Audience vs Community: Do You Know the Difference?

audience community

We had an amazing conversation with Allison Aldridge-Saur of Chickasaw Nation on Friday and I would encourage you to listen to it. Allison has been working on a fascinating project as part of the Digital Vision grant, writing a series on Native American Lessons for Community Building.

In part two of her series, Allison discusses Audiences versus Communities. This struck me as one of the most important elements of the entire series. I’m not sure that too many marketers recognize that there is such a distinct difference between an audience and a community. Even here on Martech, we do a fantastic job of building a great audience… but we haven’t truly developed a strategy to develop a community.

Allison discusses the differences between building your audience – listening, engagement, relevant content, loyalty points, gamification, gifting economy, give-aways and messaging consistency. Some may argue that these are the strategies behind building community… but there’s one question that will answer whether you have one or the other. Will the community continue without you, without your content, without your incentives, or without the overall value you bring them? If the answer is NO (which it probably is), you’ve got an audience.

Building your community is a much different strategy. Community building tools include naming of the group, the events and the individuals, using insider jargon, having your own symbols, developing a shared narrative, having value systems, rituals, consensus building and pooling resources. Communities live beyond the leader, the platform, or even the product (think Trekkies). In fact, Allison said something incredible when we were speaking to her… a brand advocate in the community may often last longer than the marketing team itself!

That’s not to say having just an audience is a bad thing… we have a great audience that we’re very thankful for. However, if the blog disappeared tomorrow, I’m afraid the audience would, too! If we hope to really build a lasting impression, we would work to develop a community.

A great example of this is comparing other product reviews versus Angie’s List (our client). The team at Angie’s List doesn’t dictate reviews, allow anonymous reviews… and they do an outstanding job at mediating reports between businesses and consumers to ensure both sides are treated fairly. The result is an insanely dedicated community who share hundreds of in-depth reviews of the businesses they interact with.

When I signed up personally for the service, I thought I’d be looking at something like Yelp where a business was listed and there were a couple dozen reviews with a sentence or two below them. Instead, a small search for plumbers in my region identified hundreds of plumbers with thousands of in-depth reviews. I was even able to narrow it down to plumber with a great rating for installation of water heaters. The result was that I got a great water heater at a great price and I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was getting ripped off. In one transaction, I saved the entire year’s cost of membership.

If, by some wacky reason, Angie’s List decided to close its doors, I have no doubt that the community they have unleashed will continue to do the incredible work they’re doing in accurately and fairly reporting business results. Yelp and Google may have large audiences… but Angie’s List is building a community. It’s a huge difference.

What are you building?


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    So true – you need to get people just as (or more) excited about your community as you are. This is actually how it goes when you run your own company too. If I can be away from the office for a week and the company runs smoothly without me, I know I’ve done something right.

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