It might seem like an obvious statement, but many brands simply don't understand this one basic fact: conversation is not community.
Let's break that down: just because someone is talking about your brand (positively or negatively) it doesn't mean that they are a part of your community (or that they want to be a part of your community). To push that even further, even if someone has bought from you, loves your product and raves about it everywhere (both online and offline), it still doesn't mean that they are a part of your community (or that they want to be).
The only way that anybody joins any community is by voluntarily doing so.
It seems like we all need to take a step back, take a deep breathe, and re-read Seth Godin's seminal book, Permission Marketing. And, once you've inhaled that business book, understand that you can't even ask for permission any more. You have to earn it and it has to be initiated by the consumer. The backlash to this thought will be something akin to, "what do we do if we have this great community and we want these individuals to join, and they probably would join if they simply knew that we existed?" The answer to this is pretty basic/obvious: do more to get noticed and recognized, so that word spreads and those who may be interested in your community will find you. Yes, make yourself more findable, approachable, likeable and spreadable.
Marketing is going to get harder and harder in 2010.
Marketing is going to get harder because even creating any semblance of a powerful conversation (the stuff that hopefully leads to people joining your community) is going to be ever-more challenging. With conversations happening in so many online channels in so many different forms, getting your signal through the noise is not going to be easy (it's not easy now). On Twitter today, I tweeted: "Fill in the blank: creating conversations online is..." to which @cguy responded, "like trying to speak at a rock show."
Anybody can have a conversation.
It's important to remember that the idea of conversations really happening in the online channel is still a relatively new concept. That being said, many of the platforms we use to connect and share (online social networking) have come to the point where they are so simple to use that everyone (and anyone) is online and having conversations. Whether what they say has any relevance to you is not important. They can create these conversations, they should create these conversations and they are connecting with whomever is important to them. They could be having thousands of conversations all over the place, but still there is no semblance of an active or unified community.
Maybe the idea here is that if you engage in enough meaningful conversations the output of that will hopefully lead to a community?