you don’t sell to a community. you support a community.

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about this notion of ‘becoming a hub‘ as a business.

And something about it has always felt . . . dangerous.

Or . . . a little ‘off’ or ‘inauthentic’. Or at least like there was the potential to be. And this post I just read from Dan Blank nails a lot of my concerns.

In fact, I’d like to coin a term: community-washing. Let’s add it to ‘green washing’, ‘local washing’ and a term I think I coined ‘good washing’.

For me, community washing is where the rhetoric is all about community – but the reality is about marketshare. It’s where the conversation around ‘building community’ is disingenuous because the primary driver is about turning the community into customers. I wonder if a driver behind community washing is that we’re really uncomfortable talking about business and money directly so we couch it in feel good terms.

I am seeing more and more businesses get on this train. It can be called building community or ‘growing your tribe’ and talked about in the hippiest of terms. And yet – I find myself wondering if we’re being real about what we’re doing (and why we’re doing it).

The irony is – these feel good terms can make it feel ten times as gross if it’s not authentic.

Here’s what Dan has to say . . .

Companies now realize that there is business value in social media. That it is worth an investment of their time and resources, that it can bring them closer to those in their market, and can be a powerful marketing platform.

But there is one term that us being thrown around a bit too casually: community.

Suddenly, every company is “developing” a community online, or engaging an existing community, at least in their marketing plans. But a crowd isn’t a community. A market is not a community.

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About Tad

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  • Thank you Tad – this is SUCH an important article for me to read. I’m now stuck for terminology… here’s what I posted as a comment on Dan’s blog…

    ‘I am so pleased to read this, Dan. First time on your blog and sent over from good friend and mentor Tad Hargrave. This is SUCH an important discussion, one that has only been niggling in the back of my mind as I ‘build my community around my business’… just like you say.

    I love this distinction, and it leaves me wondering what to call my ‘mailing list’ because that’s totally not accurate to the role I play either. It actually does feel a lot closer to something of a feel-good community than a business tool, but it’s neither – it’s something in between. Hmmmm….

    Thank you so much for the great insight.’

    OK – I’m open. What are we gonna call it now? ;)


  • hey alex,

    i’m in the same boat. thanks a lot dan . . . :-P

    i think part of it is using the right words in the right place. like it bugs me when people introduce me as their ‘close personal friend’ vs. a ‘colleague’. I am becoming careful these days about whether I introduce someone as a friend or as a colleague. just to be accurate. because I think when people say, ‘he’s my friend’ it’s often disingenuous. they’re doing it to gain status from association.

    and maybe there are levels – like concentric circles:

    inner circle: raving fans/true fans/favourite clients

    middle circle: clients

    outer circle: prospective clients

    outside the circle: community

    Perhaps it’s that our businesses exist within wider communities rather than being the creators of them.

    But . . . you know, i think there is a difference between what you and I are doing Alex and what I’ve seen others doing. Sometimes it feels on and sometimes it doesn’t. Often ‘community’ feels contrived. Maybe the heart of it is – ‘do you really love these people?’

    And maybe it’s that the community is already there and we’re just working to support it in our own way – finding a way to sustain ourselves within the context of the community.

    Hmm. so much to think on here.

  • erika

    Ooohh I love this conversation, and will be back to add some tidbits of my own!!

  • Joey

    This is a really important discussion, Tad. I think what marketers fail to realize is that people have become highly, highly sensitive to marketing-speak of all kinds. I trust my community to sniff out predatory practice cloaked in the parlance of the day. However, unfortunately, it may dull the words that we use to express ourselves with, like the word “sustainability” got ground to dust.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • erika

    Ok..Im Back.. Heres the thing.. MY WORK- Is an extension of Who I AM.. It is My Love.. My Service..The people I Serve..Offer Products, Wisdom, Compassion, Enthusiasm To- My Family…
    I wouldnt put them in harms way by referring them to other’s stuff I didnt agree with or whose energy I didnt feel was in alignment..
    This is a matter a family..

    and it does go deeper then just product and finances.. When I write about accomplishments or sadness, my tribe responds with love and grace.. and I vice versa..

