Your Facebook fans aren’t a community, and probably don’t want to be either
One of the biggest problems to face social media marketing is that due to it being a relatively new area there is little in the way of “text book” theories. That’s not to say that there aren’t books on the subject, there are hundreds. But, whilst many share similar ideas, the field just isn’t as developed as traditional marketing.
As such, the industry tends to suffer from buzzword mentality, jumping from one buzzword theory to the next. One term in particular that has stuck is community marketing, upon which many other loosely developed theories have been built. In fact, the term has become fundamental to how many in the social media industry think about their work and sells it in to clients. “You need to engage your community!” self pronounced social media experts (read social media douchebags) decry, probably because someone writing for Mashable has told them so.
The problem is most brands don’t have communities. Some brands have amassed large numbers of fans on Facebook, but the mere act of becoming a fan of a brand on Facebook does not mean that the user wishes to participate in any community or join in with any conversation about that brand. A Sausage Roll fan page with 10,000 fans does not mean there is a Sausage Roll community; it simply means that 10,000 people are saying they like Sausage Rolls.
Regardless of how many fans it has, a simple Facebook page is not a community; a community is made by its members and the sense of belonging they create for themselves. The real problem, of course, lies with marketers. They have taken the term, raped and abused it so much that they have stripped it of the connotations that first attracted us in the first place: a group of likeminded individuals brought together by their shared interests connecting with each other, and, hopefully, with the brand.
Marketers are using this watered down term and using it to raise the hopes of their clients, telling them that community engagement is the key to success. Clients need to have their reality checked. The problem with clients is they are their brands’ own biggest fans. They think their brand of toilet cleaner is the best, and are willing to shout it from the rooftops. And that’s great; they need to be that enthusiastic in order to sell the product. But as marketers we have to manage their expectations, make them realise that no one else is going to give a crap about their toilet cleaner, even less want to join an online StainBeGone community. They but the product because they want their stains gone, not because they want a relationship with the brand. Sure, they may become a fan on Facebook, (probably more for novelty value than anything else) but don’t misinterpret the signals like a socially awkward teenage male thinking that’s there’s a relationship just because the girl you’re into acknowledged your existence.
This is not to say that online communities don’t exist, or that a Facebook fan page cannot be home to a community, just that as marketers we need to more realistically manage the expectations of our client. Community marketing is not a one size fits all, saviour for brands. There are some great examples of organically grown communities being improved by the brand carefully entering into and becoming a part of the community, such as the Harley Davidson fan club. In these cases the communities already existed before the brand joined them, and so the leg work was already done for the brand.
There are also great examples of brands developing their own communities by facilitating the communication between fans, and with the brand itself, such as the work done with the Guitar Hero community.
The moral of the story is not that it is impossible to create, or join an engaged brand community, but rather that when the social media come knocking at the door telling brands you that “you need to engage with your communities” take it with a pinch of salt.