Unbound Edition. Meaningful conversations about brand, from Davis Brand Capital.

Community Is As Community Does

“Building community.”

It’s become a mantra.  You can’t go a day of digitally deposited trade reading without gurus across the board – from HBR to Ad Age –  opining on how brand building is linked to community building. 

The devil, of course, is in the details

Here’s what happens.  A brand decides (or is advised) that community is an asset it needs to cultivate and nurture.  The brand schedules dozens of internal meetings, diligently sends out memos, sets out strategy and begins to activate the necessary channels – say, setting up and populating its Facebook page.  All’s fine at this point.  But when strategy hits operations, community-building becomes a slippery, fast-moving, hard-to-guard target. 

Here’s a recent example. My household, along with hundreds of thousands of others on the East coast, was affected by the freak October storm.  Trees were down on every street, mounds of snow at the foot of every driveway – and yes, they even cancelled Halloween. It was enough to drive a 6-year-old wild.  As well as the 6-year-old’s parents.

Three days into a house that was 45 degrees inside, I was charging my phone in the car and realized we had concert tickets for the local, community-supported theater.  Assuming the event would be cancelled – the entire town was dark – I was stunned to see a socially delivered message that the facility had secured a generator and the “show must go on.”  We were in the middle of packing up and decamping to warmer ground, so we ran up to town and asked for a credit, our car bulging with coolers of food packed in snow. You can imagine how surprised I was to be bumped up to the supervisor who, because we were not “full members” denied our request.  Just like that

Later that evening, from the car, I called our insurance company expecting more of a hassle.  Again I was stunned.  This giant enterprise that services vets and active military provided an agent who wired money to our account on the spot.  Before we arrived at our temporary destination, we were reimbursed because we were part of their community.

Go figure.  If you had asked me pre-catastrophe, I would have assumed that the local arts organization – those folks I see every Saturday at the Farmer’s Market – would have been committed to building community beyond their Facebook and Twitter streams by letting local context direct their operations.  I would also have assumed that blackout cost resolution would have taken more than one phone call with USAA, despite their varied social and digital efforts.

The point is “community” doesn’t come in pre-packaged sizes.  And it doesn’t come nicely bound by clearly delineated technology platforms.

Community is built by the people who operate within it.  Community shows up in how people respond to messy situations – across channels, in person and online.  Community is about relationships, their flexibility and give and take.

Social media is fine.  Social IQ and how that is translated in operations is the glue for community.

Once I reached steady power, I posted this thought on the local theater’s Facebook page.  Don’t you know they removed it within 24 hours?  And they never used their social channels to reach out to me – either publicly or privately.

In the end, community is as community does.

What about your community? Does your enterprise effectively integrate digital community efforts with operations so as to strengthen them both?  Is it a formal effort or is it left up to individuals within the organization?

End note:  Two weeks later I used an old-fashioned channel – the telephone.  I called the supervisor of the theater and, after a courteous back and forth, received a credit against a future show.  The fact that this transaction was entirely divorced from their social media efforts remains, apparently, unnoticed.


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