Community Alone Isn’t Enough

One of my favourite roles to play (and one that likely annoys my colleagues the most) is that of devil’s advocate. I try to constantly question the things that everyone takes for granted, because one day things will change. It happened to many traditional PR folks, and if we don’t keep a close eye out for that day, we get left behind ourselves when it comes.

Today I’m turning my mind to an old social media chestnut – the idea of “giving back to the community.”

I see it written so often – something along the lines of:

“To be successful in social media, you have to give back to the community.”

Sounds great, right? Group hugs all around, everyone gets along and no-one loses.

But does it really work like that? I mean really, when you move past the “well it should work like that” and on to the “does it really happen?”

Nice guys finish first?

There are certainly plenty of people who would appear to have made it work. The Chris Brogans; the Shel Holtzes (show me a dictionary that says I spelt that wrong…), the Brian Solises and so on. I, and my employer, also subscribe to the notion that what goes around comes around.

Nice guys finish last?

Still, there are plenty of other people who do equally well with little input into the community other than money. I won’t name them, but they’re easy to spot. They sponsor events, they show up at the events they sponsor, they rub noses when big names come into town, and they schmooze at conferences. That’s about it. What’s more, they appear to rapidly get ahead – their organizations grow and their stars appear to shine ever brighter.

One thing that stands out from both groups: they’re all excellent self promoters. You’ll see them in magazines, you’ll see them name-checked widely, and you’ll see them promoting their companies in a wide variety of forums.

Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not. They’re simply practicing for themselves what our clients pay us to do for them.

It does, however, lead me to one conclusion.

Community alone isn’t enough for business.

As an individual, doing something as a hobby, community is absolutely enough. In fact, it may be the sole end goal for hobbyists and that’s wonderful. For companies, however, you can’t only give back. You need to withdraw push for yourself, too. Community alone doesn’t pay the bills. Revenue and growth does.

That’s why the Brogans, the Holtzes (seriously, deal with it) and their like do so well – they contribute but they also market themselves and their organizations.

Pure altruism may seem like a lovely concept, but it seems to be those who both give and take that get ahead.

My thoughts on this are still evolving. What do you think?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.