Community Is About Your Behavior, Not Your Brand

by · April 9, 201324 comments

Think for a moment about the communities you’re a part of. Typically, our minds begin with geographic qualifiers and branch out. I’m a member of my local community, which can be described in the context of my city or my neighborhood. Distilling down to the neighborhood association sickens me — mine is run by rabid former hall monitors — but it certainly applies.

From there, we extend thoughts to groups with whom we share some common interest. Perhaps you consider your church/temple/synagogue, a professional association or even an alumni group or informal collection of high school or college friends a community to which you belong. For many of us, our next step is into the world of online communities. Maybe you join others on an online game from time to time, or have a collection of Facebook friends that don’t meet some pre-existing standard.

Whatever your definition of community, and those to which you belong, think about why you belong and what makes it a community. There’s a good chance you feel a part of your church, not because of the church, but because of the behavior of its members. You feel more like them than other communities of worship you considered. If you enjoy your neighborhood, it’s likely not because of the location or the local services you can access, but because your neighbors behave like you, look like you, and act like you. Or at least like you’d like to behave, look and act.

Now extend that analysis to the online world. Do you consider yourself a part of community here at Social Media Explorer? What about Mashable? Reddit? Wikipedia? If so, it’s not because of SME or those other sites and what the offer. It’s probably because you appreciate the behavior of those websites in empowering you to be a part of something more than you could build on your own.

I had the honor of welcoming participants to Social Slam last week in Knoxville. That event is an in-real-life extension of Mark Schaefer’s {grow} community — a real community of people gathered together to contribute to an overall goal or good for reasons beyond personal benefit. Mark is a genuine contributor among genuine contributors. He has welcomed and valued each and every person who has commented, guest posted, linked, Tweeted and more to his content or that of his guest authors. That sense of belonging — of appreciating Mark’s behavior and mirroring it — has brought together a unique group of people focused on a certain worldview and thriving off of giving and receiving from one another.

Community only happens when the brand’s behavior is that which its audience wants to embrace and emulate themselves

When I think of brands that foster community — Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Harley Davidson, Fiskars, Southwest Airlines and more — I keep landing on that guiding principle: These are great brands with great products, yes. But community only happens when the brand’s behavior is that which its audience wants to embrace and emulate themselves.

Why do people love Zappos? Because they think that’s how an online retailer should embrace them, give them free returns and shipping, cater to their need to feel catered to. It’s how they would do it. Why do people love Southwest Airlines? Because they think flying should be quick, easy, fair and without pretense.

If you ask the question, “Why do people love our brand?” and you answer with something that is about your brand, you’re not fostering community. The answer will lie in your behavior. Until it does, the only community you’ll ever have is servers full of wireframes and profiles — hollow containers of what could be.

People will flock to you when you behave in a way that makes them want to. Get that, and you have your community.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • DoWava.com

    Jason, thanks for great post! Interest reading, i will come back :)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks! Sure hope you will!

  • Deb Ng

    This may very well be one of the most valuable posts I’ve read so far on community. Thanks, Jason!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you, Deb!

  • Dara Khajavi

    This is such a great point. Many consumers have this negative opinion of marketing. They think that marketing is all about trickery and deception. This may be true for certain companies. However, the most successful brands create a community and relationship with consumers. The brand and consumer relationship is about trust and honesty.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Amen to that , Dara. Thanks for chiming in.

  • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

    Social Slam is the perfect illustration of what can come out of authentic community. Your message was spot on! When treat people they way they want to be treated, it’s amazing what can happen.I’m glad you were able to stop by the conference and share your thoughts – I’m just sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect! Hope folks take your advice to heart…it’s good stuff.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Laura. Next time I’ll need to schedule better. This year happened to be a complete fluke. Glad I was there for a bit, though.

  • tyler

    When it comes to a community it does matter a lot more about behavior than a personal brand. Communities have to work together instead of personally brand yourselves.

  • Jacob Moore

    I think I generally agree with your insights and appreciate what you have to say. I did just have one curious question as a student studying Marketing.

    What comes first? The behavior of consumers or a brand that fosters certain behaviors? Did Harley Davidson simply realize that the people behaved a certain way and built a brand around that? Or did they build a brand and foster a community through that brand?

    It just seems to me that it is possible for someone to make a brand that fosters community because of the brand they have developed, but you seem to think this is not possible, correct? Thanks for you time!

    Also, as a shameless plug, some Marketing students and I run a marketing blog at http://www.marketlikeitshot.com/ for anyone who is interested.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great question, Jacob. I think it can be both. Smart companies start with a brand persona and qualities in mind. Then they attract the type of people that identify with those qualities, including the behaviors. Maker’s Mark was founded because Bill Samuels Sr., wanted to create a bourbon he could share with his friends. Years later, the Maker’s Mark Ambassador’s program is all about sharing the brand with your friends. But look at brands that have re-constructed or re-targeted over the years … Hyundai comes to mind, for some reason … they have to reinvent themselves and their behavior to attract the type of customers they’re ideally looking for.

  • phyllispam

    I enjoyed reading this. It reminds me of Li and Bernoff’s Groundswell. As consumers we want to feel connected to the product and brand. This is only accomplished when companies make a deliberate attempt to reach out and interact with consumers. When companies actually listen to consumers (Groundswell concept) that’s when community building can begin. Companies who provide a great product or service but also listen to consumer feedback will create that sense of community. Consumers want to share similar experiences especially if it pertains to a company with positive customer service and interaction. My decision to continue using a product or frequenting a store is based on the sense of community and trust. I know what to expect from my now favorite brands (American Eagle, Coach, Starbucks, just to name a few) because it’s consistent.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great points and analogy, Phyllis! Thanks for the comment!

  • Franklin Costa

    Great article, thank you very much for the insights

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  • Proffesional Copywriting

    Commerce and community have been linked for as long as there has been business to do and people to do it with. The web makes this a broader selection of people but the principles remain the same in cyber space. Just selling something has never been enough to be successful. Businesses have always contributed to community and often provide the vitality that makes them endure. This is the power that online business needs to learn to embrace if they want to succeed.

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