    When you are in full alignment, it is all one.. its not about being uncomfortable, its about having genuine love for what you do, and who you do it with…

    and maybe there can be different terms for the verbs.. but you cant replicate the essences.. and this is about going deeper..

    thats the paradigm of business I play in..

    Much Love Tad for bringing this up..

    You are the very best!

  • Thank you so much for extending this discussion on your blog! Really enjoying the comments too.

  • me too dan.

  • maybe it comes down to this: a community is something you participate in – not something you own. it’s something you are a part of – not in control of.

  • Hi Dan and Tad :)

    I just have to say that I am SO glad I have learned about how to “support a community” and “connect a community” from someone whose heart is always in the right place – that’d be Tad :)

    And now Dan, it’s lovely to meet you.

    I think the reason the event that I have created in Calgary –

    “The Relationship Cafe – A Safe, Fun, Educational place for singles to meet”

    – has been such a huge success, is because I have had, at the core of my being the sincerest desire to simply help people understand how to create conscious, connected, soulmate relationships. Whether they work with me, or any other number of coaches or counsellors in my city or any where in North America, I just want to help singles gain awareness about what “soulmate” love really means… And it’s not the picture that Hollywood paints ;)

    And because my heart has always been in the right place, with the sincerest give, give, giving without any expectation of anything in return (I’m modelling that from Tad’s great example) I am successful. And not necessarily in wealth, as in financial wealth, but wealth as in the richness of the experience. Yes, money is needed in our world, but if we’re conscious, we only need so much :)

    Anyway, thanks for this blog post Tad & Dan :) I want to say I think you are both doing great work and I am happy to have you in my reality :)


  • This is interesting me because suddenly I am a hub. I facilitate a small support group called New Baby New Paltz. I started it to help build my practice as a Lactation Consultant. 10 months later, the group wants me to add a cafe, bra store, peer counselor training and help set up support groups all over Ulster County.

    I do try to anticipate their needs and meet them before they have to ask and definitely meet them when they do ask. It has been a year filled with Love with this group and I have learned much.

    I made it a paid group and now I am putting together a New Baby New Paltz Discount Card with offers from local baby-friendly businesses. I am using ‘pay what you can’ because it’s brand new and I really don’t know what it is worth to the merchants and I am curious to try it.


  • Oh, yes, this is all great stuff. Thanks Dan and Tad and all whose thoughtful comments reside here.

    The question about terminology is interesting because language is a great influencer (or, rather, the meaning we have each developed around words and phrases, influenced by our experiences, can bring the weight of feelings to our conversation that are unrelated to the content or the intention). It’s all about the consciousness, baby! When people use meaningful language without the necessary consciousness, it is insulting as well as being inauthentic.

    I do love the use of ‘community-washing’ to describe what happens when community is really market or mailing list of unknowns.

    I would use ‘subscribers’ or ‘contacts’ for mailing list people (if they’ve opted-in to your list), and call them ‘fans’ if they adore you, and show it through comments or other forms of exchange with you.

    If these folks are communicating with each other as well, and building relationships, then maybe they are a community of sorts, and you are a hub for them. In a way, you are the matchmaker that instigated that, and you are part of the community if you support and encourage their connecting.

    I have no problem being known as your ‘market’ if you treat me with respect and as an individual (don’t assume we are all the same at the receiving end), even while offering me your product or a service I must pay for. But then, I understand marketing as offering, not selling, and that in order to offer to me effectively, you must know my needs and a bit about my context.

    That said, what I have learned over many years is that analysis paralysis and worry about getting things ‘just right’ can be the greatest barrier to moving into success. We sometimes think people won’t join or buy or contribute if we are not perfect. Tad gave a perfect example in one of his posts about a reader pointing out a typo in his blog, it was not to make him wrong, but a gesture of editorial caring. Make mistakes and recover from them, transparently, and let others help you figure out the best solutions. No better way to build community than that.

  • JUDI – what a beautiful balance you offer. Yes – sometimes in trying to be ‘perfect’ and ‘critical thinkers’ we end up paralyzed and do nothing. I loved what you wrote. We’re all just muddling out way through it hey?