Stop! No Need to Build Your Own Community

There was a lot of learning going on at the PR News Digital Summit held yesterday (Oct 22) in New York (check out some of the gleanings on twitter at #prnsummit). It’s a great sign when it’s nearly 5 p.m. and 90% of attendees are still in the room (could be the champagne reception that shortly followed, but I like to think it’s more about the quality of the content and communicators’ quest to find the holy grail of digital PR. Some say the grail is “Community.”  It goes like this: Build an online  community and make sure it offers your stakeholders a safe place to communicate, connect and improve a slice or two of their life through like-minded people and possibly your products and services.  PR and marketing departments spend countless hours and dollars building community online.  So I was caught off-guard by a statement at the PR News Summit by Matthias Preschern, Vice President of Demand, Americas, IBM.  He implored attendees to NOT build communities. It’s not necessary, he says, since there are so many pre-existing communities online — user groups, forums, networking sites and the like, that we, as communicators, can tap into. These existing communities are ripe with enthusiasts, your own customers and constituents who, if you listen, could lead to your next great launch, a rethinking of an issue, or improve an existing service. Spend more time listening in those communities and interacting, rather than in meetings discussing the next bell and whistle for the nascent community you’ve just created that isn’t getting quite the same traction. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel. It was a refreshing piece of advice from someone who works for a company founded back in 1896.

— Diane Schwartz

  • Clay Morgan

    Interesting. I think Preschern is largely correct. You can find a pre-existing community – one where the members already feel safe – and create a strong presence there. I believe it would work faster and perhaps better than trying to build a community from the ground up.

  • Jack Rubinger

    It’s ironic that the service I provide for clients — public relations — is not necessarily the best way for me to win new clients.  This is just one of the things I learned from Mark  Paul’s book, “How To Attract Significantly More Customers in Good Times and Bad.” To order this $20 e-book, visit

  • Erin Read Ruddick

    When we help clients develop their internet strategies, we like to use this quote from Willie Sutton:

    “Why did I rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.”

    As Preschern suggests, find out where your online audience already is. Smart marketers will go to these “banks” and make deposits (become positive members of the existing community) when engaging their targets.