If every marathon runner wears expensive shoes, would you believe expensive shoes create marathon runners?
Probably not. But if you get everything else (training, nutrition, dedication) right they might help.
This is what happens when we fill a petri dish with success stories and look at it through a microscope. We draw the wrong conclusions.
Likewise, if we look solely at organizations who have built successful communities, we might conclude communities are the future of business.
Yet if every successful example supports this assumption, then every failure (or organization that succeeds without a community) must refute it. And there is a lot more evidence to refute it.
We’re drifting dangerously far from simple logic. If you don’t participate in the communities for 99% of the companies you buy from, why would anyone else?
Where are we going to find an inexhaustible supply of people with unlimited time, attention, and inclination to participate in all the communities we’re telling businesses to create?
Communities don’t create great products, great products create communities.
If you have a great product, then a community can help. It can make customers a little more loyal, a little happier to recommend you, and occasionally give useful feedback. But the effect is similar to expensive footwear on runners – useful, but rarely the critical ingredient in the picture.
Consider too that customer service, discounts, limited education, surveys and focus groups can achieve all the goals above, perhaps quicker.
Ideastorm didn’t help Dell develop the iPad. A thriving community didn’t help Nokia create Android. It didn’t save Best Buy from financial ruin. It hasn’t stopped many hugely popular television shows from being cancelled. It hasn’t stopped dozens of news sites shutting down their comment sections. And, for those supposing we’re returning to a community-way of doing business, it didn’t save your local butcher from big supermarkets neither.
Ultimately, for branded communities, the product trumps community by a long, long way. If the company can’t produce a better value proposition than its competitors, the community won’t help.
We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we overhype the benefits, ignore the failures, and declare ourselves to be the future of business. The problem today isn’t too few organisations are trying to build a community, the problem is too many.
Very few brands in very few sectors excite enough interest to merit a community. And it’s these very few brands we should be focusing on. These are the very organizations where we can do our best work, the kind of work that really matters. It’s here we get to connect people around topics they care about.
The key today isn’t to tell every business they must have a community. We know that’s not true. The key is to figure out which businesses have the potential to have a great community and make sure we’re working for one. That’s going to mean far more skepticism, far more realism, and a lot less hyperbole.
We’re now just 15 days away from our FeverBee SPRINT event. If you want to learn a lot of advanced community skills from 14 world-class experts and ourselves, I hope you will join us at: http://sprint.feverbee.com.