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Why is Community so important in PR and Social Media?

August 18, 2009

Social Media has so many different facets and uses that it’s definitely hard to define. What does it always come back to? Community. So why is this? Why is it so important? How do the foundations of PR relate to community?

As PR professionals, we are constantly engaging with colleagues, clients and people of various industries. We have to be knowledgeable and respectful.

2901066P LAMBEAU FIELDYou engage with your community. You learn and ask questions from them. There is a foundation of trust built, and many mentors spawn from it. This definition became even more solidified when someone I consider a mentor, Beth Harte, was attacked through a blog in what I considered to be an unprofessional manner. This is a great example of community building to me. The post has been edited and the remark of Beth being ‘clueless’ taken down – but you can see those who respect Beth and know her well address the issue. I respect and applaud Rebecca for how she handled the issue afterward – she didn’t wait days for it, but did so immediately, learned from it and will move on.

The thing is, we all have different opinions on things.  Community isn’t all about defending those we respect. If they are in the wrong, I bet many wouldn’t come to their defense. However, we can present that we disagree in a manner that is constructive and not personally slandering someone else. That’s what makes community great. The people I know and respect challenge me to think outside the box and look at a variety of viewpoints. They mentor me on subjects that are important to me. We interact and talk constantly about issues related to everything from PR to cupcakes.

So what do you think? Why is community important in social media?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 7:57 am

    Communities are great for defending folks like Beth Harte. I think one of the allures of social media for big brands and individuals is to foster a conversation. Where else can marketers get candid feedback or engage on a personal level? More importantly, through conversation comes insight and innovation.


  2. August 18, 2009 8:05 am

    Hey Mike – Thanks for the comment. I was thinking more along the lines of not defending people, per say – but that communities earn you respect. You build relationships, and in PR, it’s what many of us do.

    You’re right, these convos spawn insight and innovation – but how does that further make community important?

  3. August 18, 2009 8:24 am

    Community is important not just so that you have a crowd of people behind you that will fight for you (though it is nice), it’s because of WHY those people are willing to go to bat for you. It reflects on the nature of that person and the sort of value and knowledge we, the community, gain from them (in this case, Beth).

    David Spinks had a post about ‘expert vs. evangelist’ yesterday, and my thought is that if your community is willing to put their reputation on the line and call someone that or defend them in anyway, then that speaks much louder than professing your own claim to be a thought-leader or someone that should be respected.

    It obviously shows that Beth not only has the chops but the community that believes in her and the work she produces.

    • August 18, 2009 8:26 am

      S – That was exactly my thinking when I was pondering this post last night.

      Why is such an important term when it comes to SM and PR – and I think Chuck had a great post about the 5 W’s this morning.

      I used Beth as an example because it was so recent, but it also reminded me of the countless times that other have been other fire and community came to their rescue. The Why played in that too – they are willing to put a rep on the line because they believe in the person, what they stand for, etc.

  4. August 18, 2009 8:53 am

    Networking and sharing is all about trusting.

    A sense of community gives us the context in which we can figure out who we trust/respect and the reverse of that–and where we see ourselves fitting in along that spectrum.

    When we build a network of people who’s opinions we respect, we are using social media for it’s highest purpose, truly connecting with people!

    • August 18, 2009 9:37 am

      Love your point about trusting – because isn’t that what a community is about? It’s about respect, learning and understanding other opinions.

      Thanks for the great comment Mike – as always!

  5. August 18, 2009 9:09 am

    Creating a community allows you to put out fires before they start…which is exactly what Beth was able to effectively do. She called bullshit and the community that supports her reacted accordingly…but this wouldn’t have happened had she not been engaging, interacting and communicating openly with her community about the process/incident.

    • August 18, 2009 9:36 am

      Amen, brother. If you show how you can use social media, you can also relate to your community.

  6. August 18, 2009 9:29 am

    Lauren, community is all important in my book…and not just because of what happened to me. Heck, that happens to organizations EVERY DAY. My point in the way I handled the situation was to prove AND show organizations a different way to handle it…and that was by tapping into my community.

