Audiences, Fanbases and Communities: Why I probably wouldn't sublet a room to a fellow blog commenter

I had a great breakfast this morning with Andrew Parker, and we talked about a range of things, including how to describe big groups of people who consume content and services.  People use the term "communities" a lot, and in many ways, overuse it--describing groups that don't feature any of the key attributes of a real community.

Various descriptions of community include:

  • "shares some common values"
  • "sense of connectedness"
  • shared trust
  • sense of membership
  • influence
  • fulfillment of needs
  • shared emotional connection
  • deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people

Absolutely none of this happens when a group of people read the same post on Techcrunch.  Sure, there's a group of people there who share an interest--but shared values?  Seems to me that most Techcrunch readers tend to disagree with each other more often than they agree--and they don't exactly feel like they're members of a club.

But there is some value to that group.  It's not a community--it's an audience, and a big one.  In fact, it might even be a fanbase.  What's the difference?  A fanbase doesn't just drop by once and leave after consuming.  They come back day after day, and share with others.  Fans are awesome, but picture a concert.  Just because you're all in the stadium at one time rocking out to Rammstein doesn't make you a community.  I wouldn't rent a room to the average person I met in a pit at Rammstein any more than I'd offer it up to a random Techcrunch co-commenter.  In fact, I'd probably less inclined (at least in the Techcrunch case).  I don't really know who they are character-wise and there isn't a lot of trust and reciprocity build into the relationship we have--not like the way my neighbors on the street I grew up on would watch our house when we were away.

I would, however, have a high likelihood of opening my door to someone who also graduated from Regis High School in New York City.  That is definitely a community of shared values, norms, a sense of belonging, etc.  We're not just passive consumers standing next to each other.  There's a different kind of vibe between members.

Turning your audience into a fanbase and your fanbase into a community is what companies like Fanbridge (First Round company) think about all the time.  It starts with knowing the distinction between all three--and its something that I think warrents an exercise in thinking it through.

  • Who is our audience?
  • What kinds of behavior would make them fans?
  • How do we incent them to become fans?
  • How can we provide the tools for them to become fans?
  • What kinds of behavior would make them a community?
  • How can we provide the tools for them to become a community?