Marketers that create a brand presence on social media platforms lack one very important thing in the beginning: an audience, and that is what marketers and their bosses constantly hunger for. From Facebook fans to YouTube subscribers to Twitter followers and so on, marketers want more of them and often they have no idea why. They just want them.
An audience is one thing, but it’s another thing to define what kind of audience will best serve business objectives. Do you want a following or do you want a community?
We want a following.
A following is essentially a body of people that has subscribed to your brand's content by clicking 'like,' follow, subscribe and so on. This group has seen something from the brand that they'd like to see more of in one way or another in their social streams, but beyond that, they may not want more.
Marketers are often after a following. They don't care who it is or why. They just want to see the number go up. That number, for better or worse, is one way that marketers can easily point to in company meetings or hold up to a competitor's number and say, "See. We're doing it."
But the number is only cosmetic. A following is great, and it's important for a brand to build an audience in the social space, but efforts can't stop there. Any brand can get a following and for much less time and energy just by buying a traditional ad and getting its content in front of millions of people. Social media isn't made for just building followings. It's made to take them a step further.
We really want a community.
A community is a group of people living together and practicing common ownership. Now, that's powerful. A community is a following that's evolved to a more invested and more valuable long-term group of consumers invested in a brand. They want to spread the word and help the brand succeed by sharing their personal thoughts and opinions.
A following is about quantity and growing the numbers, but the number means nothing if the following isn't invested. They can hide posts from their News Feeds and ignore tweets. A community is on the lookout for more content.
While a following can be bought, a community must be earned by proving value over the long-term to those who have chosen to follow.
Building a following is a short-term objective, but marketers shouldn't be short-sighted. The true value that social media can deliver like nothing else is the ability to build a community. Don't get caught up in the numbers associated with building a following. Gauge the quality of that following and the potential for it to turn into a community of invested advocates eager to spread online word of mouth related to the brand.