You Don’t Sell To A Community. You Support A Community.

by Dan Blank on August 6, 2010

Companies now realize that there is business value in social media. That it is worth an investment of their time and resources, that it can bring them closer to those in their market, and can be a powerful marketing platform.

But there is one term that us being thrown around a bit too casually: community.

Dan Blank
Suddenly, every company is “developing” a community online, or engaging an existing community, at least in their marketing plans. But a crowd isn’t a community. A market is not a 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.

A community puts everyone on an equal playing field. It has the group looking out for those with the least resources. It cares beyond dollars and cents. It is a long term commitment beyond a marketing campaign.

Too many companies have organized themselves into “communities,” only to abandon those communities at the exact moment there is economic question about a slowing growth rate in that specific market. Their commitment to the community lasted as long as they could profit from it.

Likewise, it is hard to truly “build” a community. Communities exist already. A list of Twitter followers is not necessarily a community. For businesses, feeling as though you have built a community simply because you have a significant financial stake in one creates an imbalance, and a rift in perception. Because you bought it doesn’t mean you own it.

You don’t sell to a community. You support a community. You provide for a community. You connect a community. You mediate a community. You balance a community. You sacrifice for a community.

Sure, there are times when you are a member of a community, and times at which you may offer a product to that same group of people. But oftentimes, that does not mean you are supporting the community in doing so, it simply means that for the moment, the community is being used as a market. So when brands talk about building trust, it can never just be one step in the process to a sale.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with selling a needed and desired product to a group of like-minded people. But I am saying that there is a difference between building a community and selling to a marketplace. As the business landscape rushes into social media – a more nuanced connection with people’s lives – this is something to be understood. The business funnel of marketing to a segmented group of people is not the same as building trust within a community – of supporting a community.

Let me know if I can help you in serving your community: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

thatdamnredhead August 6, 2010 at 8:03 am

Took the words right out of my mouth. I've been contemplating a similar post for some time. It totally irks me about all these people saying that they “build communities” or they're a “community builder” … one person does not build a community. Communities exist and come together around a shared interest. It's not up to one person to nurture or to manage a community, and I'm not talking about simply online. It's a group project, and if community members can't nurture and/or sustain their own community, they certainly shouldn't be trying to grow it, because that misses the entire point of having a community in the first place.

Thanks for writing this.

@damnredhead

thatdamnredhead August 6, 2010 at 8:03 am

Took the words right out of my mouth. I've been contemplating a similar post for some time. It totally irks me about all these people saying that they “build communities” or they're a “community builder” … one person does not build a community. Communities exist and come together around a shared interest. It's not up to one person to nurture or to manage a community, and I'm not talking about simply online. It's a group project, and if community members can't nurture and/or sustain their own community, they certainly shouldn't be trying to grow it, because that misses the entire point of having a community in the first place.

Thanks for writing this.

@damnredhead

DanBlank August 6, 2010 at 9:02 am

Thank you so much!

DanBlank August 6, 2010 at 9:02 am

Thank you so much!

ajleon August 8, 2010 at 11:48 am

Dan, this is a fabulous post. I'm personally a huge proponent of looking at the poetry that lies beneath business and relationships and this post stated that so incredibly well. Wish I would've written it! 🙂

ajleon August 8, 2010 at 11:48 am

Dan, this is a fabulous post. I'm personally a huge proponent of looking at the poetry that lies beneath business and relationships and this post stated that so incredibly well. Wish I would've written it! 🙂

Steve Birkett August 8, 2010 at 11:51 am

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the insight, it's a timely reminder to check our activities as 'community' and 'engagement' proliferate. Every danger exists that they become just buzz words to roll out when talking about a glorified marketing campaign.

To me it goes back to the two-way street of the 'social web' and being there for the long haul. It's nothing new to state, but the need to be there for a community one chooses to become a part of, viewing it as an opportunity to sow more than we reap, needs to be at the forefront of our involvement.

