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This chapter is from the book

Harnessing Advocates to Create Community

In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2010 New Yorker article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” he asserts that social media, on its own, is only a passive motivator. It can be great for asking people for relatively “soft” acknowledgment of what you’re doing—for example, lazily toggling a “like” button—but it doesn’t have the same “offline” leverage to inspire someone to rescue a shelter animal.

Without a true community built on relationships and shared passion, social media can be only marginally effective in achieving positive business outcomes. If your audience can consume your message in a moment or two without exerting themselves too much, they might click the “like” button, retweet the content you put so much into, or maybe, just maybe—when the stars are aligned just perfectly—post a helpful reply.

But the fickle nature of social media without community won’t likely motivate people to donate to your cause, volunteer for charity, or even lend technical expertise to others. In short, if you build it, they might come, but they probably won’t stick around for long or do anything particularly helpful.

Sustaining participation in social media without a sense of community is problematic at best. We need to give a reality check to the over-inflated sense of importance we give social media tools, and understand what it means to build community rather than simply turn on a new channel. This isn’t to say that social media isn’t powerful or meaningful or cannot help facilitate community; it can. But social media only facilitates community—it doesn’t create it.

We know that advocates and frequent personal interactions create relationships, and relationships coupled with a shared purpose create community. This is essentially a continuum—from advocates, to interactions, to relationships, to community—and along it, the value of each type of engagement grows (likes versus blog posts) as participants develop a greater sense of purpose, belongingness, and accountability while contributing richer and richer content, more and more frequently. For example, the value of advocate-produced video content and blog posts might be considered more valuable than forum replies, and forum replies are usually worth more than likes and retweets.

As we consider the vastness of our potential audience, executives might question whether we will become victims of our own success. For example, is it possible for us to manage 10,000 conversations per day on our own? Not likely. Therefore, it’s imperative that we understand how to scale our efforts with effective community-building strategies so our communities can thrive and support themselves.

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