Do companies really want to build communities or do they just want to sell you stuff?
There is no straight answer to this question. The truth is, there are companies who are genuine and really do want to build a community, and then there are those who think they want to build a community but are really just looking for any opening to hit you with a sales pitch. If you want to push that truth even further, most companies lie somewhere in the middle - they sincerely want to build community, but only if that community eventually leads to a sale.
And, who can blame them?
Take a look at any real-world community. Is it run by a business or is the business one of the many functions (or cogs in the wheel) that serve a community? It might sound like some kind of semantic debate, but it's an important distinction to identify and think about - especially if your business is just beginning to look at how engage in any of the many online communities. Much of the regular jabber you hear about building an online community for a business is the usual relationship-building advice: everything from taking your time to earning your place in the community to constantly providing value and understanding your role within the community that you're either creating or engaging in.
But, there's something more.
You can't build a community after you need it. It has to be there (and it has to be solid) when you need it. So, when do you need it? That's the point, you never know. As more and more companies let their Blog lapse, ease off on opening up on Twitter or gently step away from their Facebook page because they currently don't have any campaigns in market, what they're not realizing is that the community will not just wait around for them. That "community" will move on, and in doing so will heavily divested in the brand. Some consumers might even feel used.
You have to start it. You have to keep at it.
There is tons of online chatter about being relevant to your community and about really embracing not just the content you are publishing as a company, but the context. None of that will matter if you are not consistent with your frequency and pace. It can't just heat up when you need some sales and then dissipate when you're not selling your wares. It's also hard to build that community today when you really needed it yesterday.
Now, more than ever, is the right time to sit down with your team members and start talking about a real strategy to engage, create and nurture an online community - one that's always there... not just for when you need it.