Using A Community

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I’m really enjoying Dan Blank’s blog at the moment. I first caught onto him through my close friend Andrew Davies at idio, and I’ve been following him for a while, but it seems these past few weeks I’ve really caught onto his writing a lot more.

Last week he wrote a post that I knew I’d love the moment I saw the title: “You Don’t Sell To A Community. You Support A Community“. You guys know I love a good strap line, especially when there’s aliteration. The great thing was that the post delivered.

It’s hard to pick a central quote (you can guess what the post was about), as it was one of those almost poetic pieces where each paragraph builds incrementally on the previous one, but perhaps the best part to me is this very accurate description of the latest marketing fad which is “build community”:

A brand should be careful about approaching social media as a sales funnel: to establish connections, build ‘trust,’ encourage a ‘community,’ and then market products and services to them. That’s not a community strategy, that is a marketing plan. And there is a difference.

This really rings home because recently I was having a leadership discussion in a venture that I’m involved in, and the painful point came up that whilst I was trying to explain we needed to build community in order to serve the community, the reality was that we were more interested in building the community in order to serve ourselves.

Turning it around is hard – we’re still in the process of doing it – and I’m learning some key lessons as I go.

Dan goes on to say that “building a community” for business is furthermore a hard and an expensive thing to do. It seems a stock answer at the moment to tell publishers in particular that they should “build community”, but I watch the people who say it and often they have never built one themselves. Dan actually argues that you don’t build them anyway – they already exist, and you help it grow.

My Experience with Community

I’ve nurtured many a community in the last 13 years that I’ve been ‘doing this’, but I think my most pertinent example would come from Like Minds.

I’ve said many times that my original intention for Like Minds was to show the local businesses that I was good at marketing, so that they’d hire me as a consultant. I was desperate to be accepted (many of the people who support me now didn’t back then), and I thought that if I could pull off a good event, they’d see.

After the success of the first Like Minds in October 09, a community – a tribe – was born in a day, but I still in mind saw that as a means to an end for getting work. Sure, I supported the community, but I didn’t see it as being a place that would be my main focus and income. I wasn’t selling to them – it’s important to clarify that – but I did see them as a way for me to secure more consulting.

It wasn’t until April this year that I realised how dearly I loved the community that was growing, and that if I focussed on serving that community, that would be far more fulfilling and rewarding. The irony is since I made that decision to not pursue consulting, consulting work has started to come in, and I turn a lot of it down in order to focus more fully on Like Minds because that’s where I’m seeing people really effected, which has always been my aim in the beginning anyway.

When a community really clicks (which I’ve been a part of many times), you know there’s no way that you can sell to them anyway. The things that they need from you, they’ll get without you blowing your horn, and you won’t given them anything but the things they need anyway, even if it’s not your thing that they need.

Your Experience with Community

  1. Have you been on the receiving end of support and/or selling in a community?
  2. Are you aware of any communities that actually grow based on a ‘selling’ mindset? (I don’t)
  3. If supporting is what you do, how have you monetized that if you are nurturing a community?

Photo of Like Minds 2010 courtesy of Paul Clarke

Archived Comments

  • ianpettigrew

    Scott,

    a great post! I’ve seen this problem a lot on Linkedin groups where I’ve joined a group (which was set up as a community) and then found that most of the group updates are sales messages. I’ve found myself changing my settings from receiving a daily digest, to a weekly digest, then to not wanting email updates and then deciding just to leave the group.

    I think the heart of the problem is authenticity; If the stated purpose of the community is in line with what actually happens then all is well. We could call it authenticity or congruence but does it just boil down to honesty and openness? I like to be part of communities (on-line and off-line) that just do what they say on the tin!

    Best wishes (and have a great break), Ian

  • http://twitter.com/so_you_know Annie Syed

    as always, tremendous respect for your transparent self-examination and striving to serve better.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Annie

    It’s only through self insight that we can move forward!

    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Ian

    Totally – groups set up to promote rather than relate and help. It happens all the time.

    I agree with you – and think it’s a very keen insight – that it is an authenticity issue. We don’t mind being sold to if we’re told thats what’s going to happen.

    Is there a place where you’ve found this has been done really well? And also, when IS it ok for a community to sell to you?

    Scott

  • Anonymous

    Scott,

    The place I’ve found this done really well is an offline community – I’m part of a professional association (of coaches) and we meet as a regional group. Despite the fact that this could be seen as a major selling opportunity for some people, none of that takes place and I believe it is because (1) the purpose of the group is really clear and (2) the group members all seem to have similar values.

    You asked about when is it ok to sell and I think that it is ok if it has been disclosed in advance. Just like Amazon affiliate links, I think things like this are fine if they are visible.

    Ian

  • / Scott Gould

    Agreed – thanks for this Ian. I think it must be disclosed.

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