What's the value of a community?
What’s A Community Worth?
What’s A Community Worth?

People are wired to connect.

In fact, studies have shown that one of the most important predictors of a peoples’ health is the quality of their social relationships.

As business people, we tend to think about our connections as an audience, but if we want to be social, that won’t be enough. We need to build a community to assure the long-term health of our business. Businesses, like people, need to nurture relationships in the context of a community. It can make the difference between success and failure when you need it most.

What a community is

The word “community” is from the French words for “together” and “gift”.  A community is built on service, on participation, and on interactions.  You put in time, energy, ideas and sometimes money.  Your investment goes toward the goal of helping the community thrive.

What a community isn’t

A community is not a marketplace.  You might occasionally ask your neighbors to come to a Tupperware party or ask your coworkers to buy your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies but you’re likely to find yourself on the outskirts of your community if they see you coming with an order form.

Your logo can not participate. Only individuals can engage.

You can’t perform an ROI calculation on a community.  On the contrary, as you will see below, “you have to give without the expectation of receiving.”

No one can own or control a community.  The power is in the strength of the relationships.

So, if a community is not a marketplace and you can’t establish the ROI , what good is it for business?

Here are two examples that show what a community can do:

David Edwards, of  New Mexico Tea Company, looked to his community for help when his small retail and online tea store ran short of cash. Because tea is highly seasonal it looked like he would not make it through the summer of 2010. When his bank refused to give him a $5,000 loan, he turned to his customers, offering them a gift card program that paid them back with interest.  His community came through because the owner had engaged with them, they liked him and he had been generous by giving them free samples every month.

His explanation of how this worked:

“You have to build a community over a long time that is willing to do that for you. Make it a good investment for them. Giving something back is important. . .  You have to give without the expectation of receiving. I didn’t give people tea with the plan that someday I would need to borrow money.”

In another example, DJ Waldow, himself a community manager,  found out about how supportive his community was when he was terminated from his job. He asked his community (which happened to consist of some of the most influential people in social media), to record video recommendations so he could find a new job.  Here’s how he described the result:

I received 200 comments on my blog post, had nearly 300 emails in my inbox, had 44 phone conversations/interviews, 7 in-person interviews, 13 Skype chats, 2 Google+ Hangouts & one Facebook chat – all were people interested in hiring me for a full-time position. “

A devoted online community will go above and beyond for you, showing up in good times for special events and helping you spread the word about or raise money for an important cause. Recently, two popular bloggers, Colleen Wainright  and Fred Wilson raised over $50,000 each from their communities for charity in honor of their 50th birthdays and Michael Bungay Stanier called on a community focused on doing great work to help wipe out malaria, making an instant success of latest Domino Project book.

What is a community worth?

A community is about loyalty. You can’t spend it. You can’t take it to the bank, but there are times when loyalty is all that matters. Then, it’s worth everything.

What do you do to create a community? Have you seen your community or that of another business come through when it was really important?


Online Community Secret Sauce (Spin Sucks)

An Engaged Community Is a Healthy Community (Social Media Today)

Is Your Facebook Page A Tupperware Party? (Marketing Without A Net)


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About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz
Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.
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  • Nice, i want to tell you about,For improving business/web traffic, social media is
    one of the best thing which can we use increase our web business, through add community,
    you put in time, ideas energy and money. Your savings gores just before the
    goal of helping the community succeed.

  • Nice, i want to tell you about,For improving business/web traffic, social media is
    one of the best thing which can we use increase our web business, through add community,
    you put in time, ideas energy and money. Your savings gores just before the
    goal of helping the community succeed.

  • Thank you for the post, I think that this concept is lost within our current educational system. As a student I see my peers around me constantly wanting something from everyone else and not even coming to the realization that maybe they should share in return. I have always lived behind the moto of “You have to give without the expectation of receiving” Thank you again for this post and I look forward to sharing this in my courses. 


  • Anonymous

    On my blogs I always try to allow the interaction. A community is not a bunch of single voices giving their point of view but instead is people reacting to each others comments. Someone needs to moderate or ruffled feathers become ego bruising flame wars but that community means that all I do is post and moderate and allow others to have a voice

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  • Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info. Especially appreciate the acknowledgment that for community, the goal may not be tens of thousands of fans but a few hundred solid ones.

  • Thanks Ilana, I really enjoyed the story about the New Mexico Tea Company. How inspiring. There are lots of great ways to build community using social media too.  Providing help to customers over Facebook, engaging in a friendly familiar way on twitter and providing coupon codes and discounts to fans all build good will and a sense of loyalty and community.

  • Good post, Ilana. I suggest that you and others curious about the nature and value of non-familial, non-workplace communities consider reading this excellent book (and blog): “Consequential Strangers,” co-written by Melinda Blau. Here’s where.

    • Thanks Jeff.  I once came across that book in a Barnes and Noble and sat down and read through it for an hour.  I probably should pick up a copy.  Appreciate the thought.

    • Great reference Jeff.  Do you think ROI has a place within digital communities?


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