I am very concerned by a trend I am seeing when it comes to social media community development and audiences.
There seems to be a belief by some that audiences can be “owned.” I was actually engaged in a dialog on LinkedIn this week where an agency owner shared in a group conversation that audiences can be owned. He mentioned that not only can the audience be owned, but the conversation can also be controlled.
His comments reminded me of the old school marketing myths of “build it and they will come.” Take a look at the dot bomb era and see for yourself how that turned out! His statement was based on the belief that when the audience is within your owned online architecture you can then control them because they are visiting your property. You can then control who has access to them for marketing advertising purposes.
While I agree with him on the premise that when you build and foster an engaged audience on a specific platform you can somewhat control access to them via that specific platform (though that is debatable). Instead of controlling the conversation, I believe a more appropriate word would be “influence.”
Wow, this was a wake up call for me. I didn't realize people really still thought this way, let alone were still preaching and teaching such. It was even more of a shock considering it was coming from someone who appears to have years of experience in marketing and is possibly also influencing others.
Can an audience or a community be owned? What does it mean to be owned?
Here is my take on it…
Audiences can not be owned. Why? Because communities and audiences are made up of human beings. You can not OWN human beings.
You do not control the relationship with the members of your community or audience. They control the relationship. They can turn you off and tell you goodbye forever in the blink of an eye.
They may like you one day, and leave you the next. How long they stick around, what they tell their friends about you is going to be dependent upon the relationship.
The relationship with your audience and social media community members is dependent upon trust, the value you provide them and the way you make them feel. If your goal is to “own” your audience then you are not starting off with trust or value. You are beginning the relationships thinking “what can I get” versus “what can I give.”
Yes, while a person may visit your blog or website you can control what they can do and can't do on your property. You can control via comment moderation how they comment, what trail they leave behind after they leave. You can control what they can and can't share with their audiences and even what content they can view.
However, controlling the behavior ON YOUR site does not mean you control or own them.
Your audience also has an audience!
Even for the brands that work under the notion audiences can be controlled can not control what happens after that person leaves their site.
Who cares if you can control the audience while they are on your site? What happens after they leave your site is equally and arguably more important.
While a brand may be able to control how I comment on their blog, website, or social network, that is not going to stop me in communicating to my 180,000 Twitter followers what I think about them. It's not going to stop me from blogging, posting to Facebook, or telling my friends via word of mouth online or offline my deep thoughts and truth about how I feel about their brand.
To think you own your audience is a recipe for disaster. It goes against what is the core success factors for building a successful business which are relationships and trust.
If your first intention is to “own” me, sorry but you are going to lose me at hello.
I am a human being and I am not for sale, thank you.
Instead think value. Think trust. Think relationships that have meaning.
Watch this video to learn more:
*Update: Added video Feb 2, 2014
Talk Human to Me Series
This blog post is part of a series titled “Talk Human to Me“. It includes a deep look at brand humanization and the power of the human brand.
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