Picture an old town.
There is a town square, a general store, a watering hole or two in the town center and homes scattered beyond.
People know each other. More than that, they rely on each other. They gather together in large groups in the town center and in small groups in outlying homes.
Now a new family moves to town. They build a specialty store at one end of main street with an apartment above. They are certain their store will quickly become the key gathering spot in town.
Occasionally someone wanders into the store. Some are intrigued; most never return.
The family knows the town needs their store, so they forge ahead. They organize events and promote them in the store, giving people even more reasons to visit, but it is still nearly empty.
Discouraged, they finally leave the store and go down to the local watering hole. They start trying to tell everyone about the store, but most people are already talking to someone else.
Persistence pays off. They finally tell nearly everyone in town how privileged they are to have a specialty store in their town center.
They go home elated. They just know tomorrow is going to be the big day. The day the trend turns. The day the store matters. The day it becomes its own community.
It’s Not About You
Marketers, that new family is you. Yes, it’s absurd, but this is how you go about building community sites. You see your site as the community when in reality, it is an initially inconsequential newcomer to an existing community.
You need to recognize you are entering an existing community. One full of people that already know each other and have their routines within the community.
How the Story Ends
Tomorrow wasn’t what you were hoping for. A couple more people visited the store, but like those before them, most left empty-handed and didn’t return.
Now what? The story of your entrance to the community has three potential endings.
- Discouraged, you finally move on. The community lives on without you, many barely notice your departure.
- Encouraged by the small increase in visitors to your store, you carry on. Every week you make it a point to get out and tell people about your wonderful store and all that it offers. Sure, many never return, but the small increase is enough to keep your dream alive.
- Remembering the bustle of the local watering hole, you return. Instead of talking about yourself, you listen. You learn more about what people want and need. As you get to know the people of your town, you start offering new products; products that meet their needs. One day you realize your store has become part of the town’s community.
Which ending will you choose for your community efforts? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@wittlake).