The Thing About True Community

Lynn Abate-Johnson
May 29, 2019
May 3, 2024

I often use the term “True Community” when I talk about community building. What is the difference between community and True Community?

The meaning of True Community is made up, much like a beloved fairy tale, but still has lots to teach us.

It is all made up, really. I (think I) made up the term True Community, because over the years that I have been in the community industry (like, since “the beginning”), I have noticed that there are gaps in community building, whether it’s a community around a large or a small brand.I remember years ago, when my interest was piqued by new social media platforms, such as Facebook. I wondered how in the world we would use these tools to build relationships that mattered.

I like to say that I am an old-school marketer. What I mean by that is that I grew up running family owned customer-facing businesses. So, I translated the offline, face-to-face experience (or Human-To-Human, #H2H, as my friend Bryan Kramer coined it) into the online relationship-building. True Community. I created a unique blend of offline and online marketing.

I use a hybrid approach to grow relationships, and that comes from my experience as a child growing up in business.

Nowhere To Hide

When you are literally facing customers, like standing there, eye-to-eye, there is nowhere to hide. When you are interacting with customers online, whether it be a forum or the various social media channels, there are lots of ways that you can escape, or hide.

That can pose a problem. Brands hire people like us to build community.

That doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

In True Community, there is nowhere to hide. What happens when a customer approaches you face-to-face at a brick-and-mortar business?

If you’ve ever been a barista, you know that if the customer's needs are not met, you are often forced to make sure that they leave the store happy, for obvious reasons. When you run social media channels for a brand, large or small, it’s much easier to walk away and ignore the needs of the prospect or customer. This is the difference between pseudo-community and True Community. It is the difference between leaving a customer hanging, with an unanswered inquiry, and delivering an experience to that online customer that is not only surprising to them, but it is also beyond delightful, because it’s unexpected.

As community builders, when we have online audiences returning and referring to our channels for more of what we’re dishing up, this is the coin of the realm — for ANY business. And, it builds True Community.

For those of us who build community every single day, we know that it’s important to be present, just like we would be off-line. There are so many nuances involved in this. Often, I have found that these nuances can be taught. After all, communicating with prospects, and being customer facing, and doing it well, are what I consider to be learned skills.

Five Generations

I am proud to be running community for a global company that has been in business for over 26 years, but until they hired their first full-time Community Director, me, in May 2018, they had only been dabbling in the kind of outreach social media provides. The good news is that I inherited an extremely loyal and warm audience, around the world. In fact, I wake up every morning excited to see who has been talking about us during the night while I slept. This is one of the most motivating and inspirational parts of what I get to do for a living every single day. It is also the reason why I never take a full day off work.

But that is a subject for another blog post: how do you never take a day off, and still have a very fulfilled and full life? It can be done, I assure you.

Building True Community is about closing gaps. In today’s office buildings, globally, there are literally five generations of human beings interacting with each other for the better of the brands they represent.

How do we communicate across generations? How in the world do we satisfy the needs of not only multiple generations, but also multiple cultures, time zones, and languages? It is possible when the focus is on paying attention, every day, and listening to what is underlying the comments that come from the “keypad.”

Practicing core philosophies like the 4 Agreements can come into play here, big time. I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t hurt a bit. In fact, it’s affirming and enhances the entire experience of daily community building, on- and offline.

Those of you who are already running large international communities could very likely offer up some great insights. I would love to have you comment here. Please share some of your best practices for making sure that your customers and prospects are feeling welcome and held, even though there is a screen between them and the brand you represent. And thank you for reading this far. I’m honored and grateful.

Lynn Abate-Johnson
May 29, 2019
May 3, 2024

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