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Marketing, or Community Building?
Marketing, or Community Building?

An important question came up in a recent meeting: Should the focus of social media channels be marketing or community building?

To be sure, we didn’t come to a definitive answer in the 60-minute meeting, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the question and how it mirrors many of the current grey areas and questions about the marketing communications industry.

On the one hand, the approach brands take to social media and digital marketing should absolutely be tied directly to ROI. Otherwise, how can we justify what we’re doing? We need our community to take “actions” that provide results, viz. some Instagram growth, to validate our efforts.

On the other hand there is a ton of value in building an engaged community. A community that you can learn from, that admires your product or brand purpose, that shares your information with its peers and comes to your defense in the face of dissent. These are loyal and repeat customers rather than one-time coupon redemptions or “unique blog views.” And typically that type of community isn’t built by inundating individuals with marketing messages (advertisers themselves admit to blocking ads for a better user experience).

Even social platforms themselves are walking the fine line between marketing and community. As Instagram is set to roll out its new ad platform in October marketers love the “two cents per view” ROI that some users are claiming, but the biggest and most impactful question for Instagram is how might the ads affect the perceived quality of the platform?

As I think about the recent discussion with our client partner, the simple answer is that “social media can serve both purposes.” But the real answer is up to your customers/audiences…how much do they want to be marketed to vs. being part of your community?

Many companies are looking for and try to attract new followers using all possible ways. So, it is more than just marketing, it is about community building.

~ Jim Licko

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