You Might Not Need "Community"

As I’ve written before, I believe that the term “online community�? is overused and does not match with the reality of what most organizations want when they say “we need an online community�?. This post is my way of promoting other ways for us to talk about the opportunities that often fall into the “community�? bucket.

First, let me say that “community�? is a worthy goal – every business can benefit from building lasting relationships among customers, online and off. This was true long before the Internet.

What I’m concerned with is the difference between “community�? and what I would call “social strategies�? applied to the web.

Social strategies are concepts and plans for bringing people together on a web site to achieve some specific outcome.

Community is a state of mind that is a by-product of successful social strategies.

Below are three points on the differences:

Point 1: You are likely to need social strategies more than community, at least initially. Social strategies are not focused on creating a high-touch kum-ba-yah community, they are about using social tools like blogs, message boards and wikis to achieve a desired outcome. Examples include the Apple Support Discussions or Microsoft’s TechNet blogs. While these resources can enable an online community, their value lies in the social nature of the interaction and not the “community�? per se.

Point 2: “Community�? is not up to you, it’s up to the members. If the members/customers want and need an online community, it will happen one way or another. Adopting a social strategy will position you to start the conversation with your customers, which may impact your business in more ways than community alone.

Point 3: Online interaction is not “community�?. The ultimate success of your strategy is tied to your ability to create the appropriate environment for people to interact on your web site (what I call Social Design). By creating the appropriate environment, you can serve your needs and achieve objectives- but you may not create a community. What you can do is give “community�? a fighting chance by setting the appropriate stage. Social strategies first, community second.

For example, consider the success of user recommendations on Amazon. By enabling customers to add recommendations and comments, Amazon has created a competitive advantage. It’s a social strategy without the goal of “community�? and it’s where I think we’re headed.