As you rightly point out, this is often at odds with the fickle, short term interests of the marketing world. Over time, though, it makes more sense for all involved and is infinitely preferable to the negative reputation associated with those who preach community yet bail out at the first sign of involvement.

Cheers,

Steve

Steve Birkett August 8, 2010 at 11:51 am

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the insight, it's a timely reminder to check our activities as 'community' and 'engagement' proliferate. Every danger exists that they become just buzz words to roll out when talking about a glorified marketing campaign.

To me it goes back to the two-way street of the 'social web' and being there for the long haul. It's nothing new to state, but the need to be there for a community one chooses to become a part of, viewing it as an opportunity to sow more than we reap, needs to be at the forefront of our involvement.

As you rightly point out, this is often at odds with the fickle, short term interests of the marketing world. Over time, though, it makes more sense for all involved and is infinitely preferable to the negative reputation associated with those who preach community yet bail out at the first sign of involvement.

Cheers,

Steve

danperez August 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Dan, with the onset of social media, enthusiasts believe that “engaging” and/or “building community” should be the primary focus of a company's involvement in social media, not sales. I agree: there is a difference in a community strategy and a marketing plan. But marketing plans “selling a needed and desired product to a group of like-minded people” produces revenues for a company which they can then use to invest in real communities (not online ones) where real dollars are needed.

Many of the largest companies in the US (even the world) have donated millions of dollars to charitable/community organizations. This money, as you well know, comes from sales revenues. These donations decrease when profits decrease which, in turn, hurts the community. You'll find the Fortune 500 have a much greater involvement in charitable giving than in social media “engagement”.

So, if a company's involvement in social media is primarily geared towards product/service awareness and sales (and most campaigns are; as they should be), is that wrong? I think it all depends on which side you ask…yes?

danperez August 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Dan, with the onset of social media, enthusiasts believe that “engaging” and/or “building community” should be the primary focus of a company's involvement in social media, not sales. I agree: there is a difference in a community strategy and a marketing plan. But marketing plans “selling a needed and desired product to a group of like-minded people” produces revenues for a company which they can then use to invest in real communities (not online ones) where real dollars are needed.

Many of the largest companies in the US (even the world) have donated millions of dollars to charitable/community organizations. This money, as you well know, comes from sales revenues. These donations decrease when profits decrease which, in turn, hurts the community. You'll find the Fortune 500 have a much greater involvement in charitable giving than in social media “engagement”.

So, if a company's involvement in social media is primarily geared towards product/service awareness and sales (and most campaigns are; as they should be), is that wrong? I think it all depends on which side you ask…yes?

Scott Gould August 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Boom.

Home run Dan. I'm writing a post on your post right now. It's very true, and I recently found myself, if I'm really honest, in a situation where a venture that I am involved in was selling not supporting.

It was hard work to turn it around!

I'll publish the post next week

Scott

Scott Gould August 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Boom.

Home run Dan. I'm writing a post on your post right now. It's very true, and I recently found myself, if I'm really honest, in a situation where a venture that I am involved in was selling not supporting.

It was hard work to turn it around!

I'll publish the post next week

Scott

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm

AJ,
Thank you so much! I like the way you described it, as poetry.
Have a great evening!
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm

AJ,
Thank you so much! I like the way you described it, as poetry.
Have a great evening!
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Steve,
YES, excellent points! It relates to deeper questions of who we are becoming as a culture… one of short term profiteering, or long term investment.
Much appreciated.
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Steve,
YES, excellent points! It relates to deeper questions of who we are becoming as a culture… one of short term profiteering, or long term investment.
Much appreciated.
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Dan,
Wow, you raise some GREAT issues here. There is a flip side to it as well, when communities and charities rely so heavily on very large for-profit businesses, it can potentially create an imbalance, where the profit motive is seen as supporting the entire culture.

