I got friended on Plaxo this week. Plaxo! Isn’t that the business contact service that helps you organize everyone’s contact info? Apparently not. Now it’s an online community.
Not that I begrudge Plaxo for wanting to be an online community. But enough is enough. Not every single service on the web can be an online community. The Cluetrain left the station a long time ago. If you are trying to jump on now, you are late.
It’s not Plaxo’s fault, it’s just that marketers ruin everything with overuse. With apologies to Doc Searls and David Wienberger, not all markets are conversations. Unfortunately, not all marketers understand that particular new marketing myth. Instead, it seems that every new marketing scheme demands a community. People like to have conversations about interesting things, like the hottest new restaurants in town. But people don’t like to have a conversation about everything.
Interest AND Time
To how many communities can one person realistically belong? I mean, really, actively belong? My guess is three: One family-type community, one career-related community, and one leisure-related community. And these communities are not necessarily all online. People have normal lives to live and eventually time needs to be spent in the real world.
For example: this week I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn, I tended to my duties of publicity for the Humane Society of Central Texas, and I will be assisting with Missions Sunday at my church. But I spent zero time on Quora. I just didn’t have the time. And neither do most normal people.
Are Communities Dead?
Can you still build a successful community? Of course, but think about it first. Be realistic. Why would people want to join a community around your business?
Some businesses are a natural magnet for communities. There is a Waco, Texas wine bar and bistro called The Grape that functions as a loose-knit community of conversation. Owner Gina Ford hosts a monthly “Foodie Club” where wines are matched with different non-menu food items. The customers vote on which food item they like best and that item is temporarily added to the menu. She also has a “pet-friendly patio” where you will occasionally see some cute puppies. It makes for a friendly, eclectic community. I’d like to provide you a web link, but I can’t. The Grape doesn’t have a website. Nobody has ever friended me from The Grape. (Although people have called and asked me to meet them at The Grape)
Communities thrive because they are natural and they fulfill a desire for people to come together around a common interest. Communities fail because they are started for marketing purposes. Plaxo’s community is not a natural community. It is a marketing community, built to sell Plaxo.
Should You Start A Community?
If you were not a community builder before the age of communities in new marketing, you are probably not a community builder now. That’s just the cold, hard, truth. That doesn’t mean your business will fail, it just means you should go another route. Trying to artificially start a community would be a waste of your time and money.
However, if you are a connector, and you have a history of being active in communities, give it a shot. But first, do some research. Read John Gladding’s article How to Be a Good Host. But most important, understand why someone would want to gather around your business. Really understand why people would want to interrupt the normal routine of their life to have a conversation with, or about, you.
Then send me a friend request.