Digital Marketing

Connections vs. Community

Words matter. One of my favorite lines from the long-running TV series The West Wing is when speechwriter Toby Ziegler says, “The world can move — or not — by changing some words.” In fact, I confess to liking that line so much I’ve had it up at my desk for the better part of the last decade. It was this dedication to word-smithing that caught a bit of sloppiness in my own writing and speaking recently. 

In talking about building brands online, I often say that it’s based on three Cs – content, conversations, and either connections or community. The sloppiness comes from the fact that I had been using the terms connections and community interchangeably. This is a disservice to both words.

As we explore these terms further it becomes obvious that, while the two words are related, they are in fact two very different things. Let’s take a look at connections versus community – which one should you focus on and why?


Connections are great! Who doesn’t love connections? It’s true. Connections with others — whether prospects, customers, influencers, or simply friends — are one of the most magical parts of social media. Many think of them as currency in the digital world. This is especially true if you are directly extracting monetary value from your connections or if you are actually using them as true connections or conduits to someone else that will eventually add monetary value to your brand and your business.

Stay with me here. Not all connections add value. Indeed, where the concept of connections goes astray is when it is used as an all-too-simple metric of one’s success in the social space. It’s this misconception that leads many to simply develop the largest number of followers, likes, and connections. Amassing people is great but what are you going to do with them? Do you have a plan or, better still, a purpose?

That’s why I think connections are a rather basic aspect of something much bigger.


Beyond the transactional step of simply connecting with someone on social media, a bigger opportunity awaits. Earlier I asked what you were going to do with these connections. The key part of that phrase is the word with. Instead of assembling people to market at, your brand will be better served if you are able to turn those connections into a community of value around a shared mission, goal, or issue.

Maybe it’s a Twitter chat about financial planning for young parents or a blog that helps plumbers develop better customer service skills. These conversations turn what would’ve simply been an audience into a community united together. Your brand’s value comes from being the online convener of this community.

To do this you need to think beyond the quantity metrics of your number of connections, focusing instead on developing quality conversations around a shared mission and adding long-term value to a group of people who you can help in the short term. Over time, as this trust is built, you can introduce relevant products and services from a position of expertise.


There is a hierarchy hiding here as well. Connections are the individual components of what can become a community. Please note the conditional tense. Anyone with followers has connections, though some — as in the offline world — have better connections than others. However, those that find a problem that they can solve for others are the ones that end up creating the real asset social media marketers strive for — a community. The brands that can convene are those that are ultimately positioned as leaders in the hearts and minds of their prospects and customers for years to come.

Remember, words matter. The wise marketer educates stakeholders and team members with carefully selected words describing how brands are built online. It’s easy for those of us that do this every day to fire off words quickly and sometimes sloppily, but this can create unnecessary confusion and fails to put your social media efforts in the best light.

Choose wisely.

Photo via Flickr user TheBusyBrain