I've said before that when I visit a new website, I often look for a link to their community.
It's not uncommon for some brands to have a link to their Twitter account and Facebook page, with a hashtag they'd like you to use when discussing their products.
That is an audience, not a community.
A true community encourages group conversation and empowers people to contribute ideas, promotion, content and support.
A community gives its members a true sense of belonging and more importantly it provides a sense of identity.
A community is an ongoing dialogue between you and your customers. It allows you to nurture and grow relationships far beyond what is possible with a hashtag on Twitter.
Now consider an audience. Let's say you and 500 other people go to a venue to watch a stand-up comic perform. There may be a little interaction between the comic and the audience, but you are there to be quiet and listen. When the show is over, you go home.
Now imagine that instead of going home after the show, you all spend a while talking about the show and the comic. You talk about which bits you enjoyed and which bits made you laugh the most. You compare this comic with other favourites. You share video clips and jokes.
This is a community.
An audience will follow you and consumes what you broadcast, but it is a one-dimensional relationship. Consider the case of Lush Cosmetics, who earlier this year removed their Facebook Group and replaced their community with a Twitter feed and an app "where the latest digital experiments unfold".
I feel this is a missed opportunity to bring customers together to talk about Lush products, share tips, reviews and builder a stronger relationship with Lush.
I've also seen startups trying to build a community on Instagram with a hashtag. They tend to search popular hashtags in their business niche and attempt to befriend individuals who are active with those hashtags intending to broadcast their information. This is all fine, but they are just curating an audience.
A community is more than a list of followers, and it's impossible to control what content is tagged with hashtags. Just ask McDonalds who quickly realised this with their 'McDStories' campaign.
Which do you have, a community or an audience?