“We’re really interested in building community!” brand managers enthusiastically say. “We’re hoping a social network, perhaps a CEO blog and, um, er, widgets! We must have widgets. Then we’ll have a community!”

Brand EnthusiastsThe question is, did I hear an actual person say this or is it hypothetical based on the general misunderstanding of social media in the marketing and communications world? Whether it’s real or not, someone said it today. Someone said it yesterday and every day since about mid-2006.

This brand manager defines his or her expectation by saying community is achieved by turning on community tools. If you build it, they will come. So, companies spend thousands of dollars with interactive firms or even advertising agencies as uninformed about social media as they are. They add community tools to their websites or build microsites and declare themselves a community.

And what the brands soon discover is that the only community they have is one of crickets. The chirping is the only sound to be found.

The misguidance lies in understanding social media. So here are some suggestions on how to navigate the process of building a community for your brand and not wind up with an empty room (or bug problem).

  1. Stop thinking of “social media” as some ethereal definition.

    Social media involves communication using mediums that people use to socialize. Yes, it’s that simple. A brand manager is someone that manages your brand, right? Stop getting caught up in crazy definitions. Social media defined is simple.

  2. Go back to the communications rulebook.

    The first rule of communications is to know your audience. The misguided brand manager above is focusing on the tools, not the audience. Start with who you are trying to reach, determine how and where these people can be found, develop strategies and tactics to reach them once you’ve found them and finally choose the tools best suited to execute the communications.

    By focusing on the tools, you are, in essence, building a great big football stadium without having a team. The place might be there, but the product and the people are not. Focus on the people, how to connect them to the product and the community will evolve from there. If you have a great product, it should even grow organically.

  3. Stop assuming you don’t already have community.

    If you have a customer database, a mailing list or just a set group of people who come to you regularly for what it is you do, you have a community. It might be two people. It might be 200. It might be 200,000. But you have a starting point. Reach out to these people and find out what would inspire them to share your story. Meet that requirement then give them the tools to spread the word. Two becomes four becomes eight and so on.

    But the trick isn’t just giving them the tools, it is also in starting over with each new convert. The four begat from two should start from the beginning. Ask them the question, “What would inspire you to share this?”

  4. Be your biggest brand enthusiast.

    If you as a CEO, CMO or brand manager aren’t the biggest enthusiast, fan or ambassador of your brand, your community will never see its full potential. Your community will constantly look to you for information, inspiration and motivation. If you cannot or are not willing to provide any of those, you need to lower your expectations. Who is the biggest brand enthusiast of the Dallas Mavericks? Mark Cuban. He makes people want to love his team because he displays the same kind of passion and connection to a cause they long for. Be your own maverick.

  5. Assimilate into the community as if you are just a member.

    By building a community of brand enthusiasts you are turning a good deal of the ownership of your brand over to them. When you want to take ideas to market, you have a built-in army of operatives to do it for you, so long as you let them own that responsibility. But imperative to that role, you as the brand manager or leadership team member are relegated to a member of the community. Yes, you are a leader there, but no, you do not dictate. Good leaders are such because they build consensus. As a participant and member of your community of brand enthusiasts, you become one with them. Over time, trust emerges because you are participating meaningfully. Once the trust is there, you can lead them down any road you want them to travel. It is then, they become one with your brand.

Sounds like a bunch of hooey, right? If so, go build your social network, your CEO blog and your widgets – got to have widgets – and enjoy your community … of crickets.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Forrester Report: Online Community Best Practices For The Interactive Marketer
  2. How To Develop A Community Strategy
  3. Building A Community: Much More Doing Well By Doing Good
  4. The New Brand Ambassadors (AdWeek article)
  5. Building A Community – The Engaging Brand Podcast (AUDIO)

IMAGE: two nil” by timsnell on Flickr.

[tags]brand enthusiasts, brand fans, brand ambassadors, community building, social media, social networking, community, social media tools[/tags]

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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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