You are right – there is good that comes out of corporations, I do not mean in any way to imply otherwise. Personally, I became deeply involved in helping a school in Harlem because of a corporate Cares program at my last employer, so I've experienced that first hand.

Thanks so much for sharing these viewpoints.
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Dan,
Wow, you raise some GREAT issues here. There is a flip side to it as well, when communities and charities rely so heavily on very large for-profit businesses, it can potentially create an imbalance, where the profit motive is seen as supporting the entire culture.

You are right – there is good that comes out of corporations, I do not mean in any way to imply otherwise. Personally, I became deeply involved in helping a school in Harlem because of a corporate Cares program at my last employer, so I've experienced that first hand.

Thanks so much for sharing these viewpoints.
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Scott,
Thank you, I really appreciate that. It can be a hazy line, and even when people cross it, it can be with the best of intentions. I look forward to reading your post, please send the link when its up!
Have a nice evening.
-Dan

DanBlank August 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Scott,
Thank you, I really appreciate that. It can be a hazy line, and even when people cross it, it can be with the best of intentions. I look forward to reading your post, please send the link when its up!
Have a nice evening.
-Dan

Sankar August 9, 2010 at 1:42 am

Great, bold views. Business is where community is or community is where business is. I am from Chennai, India. The most popular book shop in Chennai is Landmark. It became so big and popular because it let customers to browse through books – and even provides a place to read them, even though they are not going to buy. In fact, I read ONLY PARANOID SURVIVE of Intel's Andy Grove there, when I was a student (not affording to buy it). No one had ever gave a feeling that I was uninvited. Landmark also has a place where people can stick posters of important events in the city. No charges for this. In many ways, they built the place more than a book stall. People came there for various reasons: browsing, hanging out, networking, time pass, etc. This is how a business can create a community. It should treat everyone – customers or not – as guests. If you dont like people, you cannot be social. If the concern is only about profits, you cannot build a community.

Sankar August 9, 2010 at 1:42 am

Great, bold views. Business is where community is or community is where business is. I am from Chennai, India. The most popular book shop in Chennai is Landmark. It became so big and popular because it let customers to browse through books – and even provides a place to read them, even though they are not going to buy. In fact, I read ONLY PARANOID SURVIVE of Intel's Andy Grove there, when I was a student (not affording to buy it). No one had ever gave a feeling that I was uninvited. Landmark also has a place where people can stick posters of important events in the city. No charges for this. In many ways, they built the place more than a book stall. People came there for various reasons: browsing, hanging out, networking, time pass, etc. This is how a business can create a community. It should treat everyone – customers or not – as guests. If you dont like people, you cannot be social. If the concern is only about profits, you cannot build a community.

Sankar August 9, 2010 at 1:55 am

Great, bold views Dan. It is about business and community. My comments: “Business is where community is or community is where business is. I am from Chennai, India. The most popular book shop in Chennai is Landmark. It became so big and popular because it let customers to browse through books – and even provides a place to read them, even without buying them. In fact, I read ONLY PARANOIDS SURVIVE of Intel's Andy Grove there, when I was a student! In those days, I used to spend hours reading books, and leave the shop without buying anything, no employee had ever let me feel that I was uninvited guest. (However, in any other normal shops and restaurants, you were almost frowned upon if you do not mean business NOW and THEN and THERE. It is rare to find a shop keeper or doctor who is game for friendly conversations, now a days.)

Landmark also has a place where people can stick posters of events they organise in the city. When I was a freelance journalist with Madras Plus, a city supplement of Economic Times, I used to go to Landmark to see whether there are any new events coming up. I pick up story ideas from posters at Landmark.

In many such ways, Landmark built the place more than a book stall. People come here for various reasons: browsing, hanging out, networking, time pass, etc. This is how a business can provide the infrastructure (online or offline) for a community, and gain from it. Now that I am a professional, I am buying something or the other whenever I visit Landmark.

