The word community gets banded about far too much, especially when you take a look around at facebook pages, many companies are just using it as another method to broadcast their message, running competitions and promotions, but not really encouraging community to develop.

There are real business advantages to building a community, idea generation, testing produce ideas, insights, market research and increasing word of mouth to name a few, but for me they don’t get the the heart of a community. Let’s take a look at the real world characteristics of a community and how these tie into the typical communication structure of a facebook page:

Members must be able to access a community, ok simple enough, they like the page. Members must be able to communicate with each other, so this gets a maybe in my eyes, they are able to communicate with each other, but I’d propose that 99% of the time they are communicating with a brand message and are very rarely communicating with each other, which brings me nicely onto the next point. Members must have presence, a relationship with other members, they see themselves and are seen as part of the community, if they are not even communicating with each other how can they be expected to have a relationship. There must be some level of participation, most facebook pages have participation, 10% of the community if you take the 1,9,90 rule. The next two characteristics I struggle to find any facebook brand page that is delivering, one definition, a way the members define the community and two the purpose, an agreement between the members about what the community does and how it is to be done.

I would suggest that it’s not even the job of the brand to supply the last two characteristics,
it feels to me that that must come from within, with at most a nudge from the brand to push it in the right direction. A brand can support the community in it’s purpose, perhaps if a group of financial advisers has a purpose of improving their industry knowledge, the brand can facilitate face to face events for information share and networking.

Communities have a life cycle and it will take time and a hell of a lot of encouragement to move a community into a place where they have vision and past that to innovating amongst themselves. Great examples of these types of communities can be found in open source platforms, such as WordPress and Drupal, developers come together to create new functionality regularly which supports the underlying code base, but they have taken years to get to these stages, and I would suggest not easy to replicate their success. How could you bring your audience together to innovate for the benefit of your business of their own free will, no easy task I’d suggest.

Maybe there is an argument to say brands should not be trying to build their own communities, I mean look at what happens when you try to build a community around Fish paste @shippamspaste. Perhaps organisations should find naturally formed communities and help them with their purpose or vision and gain business benefits under more of a fair value exchange … or maybe I’m beginning to sound a bit like some kind of Utopian hippy. Either way, organisations need to see the benefit of encouraging a community to find their purpose and define themselves to encourage more participation and innovation within their community, which will ultimately lead to insight and increased word of mouth.

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