    As communications/marketing/PR professionals our first reaction is to become defensive and try to shut people down in an effort to protect our organizations. But there is much more at play in these situations (on- or off-line) and as professionals engaged in social media, we need to understand that so we know how to best handle it.

    First and foremost, Rebecca and most SEOs are not in my community…they have their own established community. Second, the two communities (SEO & Marketing/PR/SM) don’t necessarily agree on what social media (tools vs. concept) is and how it should be implemented or used.

    That clarified, of course Rebecca wouldn’t have agreed with what I was talking about on the panel…we have two completely different philosophies and I was an outsider in *their* community (this was a conference geared towards SEOs). But, that said, I don’t appreciate slanderous comments or being misquoted (which have still not been corrected, BTW). Who would?

    Of course, I don’t agree with the light Rebecca presented me in, but then again from where I sit, she doesn’t understand the value of social media, PR or marketing…and most likely, we’ll never agree. From that perspective, sometimes it’s just best to let it go versus trying to have a debate over philosophies & experience.

    So what’s the moral of the story here?

    There is a possibility that multiple communities exist for an organization, they have different agendas, their philosophies on what’s right/wrong might not line-up, and everyone has an opinion.

    As a PR professional it’s really important to understand and be involved with each community so that you have a sense of what’s important to them, how they think, etc. Otherwise when there is a situation, you won’t have all the details/insights needed to diffuse it in the best way possible.

    Thanks Lauren!

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

    • August 18, 2009 9:35 am

      I like your point about different communities – it’s right with what I was trying to say about how you can disagree. That’s what is great about SM – people challenge you and have different viewpoints. I’d hate for it to be the invasion of the iPhone body snatchers up in here.

      Presentation is key to community as well, and I think we saw that yesterday.

      I think we can relate this back to PR and branding – you have to understand your client, their viewpoints and what is important to them. You are representing them.

  7. August 18, 2009 9:49 am

    In the end, as PR folks, isn’t building a community the ultimate goal? Whether it be for our clients/organization or ourselves?

  8. August 19, 2009 10:26 pm

    Going off the question, “Why is community so important in social media?”, well, the answer seems simple, IMO. Social media is community. It’s just on the interwebz. Without community, there is no social media. The communities we already were a part of (had been a part of, wanted to be a part of, whatever tense you prefer), are just enhanced and enlarged by social media.

  9. Danny Cox permalink
    August 21, 2009 10:13 pm

    This is the first time I’ve commented here, as I wanted to get a feel for the community before jumping in, and I have to say that this space’s community has a very welcoming and engaging feel to it.

    IMHO, community is so important in Social Media because the two are one and the same. I agree with Beth, that there are different viewpoints on how Social Media should be “used”. I personally feel that you don’t “use” SM, but rather participate, engage, and communicate with people. Not audiences or targets, but people.

    In a time when everything is digital, impersonal, and instant, it’s not surprising that the electronic realm has evolved into creating social spaces for communities to grow. Humans are social animals by nature, and the internet and New Media tools give us the ability to reach out and find those whose interests most closely mirror and resemble our own.

    Which gives rise to the differences in thought and philosophies of SM: different folks with different ideas will tend to congregate with others who agree. This is great in the fact that it allows us to get our Maslow’s sense of belonging, but the danger lies in the possibility of being completely sheltered from other schools of thought, leading to intellectual and personal stagnation.

    Communities are so important in SM because SM has grown to facilitate community building and engagement. People didn’t start using Twitter to follow what their favorite brands are up to; people’s favorite brands are signing up to follow what people are up to (the good ones, anyhow. The bad ones just fill timelines with spammy updates).

    • August 24, 2009 11:20 am

      Thanks for reading, Danny! We try to be friendly around here – it’s how I operate and I don’t put up with mean people. 🙂

      I really like your point about it being one in the same – because it truly is. One can’t function without the other. You’re right, things are starting to become impersonal – but that’s where a community is great. It adds personality.

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