In my view, businesses should treat everyone – customers or not – as guests. If you dont like people, you cannot be social. If the concern is only about profits, you cannot build a community. It needs long term vision.

Sankar August 9, 2010 at 1:55 am

Great, bold views Dan. It is about business and community. My comments: “Business is where community is or community is where business is. I am from Chennai, India. The most popular book shop in Chennai is Landmark. It became so big and popular because it let customers to browse through books – and even provides a place to read them, even without buying them. In fact, I read ONLY PARANOIDS SURVIVE of Intel's Andy Grove there, when I was a student! In those days, I used to spend hours reading books, and leave the shop without buying anything, no employee had ever let me feel that I was uninvited guest. (However, in any other normal shops and restaurants, you were almost frowned upon if you do not mean business NOW and THEN and THERE. It is rare to find a shop keeper or doctor who is game for friendly conversations, now a days.)

Landmark also has a place where people can stick posters of events they organise in the city. When I was a freelance journalist with Madras Plus, a city supplement of Economic Times, I used to go to Landmark to see whether there are any new events coming up. I pick up story ideas from posters at Landmark.

In many such ways, Landmark built the place more than a book stall. People come here for various reasons: browsing, hanging out, networking, time pass, etc. This is how a business can provide the infrastructure (online or offline) for a community, and gain from it. Now that I am a professional, I am buying something or the other whenever I visit Landmark.

In my view, businesses should treat everyone – customers or not – as guests. If you dont like people, you cannot be social. If the concern is only about profits, you cannot build a community. It needs long term vision.

DanBlank August 9, 2010 at 3:20 am

Sankar,
Great example! In may area, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble get most of the attention for creating the “third place” as they call it, their version of a community center. The infrastructure that you mention, is interesting to consider, and I sometimes consider what would happen if my local Starbucks went out of business. In many ways, it is where people meet their neighbors, get out of the house to do work for awhile, and similar activities. But this place is always reliant on a large company feeling it is economically viable – that they can sell enough coffee or books, to continue their commitment. It's a fascinating model on the scale that Starbucks and B&N are trying it.
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!
-Dan

DanBlank August 9, 2010 at 3:20 am

Sankar,
Great example! In may area, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble get most of the attention for creating the “third place” as they call it, their version of a community center. The infrastructure that you mention, is interesting to consider, and I sometimes consider what would happen if my local Starbucks went out of business. In many ways, it is where people meet their neighbors, get out of the house to do work for awhile, and similar activities. But this place is always reliant on a large company feeling it is economically viable – that they can sell enough coffee or books, to continue their commitment. It's a fascinating model on the scale that Starbucks and B&N are trying it.
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!
-Dan

Glory Marketing August 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Great insights. I constantly have clients asking how to build or leverage community for marketing purposes. I think your headline captures the essence of the movement “You don't sell to a community. You support a community.

Glory Marketing August 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Great insights. I constantly have clients asking how to build or leverage community for marketing purposes. I think your headline captures the essence of the movement “You don't sell to a community. You support a community.

DanBlank August 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Thank you!

DanBlank August 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Thank you!

Jickes August 12, 2010 at 8:13 am

Great post, Dan! I've recently been trying to take my writing to the next level. Part of that process involves finding my community – the people who'd be interested in what I have to say. I don't see myself as creating a community but, rather, as you say supporting one.

Jickes August 12, 2010 at 8:13 am

Great post, Dan! I've recently been trying to take my writing to the next level. Part of that process involves finding my community – the people who'd be interested in what I have to say. I don't see myself as creating a community but, rather, as you say supporting one.

DanBlank August 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

Indeed. Thanks!
-Dan

DanBlank August 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

Indeed. Thanks!
-Dan

Umberto Righetti September 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Dan,

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK, YOU.

Great post. So refreshing to hear these words. For the past 5 years we've built a business on the premise that “You don't sell to a community, you support a community”

We've worked on convincing Australian and now global brands that this is the future of advertising and that they “don't need to build a community, communities already exist”.

