The conversation around community and business is popping up more and more as the warm and fuzzy glow of Social Media begins to shift into the colder and harder phase of analysis. For me, community is that group of customers who connect with your message and are engaging with your brand or each other on a regular basis. These are the brand evangelists who will continue purchasing from you and are most likely to help you spread the word about your product or service. They are very different from those who make purchases and move on.
Every last one of us who uses social tools and desires to build a community around their business is starting to ask themselves the same question, “Who is a member of my community and who is a customer?” It is an important distinction as they both mean very different things to your business. Let me be clear about something, just because someone buys from you (even if they buy a lot and buy often) does not make them a member of your community. Just because they became a fan on Facebook (shameless plug) and commented a few times does not mean that they are a member of your community. Just because they signed up for your newsletter does not mean they are a member of your community. Just because… ok, ok, I think you get the point.
It is essential to treat every person as if they were a part of your community (after all, every interaction is an opportunity), but the chance that someone is going to join in is exceedingly rare and entirely up to that individual. More often than not, people are simply looking for the information or solution that they need. You need to make sure those answers are readily available and easy to find. A focus on community is important, but an obsession with it will lead you to ignore the needs of those who simply want to know where to find your products. The opportunity to become a part of your community needs to be clear, but you never want to make anyone who simply wants to take a look around feel pressured. All you will end up doing is losing a customer who was never going to be a part of your community to begin with.
For those of you who are like me and are looking to build a community for your business, you are going to have to be patient and willing to earn it. Just because you put up a Facebook Fan page last week does not mean you have a community. If it is going to have any value to your business, community is is going to develop organically over time and is something you will have to work hard to deserve. It is not about the amount of fans or followers you have, but the amount of people who truly come to care for your business as much as you do. When you take a hard look, I think you will find that there are less of them than you think. The only people who are part of your community are those who want to be, not those you want to be.
That is how I go about distinguishing between customer and community… how about you? What is it going to take to elevate those who simply buy to those who truly care? There is also the question of “Where is my community?” but that is another post for another day…