In the last several years the term “community” has become common currency amongst marketeers, tech companies and other growing businesses, especially those founded in the digital sphere. (This is a little ironic given the traditional meaning refers to people who share a common physical location.)
Recently I received a welcome email from JustPark which stated “You’ve joined a community of over a million people who are thinking smartly about parking”. Really? What I have done is register with a great new tech business disrupting the hitherto staid world of parking. And it’s a great, innovative service to be applauded. But I haven’t joined a community – I have become just another customer.
The dictionary definition of community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”, and even if we allow for a certain evolution in definitions, JustPark is neither. But they are just like thousands of businesses who have fallen into the same trap of saying, and maybe even believing, that they have created a movement of like-minded people.
A community doesn’t have to share a geographical location, or a strictly defined set of values, but they must have something in common. parkrun for example talk about their virtual community but as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who run regularly around the world that community also has strong roots in local communities enjoying running together.
At Freestak we are creating an online community of influencers, but the reason it’s a community and not just a group of people who happen to have signed up to the same service is we are encouraging communication, learning and collaboration between them. We are facilitators of an active group we wish to exist and communicate independently of us.
- Commuities have shared spaces to talk and create (physical or virtual)
- Communities are founded on shared values
- Communities collectively create things of value that they couldn’t individually
- Communities are, or could could continue to exist, independent of any one brand
Why does this matter? As well as being a poor use of English and misleading for the customer, it can also be unhelpful for the business. If you believe that people’s relationship with you is built on some kind of shared values when actually it’s far more transactional, you’ll make decisions and communicate with them based on a fundamental misunderstanding of their needs.
So either create a real community or accept your customers for who they are and celebrate the great product or service you deliver for them as a group of individuals. But don’t refer to them as a community.