The Difference Between Social Media Marketing and Online Communities

As more and more brands embrace social media as an extension to marketing, advertising, pr or customer service efforts, the line between social media marketing and the essence of online communities continues to blur. However, it is important that these efforts not get mixed up otherwise the purpose and benefits of each effort will get diluted and the tactics and measures of success will become a confusing mess.

Social Media Marketing can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach of the conversation, as well as the number of transactions. Social Media Marketing can have very specific and measurable goals such as increase share of voice, improve brand reputation and/or awareness, or direct sales.

photodune-3447460-community-xsOnline communities are much more nebulous. Communities, in general, are a very ancient creation. Communities of people gathered together for interdependent reasons. Therefore, a community is about the experience of belonging.

There are many benefits for a brand to develop a community, including the ability to scale. If you bring together people with passion and expertise then every person in the community gains tremendously for the small efforts of many. Think of Wikipedia.

Oftentimes efforts to building online communities involve bringing together more people with questions than answers. This makes sense when you are trying to find people with a need that you can fill. That is called selling. People do not become part of a community as a means to be sold to.

If we think of communities like we think of our neighborhoods, then what we are seeking are people with common interests, people we like to invite to our house, people with expertise such as…I don’t know…plumbing. Most importantly we are looking for people we trust.

So how do we build online communities? We set out to bring together people with a passion and expertise to share, we give them tools that help them get to know each other and we highlight ideas and insights of the members.

Building an online community takes a lot of work. Hospitality must be top of mind. Think of hospitality as the welcoming of strangers and offering “gifts” with no expectation in return thus creating an environment of trust and safety.

As your community grows it is tempting to think it centers around you or your brand. It doesn’t. It is important that community members always know that they are appreciated and are often reminded why they are there – what is the benefit to them.

So, should your social media efforts focus on marketing, advertising, pr, customer service or community building? That depends on your goals and resources, however, do not confuse community building with marketing or you may find that you create a road map that does not lead you to your goals.