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How to Build a Community Around Your Company that Won’t Turn on You: The Presentation

Last Friday I had the opportunity to present at the WebVisions conference in Portland, Oregon. It was a great event and a great crowd. @sherylmaloney has a great writeup of several of the sessions she attended, including my own from last Monday.

Much like I did last time I’m embedding each slide as an image and putting the talk track under each slide. You can also head over to Scribd for the whole thing.  This was a much shorter presentation so I didn’t plan as much. I did come up with this great Value vs Value analogy on my drive down that I ended up incorporating into my presentation. I’ll write that up as it’s own post, so stay tuned for that.

How to Build a Community Around Your Company that Won’t Turn on You

How to Build a Community Around Your Company that Won’t Turn on You.

Typical User Response to Change

What is a community anyway? One definition I like for the use in these discussions is: “A group of people with shared interests, experiences, values and boundaries.” For our discussion I want to draw a distinction between two types of communities: Communities (real communities) and brand communities (what marketers call communities). Communities are built around strong, lasting values, like religious beliefs, family, things people would be willing to die for. Communities are not usually built around products. We might call a brands Twitter followers, a community but it’s not a real community. Your Facebook page may contain members of various Communities but your Facebook followers are a brand community.

So going back to our definition: “A group of people with shared interests, experiences, values and boundaries.” Boundaries just refers the geographic or physical space. This can be a neighborhood, a town, an online forum, whatever. Even if you change the boundaries but leave everything else the same, this changes the dynamics of the community. The exact same people do not behave the same on Twitter as they do on Facebook.

Most companies focus on groups of people with shared interests, because these often correlate with products. Companies also use shared experiences to their advantage either by showing up during shared experiences or organizing opportunities for shared experiences.

Where companies usually get themselves in trouble is when they play around in values. A “company” does not have the same values as its community. Companies need to recognize and respect its communities values but don’t pretend to priorities them in the same way your users do.

It takes time to build a community. You can do things to accelerate the processes. You can drive follower and friend growth through advertising but if you don’t take the time to nurture your new followers they will leave and you will have just wasted your money.

Many developers and designers are not so strong on the “people skills.” If community building is not your thing, find someone who is. But if you turn over the reigns to someone else, then make sure they know what they’re doing and that they have the same goals you do.

If you’re in charge of building a community for another company then make sure your and your bosses goals are aligned. If they’re not don’t falsely represent the brand to the community. Your boss will push on you for more numbers but you have to push back if they’re unrealistic. If you’re struggling with metrics you and your boss agree on, find other metrics to include besides follower count. The best numbers to use is to tie your activities to real business outcomes. Find out what the companies KPI’s are and tie your efforts to those.

And this is where it’s important to be upfront with your community. You represent a brand. Everyone knows you have to make money. It’s okay to make money. Your community members want to buy from you. Just don’t tell them one thing and do another.

When communities do lash out it’s human nature to get defensive. This is exactly the wrong thing to do. The very best thing you can do is listen. You don’t even have to do what the community wants but listen. When in doubt apologize. If we have learned anything from Bill Clinton is that we are always willing to forgive if you just apologize.

  • You can try and cover things up, which only makes things worse.
  • You can lie to the people, which will make things worse.
  • Blaming others only makes things worse.

The best thing you can do is:

  • Respond quickly: Let people know you hear them. You don’t even have to agree.
  • Apologize for what you can. You don’t have to admit fault, but if you really are at fault, screw the lawyers, apologize.
  • Promise to improve and mean it.

Communities by their nature are exclusive. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be a community. This is also why your brand community is not a real community. You want to be inclusive. You are not a clubhouse.

The one possible exception is Apple. Steve Job very likely cares more about the values of beautiful design more than he cares about profitability. This is why Apple has defied all logic in their anti-social approach to social media.

Your community is collectively smarter that you are.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://twitter.com/evajov Eva Jover

    I like how you explain it and the way you pictured them. Great job!

  • http://twitter.com/evajov Eva Jover

    I like how you explain it and the way you pictured them. Great job!

  • http://twitter.com/gsmith9810 Gary Smith

    As the community host, you need to acknowledge situations - you can’t ignore things and hope they’ll go away.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Totally agree Gary, One of the points I made was that people need to be heard. 

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thank you Eva. 

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