If there’s one word I get tired of hearing in social media, it’s “community.” Sometimes when I’m reading a blog or I’m on Twitter and someone spews that buzzword, I can’t help but cringe. I know this won’t likely be a popular opinion, but I’m going to say it anyway. “Community” is overrated.
Whoa now… put the pitchforks down and just hear me out.
What is “Community?”
For the purpose of this discussion, what exactly is community? Well, it’s just that. It’s discussion. It involves more than one-sided messages — you know, those annoying little things like listening and acknowledging the existence of others.
Is “community” a bad thing? No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I run communities of my own. I’ve helped to manage a very large community of Web professionals in the past. And overall, I love the community aspect of social media. It brings people together, and I’ve met some truly amazing folks since getting into the social media game about six years ago.
Let’s focus on the business side of things though, and the dreaded “community managers” I’m so tired of hearing about. If I see one more person claim to be an expert in “community management” because they ran their own blog or built up Twitter followers through follow spam, screaming just won’t cut it.
Where Community Management Goes Wrong
Look. If your company builds a community around the brand, a person, a service, or a product, that’s great. And you do have to “manage” that community to some extent. You need to partake in conversations. You need to know what people are saying and be able to gather feedback. You need to kill spammers as they surface (I’d say “not literally,” but I’m not sure if I’d mean it). In other words, you need to have an active presence.
Those are all good things, so let me be clear in saying that I don’t think any of those examples give “community management” a bad name. What does then? As usual, it’s the obsession with and half-assed understanding of an issue that brings the fight out in me. More specifically, here are some of my personal pet peeves:
- Fresh-faced “community managers” with no basic understanding of public relations (remember, this idea of relationships is nothing new);
- Company reps who think community management is all about directly pushing sales;
- Company reps who think community management has nothing to do with sales;
- Companies acting like they have no control and that they’re at the complete mercy of the community;
- Companies acting like they should have excessive control over community members;
- Companies that set up a pseudo-community but never interact with their customers;
- And the biggest pet peeve of them all — companies that try to pretend “messages” don’t matter once two-way communication is involved.
Let’s explore that last one a bit.
Why Messages Still Matter
I’m not going to bore you with a long spiel about how you and your company still control your image on the Web — not the members of your community. (Oh wait, I already did that.) But it’s important. You still have a certain image you want to portray. That means you still have messages to get out there.
Social media can lend incredible support to your larger messages. More importantly, social media feedback can help you change and adapt those messages as needed. But that doesn’t mean your company’s community gets to decide what image your company has — not by default at least.
Remember, no matter what happens in your community, it’s up to you (and how you respond) that ultimately determines your company’s image. Will there be exceptions? Definitely. But as I often say to the freelance community, “don’t ever expect to be the exception to the rule.” In the meantime, just make sure that while community might play an important role and while those voices are incredibly valuable, you don’t allow that to completely drown out the voice of the company (or yourself). Community should be (at least in my eyes) a complement to the rest of your marketing and PR strategy — not a replacement.
Not everyone gets community management wrong. Do you have some great examples to share of community management at its best? Leave a comment and tell us about it!