Audience vs. Community: Which Way Are Your Chairs Pointing?

One of Social Media’s most prolific writers, Chris Brogan, posted a very interesting article today on Audience vs. Community. The distinction of the two continues to confound many. From PR firms,to agencies, to businesses to your Mom and Dad, are still trying to figure out the difference. And though Chris speaks from the standpoint of social media, that difference has been with us for years! He sums it up quite eloquently with this sentence:

The only difference between an audience and a community is which direction the chairs are pointing.

No longer are the chairs all neatly arranged in a row all facing a stage, on which stands a speaker. Nope, this new form of media has allowed those “butts in seats” to stand up and rearrange those chairs and talk with each other…while the speaker continues to talk from the stage. And that’s the issue we have faced for years as we address our audience or customer.Are we talking at them or with them?

This is not a new concept by any means. Humans would rather be social. Which would you rather do, play solitaire or poker? Go to a party or sit at home and drink? (If it’s the later, you may need to make a call or two.) Dine alone or have a barbecue? You get the idea. It’s the advent of better social communication, especially through internet technology and our always connected culture, that has brought it to the forefront for businesses, brands and people.

As Brogan points out, the importance of community to a successful music career has always been paramount. The fan is the thing! His analogy, “Think Britney Spears vs the Grateful Dead.” Fans, talking to other fans and together converting new fans, kept an entire legion of music consumers on the road for years…some even after the band stopped touring. Harley-Davidson has done the same, so much so that they were able to keep their community together through a period when the product turned to crap. Their “community” helped them survive, demanded a better product, and because HD listened, grew even bigger.

So which way are your chairs facing? Are you still standing on he stage talking at the audience or are you walking around the community and participating in the conversation…which is mostly about you? you? Most importantly are you listening to what they say to each other as well as what they say to you.

Amber Naslund points out in her comment to Brogan’s piece, “…you cannot *create* a community. It creates itself.” It should also be noted that community can fold up it’s chairs (destroy itself), or worse, throw the chairs at you (turn against you).

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