Community or Commodity

There has been something that’s been bugging me for the past few years. This is the word “community.” It has quickly become one of the most overused and improperly utilized words in the business buzz word dictionary. Why? Self-proclaimed “social media gurus” have diminished the absolute power of what a community is by associating anyone who "likes" a brand to get a coupon as being someone who is part of a brand culture, a subsection of a larger society, a group of individuals who align with specific characteristics and values, a community. But, as we all know, this is utter bullshit. Where is the loyalty on behalf of the coupon hound customer who is “liking” my page because I have a coupon, even if they are nowhere close to my target demographic? There is none. Once a competitor offers a better coupon they're gone. Sayonara. Not someone whom I'd personally put stake in within my own communities. This level of engagement leads to a commoditized community based on commoditized offerings with no end goal of something deeper... “Communities” then just become another stat to communicate the success of a Facebook page.

Commoditizing a conversation forces engagement around features and benefits, not emotion.

But, for sake of communicating the valuable importance of this post, I will be using the term community (against my will) for what it truly is, as defined below.

So what is a community? defines it as “[a] group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.

Facebook defines these as “Groups.” Google+ defines them as “Circles.” Twitter even defines them as “Lists.” It seems as though the social space has really latched on to the idea of communities, but are we really setting our brands and companies up for success? Or are we approaching commoditized conversations with the real value exchange as being a coupon or an entry into a sweepstakes?

My personal thoughts, is that the end goal with any social venture is to develop and grow strong relationships with individuals whose values align with ours; whose ideals are shared among others; whose passions and affinities are aligned with those of our brand. Achieving this goal helps us create a place where like-minded individuals whose interests, values, and passions are shared; to develop a “community” around the core, emotionally driven differentiating factors of our brand. Doing so allows us to better understand and engage with those we serve. It provides us with the opportunity to learn and grow; make our products better; communicate them more effectively; identify opportunities for growth and expansion; and most of all, allows us to come together and accomplish the same goal, make our lives better.

So are you building a community or a commodity?