We've lived by the principle that brands should become partners to the community we support – grassroots sport in Australia and grassroots basketball globally.

We keep saying that it's not about brands interrupting anymore to try and get our attention as consumers, it's about brands supporting what we do as people and adding value to the things that are important to us as individuals.

It's about brands providing content, services and utilities that enhance our experiences.

It's about brands tapping into the trust that is inherent in communities, it's not about brands trying to get us to trust them through traditional advertising.

To use the words of my friend, Simon Mainwaring, we've been architects of the grassroots sport community for 11 years helping to support all the members, particularly those in most need, including some of the less developed sporting nations in Oceania.

Your post will become the reminder I will present to every Chief Marketing Officer and CEO I speak with.

I often wonder why it takes so long for these people to get it when it took us 5 minutes to convince Rupert Murdoch that what we were doing was the future. Perhaps he is just a lot smarter and sees the future before others do!

Umberto Righetti September 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Dan,

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK, YOU.

Great post. So refreshing to hear these words. For the past 5 years we've built a business on the premise that “You don't sell to a community, you support a community”

We've worked on convincing Australian and now global brands that this is the future of advertising and that they “don't need to build a community, communities already exist”.

We've lived by the principle that brands should become partners to the community we support – grassroots sport in Australia and grassroots basketball globally.

We keep saying that it's not about brands interrupting anymore to try and get our attention as consumers, it's about brands supporting what we do as people and adding value to the things that are important to us as individuals.

It's about brands providing content, services and utilities that enhance our experiences.

It's about brands tapping into the trust that is inherent in communities, it's not about brands trying to get us to trust them through traditional advertising.

To use the words of my friend, Simon Mainwaring, we've been architects of the grassroots sport community for 11 years helping to support all the members, particularly those in most need, including some of the less developed sporting nations in Oceania.

Your post will become the reminder I will present to every Chief Marketing Officer and CEO I speak with.

I often wonder why it takes so long for these people to get it when it took us 5 minutes to convince Rupert Murdoch that what we were doing was the future. Perhaps he is just a lot smarter and sees the future before others do!

DanBlank September 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Wow, Thank you Umberto! Interesting to hear about your experience.
Much appreciated.
-Dan

DanBlank September 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Wow, Thank you Umberto! Interesting to hear about your experience.
Much appreciated.
-Dan

Tad December 23, 2010 at 9:45 am

Dan. I love this post. so. much. I’ve been blogging lately about ‘is conscious marketing bullshit.’ and ‘becoming a hub’ and . . . damn. this is beautiful. can i share this post on my blog? i love this. yes.

Anonymous December 23, 2010 at 11:50 am

Thanks so much Tad! Sending you an email now…

Xavier Hawk December 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

This is great!!! great perspective and insight.

Alex Baisley December 23, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I am so pleased to read this, Dan. First time on your blog and sent over from good friend and mentor Tad Hargrave. This is SUCH an important discussion, one that has only been niggling in the back of my mind as I ‘build my community around my business’… just like you say. nnI love this distinction, and it leaves me wondering what to call my ‘mailing list’ because that’s totally not accurate to the role I play either. It actually does feel a lot closer to something of a feel-good community than a business tool, but it’s neither – it’s something in between. Hmmmm….nnThank you so much for the great insight.nnAlex

Sankar December 24, 2010 at 5:31 am

Good to have Dan and Umbreto herennhttp://www.younomy.com/greatquotes-social-media.html

Anonymous December 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thanks so much!

Anonymous December 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Thanks Alex, much appreciated!

Anonymous December 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Thank you Xavier!

Skeen December 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Very good…..very. The moment we have to talk about creating trust, we become untrustworthy. The moment we “use” our community for profit and or gain, neighborhoods, churches, fb accounts ect. we lose our authenticity….the moment we lose our authenticity it matters very little what we are trying to accomplish.

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