Gathering "likes" is not the same as building a community

There's more to community than talking to people on the social web, writes Jeremy Waite, head of social strategy at Adobe EMEA.

One of the changes I have noticed in social media recently is that the lines between marketing, brand comms and customer service are becoming increasingly blurred.

Social teams are encouraging community managers to reply to every post, comment and mention in order to build their brand, but they often mistake this for building a community. It is not.

Talking to people on the social web is incredibly important as part of a brand's "conversation strategy", but we need to remember that this is not the same as building a community. This is just "working the room" at a cocktail party - it is not building a long-term relationship. However, I would like to think that one ultimately leads to the other.

Engagement cannot be owned - it is not a dog.

Apple is still one of the most "anti-social" brands in the world (if you use a social-media definition), but its retail spaces and brand values have made it one of the biggest brands in the world, with the most loyal fan bases.

Apple does not need a "like" or a mention to build a community - the brand understands its fans so well already that many of them would run across battlefields for it (or queue up for days to buy a new product that will be widely available the day after). Simon Sinek sums this up perfectly in his outstanding TED talk, "Start with why".

Look at the real characteristics of a community and they are often a far cry from what we see in social media.

Think about a small town in the 1940s: that's a community. Communities support each other. They love each other, share everything, know each other's business and come together in times of need, crisis or celebration. Look at the real characteristics of a community and they are often a far cry from what we see in social media.

Deviant Art, Disney, NFL, Nike+, Strava and Suicide Girls have some of the strongest communities that I have ever seen online. Everyone talks to everyone else. There are no one-word answers. People post long responses to each other. You don't have to read far down the comments to see that they know, understand and care about each other. This is what Facebook should encapsulate, but for most brands it seldom does (TOMS and Amnesty do an amazing job).

The point that I am trying to make is this: never mistake a mythical "like" for the real thing. Fans and likes are poles apart.

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