Social Media Madness: Build it & they will come . . .

What is it with communities? Seems like every recent meeting I’ve had with both agencies and clients revolves around building communities. Specifically most of these large brand owners want to build and own their brand communities.

NEWSFLASH: Most brands that people care about already have their own self-organized communities. They are not waiting for you, the brand owner to build a community site where they can talk about your brand.

What are communities? My definition:

Communities are self organizing groups of like-minded people who gather to share information & opinions, argue, compete, make suggestions, make friends, get together, etc.

Do you see “to increase the value of a brand” anywhere in here?? NO! Communities are not about you. Communities are about the interests of the members. If you keep that in mind, you can join and participate. If you ignore that – well, you won’t be there long.

No doubt the vendors have been doing a great job selling communities to brand owners, but I don’t think that the effort will deliver on the underlying promise of higher levels of brand engagement and advocacy.

First, listen to understand what the community cares about. Next, learn how to feed that interest and become a valuable member of the community. Finally, if it still makes sense – build a community.


16 Responses to Social Media Madness: Build it & they will come . . .

  1. Jim Storer says:

    I completely agree with “build it and they will come” being the wrong approach. In a lot of industry segments hey are already there, you (company) just need to figure out how to join in the conversation.

    With that said, the c-suite is getting hit over the head with community, blogs, social networks and the “embrace it/them or die” message. I tell them to slow down with technology and stick with the people. The Cluetrain Manifesto nailed this 10 years ago and companies are just starting to get the message. IMHO, the reason you’re hearing so much of “we need to build a community” is because they are afraid of someone else owning/controlling the conversation. Companies traditionally have a really hard time getting over themselves. 😉

    We see a huge opportunity with “workplace” communities – helping create better visibility within an organization. Sure, this isn’t necessarily new news, but companies are finding better results with social media/community in the enterprise than they ever did with knowledge management. There was a great interview with Clay Shirky in the WSJ last month that talks a bit about this.

    Anyhow, great post. Full disclosure: I worked for a vendor (Mzinga), but try to make sure people we talk with are thinking about the people first and technology second (or third or fourth).

  2. Nick Inglis says:

    You make an excellent point. I see online communities popping up all over the place, a lot of the time I wonder why people would even join some of them. Relevance is key when it comes to a community, if it is focused around a topic of concern, it will succeed. If not, it will fail miserably. Also, user experience is a huge point. If it isn’t easy to navigate or understand how to interact, again, it will fail.

  3. Gordie says:

    Big brand owners tend to build a one-ride theme park and call it a community. Seems it would be better to find an existing community that’s already grown around the brand, and become a part of that community. Not try to take it over. Just become an active participant in it. Done right, the contributions will be embraced by the community. The community wins. The brand wins. What’s not to like?

  4. Amen. I call this the “Field of Dreams theory of Community” when I give talks. First thing is first… find the conversations that exist and listen. Then join in only if you can add value. Building your own community is like step 5 or 7!

  5. tomob says:

    @Dawn – Field of Dreams indeed – seems to be the animating energy in social media.

    @Gordie – that is a GREAT analogy – 1 ride theme park. Better be a helluva ride (Like Telluride, or Vail or Steamboat!)

    @Jim – good points – and I do feel that the C-Suite is demanding action – any action at all! Also, I used to work in the HR space – and internal community is a fascinating and much under-utilized approach. I’d be happy to share thoughts about internal community.

    @Nick – future post – Zombie Communities . . .

    Finally, Max Kalehoff has a parallel post today over at AttentionMax:


  6. gregory says:

    the skills are simple,hence beyond most companies.

    never think of people as customers or consumers.

    always think what you can give, never what you can get

    so simple

  7. ernest nna says:

    i will definitely want to be a member of a virtual community that will give me the required advantage to exist in a naturally disadvantaged country in africa like nigeria if my point of view makes any credible sence i only learnt about the power of community in the book “the perfect store” by cowen which gave me and insight how ebay emerged a multibillion dollar online auction company built a great brand that stood test of time because of communty

  8. DR4WARD says:

    Good point. Nike gets it. Check out Nike Plus, Nike ID, Nike Ballers Club, the Human Race. They have their own social networks / sports clubs but are also enabling for other Social Media networks.

    Keep Digging For Worms!


  9. […] O’Brien calls it social media madness when clients want to immediately build a […]

  10. Des Walsh says:

    I found this a post and the comment stream very helpful, Tom ‘n everyone. It’s one thing to see how the technology can help a company create and grow a community, quite another as to whether that is what the company needs or will benefit them. Having fairly recently become a vendor (WordFrame) I am naturally enthusiastic about promoting what can be done with the platform – have to temper that :).

  11. […] Social Media Madness: Build it & they will come . . . « A Human Voice (tags: socialmedia socialnetworking community) […]

  12. […] straight, they have been scurrying to get the genie back in the bottle.  Tom’s own post – “Social Media Madness: Build it & they will come . . .” also puts the lie to to the maxim that brands need to develop communities.  As he puts it, […]

  13. Mark Cahill says:

    Right on!

    For some reason everyone wants to be a part of the tech development process, but once the ribbon is cut and the site is open the internal sponsors head off for another project and the consultants jet out for their next big engagement. If the “community” is lucky, they are left with a lowly intern who’s learning on the job.

    Then when it fails, and the intern gets two in the hat.

    My take:

  14. Jonathan Trenn says:

    I can’t quite agree with the ide that most brands that people care about “already have their own self-organized communities.”

    Most brands have users, users who are quite content using a product while not being part of any community related to the brand, official or unofficial.

    So, to me, that’s a mistake that we make. We seem to think most brands are community ready. Most of us want to buy a product, a brand…and have it work. We’ve got other things to do. Sure, some brands elicit a sense of community, but percentagewise, it’s small in number.

  15. tomob says:

    @Jonathan: A couple of points. There are brands without their own communities (think yogurt) BUT there is a large and vibrant food conversation and community out there which has a ton of discussion about yogurt. If you have a brand in the yogurt space, and you aren’t paying attention to this conversation – you are missing the boat.

    So, no yogurt company needs a community, but every yogurt company could benefit greatly from listening to the conversation that is already going on our there.


  16. […] about “Field of Dreams.” The damage of this movie can be seen in many places. Companies failing to grok social networking en masse, government projects grossly out of proportion with needs, high-flying IPO failures, and […]

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