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
- 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?